Frankie O's Blog: A lazy, hazy shade of winter

Frankie O's Blog: A lazy, hazy shade of winter

By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com
As I continue to awaken from my tryptophan induced haze, I find that my new-found clarity enables me to see sports, and life, in a different light. The scandal at Penn State has definitely been a burden and has prompted a lot of soul-searching. It makes me wonder about a priority system gone made. While I think I have mine in order, most times, the combination of the scandal, fighting through an illness during a holiday weekend and a fast approaching milestone birthday have wreaked havoc on my mental well-being. That being said, one must fight on and move forward, hoping that eventually what is right will be done. One good thing about getting older though, I think the filter that should exist in all of our heads, is staring to disappear! OMG!

The talk of the bar, obviously, is about the Bears. The Jay Cutler injury has put a huge damper on the Koo-Aid drinking. As far as his coming back, who knows? But the team cant get lost in waiting for him. This is a time when the defense needs to step up. Lost in the furor over the awful tight-end screen call at the end of the first half that led to an interception that completely changed the game was the fact that the defense didnt do their new QB any favors. I know that they had to defend some short fields(2), but they didnt look up to championship caliber at any time. Oakland scored on 7 of 13 possessions. The 10 play 61-yard drive to open the second half continued the lost momentum of the end of the first half and furthered the uphill nature of the game. Then in the fourth quarter, with Oaklands lead cut to 5 and needing a big stop with 7 minutes left, they instead gave up an 8-play 74-yard touchdown drive that effectively put the game away. This team is going to go as far as the defense will take it. Fortunately, their remaining schedule does them some favors. Up next is an offensively anemic Kansas City team that has scored one touchdown in their last 4 games. The defense shouldnt allow this to change even if KC decides to let a QB with a neck-beard lead the charge. Then they go to play Denver, led by Football Bieber and his college offense. Enough said. After which is Seattle at home. Can you name anyone on that team? The defense needs to win these next 3 no matter who the QB is.

As far as Hanie, I think he showed the inexperience that goes along with having attempted 14 regular season passes at the NFL level. Practice doesnt move as fast as an NFL defense on game day. Besides the ill-fated Martz brain-fart, his 2 other picks were awful throws: A ball that should have been thrown out of bounds and an over-throw trying to do too much on a 3rd and 13. He looked much better in a turnover free second half. The old adage is that you show the most improvement from your first to second game. Lets hope so. I personally think the kid will step up. I especially like the fact that he takes advantage of Johnny Knoxs speed by actually throwing to him. Knox is never going to be a guy who fights for the ball in tight spaces and he can make his QB look bad and has, A LOT, but his speed is the real-deal and is a legitimate threat on an offense that needs to exploit any advantage it has.

As one who is suffering due to the NBA lockout, at the bar and on TV, Im glad the NBA is coming back. In fact, much like the NFL benefited from the frenzy following their labor woes, the NBA might find this whole mess works to their advantage. My reasoning here is that less is more. The NBA season is waaaaaay too long. Now, we can avoid the dog-days and needless visits by Sacramento and Minnesota! (I like pounding crap teams as much as the next guy, but there are still plenty to go around: Ladies and gentleman, your 2011-12 Detroit Pistons!) It might also keep Carlos Boozer healthy which would be a huge boost. (Hide the gym bags!) The main question for the Bulls, as always, will be the 2-guard dilemma. I hate to say it but, they might be better off with the status quo as opposed to bringing in someone elses problem. Food for thought: After the leagues last labor stoppage, teams suffered(or should I say fans?) through the worst shooting percentages in 30 years and the Knicks (!) reached the Finals. Give me defense and D-Rose! More food: (And why not more?) The Mavs won last year because they had more guys that could create shots and shoot. You can only prevent so much and the Bulls inability to score was beaten over fans heads like the many bricks they shot at the rim. The Bulls need a perimeter compliment to Rose and the name everyone is talking about is Jason Richardson. He would be the 66 shooting guard weve been talking about here since you-know-who won 6 and was asked not to return. The question is going to have to be answered eventually. Is Richardson the answer? If they do sign him, he better be since they wont be able to afford anything else.

Not a day passes without me being asked about the new Cubs regime, or them having a press conference! But I, like everyone else, am fascinated with what approach they will take and what their signature move of this off-season will be. The signing of David DeJesus brings in a competent, professional hitter. Only a cynic like me would point out that last year he had the lowest OBS and struck out the most times in his career. Moneyball? What Moneyball? More pressing are the fates of Big Z (He HAS to go!) and Matt Garza. Garza was a very expensive, if you like young prospects, addition last year, but he is a very talented (near the) top-of-the-rotation starter. His departure would signal the team is hell-bent on developing their own talent and its going to take a few years for the master-plan to bear fruit. It might be a little tough to sell that to folks that have to pay for season tickets this year, but this group will be measured for what they achieve in the future, not this year. They have a honeymoon period where they cant do wrong, so they better take advantage of it to get their house in order, because we all know honeymoons dont last!! Remember the Summer of Jay? (You thought I was talking about something else?)

