Frankie O: Worlds apart

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Frankie O: Worlds apart

By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com

At least in my sports life, worlds apart is how I would like it to be, unfortunately, its not going to happen. The problem with a sports affliction is that it wont go away, even if you move to a new city with plenty of issues in its own right. You dance with who brung ya. What happens eventually is that those worlds will collide, with the collateral damage ending up everywhere around you. As anyone who has read me before knows, moving to Chicago was never a part of the master plan. (Neither were my weight or age, but well have time for that later!) Life happens and then nothing else is the same. For me, Im never going to quit my teams, who would? As you would expect, my rooting interests has caused situations I could never have foreseen. Again, what else is new?

The Sixers-Bulls rivalry has been pretty much non-existent for my entire lifetime. My guess is that it will stay that way even whenever-next September-they start playing games again. Thats cool with me since out of the Chicago teams, the Bulls are the team I can openly root for, without feeling too much heat from my Philly brethren. It was awesome being here for the second Three-Peat. And Ill take D-Rose over Allen Emphasis on the I-version any day of the week.

The Phils and White Sox have played one inter-league series and I honestly cant remember who won. The part I do remember was that the game I went to was rained out, so I had to spend the rest of my evening at Jimbos Lounge on 32nd and Princeton. Oops! What happens at Jimbos stays at Jimbos! In the September make-up game I saw Joe Borchard hit the longest hit ball Ive ever seen live- it short-hopped the wall beyond the right field concourse- and that includes the Albert Pujols Show during the 2003 Home Run Derby at the Cell. As far as Cubs-Phillies, theyve gone back and forth over the years, with the Phills having a decided advantage lately, which definitely makes my work life a lot easier. But I dodged a huge bullet when the Cubs gagged against the Dodgers in 2008 preventing a NLCS clash for the ages. Everyone at the bar wished me well as the Phillies went on to the title, but I knew it had to hurt. Thats a feeling Im very familiar with.

Of course, for me, it never has been worse than the Flyers-Blackhawks Stanley Cup final to decide the champion of the 2009-10 season. The ups-and-downs were dizzying. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Im no Dickens, but it was Tale of Two Cities that even he could not have imagined. Thats as conflicted, well thats wrong, the conflict wasnt inside me, thats as awkward and tortuous a time as Ive ever had. There was the outcome, obviously, but also the fact that it happened over a span of two weeks. A lot of my friends here actually asked me who I was rooting for. Honestly? At least when Kaner asked me, he did it with a knowing smirk! It was as if I was supposed to turn off my lifetime of suffering with the Orange and Black. Most of the folks here though, didnt have a problem with me being a Flyers fan, especially after the Hawks won. Theres nothing like having a reminder of your teams success serving you a cold one.

And of course that brings us to the next big event on the Frankie O Armageddon Tour: Its Bears vs. Eagles on Monday Night Football. Actually, since Ive lived here the teams have played 10 times, with my Birds winning six, including a glorious stretch of five in a row. Recently though, the Bears have won 3 out of the last 4. Most importantly, in the only playoff encounter, Chicago native Donavan McNabb and the rest of the Eagles closed out the original Soldier Field with a 33-19 victory. Now that was a fun week. The similarity of the two major cities that I have called home is that they are sports-mad. The madness is most acute concerning their pro football teams. The weekly hype preceding a game only makes those fan bases more rabid. For Chicago its about being an original franchise and also being the home of the most dominant single team ever. (I wonder what year that was? LOL!) For Philly fans its about a bitter lifetime of defeat and disappointment. Oh, sure weve won it all: 50 years ago! See what I mean?

This Monday, for the third time ever on Monday Night Football, they will battle once again. Coincidentally, I was at the last Monday night game they played on September 12, 1994. I was already living with my future boss, who we all know is from the Southside, and had visited Chicago for the first time with her during the previous July, so I jumped at the opportunity to go to the game. This was during the infamous Rich Kottite era of Eagles football. The Eagles got out to a 30-0 lead. Game over, right? Not so fast. Eric Kramer threw 3 fourth quarter touchdowns, and had the Bears knocking on the door for another at the end of the game, but then the defense woke up and sealed the deal for a 30-22 victory. That Eagles team had a season much like that game. They started out 7-2, but then tried to hold on but could not, and lost their final seven and Kottites job. I couldnt get to Chicago fast enough! And I did, that next January.

