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Posts Tagged ‘Cleveland Indians’

Chicago Cubs Begin Their Struggling Season

Posted by sportsmaven on May 1, 2009

In comparison to 2008, the 2009 season has been brutally unkind to the Chicago Cubs.  From top to bottom of the organization, from the ballpark workers to the fans, the fuzzy lovefest that was 2008 has been replaced by a season that has all the markings of struggle written all over the brown, yet to grow ivy outfield walls.

(AP Photo/Kyle Ericson)

(AP Photo/Kyle Ericson)

The Cubs struggles seem to be set in motion during a devastating post season playoff series against the Los Angeles Dodgers to close out what was then developing into a magical season of 2008.  As dominant as the Cubs were in winning 97 games in 2008, they were equally as feeble once the playoffs began.  The Dodgers sucked the life out of the Cubs, exposing every weakness and shutting down the most powerful NL lineup and battering around the league’s #3 pitching staff in a NLDS sweep.

In the off season, Cubs GM Jim Hendry, tried in earnest to make his team more flexible for manager Lou Piniella.  What he did was inadvertently neutered his two-time division championship team, cutting them off at the knees.  Like a mad scientist, Hendry first moved to clear his entire bullpen, short of his All-Star setup man, RHP Carlos Marmol.  Included in that purge was All-Star closer RHP Kerry Wood, who finally found a successful niche as a power closer.  Not that he didn’t need to purge most of that bullpen, but it’s unclear to me as I watch the Cubs struggle, why Wood, the heart and soul of the Cubs team and the most tenured of all Cubs players, leader on and off the field, was allowed to depart. Essentially, Hendry traded Wood for former Florida Marlins closer, RHP Kevin Gregg, a one-sided trade then, and even more magnified in view of this horrible start.

The other perplexing move was trading 2B Mark DeRosa to the Cleveland Indians, replacing him with free-agent RF Milton Bradley.  All Bradley has done since signing a 3-year, $30M contract is injure his hamstring, get kicked out of his first game at Wrigley Field, bump an umpire while arguing, earning himself a 2-game suspension, which he appeals, all while needing to sit out at least 16 games due to that injury, incidentially, while not being added to the disabled list.

This is the type of flexibility that Hendry and Piniella wanted?  A further highlight about how “flexible” the 2009 Cubs roster is, C Geovanny Soto injures his throwing shoulder and has to sit out a few games to re-evaluate the injury.  While Soto is out, reserve C Koyie Hill filled in very capably, but because the Cubs don’t put Soto on the 15-day DL, they are forced to list 2B Aaron Miles and others as the backup catcher.

3B Aramis Ramirez has missed the last 11 games due to a calf injury, but the Cubs choose not to add him to the 15-day disabled list, instead forcing an out of position 2B Mike Fontenot to play third.  In last night’s game, when Piniella needed to pinch-hit for the left-handed hitting Fontenot, he needed to employ Hill to finish out the game at 3rd base!  Recently, 1B Derrek Lee missed time with a strained neck.  1B/OF Micah Hoffpauir covered Lee at 1B, pushing RHP Carlos Zambrano into the lefty pinch hitting role.  Some flexibility.  This is the flexibility that results in 14 errors and many other misplays from players playing out of position.

Not to mention the current mess the pitching staff is in right now, started by the shoddy bullpen performance out of the gate and now spreading to the once very promising performance of the starting rotation.  The Cubs bullpen mess begins with the release of  RHP Chad Gaudin a trade-off engineered to essentially keep Rule 5 RHP David Patton and  RHP Angel Guzman, a player who is out of minor league options.  Patton’s been regulary pounded, the highlight, giving up a grand slam to St. Louis Cardinals 1B Albert Pujols in a recent 8-2 loss to the Cardinals last Saturday.  LHP Neal Cotts not only hasn’t been able to get anybody out, he has been a bases on balls machine, walking 6 batters in 5 innings.  The bullpen picture became even more muddled when Hendry was forced to release RHP Luis Vizcaino and his $3M contract (Vizcaino was picked up in a off-season trade with the Colorado Rockies for RHP Jason Marquis) to bring up power RHP Jeff Samardzjia, who probably should have been in the bullpen in the first place.  With both Marmol and Gregg struggling, RHP Aaron Heilman has been exposed and has been used too frequently, resulting in a bullpen that can’t be trusted to get anyone out at this point, much less protect any sort of a lead.