So Im pouring drinks at a furious pace during a busy convention week and I happen to glance up at one of the TVs in the bar to see if I can get a score from one of the various Big TenACC Challenge games on a cable network and I saw a commercial that made me stop in my tracks.(Cable TV has the best commercials ever!) And once again Ive been beaten to the punch! Ive always envisioned myself coming up with the next big thing, you know, like a Gates, Jobs or Zuckerberg, but maybe not to the same intellectual level. Being a bartender, I know that you dont have to be that bright to come up with an idea that will make you a ton of cash. I would go through the history, but Im too embarrassed. Embarrassed that I didnt think of it! A pet rock? A chia pet? Zubaz? Cmon!!

Well, just when we thought we saw it all with the snuggie, we now have reached a new low with the Forever Lazy. What is that, you may ask? After being made totally uncomfortable (irony?) by the commercial, I, of course, had to check out the website! Upon entering, I was asked the question: Have you ever wondered why no one makes a good pair of onesie pajamas for adults? Well, since Im an adult, no, I have NEVER wondered that! These guys are brilliant! Since THEY wondered, theyve come up with the one-piece lie around, lounge around, full body lazy wear that covers from head to toe. Well, not exactly, since you have to buy matching footies that theyll give you for free, plus 7.95 P&H. Honestly? And theyve really thought this out, since the Forever Lazy includes zippered hatches, front and back, for great escapes! What?! But really, who has time for that? If Im in full lazy mode, Im not moving for nothing, and I mean nothing! That got me thinking, what these things need is a friend, thats right, a pal: A Stadium Pal! How can you buy one without the other? If youre going to do it, go the distance! Now, if youll excuse me, I have to go. Go call my friends at Forever Lazy. Can you say the holiday gift-pack every fan wants to see under his tree? Bartender approved!!

Cubs conserving Jake Arrieta for October and see another Cy Young push coming

Cubs conserving Jake Arrieta for October and see another Cy Young push coming

SAN DIEGO – West Coast atmosphere, late August, almost no-hitter stuff for a Cubs team riding a wave of momentum. Jake Arrieta might be reentering the zone that made him the hottest pitcher on the planet last year. Get your onesies ready.

It felt that way on Tuesday night at Petco Park, where Arrieta shut down the San Diego Padres, allowing only two hits across eight scoreless innings in a 5-3 victory, making another statement in his Cy Young Award defense.

For all the questions about Arrieta’s fastball control and mechanical tweaks – and times where he’s admitted he’s felt a click off – this is still a top-of-the-rotation guy who leads the league with 16 wins and has a 2.62 ERA.

“He should be” in the Cy Young discussion, manager Joe Maddon said. “The only thing that’s been amiss is a little bit of command issues on occasion. Otherwise, stuff is the same. Numbers are fabulous. It’s hard to replicate what he had done last year, because he just nailed it.

“If he gets hot over these last couple weeks…”

It will be up to Arrieta to complete that thought in a World Series-or-bust season for baseball’s first team to 80 wins this year, one that’s now 35 games over .500.  

[SHOP: Get your own Jake Arrieta jersey]

This didn’t feel like a perfect game or create any no-hitter drama. The Padres are already 20 games under .500 and years away from being a serious contender. And Arrieta had to bounce back from last week’s ugly win over the Milwaukee Brewers – when he walked a career-high seven batters – and work around a first-inning walk to San Diego leadoff guy Travis Jankowski.

But the Cubs played spectacular defense behind Arrieta, with catcher Willson Contreras make a lightning-quick throw to pick off Jankowski at third base. The Cubs turned three double plays while a thunderous lineup led by Kris Bryant (33rd home run) and Addison Russell (fifth home run in his last five games) lowered the stress level. After Alex Dickerson’s single leading off the second inning, the Padres didn’t get another hit until Christian Bethancourt’s double with two outs in the eighth.

“I really wanted to let my defense work,” said Arrieta, who finished with six strikeouts against three walks. “When you have Addison and (Javier) Baez in the middle of the infield – two of the best athletes in all of baseball – you want the ball to go to those guys.”

At a time when Clayton Kershaw (back) and Stephen Strasburg (elbow) are on the disabled list, leaving potential playoff opponents like the Los Angeles Dodgers and Washington Nationals in scramble mode, the Cubs can see Arrieta building toward October.

