Nowak's absence felt in Philadelphia

840469.png

Nowak's absence felt in Philadelphia

The Fires opponent in a Sunday road match has had a rocky season, and the focal point of it was a Chicago legend. Peter Nowak is no longer the coach of the Philadelphia Union, but hes a factor in what has transpired in the clubs third season.
Last season the Union was a playoff team, the Fire was not. Now the Fire is closing in on a playoff berth while Philadelphia is struggling, and the circumstances surrounding Nowak are a big reason why.
Nowak was the first Fire captain. A former captain of the Poland national team, Nowak led the Fire to a shocking sweep of the Major League Soccer and Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cups in the clubs inaugural 1998 season. He retired as a player after four more campaigns with the Fire, then went into coaching.
He was as successful as a coach as he was a player. Nowak guided D.C. United to the MLS Cup in 2004, making him the only person to win that trophy as both a player and a coach. He then worked as an assistant to first Fire coach Bob Bradley with the U.S. national team and coached the 2008 U.S. Olympic squad before the Union made him its first coach.
The Union entered MLS in 2010 with Nowak as the manager (head coach) and executive vice president. The club was 8-15-7 in its first season and then made the playoffs after going 11-8-15 in 2011.
So far, so good for Nowak still a popular guy in Chicago soccer circles.
This season, though, has been something else. Despite last seasons successes Nowak opted to rebuild the Union. That led to the trades of striker Sebastien Le Toux to Vancouver, captain Danny Califf to Chivas USA and forward Danny Mwanga to Portland. All three were popular players in Philadelphia, and Nowaks own popularity there declined after the Union started 2-7-2, scoring only eight goals in those 11 games.
Not only did the fans become disenchanted with Nowak, but Philadelphia chief executive officer Nick Sakiewicz had issues as well. They escalated when European media reports had Nowak applying for the vacant head coaching job with Scottish Cup winner Heart of Midlothian.
Though Nowak denied those reports Sakiewicz, tired of the controversies that had hampered his team all season, fired him on June 13. Sakiewicz only cited "philosophical differences" for the firing, but Nowak sued the Union for wrongful termination and unpaid severance money. Subsequent legal documents accused Nowak of hazing and other questionable practices. He was also dropped as coach of the MLS All-Stars for the mid-season match against Englands Chelsea.
With Nowak out, Sakiewicz put assistant coach John Hackworth in charge of the Union on an interim basis. The club has done better under him, going 5-4-0, but Philadelphia is still ninth of the 10 teams in the Eastern Conference. Only Toronto FC, the Fires 2-1 victim in its last game on Saturday, is behind the Union.
Theres a couple of other interesting ties between the Philadelphia saga and the Fire. The Unions last match was a 2-0 loss to the expansion Montreal Impact last Saturday on the road. The Impact is coached by Jesse Marsch, who played with Nowak in the Fires midfield and coached with him in the U.S. national team program.
Marsch has become a coach-of-the-year contender after guiding the new team to a 9-13-3 record and sixth place in the East (the Fire is fifth, five points head of the Impact and holding the final playoff position). Fire coach Frank Klopas, of course, played with both Nowak and Marsch on the first Fire team.
The current Union roster includes Bakary Soumare, who left the Fire under strange circumstances after being a finalist for MLS Defender-of-the-Year in 2008 and an MLS All-Star in 2009. Soumare, played in 63 matches for the Fire from 2007-09 and was part of the Fires last playoff team. His departure reportedly came after a fight with then-head coach Denis Hamlett during the halftime of a game. Hamletts contract wasnt renewed after the 2009 season.
Soumare, who spent the last three seasons primarily with French side Boulogne, has not played for the Union since Philadelphia acquired him on June 26. He had been nursing a right knee injury, but the Union listed him as probable for Sundays match.
Nowak wasnt with the Union when it visited the Fire on March 24 for the Toyota Park opener. The Fire won 1-0 on a Dominic Oduro goal while Nowak remained in Philadelphia with reported flu-like symptoms. Nowak remains fourth on the Fires all-time goal-scoring list with 26, trailing Ante Razov, Chris Rolfe and Josh Wolff. Marco Pappa pulled even with Nowak when he scored his 26th in the win over Toronto FC.
The Fire (10-7-5) goes to Philadelphia with a 3-5-3 record in MLS road games this season. Next home match is Aug. 18 against New England. There are 12 matches remaining before the playoffs begin on Oct. 31. The top five teams in each conference qualify for postseason play with the MLS Cup final is Dec. 1.

Jose Quintana giving White Sox another ace to play as early season success rolls on

quintana_post_05-03_640x360_678976067898.jpg

Jose Quintana giving White Sox another ace to play as early season success rolls on

The White Sox newfound brand of crisp, clean baseball is suiting Jose Quintana awfully well. 

The 27-year-old left-hander pitched another gem Tuesday night, firing eight innings of one-run ball to propel the White Sox to a 4-1 win over the Boston Red Sox in front of 15,025 at U.S. Cellular Field.

Anchored by improved offensive and defensive support, Quintana lowered his season ERA to 1.40. But more jarring — in a positive way — is that in earning the win on Tuesday, Quintana for the first time in his career won three consecutive starts. 

“It’s way better this year,” Quintana said. “The offense is, for me and for everybody, everybody tries to do his job. We’re off to a really good start and we believe this year is a good year for us, and we’ll try to do everything to stay in first place.”