So after 21 games, what do we make of this Cubs team?  Apparently, the early showing is that the Cubs are a team that still appear to suffer from the hangover of last season’s crushing playoff sweep.  They also can’t stay healthy.  They are also a team that can’t hit, field, or pitch.  This is a team built to struggle, and struggle they will, and I predict, for the entire season.  This Cubs team might not have to worry about a 3rd straight playoff disappointment.

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Top 10 Moments In Chicago Sports In 2008

Posted by sportsmaven on January 17, 2009

The new year has already started and amidst the resolutions, fresh starts, diets, and new beginnings comes the ever reverent look back at the year that has passed.  The year 2008 was a banner year for Chicago sports, as three teams won their prospective division titles, and one, the Chicago Wolves won a championship.  There was good, bad, ugly, and everything in between for Chicago sports fans.  So, lets take a look back on the Top 10 Moments in Chicago Sports in 2008 (in no particular order):
Bears use goal line stand to beat the Eagles 24-20

Bears use goal line stand to beat the Eagles 24-20

Bears goal line stand against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 4 — The Chicago Bears were leading the Philadelphia Eagles 24-20, Eagles had first and goal from the Bears 4, 5:40 left in the game.  Eagles run RB Cornell Buckhalter off right tackle for 3 yards.  Second and goal was a handoff to FB Tony Hunt for no gain.  Third down was back to Buckhalter to the right for no gain.  Eagles call a time out and decide to go for it on 4th down.   Buckhalter again off left tackle, this time, stood up by RE Alex Brown of the Bears for no gain.  Game over.  Bears win.

Zambrano hurls a no-hitter.

Zambrano hurls a no-hitter.

Cubs RHP Carlos Zambrano throws no-hitter against the Houston Astros on Sept. 14th —  The Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros waited two long days to find out where they would be playing their key late season series against each other.  Houston was being devestated by Hurricane Ike and MLB moved the Astros to “neutral” Miller Park in Milwaukee to face the Cubs.  Zambrano brought his “A” game with him to “Wrigley North”, shutting down the powerful Astros lineup, striking out CF Darrin Erstad swinging for the last out of the first Cubs no-hitter in 36 years.

Chicago Cubs Win 2008 NL Central Division

Chicago Cubs Win 2008 NL Central Division

Cubs win back to back NL Central Division titles — The Cubs began the 2008 season with one of it’s goals to win the 2008 NL Central Division title, as well as seeking their first World Series appearance since 1945 and first World Championship since 1908.  Alas, the Cubs could only slay one 100 year drought, as they won an NL-best 97 games en route to the 2008 NL Central Division title for their  first back to back division titles since 1908.  A quick sweep in the NL Divisional Series by the hands of the Los Angeles Dodgers dimmed what was to that point, a most magical season for the North Siders.

chicago white sox win 2008 al central division title

chicago white sox win 2008 al central division title

White Sox win 3 elimination games in a row to win the AL Central title — The Chicago White Sox looked dead in the water, losing  4 of their final 5 games to the Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Indians, coughing up a 2.5 game division lead and falling 1/2 game behind the Twins with one game to play.  The final game of the Cleveland series and the regular season was a must win game with Mark Buehrle on the bump, the Sox beat the Indians to force the Monday afternoon post-season makeup game against the Detroit Tigers.  The Sox win the makeup game against the Tigers, forcing a one game playoff game against the Twins for the AL Division title, this time, in Chicago.   The Sox, behind a masterpiece by LHP John Danks, beat the Twins 1-0 and claim the AL Central Division title, winning three elimination games in a row.