So its only fitting that in their next Monday Night tilt that I will be there. I know there is the talk about Monday night games not being the same and I sort of agree. But what isnt the same is the broadcast. Back in the day it was about Frank Gifford(Before he was Mr. Kathy Lee), Dandy Don and Howard Cosell. In fact it was in Philly on a Monday night that Howard famously lost the alcohol laced contents in his stomach on the Dandaroos cowboy boots and was promptly removed from the broadcast. (What can I say? Watching Eagles games affects us all in different ways!) For a young NFL fan, the game, and its announcers were larger than life. Even though thats not the case now, I still love a great Monday matchup, and for me this is one. In a season full of must-wins, this is another, for both teams. Everyone wants to give me grief about the Dream Team moniker that came out of Vince Youngs mouth. A back-up QB that was run out of town from his last job! No real fan would ever say that, we know all too well how that kind of talk turns out. But like Mike Vicks past, we will always carry that with us until they finally do something. So far what they are best at is giving away the football and fourth quarter leads. But then something funny happened last Sunday night. The Eagles stopped turning the ball over, got out to an early lead, allowing them to play on both sides of the ball as they were designed for, and they destroyed what everyone thinks is a talented (I say perennially under-achieving) Dallas Cowboys team. Who are the Eagles? I have no idea. They have the ability to be whatever they want, Im just along for the ride.

As for the Bears, Ive felt that they have tried to fight who they are for a long time. This team has a defense that should allow the team to be in every, or most, games. Its a defense built on patience and forcing turnovers. When they get turnovers, like everyone else, theyre tough to beat. But a lack of a pass rush in this league will get you lit up and against the high-powered New Orleans and Green Bay offenses, this was the case. In fact, in two games, wins, they had 10 sacks, and in the other five games they had 5 sacks, in which they were lucky to go 2-3. So which defense are they? That too, remains to be seen. But I will always question their offensive play-calling and philosophy. I know that comes as a shock! With this offensive line, and the caliber of running back Matt Forte they need to be a run-first offense. (Get off the bus RUNNING!) But sometimes their play-calling is mystifying. Well, maybe not. Mike Martz wants to drop back seven steps in the pocket and throw to a particular spot. The problem is a) These drops frequently get his QB killed and b)His QB is more accurate and has a higher QB rating when he moves OUTSIDE the pocket and c) You need to have receivers who know where that spot is that they need to be and have the ability to catch the ball, not drop it or let a defensive back take it away from them, when they get there. I honestly even less of an idea which Bears team will show up in a given week, although I think it was after taking their bye last year they were able to have a very accurate self-evaluation and played much more to their strengths on their run to the NFC championship game.

So what will happen Monday night? Well one thing, Frankie O is going to have a good time leading up to, during and hopefully, after the game. Among the things I know will happen: I will have at least 2 cheesesteaks during my visit. I will enjoy harassing my Chicago brethren and any other tourists I witness running up the art museum steps in front of the Rocky statue. And I will enjoy the constant complaining in the stands that accompanies any misstep the Eagles make during the game.(Did somebody say boo?) Some things never get old!

And for the game itself? I think the Bears play it close to the vest and feature a heavy dose of Matt Forte, exposing the weakness the Eagles have at the linebacker position. On defense Brian Urlacher will continue to haunt Mike Vick into the mistakes that will be the difference in the game. Final Bears 27-20.

Of course, I could be wrong, wouldnt be the first time. If you cant watch the game, to find out what happened, just come into the bar Tuesday night, the expression on my face and the banter over the bar will tell you all you need to know.

Tyler Saladino, Jose Abreu homer as White Sox tie Padres in Arizona finale

Tyler Saladino, Jose Abreu homer as White Sox tie Padres in Arizona finale

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Tyler Saladino hit leadoff on Wednesday, finishing with a home run and a single.

Saladino's first-inning drive was one of eight combined homers hit between the White Sox and San Diego Padres, who finished in a 9-all tie at Camelback Ranch. Before the game, White Sox manager Rick Renteria said that Saladino, who finished 2-for-2, would see most of his playing time at second base.

"He's been developing and continuing to grow every single season," Renteria said. "The flexibility that he brings allows him to be in the lineup over an extended period of time. But we want to make sure we take care of him as we want to do with everybody else, kind of keep them all fresh as much as we can.

"He's developed into a pretty good major league baseball player."

Jose Abreu, Nick Delmonico and Jake Peter all homered for the White Sox. Delmonico led the White Sox with five homers this spring. Abreu went 2-for-4 and drove in three runs.

