Cubs phenom Addison Russell breaking out of slump

Chicago Cubs 2nd Baseman Addison Russell

They say lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same place, but the Chicago Cubs are putting that cliche to the test. By calling up their top two prospects within the same week early this season, the organization is hoping to catch “lightning in a bottle” not once but twice.

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Cubs uberprospect Kris Bryant off to a great start

Kris Bryant Signs with the Chicago Cubs

Chicago Cubs fans didn’t need Nostradamus to predict that Kris Bryant was going to be a good player when he was finally called up to the majors. It took exactly 13 days/8 games into the 2015 season for the Cubs to call up their best prospect since Ronald Reagan was acting in movies.

Kris Bryant clubbed his first career homer, and his teammates… disappeared. Check out the video of it here, as his teammates gave him the “silent treatment.”

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Sammy Sosa: A Corked, Corrupt, Conundrum of Saviors, Steroids & History

soxmanandbatboysosacomparison-150x1501

By:  Soxman

On June 3rd, 2003 Sammy Sosa used a corked bat in a baseball game.  With a Ruthian swing, the bat exploded into 1000 pieces exposing a hollow core.  Sosa smiled and walked away denying any knowledge of wrong doing.  Years later this memory becomes the perfect analogy for not only his career, but the career of almost anyone who used illegal performance enhancing drugs.

As the unofficial steroid correspondent for the Sportsbank, I, like most baseball fans can’t say I’m at all surprised by the revelation from the New York Times yesterday that Sammy Sosa was among the 104 players who tested positive for performance enhancing drugs in 2003.  Honestly, with the exception of Sosa himself, who appears to suffer from short-term memory loss, was anybody?

My memory is not short-term either.  After the 1994 season was cancelled, baseballs true most valuable player, the fan, filed for divorce from the game.  One of the seven deadly sins, Greed appeared to forever tarnish America’s pastime.  Attendance was down and the game seemed to lose that magical romantic connection that fans, regardless of age or gender, had with it since the first time they could grip a baseball.

sosamcgwire1-300x1991

1998, enter Sammy Sosa and McGwire:  The Saviors of the Game.

Engaged in an epic race to break Roger Maris’ season record of 61* (remember this asterisk) homers, the fans’ love affair with the game was reborn.  Fans flocked, cash flowed, and baseball once again had “juice.” Unfortunately, it was much more than “juice” as the term is used in the world of hip hop, which means “power and influence.”  The balls and players were also juiced up- in a totally different way.

We know now that everyone knew it too, players and owners alike, but they turned their heads because everyone was happy. I question, if the fans knew then, what they know now, would the magic truly have returned to the game?  Maybe, but perhaps on a level equal to that of World Wrestling Entertainment, another “sport” rocked by steroid scandals. Like watching Hulk Hogan body slam the Big Show, Sosa and McGwire traded gargantuan homers.  Would we say: “I know its fake, but I love it anyway.”  Like it requires skill to belt a 500 foot blast, it requires strength to slam 600 lbs like a paperweight.


Enough conjecture, let’s look at the facts.
jose_canseco1

Major League Baseball, modifying a bat or a ball with foreign substances and using it in play is illegal and subject to ejection and further punishment.  Until 2003, it was ok to modify bodies with foreign substances, but not bats and balls.

Baseball has a moral clause since the early 1900s, where illegal actions taken by a player outside the game can lead to suspensions inside the game. Another key part of the moral clause has not been enforced for years.  If a players knows of illegal activity but fails to report it, that player possesses the same guilt as if those who committed the crime. Buck Weaver batted .324 in the 1919 World Series, tallying 11 hits. He also played errorless ball in the Series, yet was banned for life from the game based on his Black Sox connections.

Weaver was banned for having knowledge of other players’ plans to throw the World Series and failing to tell team officials. However, Charles Comiskey, owner of the Chicago White Sox, had learned of the fix before the World Series began from both Kid Gleason, manager of the White Sox, and Hugh Fullerton, a Chicago baseball reporter.  Yet, he was never fined, reprimanded, or punished in any way.  Sound familiar?