derrick rose drafted #1 by chicago bulls

derrick rose drafted #1 by chicago bulls

Chicago Bulls win the 1st pick in the NBA Draft and the right to select PG Derrick Rose Chicago Bulls GM John Paxson had to work wonders to undo all the bad karma and decision-making by Bulls brass in the post-Michael Jordan/Phil Jackson era, but by sheer luck,  one of those bouncing ping-pong ball went red, and the Bulls, with a x% chance, landed the #1 pick in the 2008 NBA draft.  Around the same time, a young freshman PG from Chicago was leading his one-loss  Memphis Tigers team to the 2008 National Championship game against the Kansas Jayhawks.  The Jayhawks win the title, the young freshman forgoes his eligibility and declares eligible for the NBA Draft and the prodigal son returns a hero.

The City of Chicago becomes a finalist for host city for the 2016 Olympic Summer Games — Chicago survived the US bid process to emerge as the US entry for host of the 2016 Olympics.  Election Night provided the world a glimpse of what Chicago 2016 could be as Grant Park served as the world’s stage for President-Elect Barack Obama’s election night speech.  Chicago is President Obama’s hometown and can be in prime position to be named 2016 host, but it can’t rest on that momentum as concerns about finances, transportation infrastructure, and sports facilities still shroud Chicago’s Olympic bid chances.

Youngsters lead the resurgence of the Chicago Blackhawks

Youngsters lead the resurgence of the Chicago Blackhawks

The arrival of a young and resurgent Chicago Blackhawks hockey team, who finished  the 2007-08 season very strong and opened the 2008-09 season even stronger — the Chicago Blackhawks under owner Bill Wirtz became the city’s red headed stepchild of Chicago professional sports.  Even the minor league AHL hockey team, the Chicago Wolves, were outdrawing the Hawks in attendance.  Things couldn’t have been any lower, and then, Bill Wirtz died.  Bill’s son Rocky took the team over and his first move as team owner was to steal marketing genius John McDonough away from the Cubs, hiring McDonough as his new team president.  A change in coaches (Joel Quenneville in, Denis Savard out), a #1, and #3  draft pick later, youngsters C Jonathan Toews and RW Patrick Kane lead a marketing and on-ice resurgence of the Chicago Blackhawks.  High point to date, a team best 9 game winning streak leading into the 2009 Winter Classic against the Detroit Red Wings.  The game resulted in a loss for the Blackhawks in the standings, but was a HUGE win for the Hawks in prestige and heritage.  A vintage Original Six team is reborn.

Chicago Bears Matt Forte leads Bears ground attack

Chicago Bears Matt Forte leads Bears ground attack

Bears hammer Indianapolis Colts on national TV in the season opener, marking the coming out party for Bears RB Matt Forte and ruining the home opening of the Colts new Lucas Oil Stadium — The Chicago Bears were playing on national television.  They were also playing the mighty Indianapolis Colts on the road in the Colts brand spanking new stadium.  The Bears have traditionally been nothing short of horrible in nationally televised night games and this was Sunday Night Football on NBC.  And QB Peyton Manning, coming off a knee injury, was planning on starting this game. The Bears were doomed, but fate forgot to mention that to this Bears team, lead by a resurgent defense and the nimble running of rookie RB Matt Forte, the only Bear to eclipse 100 yards rushing in his first ever game (123 yards), the Bears down the mighty Colts 29-13.

QB Juice Williams leads Illinois to 2008 Rose Bowl

QB Juice Williams leads Illinois to 2008 Rose Bowl

The University of Illinois football team plays in it’s first Rose Bowl since 1984 — In 2001, the University of Illinois football program was reaching it’s pinnacle capped by a Big Ten Conference Championship and an appearance in the 2002 Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.  Two short years later, the Illini hit rock bottom, going 1-11, eventually firing coach Ron Turner and hiring master recruiter Ron Zook as his replacement.  In year 3 of the rebuilding process, the Illini found themselves with a 9-4 record, stunning #1 Ohio State on the road in a 28-21 victory that propelled the team to it’s first Rose Bowl in 24 years.

