Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Chicago: City of Big Winners (for now, anyway)

Interesting times for those following Chicago's sports scene ...


In a shocking development that not a single soul could have foreseen, Milton Bradley is out with an injury. Doesn't matter. The Cubs are doing just what they're supposed to be doing during this 162-game preseason of theirs.

They are winning far more than they are losing and setting themselves up for what is sure to be a typically satisfying playoff run.

It hasn't been boring in Cubbieland. It never is.

Lou Piniella has had to threaten several relievers with bodily harm for failing to throw strikes, Kosuke Fukudome is squeezing some hits in between his spin-o-ram misses, Derrek Lee has morphed into Mark Grace II and Geovany Soto's sore shoulder has made an every-inning catcher out of Koyie Hill.

Oh, and Alfonso Soriano is on quite the lead-off-the-game-with-bombs tear. If I were the opposing manager and my starter threw the first pitch within a foot of the strike zone, I would immediately pull the starter from the game, fine him a million bucks and option him to Dezhnevo of the Sarah Palin Backyard League. 

As expected, aside from the Cubs and the resilient Cardinals, the NL Central is mostly garbage. It remains almost impossible to fathom the Cubs losing.

Until October, of course.


I flipped on Monday's game just in time to see Jermaine Dye and Paul Konerko hit back-to-back jacks - remarkably, the 300th career home run for each. Congrats to two classy guys.

And Carlos Quentin also smacked two homers in beating the Tigers. For all the talk about how this team now can play small-ball ... please. If the Sox hit home runs, they have a chance to win. If they don't, they usually lose. Fortunately for them, they hit lots of homers.

Though the White Sox have plenty of flaws, I've seen little to convince me they aren't the least-flawed team in a greatly flawed division.

And Bartolo Colon will eat anybody who disagrees.


They looked like a lost cause a couple of months ago but now have a great chance to finish with a winning record, the No. 6 seed in the East and a first-round playoff matchup against the Orlando Magic. 

That's huge. Of the East's "big three," Orlando is the least big - even though the Magic have the NBA's best big man in Dwight Howard.

That only seems confusing, so you'll have to trust me. No team wants the Cavs or Celtics in the first round. Orlando is a good team but its forwards are hurting and it is very beatable if the 3-pointers aren't falling.

I've been tough on John Paxson and Vinny Del Negro - for good reason - but Pax especially responded to all the criticism by doing something before the trade deadline. His acquisition of Brad Miller and John Salmons gave the Bulls life.

As a result, Derrick Rose has more teammates he can trust and Ben Gordon doesn't feel compelled to take every shot (only most of them).

I'm still not convinced that the team isn't winning despite Del Negro. I also am not convinced Vinny's team knows what defense is. The playoffs will be a nice test.


They not only are returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2002, but they also have home-ice advantage in the first round.

Calgary is the opening opponent and I'm proud to say I can name one Flames player without looking in their media guide. Thanks for sticking around through my personal five-year hockey strike, Jarome Iginla!

The Hawks' fine young players sure are fun to watch. Nevertheless, I wonder if they are big enough, tough enough and mature enough to make any serious playoff noise. 

I also have doubts that Nikolai Khabibulin is anywhere near the same "Bulin Wall" who carried Tampa Bay to the Stanley Cup a couple years ago - and goaltending is everything come springtime in the NHL. 


Cutlermania has only just begun. Bear Country denizens haven't been this excited about their quarterback since ... Caleb Hanie last preseason!

It would be easier to buy in to the bullishness on the Bears if they had a couple of worthwhile receivers and if the defense wasn't as big a problem as the offense ever since Super Bowl XLI.

Still, the Bears at least have a chance to be good now, and that's more than I would have said a few weeks ago.

So bravo, boys, enjoy the accolades you're getting now before you actually have to start playing football again.

The Quote

Talking about infielders getting intimidated by dirty, hard-sliding baserunners, Bob Brenly offered this nugget during Monday's Cubs telecast: 

"A lot of times, guys get a little light in their loafers around the bag."

Uh, sure ... not that there's anything wrong with that.

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