The way Arrieta did with that Aug. 30 no-hitter last year at Dodger Stadium on national TV, walking into the press conference in a moustache-covered onesie, Maddon going with the pajama theme again for the flight home after this weekend’s series in Los Angeles.

But the Cubs ultimately paid the price for all that effort poured into the wild-card chase, which explains why Maddon pulled Arrieta after 99 pitches with a five-run lead (leaving Aroldis Chapman to clean up Felix Pena’s mess in the ninth inning and get the final two outs, giving him eight saves in a Cubs uniform).

“Yeah, I was mad at Joe taking me out,” Arrieta said. “But at the same time, he came over to me and he said: ‘Hey, just remember last year and let’s conserve some things for October.’

“That’s our game plan. We want to be as strong and as dominant as we can be, but still in the back of our mind understanding that late September, early October, mid-October is really the most important time for us.

“Could I have finished the game? Yes. Does it play in our favor to maybe conserve that for later? Yeah. Joe’s a really smart guy. He knows what he’s doing. I feel like he makes the right moves in the right situations. And that’s why we’ve been playing as well as we have.”

No doubt, Addison Russell is becoming a star for Cubs

No doubt, Addison Russell is becoming a star for Cubs

SAN DIEGO – On a team bursting with MVP frontrunners and Cy Young Award candidates – and in a clubhouse with louder, flashier personalities – Addison Russell can emerge as an All-Star shortstop and not become the center of attention.

But here at Petco Park last month, Russell drew scrutiny for his spot in the all-Cub infield, patiently answering questions from reporters about whether or not he deserved to be the National League starter the fans voted for in that popularity contest.

Russell might actually be developing into a superstar now, a Gold Glove-caliber defender with legitimate middle-of-the-order power, someone absolutely essential to what the Cubs are doing now. Russell crushed the San Diego Padres again on Tuesday night, opening up a two-run game with a two-run homer in the fifth inning of a 5-3 victory.

“Just watch me over the course of a year,” Russell said. “My numbers may not be great or whatever, but I contribute to my team every single day. I play my heart out for my team.”

Super-agent Scott Boras, posted up at Petco Park to see clients and watch Jake Arrieta pitch, pointed out that Russell is now only one of five shortstops within the last 40 years to have at least 19 homers during his age-22 season, joining Cal Ripken Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Troy Tulowitzki and Corey Seager.

Russell is the first Cubs shortstop to reach the 80-RBI mark since Ernie Banks did it in 1961. For all the comparisons to Barry Larkin, he didn’t make his big-league debut with the Cincinnati Reds until the age of 22, and didn’t exceed 12 homers in a season until five years later.

Russell has homered five times in his last five games, leads the best team in baseball with 23 multi-RBI games and exemplifies a no-panic approach that should translate in October.

“I’ve said all year, we have guys on our team that get on base and it’s my job to get them over or get them in,” Russell said. “I’ve taken that role to heart. It’s a lot of fun out there. I challenge myself whenever I’m in that situation.”

[SHOP: Get your Addison Russell jersey here]

Russell’s highlight-reel play during Monday night’s victory inspired manager Joe Maddon to give him a bottle of Justin Isosceles wine with a “6-3” written on it. Imagine the reward if Russell wins a Gold Glove.  

“Defensively, it’s as good as there is being played right now,” Maddon said. “It’s getting to the point where there’s nobody else like that right now.”

Whether or not Russell can stay healthy and remain productive enough to become another Mr. Cub – or come close to matching Larkin’s Hall of Fame numbers – you don’t get the sense he will be a one-time All-Star.

“I’m very happy for him, because I know prior to being selected, that was an issue,” Maddon said. “I’m so proud of him, how he came out and confronted it in his own way, very quietly, but in a distinguished manner. That’s who he is.

“Now he’s showing everybody how good he is. And I also believe that event has pretty much catapulted him to the point he’s at right now (with) the status that he felt by being here. In some ways, there was this negative dialogue going on. He’s turned it into a very positive one. Good for him.”

Preview: White Sox try to sweep Phillies tonight on CSN

Preview: White Sox try to sweep Phillies tonight on CSN

The White Sox take on the Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday, and you can catch all the action on CSN. Coverage begins at 7:00 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on White Sox Postgame Live.

Wednesday’s starting pitching matchup: James Shields vs. Jerad Eickhoff

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.  

[SHOP WHITE SOX: Get your White Sox gear right here]

— Channel finder: Make sure you know where to watch.

— Latest on the White Sox: All of the most recent news and notes.

— See what fans are talking about before, during and after the game with White Sox Pulse.