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Posts Tagged ‘Major League Baseball’

White Sox GM Kenny Williams More Than A Hidden Talent

Posted by sportsmaven on December 10, 2008

Chicago White Sox General Manager Kenny Williams has always been a man that plays his cards close to his vest.  In the super secret sensitive world of Major League Baseball, that position is not necessarily a terrible proposition, as team are competitive in nature, from ownership right on down to the clubhouse management teams.  Across town, Williams’ counterpart, Cubs GM Jim Hendry, is embroiled in the highest profile deal making at the Annual Baseball General Manager’s meetings in Las Vegas, courting perhaps the National League’s best pitcher this side of CC Sabathia in Padres P Jake Peavy.

Hendry has been open in his desire to acquire Peavy and is generally open in discussing his desires to continually improve the level of talent for the Chicago Cubs.  Here is where he and Kenny Williams diverge, and that divergence may be misinterpreted as Williams not being cooperative and sleuth-like in managing his team.  In a Chicago Sun-Times article on December 10th, Williams comments on his recent transactions and his potential transactions to date in this off-season certainly reinforces the “sleuthness” of his personality:

“I don’t have any timeframe, any timetable to do anything. We are in the fortunate position where we have good young players, we’ve acquired more depth. We’ve also not taken our eye off some of the veterans that could make themselves available to us in the marketplace. My guys are under instruction to listen to deals and potential deals whether they go along the prospect lines or the veteran lines.”

Kenny Williams is certainly underestimated as a baseball GM.  His work has resulted in 2 division titles and a World Series Championship since 2005.  He has hit big with the Carlos Quentin acquisition, John Danks, Gavin Floyd, A.J. Pierzynski, Jermaine Dye and a host of others that have kept the White Sox in playoff contention for most of his tenure.  He has done it with limited budget and a very demanding ownership group looking over his shoulder.

He has done it in a city where the White Sox are the red headed stepchild to the more venable Chicago Cubs in a city deeply divided in it’s baseball loyalties.  He has endured extreme criticism, risen to the top of the mountain in bringing the White Sox their first World Series title in 88 years in the Sox infamous 11-1 playoff run in 2005.

Williams was also a key figure in Michael Lewis’s bestselling book, Moneyball: The Art of Winning An Unfair Game.  In the book, Lewis details Oakland Athletics GM Billy Beane’s dealings, more than a few with Kenny Williams.  Williams is characterized in the book as a GM that is consistently outmanaged and outsmarted by efficient analysis of Beane and his team, almost looking foolish and overmatched.  Lewis paints Billy Beane as a statistical mad scientist, brilliant in his management of efficiency in a market in which Beane must be creative to compete.

But with all the brilliance of a Billy Beane as portrayed in Moneyball, it is Williams that ultimately gets the last laugh, as he is the one with the World Series championship and not Beane.

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Do The Chicago Cubs Own Destiny? Only Time Will Tell…

Posted by sportsmaven on September 25, 2008

Hardly a day goes by before someone spouts an opinion about who our beloved Chicago Cubs should or should not want to play in the playoffs.  Just this evening, I had a conversation with my wife, her cousin, and a couple of other well informed sports theorists on the merits of each team the Cubs may have to face in the upcoming playoffs.

(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Like many others, I was initially caught up in the popular debate.  I originally wanted the Cubs to face the New York Mets in the NLDS, as the Mets provide a very favorable matchup for the Cubs.  Anyone, but the Philadelphia Phillies, I thought.  After the Cubs, the Phillies were the most complete team in the NL this season and played the Cubs very tough this season.  Then I jumped on the Los Angeles Dodgers bandwagon, Manny Ramirez included.  The Dodgers were less imposing, offensively challenged, and in the weakest division in Major League Baseball, the good old National League West division.  Ripe for the picking.

The Milwaukee Brewers?  Won’t have to even think about facing the Brewers until the NLCS, that is if they secure the NL Wildcard.  That bullpen, the streaky offense, did the Brewers ride CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets into the ground in their push to the playoffs?

Amidst the thinking of the various scenarios and how they would potentially play out, another scenario popped into my little head, like a great rush of fresh air.  It seemed almost too simple to comprehend, as though simplicity eliminated the potential of this concept to be with merit.

Really, it doesn’t matter who the Cubs play in the playoffs.  There are no Pittsburgh Pirates or Washington Nationals in the playoffs.  Every team that makes the playoffs is an excellent quality team.  Each playoff team has it’s flaws, some more than others.  The playoffs are seldom about the best team during the season, but rather, the team playing the best when the playoffs happen to be played.  It’s a crapshoot – the team with the hot hand has the best chance of going all the way, first to win 11games wins it all.  It means that the Brewers or Dodgers have as good a chance as the Cubs in winning a World Series.  It means that the Chicago White Sox or  Minnesota Twins have as good a chance to win it all as the Tampa Bay Rays or the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Network analysts, newspaper sports columnists, Peter Gammons, Ken Rosenthal and other baseball talking heads get paid to spin their most favorable matchups for each playoff team, to analyze favorites and make predictions based on the results of a 162 game season.  It’s even vogue to pick a dark horse, playing on past runs of underdog wildcard teams such as the St. Louis Cardinals, who won 83 games en route to a unlikely World Championship in 2006 over a 95 win Detroit Tigers team.

The team that will win the 2008 World Series will be the team that plays unified team baseball, puts it all together at the right time, catches lightning in a bottle to ride a hot streak that lasts for a month, a team that powers through the 11 wins necessary to be called World Champions.  Destiny has already chosen the 2008 World Series Champion.  The only question remaining is if destiny has chosen the Chicago Cubs, or do the Cubs have the balls and heart to go out and get their destiny?  Come October 30th, we’ll all know the answer to that question.

