Frankie O's Blog: Back to Normal?

Frankie O's Blog: Back to Normal?

Friday, March 25, 2011
Posted: 9:06 a.m.

By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com

Its hard to say that anything in my life is normal, that happens when you serve adults alcohol for a living and have three young kids and a boss at home. Pretty much, in all facets of my life, Im just along for the ride, and hanging on for dear life at that. But in anyones life you have to find that something that allows you to get away and balance yourself out. That my something puts me into a full psychosis should tell you everything that you need to know about me, that is, if you havent already guessed: I have a few issues!

For me, back to normal means that my fantasy hiatus is finally over. After a long year of the baseball-football fantasy doubleheader, even yours truly needs a little time to re-charge the batteries. Although I will admit, I did consider going year-round and playing in a fantasy basketball league with the other sickos in my two leagues. But then they changed the draft day on me and I was shut out. You dont think its because theyre tired of giving me their money is it? Anyway, it gave me a break from my computer, but for some reason with the additional time, I didnt seem to get any more done. How does that happen?

So as usual, the beginning of spring training had me chomping at the bit to get back into it. Fantasy guides are littering my desk and all month I have fallen asleep reading MLB information on my iPhone. At work, the mind-games were in midseason form. A lot of the fun of this is messing with your league mates. On-line banter is fun, but in person is funner. Sending out draft dis-information is all part of the master plan. The name of the game is to not only win, but to climb in their heads and have a sandwich while youre there. The pressure of the draft is pretty cool. Its high-stress, but its not entirely real. At least I keep telling myself that. In a perfect world, I think every fantasy draft should have everyone in the same room and should be in the auction format.

This starts every person on a level playing field and any person can have any player. (Not to mention something else that is a side benefit is that you all can enjoy a few refreshments and this will ALWAYS tilt the playing field not to mention giving you stories that will last the year and beyond. Am I right Puppy Kisses?) But since we do not live in a perfect world, I had to sit alone in front of my computer and deal with the vagaries of a snake draft. In the end I think a snake evens out, but just once I wouldnt mind the first pick, not complaining, just saying. Starting a draft with the best player is a nice advantage, if we all had to bid on it, that player is available to anyone who wants to pony up. As I sat on-line waiting for the 10:45 p.m. draft to start, I finished the fortress of information around me, drawing chuckles from the wife as she rolled her eyes and went to bed. But whats really funny is that I rarely use any of it.

Once the draft starts Im in such a trance that I really dont notice anything else. One thing I did notice was the lost connection filtered screen that dropped over my draft screen with the dreaded spinning circle. It only lasted a few seconds and went away. That was weird. There are many theories to drafts, and in a 7x7 NL only roto league such as ours, theyre too many to mention. For me, it gets down to two things: Guys I like to watch play and young guys with up-side. You can study every number you want, but this is still a lot of luck, and in the case of baseball a REALLY long season, so Im big on the kids I enjoy watching. (One of those kids is Joey Votto, who Ive owned for the last two years, while finishing 2nd and 1st in those two years. I dont think thats a coincidence and I love to watch him hit, although my enthusiasm will be a little tempered this year.)

In the first round Ryan Braun was there when it was my turn and he was gone when I used that turn. His powerspeedavg. combo made that pick a no-brainer. When I got to pick on the wrap-around I was able to get my new Votto in Andrew McCutchen. I think hes going to have a monster year. So far Im feeling pretty good, although that pesky lost connection screen keeps popping down. Of course the pick before mine in round three took the player I wanted, Hunter Pence (another Ive owned for two years, what can I say, I get attached to my guys!) but I knew my getting him in the third was a reach so I settled for my plan B: Jay Bruce. My team is going to hit!

Then it happened. As soon as I took Bruce, I queued Mike Stanton in my selection box, thinking Im going to have a core of four who can give me strength in all seven offensive categories. As my turn was one away I lost my connection! Do you know what happens when you lose your connection and its your pick? The computer picks for you! It picks the highest rated player according to our service, which is Yahoo!. And do you know who that was? Mr. Calf Strain himself: Jimmy Rollins! Now most of you would think that I would be happy with a former MVP, that plays in a quality scarce position, and by the way, is a PHILLIE! Ironically he is the Phillie who I have a lovehate thing with. Now thats funny, not funny ha-ha but funny.

I would not draft him EVER, or at least in the first 15 rounds. Hes old. He uppercuts his swing way too much, and especially now that I think he will hit in the three-hole since the Phils wont have Chase Utley, hell want to be a power hitter. Can you say 2-0 popup? And by the way, did I mention he gets hurt? A lot! Other than that, I dont have much of an opinion. Mr. Phillie himself, Mike Schmidt, said the same things about him this spring. (Schmidt and what he says are another three blogs, but this time I thought he was spot on.) I thought my head was going to explode.