Chicago Wolves win the 2008 Calder Cup Championship

Chicago Wolves win the 2008 Calder Cup Championship

Chicago Wolves win the 2008 Calder Cup Championship, bringing a hockey title back to Chicago — The Chicago Wolves AHL hockey team beats the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 5-2 bringing the Calder Cup back to Chicago.  It is the 4th title for the Wolves in their 14-year history.  Soon after, Wolves Coach John Anderson is promoted to coach the parent team, the NHL’s Atlanta Thrashers. The Wolves dip into a famous Chicago hockey family, tapping Don Granato as their new head coach.

Posted in Chicago Bears, Chicago Blackhawks, Chicago Bulls, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Fighting Illini | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Top 4 Things To Know About Chicago Cubs Milton Bradley

Posted by sportsmaven on January 13, 2009

Now that the ink is finally dry on the Milton Bradley contract, the Chicago Cubs are pondering the effect of Bradley’s presence in a lineup that badly needed his left handed bat. They’ll also get his right handed bat, as Bradley is a switch hitter, providing yet more flexibility for Manager Lou Piniella, who likes to mix and tweak his lineups up like a mad scientist. But what do we really want to know about Milton Bradley? Well here are the top 4 things we all want to know:

Chicago Cubs general manager Jim Hendry, left, introduces outfielder Milton Bradley as the newest member of the baseball team at a news conference Thursday, Jan. 8, 2008 in Chicago. Bradley, formally with the Texas Rangers, signed a three-year contract with the Cubs. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

Chicago Cubs general manager Jim Hendry, left, introduces outfielder Milton Bradley as the newest member of the baseball team at a news conference Thursday, Jan. 8, 2008 in Chicago. Bradley, formally with the Texas Rangers, signed a three-year contract with the Cubs. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

1. How will Milton Bradley’s fiery, sometimes volatile temperment fit into the laid back Cub locker room?  Bradley is definitely an emotional player.  He plays with a fire that is certainly recognized and appreciated by his teammates, managers, coaches and front office management.  Bradley gave fans a glimpse of his persona in a New York Times blog on his first All-Star appearance in 2008.  He is also known for wildly volatile incidents, such as:

  • Spitting gum at an umpire while with the Montreal Expos
  • Dugout altercation with Cleveland Indians manager Eric Wedge
  • Throwing a bag of baseballs onto the field at Dodger Stadium after an ejection
  • Throwing  a water bottle in the direction of a fan
  • Three incidents of domestic violence complaints in 2005 (no arrests were made)
  • Altercation with Los Angeles Dodgers teammate Jeff Kent
  • Public altercations with Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane
  • Attempt to confront Kansas City Royals announcer Ryan Lefebvre, whom Bradley felt had made derogatory remarks about him during a broadcast.

Whichever way the wind blows could blow the fine line between fiery and volatile for Milton Bradley.  Either way, it makes for a most interesting upcoming 2009 season for the Cubs, manager Lou Piniella, fans, and media.

2. Bradley is an OBP machine. He knows how to get on base. His OBP for his career is .370. His last 6 seasons OBP: .436, .402, .370, .350, .362, .421. For those non-Sabremetricians, these numbers are completely off the charts. By comparison, in 2008, no Cub regular had a higher OPS and no Cub has a career OBP higher than Bradley.  Furthermore,  Bradley’s  80 walks would be second only to RF Kosuke Fukudome, who happened to play 24 more games than Bradley.

3. Bradley’s 3-year, $30M contract with the Cubs is the first multi-year contract he’s  signed in his career.  The Cubs are the 7th team in 10 seasons for Bradley.  While the Cubs are the first team to offer a multi-year contract, Bradley picked the right season to blossom.  There is concern that Bradley played only 20 games in the field last season, serving the Texas Rangers primarily as a DH, so Bradley will have to polish his fielding skills to prevent becoming a defensive liability in an otherwise strong Cub outfield.