Baseball management’s drug policy has prohibited steroid use without a prescription since 1991, but the policy had no penalties associated with it.  Why?  Because fans were happy and money flowed. Sosa sat alongside Rafael Palmeiro, Canseco and McGwire at a 2005 hearing before Congress and testified: “To be clear, I have never taken illegal performance-enhancing drugs.”

“I have never injected myself or had anyone inject me with anything,” he told the House Government Reform Committee on March 17, 2005. “I have not broken the laws of the United States or the laws of the Dominican Republic. I have been tested as recently as 2004, and I am clean.”

Sammy Sosa likely lied in official testimony to Congress in 2005.  It’s a crime called perjury.  Yet no moral clause was ever evoked for him or Palmeiro, who tested positive for steroids after his testimony.
So where do we go from here?vince_mcmahon_-_ecw_champion


My final thought on the matter of steroids in baseball is as follows:

Steroid use without a prescription has always been illegal outside of the game in America, so why did baseball develop a special set of laws to govern an already illegal activity?  Where is the moral clause and in fairness to the players, where is the penalty to the owners and executives of Major League Baseball who turned the other cheek in the interest of the game..or the almighty dollar? MLB owners deserves no less scrutiny than Vince McMahon received when his employees started dying from chronic steroid and painkiller abuse.


So the question of the day: Does Sammy Sosa deserve to be in the Hall of Fame?

In giving my answer, know this admission of honesty by Soxman.  As a former member of the White Sox, I loved Sammy Sosa even when he wore the colors of the enemy.  I owned a Sosa Jersey, his Wheaties Box, and a hat which commemorated his 66* (like the asterisk?), bombs in 1998. 6th on baseballs all-time HR list with 609*.  1667 RBIs*, 234 SBs* and a lifetime .534 slugging percentage* is worthy of Hall of Fame consideration, providing the Hall, which is the protector of our game’s history, however dark it may be, has the courage to tell a truth its owners and players couldn’t.

* All record denoted with an asterisk are reflective of an era in major league baseball where performance enhancing substances while illegal, where not actively tested for.

Cubs, Woo! Vegas, Woo!

By Paul Schmidt

Watching the Cubs’ struggles over the last few weeks has led me to try and come up with a comparison, something that mirrors the feelings that I’ve had over the eight game losing streak they just posted, and their continual struggle to score runs.

After days of thought, the realization washed over me – The current Cubs slide completely mirrors every trip I have ever taken to Las Vegas.

Now, maybe you don’t understand that comparison – maybe you’ve never been to Las Vegas, or maybe you’re always successful gambling, flirting, and drinking while you are there (and if so, well, quite frankly, I hate you).  But that’s why I’m here, to explain an analogy that, on the surface, might not make much sense.

The Rise in Action

Every trip starts with a run.  A good run.  It’s how Vegas sucks you in.  If, as soon as you landed at McCarren International Airport, you started hemorrhaging money like Clint Malarchuk getting slashed by a skate, you’d tighten up the purse strings, spend some time by the pool and walking around seeing the sites.  Maybe even plan a trip to the Grand Canyon or Hoover Dam (well, maybe not ).

So the Vegas gambling gods really want to reel  you in.  You can only be over-confident after you’ve won a little of the house’s money.  Sometimes, even a lot of the house’s money.

The Cubs, came into May reeling a little, but won 11 of 14 games heading into May 16th.  That was the rise in the action.  Reminds me of the time, when in Vegas for a friend’s 30th birthday, I sat down on the first full day of the trip, plunked 200 dollars down at a 25-dollar-minimum blackjack table, and 2 hours later stood up with 2,200 dollars.  Did you know, the 1,000 dollar chips are colored orange at Planet Hollywood?  They are.

That’s what the rise was for the Cubs.  After the May 16th 5-4 win against the Astros, that was the season’s high water point at 21-14.  Fans were just starting to get confident, with three huge games on the road against St. Louis, and then three easier games out in San Diego looming in the coming week.

The Incident

Now not just a name of a Lost season finale!  It’s, quite obviously, an occurrence, something that happens that changes the course of action.

