What Are You Looking At?

What Are You Looking At?

Thursday, October 15th

Its baseball playoff season once again and decisions have to be made. Decisions for Chicago fans that is: Do I watch? Or is it time for the Bears and Hawks?!! Well, for me, its not so easy to let go. (Besides the point that I have a team in the hunt, not to rub it in.) As one that is VERY used to his team leaving EVERY dance early, I have been faced with this decision, like clockwork, four times a year for about 25 years now, thats what having a sports affliction will do to you. Now, as much as Ive been disappointed by the performance of the team I root for in each of the four major sports, I cant help but watch how those sports are performed at the highest level. Besides, like reading a book or watching a TV show, once Ive invested the time, I always have to know the ending! People always ask me which of the 4 is my favorite and I tell them that its hard to choose, thats like asking me which one of my kids is my favorite. Well, with the kids, it depends on the day, and with the sports, it depends on the time of year. (teasing!) This time of year presents itself with so many options (a thankful distraction to the oncoming of the 7 months of winter!), you sometimes have to choose.

Like me missing the Hawks five-goal comeback the other night, since I was watching a playoff baseball game, the Monday night football game (a tradition like no other!) and doing social studies homework with my 10 year old. There is only so much of Frankie Os attention span to go around! (unlike his waistline or hat size!) But, as usual, my sports priority at this time is baseball. The American pastime. The playoffs provide us with the ultimate reality show. Drama, agony, more agony (sound familiar?) then someone gets voted off the island until only one remains. Im addicted. Go figure! (And winter cant really start until baseball is over, can it?) Another reason I watch, and this is for Cubs and Sox fans, I want to know if these teams are really that much better than the team I root for. So far, the answer is: Yes and Yeesssss!! By watching OUR team for most of the year we can become narrow in our focus, seeing them play against the highest level of competition only occasionally. If they have a decent series in these match-ups we feel they can compete. But the thing all teams have to prove is if they can play at that level for a long stretch, against teams that are equally as good. Thats called exposing your flaws. The teams that are left are here for a reason: Theyre good! And not just at one thing. From the front office on down, this final four belongs, on every level. The main thing that I have taken from this years teams is their incredible balance in every phase. These teams have all been put together by the front office with balance (although, given an open checkbook I could have put together the New York team!), are managed with balance (no surprise that 4 of the best are here) and, most importantly, perform on the field in all phases of the game (power, speed, pitching and defense define each). These teams dont beat themselves, take advantage of opportunity and, as witnessed by all four mounting huge comebacks against elite closers, never give up. This combination is hard to beat.

As an example of something that I see from these teams, that I dont see from the Chicago teams, is something that I witnessed in that Monday night Phillies game. Facing a 2-run deficit and the probability of having to return to Philly for a game 5, the at-bats they had against Huston Street were like watching a how-to video. Not afraid to take pitches, working the count, fouling off tough 2-strikers, the Phillies batters put themselves in a position to succeed. Rollins got a single after being 0-2, Utley worked a full count walk, and then, Howard did not miss a 2-1 fastball to tie the game. My favorite at-bat though was Jayson Werth. With a 2-2 count, and having fouled off a tough low and outside 2-strike slider, and KNOWING that Street was going to keep throwing 2 strike sliders, he adjusted his swing (cut it down, not trying to do too much) and plopped a low and outside slider into right field to score the game-winning run. Now those were professional at-bats, when it mattered most. Now I ask: When was the last time you consistently saw that on the Northside? (I can just envision Soriano taking the same approach!)

So as Chicago embarks on a, once again, too early off-season, I suggest that everyone enjoy the post-season for what it is: baseball being played at its highest level, even if it is teams that you dont root for. And while youre watching, look for clues as to what the team that you root for needs to do to get to this level, then, you can turn on a Hawks or Bear game. Summer is over.

Report: Dexter Fowler closing in on deal with Cardinals

Report: Dexter Fowler closing in on deal with Cardinals

Dexter Fowler won't be making a surprise return to the Cubs next season.

Fowler is closing in on a deal to sign with the St. Louis Cardinals, according to USA Today's Bob Nightengale.

The Cubs signed outfielder Jon Jay last week to a one-year deal, pretty much sealing Fowler's future with the Cubs.

In two seasons in Chicago, Fowler batted .261/.367/.427 with 30 home runs and 94 RBI, and a World Series ring.

Blackhawks improve faceoffs in Jonathan Toews’ absence

Blackhawks improve faceoffs in Jonathan Toews’ absence

Yanic Perreault came onto the ice as the Blackhawks wrapped up practice on Thursday.

It’s been a relatively common sight the last few seasons. Most of the time, Perreault has helped out when a particular player is struggling from the faceoff dot. That was true with Artem Anisimov earlier this season. But with Jonathan Toews sidelined the Blackhawks have been even more focused on improving upon and winning faceoffs. Thanks to the extra diligence, they’ve done that.

The Blackhawks’ overall faceoff performance has steadily improved. They’ll see how it goes again on Friday night when they face the New York Rangers, their eighth consecutive game without Toews.

“We’re working almost every practice and trying to get better on faceoffs,” Anisimov said on Thursday. “If we win the faceoff, we start with the puck and it’s pretty good. You can go to the offensive zone or win in the offensive zone you start with the puck and you have the opportunity to shoot the puck all day and get chances. It’s a big part of the game.”

Enter Perreault, who was a great faceoff man during his NHL career. The Blackhawks players say Perreault offers a wealth of information in each session.

“It’s different every day. The whole science behind it, he’s been great since he was brought in,” Marcus Kruger said. “He always has something new he wants us to work on, whether it’s just timing or body-positioning or something like that. It’s a lot of different stuff and we work on new stuff every day.”

Rasmussen agreed.

“It’s a lot of things you can work on,” he said. “You try to work on being in a low position so you get stronger. [There are] a lot of small things on how you can go against other guys that do it certain way, and you have to find your own way, too.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

Their first game without Toews, against the Anaheim Ducks, was dismal. Part of that is the Ducks having some tremendous face-off guys. But Toews is the Blackhawks’ best at the dot – he’s won 60.3 percent of the time this season – so that first game without him was rough.

Here’s how things have progressed for the Blackhawks, with faceoffs won and lost and percentage, in Toews’ absence.

Opponent Wins-Losses Percent
Ducks 18-49 27 percent
Kings 21-37 36 percent
Panthers 39-35 53 percent
Devils 22-27 45 percent
Flyers 22-31 42 percent
Jets 31-27 53 percent
Coyotes 30-28 52 percent

So yes, there’s been improvement.

“I think we hold our own,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “Yan works well with our center men, they take pride in trying to be the best they can and now they’re taking some important faceoffs and some they probably haven’t taken in the past, whether they’re defensive or special-teams faceoffs. They’ve all won some important faceoffs for us at key times, too.”

The Blackhawks have done their best filling the void left by Toews, especially on faceoffs. There’s been a lot of work put into it, especially with Perreault following practices. But the results have been there.

“We know we’d like to start with the puck, and we had a couple of tough games when Jonny went down initially,” Quenneville said. “But it’s been much better since.”