4. To most who know and have played with Milton Bradley, he is seen as a positive influence in the locker room and on the field.  Despite his altercations and volatility, most everyone that has been associated with Bradley had nothing but kind words for him.

In a recent Chicgo Sun-Times article discussing the Bradley signing by the Cubs, Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington stated:

”He’s a class act,” Washington said Friday by phone. ”A winner. The Chicago Cubs really made a very good move in bringing him in. He will make their team better.”

The article continues with another glowing comment by a former manager, San Diego Padres Bud Black:

San Diego Padres manager Bud Black coached Bradley for only 42 games in 2007, and wish he’d had him the entire season.

”I love him,” Black said by phone. ”He was great for us. After we acquired him from Oakland [in June] he was an integral part of our club during the second half of the season. He was well received by the guys and the coaching staff.”

Lou Piniella might be the perfect manager for Milton Bradley to play for.  Piniella is a veteran, highly respected manager who certainly can appreciate a fiery side of a player, especially one of Milton Bradley’s reputation and pedigree.  Piniella will know exactly how to give Bradley slack and when to reign him in.  This could be the season that Bradley puts it all together with yet another huge breakout season.

Cubs GM Jim Hendry has taken a huge and potentially risky step in signing Bradley to a lucrative deal.  Remember, Hendry had to clear payroll by trading Cubs fan favorite and quite possibly, the 2008 Cubs team MVP Mark DeRosa as well as let closer Kerry Wood walk to the Indians in order to make the Bradley deal fit into the financial structure of the team.  All this will be a distant memory if Bradley is able to have a monster full season of successful baseball, with an added new maturity level with no volatile incidents, bring a more balanced lineup for the Cubs, and be a player on what hopes to be a World Series title.

Then again, Milton Bradley could be the undoing of all that is good in Cubdom — whichever way the winds of fate blows,  2009 will be an interesting, eagerly anticipated baseball season on the North Side.

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Something Special In The Air In Chicago

Posted by sportsmaven on September 30, 2008

It almost didn’t happen.  Two series ago, the Chicago White Sox were left for dead.  They went into Minnesota to play the badly limping Twins, armed with a 2.5 game lead and left down by .5 game with 3 to play.  At least they were home and playing a Cleveland Indians team that was playing out the string in a disappointing season.  The Twins were doing their part, losing the first two games of their final series against an all of a sudden very tough Kansas City Royals team, but the Sox kept throwing the generosity back, losing their first two games as well.  Then, the first break came.  Indians LHP Cliff Lee, the probable AL Cy Young Award winner and 22-game winner was shut down due to a stiff neck.  The next break came in the form of a clutch outing by LHP Mark Buehrle on Sunday to extend the season.  The third break was facing RHP Freddy Garcia (who so happens to be married to Sox manager Ozzie Guillen’s wife’s niece) and the Detroit Tigers at home.  The break after that was Garcia pulled from the game in the 6th inning after shutting down the Sox, only to be followed by 2B Alexi Ramirez’ grand slam to win the game for the Sox.  The biggest break of them all?  Hosting a one game playoff for the AL Central Division title at home against Minnesota.

(AP Photo/Paul Beaty)

(AP Photo/Paul Beaty)

The local Chicago media has been focused on a dual Cubs/Sox playoff presence for most of the baseball season.  Both teams were in 1st place in their respective divisions for most of the season.  TBS made a huge mention of this fact tonight on their television broadcast, as well as the fact that it has been 102 years since both the Cubs and the Sox made the post-season in the same year.  Nobody else mentioned the fact that in the same city theme, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the Los Angeles Dodgers also made the playoffs this season.  Little coverage, little play anywhere for that story.  Since 1901, the White Sox have made the post-season 10 times, in 2008, 2005, 2000, 1993, 1983, 1959, 1919, 1917, 1906, and 1901.  In the same timeframe, the Cubs have made the post-season 16 times, in 2008, 2007, 2003, 1998, 1989, 1984, 1945, 1938, 1935, 1932, 1929, 1918, 1910, 1908, 1907, and 1906.  The last time both the Cubs and Sox make the playoffs in the same year?  That’s right, 1906.  In contrast, the San Francisco Giants and Oakland A’s have made the playoffs in the same season 5 times since 1968.  The New York Yankees and New York Mets have shared post seasons three times since 1969 and the Dodgers and Angels have done it twice since 1961.