Every Vegas trip probably has several Incidents, but what we’re looking at here is the incident that starts the losing.  To quote Tony Soprano, “Everything I touch turns to (excrement)!”  That type of losing streak.

The incident for the Cubs was the first loss in their streak, what originally looked like a harmless 6-5 loss to the Astros in their series finale.  Brian Moehler stoned the Cubs lineup, Ivan Rodriguez hit his 300th homer, and the Cubs looked fairly disinterested offensively until the ninth inning.  Just like most other incidents, little did we all know how indicative that would be of the future.

The incident that this reminds me of was a gambling debacle that most people in Vegas won money on:  The Michigan State-George Mason first round NCAA Tournament game a few years back.  Me and friends were up big after a huge morning of backdoor covers and were flush with cash, at one point prompting this exchange between myself and a buddy:

“How much money do you actually have on this Michigan State game?”
“More than I’m really comfortable having.”
“Ok…I’m the same. Just wanted to make sure that I wasn’t alone.”

I mean, we knew we were in a little trouble here if Michigan State somehow lost to George Mason (a team that EVERYONE in the sports book had bet on, with the line moving from MSU -5 to the Spartans just laying 2.5 at game time, despite the fact Mason would be missing their best player, Tony Skinn, who had punched a player in the nards in the CAA championship game a week prior), but in the end, we would just be giving back the gains we’d made in the morning and early afternoon. But they were missing their best player!  How good could the rest of the roster be?

Well, what happened is for the history books, as Mason came through with the outright win, and continued to roll on to the Final Four.  The worst part?  Listening to the entire sports book exploding in celebration with every basket.


The place where Michigan State and Kansas killed me

The Wheels Have Fallen Off the Wagon

Now we’re getting into the heart (or heartbreak, as it were) of the Cubs’ issues. They went 27 innings in St. Louis, scoring only one earned run.  With Joel Pinero heavily involved in nine of those innings.  With a fresh-off-the-DL Chris Carpenter throwing five more.  ONE FREAKING EARNED RUN!!!! NONE SCORED BEFORE THE NINTH!!!!

Words can’t describe, except to say that our wagon was wheel-less, and perhaps even sinking into the mud a little.

In Vegas, this is when you start giving up your own money.  In large quantities.  I followed up the Michigan State loss by running to the betting window and trying to win all that cash back by betting on Kansas.  It was a ridiculously talented Kansas squad, and they’d be looking to make a good showing after choking in the first round one year before in losing to Bucknell. Plus, their opponent was from the Missouri Valley Conference.  And it wasn’t Southern Illinois or Creighton, it was Bradley!  Bradley.  I mean, come on.  There was no way that Bradley was beating the KANSAS JAYHAWKS, coached by former Illini guru Bill Self!

As some Bradley Brave torque-wad banked in a three-pointer from half court at the halftime buzzer to go ahead by double digits (I’ve drank away the memory of most of this game), I screamed in frustration to the ceiling of the Paris Hotel and Casino, then was going to stalk off to get back to my room to shower for the night’s festivities.  Before I could, I got grabbed by a little Asian guy, who told me, “Hey, it could be worse,” and pulled back his jacket to reveal a Kansas Jayhawk Alumni t-shirt.

Touché, little Asian guy, touché.

Disaster

I have a friend who pronounces the word with the emphasis on the AS of disaster, and it indicates something worse than a normal disaster, something that involves, quite frankly, a Katrina-like meltdown.

It should be obvious where this is going with the  Cubs.  Even though we had just been swept in St. Louis despite pretty good pitching, we were headed to San Diego.  And even though the Padres had won 5 straight, they still weren’t very good.  And even though the Cubs offense hadn’t been producing, come on, they had to turn it around there, right?

Well, no dice.  At this point, we all know the stories of what happened. The Cubs offense only managed three runs in Petco Park in getting swept by the Padres. They came back home to entertain the Pirates, and scored more runs in the first four innings than they had their entire road trip, but still lost by giving up 10 runs. Ted Lilly got ejected for arguing balls and strikes in a game he didn’t even pitch in.  Milton Bradley exposed a massive umpire experience against him and all board games.


