Shots Anyone?

Shots Anyone?

Friday, December 11

Its the holiday season, and what does that mean? Work holiday parties where everyone wants to celebrate to the max. Well, remember, these are your work mates, not your family, and theyll remind you of everything you did. And as always heed the advice of a seasoned professional behind the bar, especially if hes starting to resemble St. Nick.
VILLAINS WANTED: Its easy to bash Notre Dame Football these days for any number of reasons. So easy in fact that it gets kind of boring. When you root for someone, I guess it would make sense that you root against someone else. Having gone to Penn State in the eighties, the school that was most fun to root against was the Fighting Irish. They were an easy target, and because they were usually good, beating them meant something. Now what does it mean? Heres hoping that their new coach can come in and have a little success (not too much!), so I can get riled up again. I mean, how can you develop any venom towards Boise State, T.C.U or Cincinnati? Cmon N.D., get your act together!

GO CATS!: As a sidebar to the N.D. coaching search, Im just glad that it did not include Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald. Im a big fan of Coach Fitz. He doesnt strike me as one of these coaching carousel kind of guys. When he talks of his passion for his school and commitment to his players, I believe him. In fact, he fires me up! He would have been just the answer for Notre Dame. Thank goodness they didnt ask the question. I know Ill start my New Years Day watching the Wildcats and hoping they get that elusive second bowl win against Auburn in the Outback Bowl.

ITS OVER! ITS ALL OVER!: Of course since I mentioned Penn State, youd be right to assume Im a Joe Paterno fan, and that Ive been paying attention to what has happened in Tallahassee. Ive always wanted Joe to own the college football wins record, but if Bobby Bowden would have gotten it, what are you going to do? The guys a winner, and their battle to see who would own the record was amazing. Consider that they both are 65 wins past the old record, held by Bear Bryant, and not only that, the next active guy, Frank Beamer, is 155 wins behind Bowden! Ive been asked a million times about how long I thought that Jo Pa should coach, and Ive always answered, as long as he wants! Joes done it the right way and built the P.S.U. program in to a perennial power, he can leave when hes done. Think they didnt want the record, or keep an eye on each other? Bowdens famous line about the record when asked about a few years ago was that he checked the obituaries everyday! This would be a war of attrition and the last man standing would win. That man is Paterno. Im just glad that Joe didnt win because of wins taken away, rather, that it was because of the results on the field. I cant wait for win 400 next year.
WHERES THE BUS?: The 2 things that Lovie said he would do while he was coach was to get of the bus running, and beat the Packers. You can ask Brian Urlacher about how that running thing is going. As far as beating the Packers, hes 7-4 including two season sweeps in six seasons, not bad, especially considering what the Packers had done to the Bears in the decade before his arrival. But, I cant remember a Packer week that had this little enthusiasm. In my 15 years living here, Ive learned to dislike the team from the north in the oldest rivalry in the NFL. You could always tell Packer week at the bar, since the conversation got a little livelier. Its fun making fun of Packer fans! But when your most despised rival comes to town and it elicits only yawns, maybe its time to look in the mirror. I, along with Bears fans, have a bad feeling about this game. Lets hope Im wrong, the cheddar-heads dont mind giving back the abuse.

NVL: One of the things that should be understood about fan-hood is the act of tough love. Showing ones displeasure about a team that you root for is not wrong, its part of being a fan. In fact, if you care, and theyre bad, its un-avoid-a-Bull. The events of the last week have me thinking about our old friend Stormin Norman. I cant tell you how many times, when discussing the Bulls, the phrase, What do you think Norm would have said? has been uttered. I can only imagine his reaction after the shoe-tying incident in last Saturdays Bulls game. I cant think of it without smiling. Bulls fans miss you Norm.

DONT TOUCH THAT STOVE!: Something else not garnering a lot of interest at the bar is Chicago hot-stove talk. Dont get me wrong, its a baseball bar and well always have lots of baseball talk, but there doesnt seem to be a lot of feeling that anything significant will be done. On the Southside, thats understandable due to last seasons Peavy and Rios deals, and the earlier acquisition this off-season of Mark Teahen. The Northside is being held hostage by you-know-who, again. If you ask any fan, ANY, they say just eat the contract and move on. Theyve had enough and so should the Cubs. I understand the benefit of maxing out every deal, but some deals have benefits that arent as easy to calculate. Like taking a 400 lb. weight off your back, you cant imagine the relief. The weight of expectation on this franchise is NEVER going to go away. Its time to concentrate on the many other things that must be done to fix this team for a hopeful run at a 2010 title, and you cant start until that first step.

Jon Lester vs. Clayton Kershaw doesn’t live up to expectations as Dodgers sweep Cubs

Jon Lester vs. Clayton Kershaw doesn’t live up to expectations as Dodgers sweep Cubs

LOS ANGELES – In a Cubs season that has already gone off script – or at least not followed the dynasty-in-waiting narrative – it made perfect sense that a Jon Lester vs. Clayton Kershaw matchup at Dodger Stadium would devolve into a slugfest and a bullpen battle.