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Rule 5 pitcher Dylan Covey, who appears primed to make the Opening Day roster, allowed two earned runs in his lone inning pitched. Covey then headed to the bullpen and threw additional pitches there as the White Sox continue to build up his arm strength.

Veteran Anthony Swarzak allowed a run and struck out two in two innings. Reliever Dan Jennings allowed five runs (four earned) and four hits in 1/3 innings.

First-rounder Zack Collins drew a pair of walks in his only plate appearances and scored a run.

The White Sox ended the spring with a 16-15-2 record.

On paper, have Cubs put together a better roster than last year's World Series team?

On paper, have Cubs put together a better roster than last year's World Series team?

MESA, Ariz. – One minute into the media scrum outside the West Wing, a Washington reporter asked Theo Epstein if this season would be considered a disappointment if the Cubs don't win the World Series.

"Oof, I hadn't thought too much about 2017 yet today," Epstein said after President Barack Obama's final official White House event. "But, yeah, I mean, that's our goal. I think the organization has come such a long way and we have this talented young core. We're clearly in a very competitive phase where I think if we do our jobs, we could be as good, if not better, than any team in baseball.

"So if you're going to compete, you set your sights for the world championship. It doesn't always work out that way. But we see it as our jobs to do everything we can to be back at the White House next year."

Whether or not Epstein would actually go through with a Donald Trump photo op is a different story. But with the Cubs signaling their Opening Night roster – keeping outfielder Matt Szczur and infielder Tommy La Stella while lefty reliever Brian Duensing begins the season on the disabled list – you could make the case that the team breaking camp on Wednesday looks better on paper than last year's World Series winner.

"This is a crazy talented group," All-Star closer Wade Davis said. "There's 10 or 12 players on this team that are some of the best players in baseball."

That doesn't mean the Cubs will develop the same chemistry or sense of purpose, but this team is completely used to the national spotlight, hanging out with celebrity fans and being followed around like rock stars on the road. 

Epstein compared this camp in Arizona with what the Boston Red Sox faced after ending the 86-year drought. 

"I will never forget in '05 spring training, we had 5,000 people the first day, 3,000 fans every day," Epstein said. "I was expecting it to be as nuts. But it's been refreshingly normal, reflecting the personality of our players, taking everything in stride."   

This doesn't mean the Cubs will stay as healthy as they did last year, when the projected rotation made 152 starts combined. But four-fifths of that group returns with Brett Anderson – given his natural ability, pitching IQ and extensive medical file – appearing to have a higher ceiling and lower floor than Jason Hammel.

As Anderson said: "It's not too often that you have a salty veteran with multiple rings (John Lackey) in front of you and a guy (Kyle Hendricks) that led the league in ERA behind you."

The 2016 Cubs won 103 games and scored 800-plus runs: without Kyle Schwarber contributing a single hit during the regular season; and with Jason Heyward finishing with a .631 OPS (or 103 points below the league average).

Manager Joe Maddon said Geek Department projections have this lineup generating even more offense with Schwarber as the new leadoff guy (even with a brace on his left leg), continued growth from young players like Addison Russell and Willson Contreras and Heyward not being one of the worst hitters in the majors.

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The Cubs are also counting on a full season from Davis, instead of a half-season rental like Aroldis Chapman. Where last year's Opening Night bullpen featured three guys who would get DFA'd or traded by midseason (Neil Ramirez, Clayton Richard, Adam Warren), this version features three guys who've already notched the final out in a World Series (Davis, Koji Uehara, Mike Montgomery).

"All the additions are wonderful complements to what this team was already," Schwarber said. "Upgrades. It's going to be really cool to see how it all plays out this season with more guys getting another year of experience under their belt."

Ian Happ raising his profile and hitting around .400 in the Cactus League should help his trade value if the Cubs need to deal for pitching at the trade deadline. The combination of Albert Almora Jr. and Jon Jay in center field should be an improvement over Dexter Fowler for a team that led the majors in defensive efficiency last year.

As someone with fresh eyes – and the perspective from being on Los Angeles Dodgers teams that won back-to-back National League West titles – Anderson hasn't see any signs of complacency.

"Not at all," Anderson said. "The young guys are still hungry. And the handful of guys that weren't here last year makes you that much more hungry and itchy to get back where they were last year.

"It's a really good mix – if not a perfect mix – of young guys, veteran guys and a couple fresh faces that are eager to get back to what these guys accomplished last year."