And they hate Candy Land and Chutes and Ladders, too…

Most importantly, the Cubs fell under .500 for the first time since April and for only the second time this season.

I wish there were only a couple examples of this from my Vegas history, but that’s just not true.  There’s the awful double-deck blackjack night at the 4 Queens after finding out I knew one of the strippers at the Glitter Gulch from college; there’s the stretch of NCAA tournament games in 2008 where I lost 11 straight bets; there’s the blackjack tables (yes that’s plural) that I lost hands on for 30 mintues straight – no wins; and there’s the time the stripper stole money from me and fell asleep on me at Sapphire.

And now I’m even sadder…


A casino.  Really.  I swear.

Denouement

The Cubs and Vegas have one very specific thing in common: They know how to suck you back in.

With the Cubs, just when you’ve given up on them they turn things around.  This time, it was in the form of two nice wins against the Pirates to get back above .500 (even if, in the end, it may cost them Carlos Zambrano for a couple of weeks because of a ridiculous – if not justified – temper-tantrum).

With Vegas, the gambling gods can’t let you leave on a down note – you’d never come back.  So you always get a little victory to put a hop in your step as head to the airport.

I’ve got a few of these little victories, but my most recent sticks in my mind.  I had a great run on a craps table at the Imperial Palace of all places, playing for a half hour and rolling for a solid 20 minutes of that time, winning back over 200 dollars, and with me actually getting a round of applause from the table when I told them I absolutely had to leave.  The gods had to leave me with a smile on my face, and make me start counting the days until I’d get to go back again.

Vegas, baby, Vegas.

And don’t forget, Go, Cubs Go.

Catching Up with the Cubs

by: David K.

Anytime I have written anything about Carlos Zambrano, I always half-jokingly mention his craziness and habit of taking out his anger out on helpless Gatorade jugs.  Now you know why.

Big Z lost it Wednesday afternoon, throwing an impressive tantrum by bumping the home plate umpire then throwing HIM out of the game, whipping the ball into the outfield, slamming his glove on the ground, and then taking a bat to the new Gatorade dispenser in the Cubs dug-out like it was the copier in Office Space after disagreeing with a close play at the plate.  Cue up the Geto Boys, “Die Mother F@!&ers, Die Mother F@!&ers, Still!”

The thing that really irks me about another Los blow-up is that it came in the seventh inning of a tied game when the Cubs needed him to finish out his solid performance.  Way to have the team’s best interest in mind, Z.  You make Milton Bradley and Lindsey Lohan’s relationship with Samantha Ronson look sane.  Now, you will likely see a hefty fine and multi-game suspension.  Just what the Cubs need.

A friend recently pointed out to me that since his power out-burst of hitting three home runs during a four-game span, Ryan Theriot, who only hit one longball in 2008, hit two more jacks, but just five singles in his next 17 games and saw his average dip fifty-points.  That is what happens when a 5-11, 175 pound shortstop who makes his living using the opposite field and getting on base for the big bats behind him suddenly hits a couple bombs and thinks he is a home run threat.  Thankfully, The Riot has gone back to his old ways in the Pirates’ series in which he was 7-11 with three doubles and ZERO home runs.

Now I know how Brewers’ fans felt last season whenever Eric Gagne toed the rubber in the ninth inning to try and close out a game.  I trust Kevin Gregg as much as I would trust Michael Jackson with my first born child.  Gregg is not quite in Brad Lidge territory (8.85 ERA, 2.07 WHIP), but he certainly doesn’t put Cubs fans at ease in the ninth inning, as he has allowed at least one base runner in all but one of his save opportunities.  What is it going to take for Carlos Marmol to get the closer job?  Maybe Gregg needs shoulder stiffness and a short stint on the DL.

By the way, this rule needs to change.  On May 16th against the Astros, Gregg came in to close things out in the ninth with the Cubs leading 4-0.  He proceeded to give up back-to-back solo home runs, two singles, and then a hit batsman.  Aaron Heilman then relieved Gregg with the bases loaded and gave-up a two-run single to tie the game at four.  So Gregg allowed four earned runs without recording a single out, but did not get credited with the blown save.  Heilman did.  That’s just not fair.