Randy Newman’s voice – “I Love L.A.” – blasted from the sound system late Sunday afternoon as the Dodgers put the finishing touches on a three-game sweep of the defending World Series champs. The Cubs led for one half-inning during this entire weekend and will wake up in San Diego on Memorial Day as a 25-24 team.

This 9-4 blowout again showed that the Dodgers should be a force in October. Forget about the way forward-thinking manager Dave Roberts basically tried to MacGyver his way through last year’s National League Championship Series with three pitchers – Kershaw, lefty curveball specialist Rich Hill and star closer Kenley Jansen.

“That’s the big separator between what I saw last year and right now – how they’re pitching,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said.

It didn’t matter that Kershaw got knocked out in the middle of the fifth inning after Willson Contreras, Javier Baez and Anthony Rizzo launched home runs and the Cubs generated 11 hits off the three-time Cy Young Award winner.

Kershaw still outlasted Lester, who dropped his head, stared at the grass and walked off the mound with one out and two runners on in the fourth inning. The Cubs had earlier fallen into a 6-1 deficit after Lester gave up two three-run homers to Cody Bellinger and Kike Hernandez.

In back-to-back shutouts, the Dodgers (31-20) had already beaten a Cy Young Award winner dealing with questions about his velocity and looming free agency (Jake Arrieta) and a three-time World Series champion who’s 38 years old and now has a 5.18 ERA (John Lackey).

“It’s always tougher the second time, because everybody’s gunning for you,” said Ben Zobrist, who should be back in the lineup on Monday after missing two games with a sore left wrist. “Your expectations are even higher than they were before.

“But this team is definitely equal to the task. That’s not the problem as much as we just got to get back to the fundamentals and execution of the little details in the game. And everything else kind of takes care of itself.”

Joe Maddon has no choice but to ignore noise and put his faith in young Cubs lineup

Joe Maddon has no choice but to ignore noise and put his faith in young Cubs lineup

LOS ANGELES – Right around the time Theo Epstein was asked when the Cubs might consider sending Kyle Schwarber down to Triple-A Iowa, Ian Happ became the new shiny object for fans and the Chicago media.

In less than 200 at-bats, Schwarber went from World Series legend to dropping from the leadoff spot to being a platoon player to getting shipped away in a fantasy-baseball trade for pitching. 

Unless the Cubs moved Javier Baez, because Gold Glove-caliber middle infielders on a 25-homer, 90-RBI pace just fall from trees. Not to mention someone already proven on the biggest stages as a National League Championship Series co-MVP and World Baseball Classic star.

Even Happ is coming back down to earth as the league adjusts to him. Still, Cubs manager Joe Maddon has no choice but to block out the noise, trust all this young talent and believe in the players who delivered last October.    

“The best I can do is talk to the player himself, which I’ve done with ‘Schwarbs,’” Maddon said before Sunday’s game at Dodger Stadium, staying upbeat and in character after back-to-back shutouts. “That’s just the nature of the industry. That’s a part of it that makes it so much fun, too, for the fan, the fact that they can interact and throw out their conjecture like that. 

“Internally, it has nothing to do with how we react to anything. And you have to talk to the player, because he’s always feeling these outside sources pressing down on him. He really shouldn’t, but they’re human beings. 

“How do you prevent that from really infiltrating? It’s just conversation with the guys themselves. That’s about it. You ask the player to really not pay attention and listen to that. 

“But, again, with all the tablets and the different sources available to follow what’s going on, it’s almost inevitable they’re going to hear or read something. So you got to stay positive with them. And we have to have that conversation with them to maintain their confidence.”

The Sunday lineup constructed to face Clayton Kershaw featured eight position players between the ages of 22 and 27: Baez, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Happ, Jason Heyward, Willson Contreras, Addison Russell and Albert Almora Jr.

A team built around offensive firepower woke up that morning ranked eighth and ninth in the NL in runs scored (231) and OPS (.736). A .222 batting average with runners in scoring position placed the Cubs 15th out of the NL’s 15 teams. “The best explanation I can offer is that we’re hitting young,” Maddon said. “You look at the end of last season and how well a lot of the guys that are struggling right now performed under those circumstances. I believe we’re going to come back and do that.

“In the meantime, they need our support. They need our conversations, so nobody’s left in the dark or wondering what everybody’s thinking about around here. They need openness. And if you get that, they’ll come back.” 

[MORE: The learning curve for Ian Happ]

The Cubs have bigger problems, like an inconsistent rotation that has kept this team hovering around .500 and prevented any real sense of momentum. This is still largely the same group of hitters that beat Johnny Cueto, outlasted Madison Bumgarner, eliminated Kershaw and wore down Corey Kluber during last year’s World Series run.

“They’ll get it together,” Maddon said. “We haven’t even come close to hitting that real offensive ‘go’ moment. We haven’t been there and we’re still paddling pretty well. That moment’s coming. 

“Whether it’s Happ making adjustments, Contreras making adjustments, Addison making adjustments, these guys were pretty good at the end of last season in some really difficult moments, so they’ll be back.”