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The Chicago White Sox Are The Surprise Team In AL Central

Posted by sportsmaven on April 22, 2008

The surprise team in the AL Central this season is the Chicago White Sox. After a dismal 72-90 season in 2007, the Sox were picked no higher than 3rd place in most prognosticators division rankings for 2008. The Sox are certainly hitting the ball, with a solid offense led by Joe Crede, Jermaine Dye, Jim Thome and newcomers Nick Swisher and Carlos Quentin.

While the Sox were expected to be strong offensively, the true surprise for this team has been the solid performance of the pitching staff, especially the starters. Going into 2008, Mark Buehrle and Javier Vasquez were expected to be staff leaders. The back half of the staff has been led by a recent resurgence from Jose Contreras, who had his best outing since the World Series season of 2005 in his start on April 16th against the Baltimore Orioles, hurling 7 innings of 1 run ball with 6 strikeouts.

Gavin Floyd and John Danks have been the most surprising, with Floyd taking a no-hitter into the 8th inning of his start against the Detroit Tigers on April 12th. Floyd is 2-0 with a 1.40 ERA and improving by leaps and bounds as this season progresses. John Danks has also been fantastic, with a 2-1 record and a 3.04 ERA. Danks currently has a 14 2/3 inning shutout streak, and outside of a 2 1/3 inning, 7 run outing against the Minnesota Twins on April 9th, his ERA would be a sparkling 0.14 (1 earned run in 21 1/3 innings pitched)

If the Sox continue to get quality pitching, they can dominate a AL Central Division that suddenly appears to be much weaker than anticipated. The Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians have huge pitching problems that may not work themselves out. While Sox pitching continues to dominate AL Central play, the teams considered the strong horses of the division are fading early, providing the Sox a great opportunity to open up a formidable lead in the early part of the the 2008 season.

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The Chicago Cubs Are Getting It Done Offensively

Posted by sportsmaven on April 22, 2008

The most impressive aspect of the Chicago Cubs fast start is how well the offense is producing. After tonight,s 7-1 victory over the New York Mets, the Cubs have scored the second most runs in the NL and third most runs in MLB. They are scoring a robust 6.21 runs per game so far this season, and the truly remarkable thing is that they are doing it without their top offensive threat, OF Alfonso Soriano, who has been on the 15-day DL after injuring his calf last Tuesday night, but before the injury, is off to his traditional slow start to his season.

Going back to April 7th, the Cubs last 10 wins produced the following offensive output: 10, 6, 7, 6 9, 12, 3, 13, 13, 7. In their 13 wins to date, the Cubs are averaging a whopping 8 runs per game. In 2006, the Cubs offense averaged 4.7 runs per game, 8th in the NL and 18th in MLB. Where has the offensive improvement taken place? Lets look at the key offensive stats. In 2007, the Cubs offense was average, finishing 18th in MLB in OBP (.333), 15th in MLB in slugging (.422) and 15th in MLB in OPS (.754).

In 2008, the Cubs are averaging 6.21 per game. They are 2nd in the NL and 3rd in MLB in runs scored with 118. In 2008, the Cubs offense is near the top of every category, 1st in the NL and 2nd in MLB in OBP (.366), 4th in the NL and 4th in MLB in slugging (.456) and 2nd in the NL and second in MLB in OPS (.822).

The Cubs 13-6 record in April is their best April in recent memory, fueled by the resurgent Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez and newcomer Kosuke Fukudome. Six starters have batting averages above .300 and the seventh is hitting .282. Seven starters have an OBP over .408, seven starters have a slugging percentage of over .408 and 7 starters have an OPS over .821. The 8th starter? OF Alfonso Soriano, who is at the bottom of the charts in all categories (.230/.290/.528). How dangerous will the Cubs be offensively, if they maintain this pace and Soriano begins to hit his stride?

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Chicago Cubs Get Swept Out of 2007 Playoffs

Posted by sportsmaven on October 8, 2007

222Somewhere, somehow, Lou Piniella is sitting back, scratching his head, wondering if it was the goat after all. The Chicago Cubs160168 were ushered out of the playoffs on Saturday night with a resounding thud, as they lost Game 3 to the Arizona Diamondbacks161169, 5-1, sealing their fate once again, bringing the championship drought to 99+ years and counting. Fate was sealed when Cubs P Rich Hill’s 162170first pitch of the game to Diamondbacks CF Chris Young163171 was golfed into the left field bleachers. Four double plays later, the Cubs were left with memories of 2007 and the “Wait ‘Til Next Year” cry.

Cubs Lose To

(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

Watching this series, I was totally shocked at how the Cubs did absolutely nothing to merit winning even one game. Their defense was flawless in the series, otherwise, offensively, they were a complete no-show. The Cubs big 3 hitters had exactly 0 RBI. Outside of Carlos Zambrano, Cubs starting pitching was not very good. I liked how Cubs C Geovanny Soto172 competed, cementing his position as Cubs starting catcher for next season.

Outside of a nice run in June/July, the Cubs season was woefully short on good, sound, fundamental baseball. They didn’t do the little things to win games on a consistent basis. They didn’t do things like bunt very well, advance baserunners, didn’t show good discipline at the plate, run the bases well, or any of the other little things that a team like the Arizona Diamondbacks did to win the NLDS.

This has got to change for 2008 if the Cubs plan on ending the championship drought. When you do the little things, all of a sudden breaks start going your way. You get a couple more calls, you work yourself out of jams, the big hit gets you runs. My big wish for the 2008 Cubs is that their baseball IQ triples, that they take care of the little things. Oh, a closer and a power hitting RF wouldn’t hurt either.

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