I let out a tirade that would have made Rex Ryan blush. My vision was gone, in more ways than one. But what could I do? I know that the rest of my league-mates could care less. Stuff happens. But honestly, Rollins? Im still hot thinking about it. I wish I could say things got better, but for the rest of the draft, I lived in fear of another auto-pick. (Unfortunately, this did happen to others, but none with the consequence of my 4th pick.) My next one occurred in the 10th round when the computer picked a Met for me. A freaking Met! I hate Mets! If I could get away from my anger, there really is some funny, ironic stuff here. Funny if it was happening to someone else!

So this event that Ive been looking forward to for so long tuned into a three hour, 30-round hell ride. And just for good measure, my last pick, was an auto-pick! Only fitting thats how it ended and that one made me laugh out loud for the fact that it happened and that the player selected is no longer in baseball! In a change of luck, as soon as I was finished stomping on my computer and throwing its trampled remains out on the street (kidding! Sort of.) I turned on the TV and Old School was just coming on. Nothing like a little Will Ferrell to help me forget about my train-wreck of a draft. As I was watching, I remembered something that I believe totally about fantasy baseball.

Its not just about the draft. Its about how much work you put in. Unlike football, where the draft is ginormous, you can overcome your misfortune with due diligence. Fantasy baseball is a six-month marathon. You will get out what you put in. In a long season, players will come out of nowhere to have an impact. A lot of them have not been drafted yet. You just have to find them. The night after the draft was non-stop fun at work as I was taking a ribbing for my picks and my response to them. Nothing like some good old gallows humor! That night after work I consoled myself by looking over the other rosters and I realized with a little luck, I should once again be in the mix. As I was enjoying my 3 a.m. hour pondering the positive and negatives of Ronny Cedeno and Jason Michaels, my sick 11 year old came into the kitchen because her cough had woken here up. As she enjoyed a soothing Halls, she looked at my computer screen and rolled her eyes. (Where have I seen that look before?!!) She said that all of the boys in her class were addicted to fantasy baseball and that was all that they were talking about in school. Well, it is a great way to keep up on the math skills, I told her, hoping she did not see through me. Yeah, but my teacher says her husband is the same way, and that its a sickness. Thats quite a teacher you have there, I replied avoiding direct eye contact. Shes got me pegged! Again! How do kids get so smart so fast? I think its time you went back to bed young lady, Daddy will tuck you in. Then hes going back to his computer to find some more stolen bases! I close my eyes, only for a moment and the moments gone

They're back: Cubs lineup bludgeons Cardinals

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They're back: Cubs lineup bludgeons Cardinals

ST. LOUIS — The Cubs didn’t need any mimes, magicians or mariachi bands in the clubhouse. Joe Maddon didn’t have to reach into his bag of tricks to deflect attention away from his team’s offensive struggles or deflate whatever pressure his young hitters might have been feeling.

The Cubs showed why they have the best record in baseball and status as World Series favorites, jumping Michael Wacha for six runs in the first inning of a 12-3 win over the St. Louis Cardinals on Tuesday night at Busch Stadium.

If Maddon didn’t call this shot, the manager certainly alluded to it during his pregame media session when asked which hitter he thinks opponents focus on or worry about the most.

"It’s hard to name one guy," Maddon said. "I’m sure they’re concerned about (Jorge) Soler hitting .190-something, just knowing that at any moment he could just break out. If I were to look at our lineup, I’d be uncomfortable all the way down (with) the way David Ross is hitting right now. There’s no comfortable break in our lineup.

"It’s a definite American League East lineup from back in the day."

That’s the entire point for this franchise, how Theo Epstein’s front office kept betting on hitters in the draft, trades and free agency, trying to build a bigger, better version of those Boston Red Sox teams that bludgeoned opponents.

Within that first-inning ambush, Soler drew a bases-loaded walk that forced in a run, Ross drove a ball that soared over Randal Grichuk’s head and deflected off the center fielder’s outstretched glove for a two-out, two-run double. Pitcher Jason Hammel followed that up by drilling another two-run double to center.

Soler knocked out Wacha — a pitcher the Cubs beat in the playoffs last year — in the fifth inning with a two-run homer that had 100-mph exit velocity and sailed over the center-field fence.

Handed a six-run lead within 15 minutes of first pitch, before he ever stepped onto the mound, Hammel pitched into the eighth inning and allowed only one run, continuing another All-Star level first half (6-1, 2.17 ERA).