There have been 17 intracity World Series matchups in baseball history.  The Yankees and Mets played each other in the 2000 World Series, dubbed the Subway Series.  In 1989, the A’s swept the Giants in the Bay Series, marred by a devestating earthquake.   Then it’s the Yankees vs. Brooklyn Dodgers in 1956 and 1955, 1953, 1952, 1949, 1947, and 1941.  In the middle, the St. Louis Cardinals vs. St. Louis Browns in 1944.  Before that, it’s the Yankees again vs. New York Giants in 1951, 1937, 1936, 1923, 1922, and 1921.  Chicago Cubs vs. the Chicago White Sox?  Once, in 1906.

I don’t know if this will be the year for the Chicago match up for the ages, but something special is in the air in the Chicago baseball world in 2008.  Lets hope that it’s not another century before this happens again.

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The Baseball Gods Are Brutal To The White Sox…

Posted by sportsmaven on September 9, 2008

Historically, the month of September has been a month of angst for Chicago baseball fans. This September is no exception. In fact, this September has been particularly brutal for the Chicago White Sox. If a tough schedule wasn’t enough, the Sox are losing key players to an injury bug that has them clinging to dear life to a one game lead in the AL Central Division with 18 games left in the season.

(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

The September schedule looks a bit tougher in real life than on paper. The month started by facing perhaps the best pitcher in baseball this season in Cleveland Indians LHP Cliff Lee. All Lee did was hang 5-hit complete game shut out on the Sox to run his record to a MLB leading 20-2. It gets worse this week with the hottest team in baseball, the Toronto Blue Jays hitting town. The Sox lost the first two of a 5 game series today and they face RHP Roy Halladay and his 18-9 record.  The Blue Jays have won 10 in a row to move into 3rd place in the AL East.   After this homestand, the Sox hit the road for 9 games with 6 games against a hungry New York Yankees team and the upstart and amazingly resilient Minnesota Twins before a season ending 3 game homestand against the Indians and one more potential shot at Cliff Lee.

That’s not even the worst of it. The rash of injuries that have hit the Sox this season has been absolutely horrific, with the brunt of key injuries happening this month. The Sox had already lost RHP Jose Contreras on August 11th with a season ending achilles injury and had to endure losing all of August and the beginning of September without their best releiver, RHP Scott Linebrink. Now, in September alone, the Sox expect 3B Joe Crede to miss the rest of the season with a back injury, AL MVP candidate LF Carlos Quentin is injured, breaking his wrist in a freak mishap with his bat and is out until potentially the post season if that happens, and now tonight, the Sox hottest hitter in the last 10 days and team captain 1B Paul Konerko goes down with a sprained MCL slipping while cutting off a throw from right field.  His status is uncertain.  In addition, also announced today, September callup IF Chris Getz will miss the rest of the season due to two broken bones in his wrist.

Now the Sox don’t want anyone to feel sorry for them, with Manager Ozzie Guillen stating that they just have to fight through this and keep going with the team they have.  Things aren’t all that bad, with CF Nick Swisher moving to first and plenty of CF options are available for Guillen to play with.  DH Jim Thome can play first if Swisher needs a breather and OF Ken Griffey, Jr. is also available to swing between DH and OF.  The Sox definitely have karma working against that right now, but have somehow managed to fight through all the adversity that has plagued them this season to still remain in first place, one game ahead of the Twins with 18 games to play.  The Sox have a lot of fight left in them…they will need every ounce of fight to cross the finish line in first, and they may be the better off of the two Chicago baseball teams…..

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