Quintana’s posted consistently solid results since the White Sox plucked him from Double-A Birmingham to start in a doubleheader against the Cleveland Indians four years ago. His decidedly-not-flashy-but-effective pitching style didn’t make headlines like his prolific teammate Chris Sale, but a 3.46 ERA and an unfairly poor win-loss record landed him on plenty of lists and social media takes focused on the most underrated or overlooked players in baseball. 

That’s changed this year. Before his stellar start Tuesday, Quintana was given 8/1 odds by the sports betting website Bovada to win the American League Cy Young, the third-best of anyone (Sale led the way at 6/5). It’s still early, of course, but these six starts to begin the 2016 season stand is one of the best stretches he’s had in his career. 

Manager Robin Ventura attributed Quintana’s ace-like success in part to pitching with a little less pressure than in the past. 

“There is something to be said for going out there thinking if you give up one you’re going to lose,” Ventura said. “It’s been a few years for him. Right now (with) the feeling going on in there, he knows if he just pitches his game those guys are going to scratch out some runs for him.”

The White Sox continue to show signs of ending a head-scratching inability to support Quintana. 

Jose Abreu’s first-inning RBI triple got the White Sox scoring started and his double in the eighth added two insurance runs (a Todd Frazier groundout in the third inning plated the White Sox other run). For the fifth time in six starts this season, Quintana was supported by four or more runs, and Adam Eaton and Austin Jackson made sparkling defensive plays to keep hard-hit balls from inflicting any damage. 

Having the offense score four or more runs in 83 percent of Quintana’s starts seems unlikely — if he makes 32 starts this year, that’d mean he’d get that support in about 27 of those — but it is an improvement off the last few seasons. The White Sox scored three or fewer runs in 54 percent of Quintana’s starts from 2013-15, a span in which it’s worth noting the club also was rated as having the third-worst defense in baseball by DRS and UZR. 

“There’s more of a confidence level of him knowing he doesn’t have to do an extraordinary thing — and he might do it, like tonight,” Ventura said. “But he doesn’t feel like he has to do it on his own.”

Quintana isn’t throwing harder this year and hasn’t added a new pitch or anything like that. But Ventura’s theory on why the Colombia native is pitching better makes sense — perhaps the next step in Quintana’s career was getting a good, reliable team playing behind him.

“He’s probably one of the best right now in the league,” first baseman Jose Abreu said through a translator. 

That’s not hyperbole. Quintana has a top-10 ERA that’s backed up by a 2.12 FIP, which is a good indicator that his early-season success isn’t necessarily a small sample size-generated mirage. 

Quintana is a shining example of how so much has gone right for the White Sox this season — even on the day in which the team announced it would eat over $11 million to cut ties with veteran left-hander John Danks. Not only is he pitching better, but everyone around him is playing better. And the combination of that, so far, has taken Quintana and the White Sox to another level. 

“Everything changed,” Quintana said. “Everything is going in a good direction this year. We believe in that.”

Today on CSN: Lester, Cubs go for sweep in Pittsburgh

maddon_and_zobrist_post_05-02_640x360_678254147548.jpg

Today on CSN: Lester, Cubs go for sweep in Pittsburgh

The Cubs look to sweep the Pittsburgh Pirates this afternoon, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 11 a.m. Then catch first pitch with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Today’s starting pitching matchup: Jon Lester (2-1, 1.83) vs. Juan Nicasio (3-2, 3.33)

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

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

Channel finder: Make sure you know where to watch.

Latest on the Cubs: All of the most recent news and notes.

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

Rick Hahn: Filling fifth spot in White Sox rotation a 'fluid situation'

hahn_on_danks_05-03_640x360_678725187926.jpg

Rick Hahn: Filling fifth spot in White Sox rotation a 'fluid situation'

Erik Johnson gets the first chance at the No. 5 spot in the White Sox rotation, but the situation is hardly finalized.

The White Sox announced Tuesday that they would promote Johnson from Triple-A Charlotte in time to make Thursday’s start in place of John Danks, whom they will officially designated for assignment later this week. But just because Johnson gets the first start doesn’t mean he’s here for good, general manager Rick Hahn said.

Hahn and the White Sox have made it clear they want better production from the fifth spot, whether it's from an internal or an external option.

“It’s going to be a bit of a fluid situation,” Hahn said.

Hahn is comfortable with the team’s internal options at Charlotte beyond Johnson.

Miguel Gonzalez, who started last Monday in Toronto, has a solid major league track record. Then there’s Jacob Turner, who has 27 strikeouts in 26 2/3 innings with a 3.04 ERA in five starts.

But Hahn also said the White Sox wouldn’t shy away from looking outside the farm system, either. Hahn declined to answer whether or not the White Sox would watch Tim Lincecum’s tryout Friday in Scottsdale, Ariz. before he noted the club has “scouts everywhere.”

The White Sox could also try and use their internal options to get by for several months before adding another pitcher ahead of the trade deadline.

No matter whom they turn to, the expectation is better results than the White Sox received from Danks, who was 0-4 with a 7.25 ER in four starts.

“Obviously, Erik starts on Thursday,” Hahn said. “After that, we may well make another move next week as we try to accomplish two things with that spot -- first and foremost, get greater production than we’ve been receiving thus far this year.”

“We do have a few internal options.

“If it does get to the point where we’re better off going outside the organization, obviously we’ve never been shy about doing that.”