The Cubs (30-14) ended a three-game losing streak — the first one this season — and changed the subject with fans on Twitter and for the media wondering what happened to this team.

Up next for the Cardinals (24-22) on Wednesday afternoon is Jake Arrieta, a reigning Cy Young Award winner who’s 24-1 with a 0.99 ERA in his last 29 regular-season starts. No one needs to tell the Cubs to R-E-L-A-X.

"We’ve gone through a tough time recently," Maddon said. "Believe me, man, it happens to everybody. It doesn’t concern me. I’m not distraught over it. It’s just a part of our game. But I like our names. I like our lineup a lot. Our boys will put up some huge numbers by the end of the season."

White Sox bullpen in as 'good' a position as possible

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White Sox bullpen in as 'good' a position as possible

They merely hoped to survive the doubleheader, but members of the White Sox bullpen feel as if they’re well positioned for success.

The combined efforts of Mat Latos and Erik Johnson limited the number of outs covered by the White Sox bullpen to 16 in Monday’s doubleheader. Latos and Johnson completed 12.2 of the 18 innings played, which meant no White Sox relievers appeared in both games. Of the five relievers to pitch, Matt Purke’s 2.1 innings was the longest stint. Given they have eight relievers on hand, the White Sox like where they’re at as the pass the midpoint in a stretch with 17 games in 16 days.

“That’s about as good as you can do,” closer David Robertson said. “If we’d have had two wins it would have been a lot better. But it was a good job by the staff altogether, the starters and relievers. The defense played really well, saved us a lot of runs. It was a long day yesterday.”

White Sox manager Robin Ventura only used Purke in the nightcap. In the opener, he turned to Zach Duke, Matt Albers, Nate Jones and Robertson, a group that ultimately closed out a 7-6 victory.

Duke, who pitched in parts of two innings, said he had a pretty good idea he wouldn’t be used in the second game and the same likely went for Albers.

“They kind of give us an idea what the plan is going to be that way we’re not going to be caught off guard by anything,” Duke said. “But like I say, when the phone rings you find a way to get the job done.”

The White Sox added Tommy Kahnle to the roster before Monday’s doubleheader and kept him in the majors afterward, opting to send Erik Johnson back to Triple-A Charlotte. The White Sox still have eight more consecutive games to play after Tuesday’s contest against the Cleveland Indians before a day off next Thursday. Given they’re set to play the New York Mets in interleague, they may stick with the eight-man bullpen for now.

“We wanted to make sure we were covered down there,” Ventura said. “You never know how that’s going to go.”

'The butterfly effect' from Jason Heyward's return to Cubs lineup

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'The butterfly effect' from Jason Heyward's return to Cubs lineup

ST. LOUIS — Jason Heyward owns three Gold Gloves, gets on base 35 percent of the time and allows Cubs manager Joe Maddon to hit Ben Zobrist behind Anthony Rizzo. Even if the offensive numbers never match the external expectations for a $184 million player, Heyward’s presence matters.

"That’s the butterfly effect," Maddon said Tuesday at Busch Stadium, where Heyward returned to the lineup against the St. Louis Cardinals. "When they flutter their wings, something else occurs that’s not noticeable to the naked eye.

"It happens in Russia. It happens in '11/22/63.' So there are all these different moments that occur that we don’t really recognize because we only see the obvious."

Heyward’s absence didn’t fully explain a three-game losing streak or the offensive regression, and it might not have changed a 1-0 loss to San Francisco Giants ace Madison Bumgarner on "Sunday Night Baseball."

But after watching Friday’s jaw-dropping catch and headfirst crash into the AT&T Park wall, general manager Jed Hoyer admitted it felt like the Cubs dodged a bullet. Heyward somehow walked away with only a bruised right side at a time when the Cubs couldn’t afford to lose another corner outfielder.

"He’s not hitting .300, so obviously people think that he’s not playing well, which is so far from the truth," Maddon said. "He makes a great impact just by his presence as a great defender. He gets on base a lot. And then he permits us to reorganize the batting order."

Heyward went into Tuesday hitting .225 with one home run through 165 plate appearances and a .611 OPS that’s a 173-point drop from his career numbers entering this season. He had been feeling like he was getting his timing down again — and working through a nagging wrist issue — so we’ll see what the extra rest means for the butterfly effect.

"Sometimes the game’s going to get you," Heyward said. "You say 'turn it around,' but we’re doing OK. Right now, we’re not by any means complacent, but it’s a part of the season. You’re going to go through ups and downs. You’re going to go through stretches where the other team just has a better night than you do."