The Cubs are hurting worse than the Cavs NBA Title hopes.  Los comes off the disabled list just as Rich Harden is sidelined with a back strain.  (At least it’s not his shoulder this time.)  Aramis Ramirez has been on the DL since May 10th with a shoulder injury and still is not close to partaking in baseball activities.  Aaron Miles was just put on the shelf with a sore shoulder.  Ryan Freel left Wednesday’s game with a lingering hamstring injury and will likely be placed on the DL as well.  Bobby Scales was recently suffering from flu-like symptoms and sent down to Triple-A because the Cubs need healthy bodies on their roster, but could be called back up if Freel is indeed placed on the DL.  Derrek Lee has been banged up as well, most recently missing a few games due to the flu.  No wonder the Cubs are four games back in the Central and recently went on an eight-game skid.

Thankfully, they won their last two so I can un-quit them for the 298, 714th time in my Cub fandom.

Cubs-Brewers Exchange

By: David K. and Melissa S. Wollering

Thesportsbank.net’s inaugural Cubs-Brewers exchange!  After taking two of three from the depleted Cubs, the Brewers have leapfrogged Chicago in what is shaping up to be a competitive NL Central Division.  TSB’s Brewers expert Melissa S. Wollering and our resident Cubs fool, David K. share their thoughts on this weekend’s series.

DK: Well, at least we saved face by winning Sunday and avoiding an embarrassing sweep to your Brewers.  After Saturday’s game, I was ready to quit the Cubs for about the 214,736th time.  Somehow whenever I threaten to do that, they manage to get a win and just suck me back in.

Kudos to the Crew though.  Ryan Braun’s game-winning home run Friday night was baller.  Saturday, you guys treated our bullpen like they were Eric Gagne and Derrick Turnbow.  You have the best record in baseball since April 19th, winning 15 of your last 20.  Enough with the compliments though.  It’s time to make some excuses.

We played this series without Carlos Zambrano, Derrek Lee, and with Aramis Ramirez separating his shoulder in the first game.  That would be like the Crew being without Yovanni Gallardo, Prince Fielder, and Ryan Braun.  Doesn’t sound fun does it?

By the way, can we get Craig Counsell to take a drug test?  He has to be on the juice after going yard Saturday night.

MW: I firmly believe I stood up during his home run and shouted, “that was just worth more than we paid you for your entire 2009 season contract.”  When looking directly at Craig’s face I always think it has been frozen in time since he’s all of 12 ½ years old.  Perhaps his going yard was more of sudden burst of youth circa 1987. But yes, you can test him for banned substances, by all means.

What has surprised me even more than the Brewers recent stellar offensive display is its pitching. The Crew is either tied with the Cubs or is now leading the league in quality starts with at least 18.  Considering all 5 members of your Cubs starting rotation were said to be better than the best starter we had at the beginning of this season, how do you feel about that, David?

DK: I hate it because I was a big basher of the Crew’s rotation at the beginning of the season.  Yo is living up to his stud potential and Dave Bush has been solid.  As of late, Suppan has been more crafty veteran than washed-up junk-baller.  As for that supposedly sweet Cubbies rotation; Zambrano, Rich Harden, and Ryan Dempster all have ERA’s in the upper-four’s.  But that’s not the major issue.  It’s our bullpen which I trust as much as I would trust Ron Santo not to scream after a Cubs walk-off home run.  I mean, Chad Fox’s ERA is 135.00 in his two games.  Granted, his arm is pretty much dead, but still, a 135.00 ERA?  Even Gagne and Turnbow are laughing at that.

By the way, did you notice Braun’s home run Saturday night when he stared down Dempster after he knew it was gone.  Granted, Dempster had beaned Braun in the helmet the at-bat before, but still, it seems like Braun is getting a little cocky these days which I am usually all about, just not against by Cubs.  K?  Thanks.  For the record Braun is batting .619 against left-handed pitchers this season.  That is shocking.  Not 135.00 ERA shocking, but nonetheless shocking.

MW: That staredown you speak of consisted of steel-tipped darts protruding from Braun’s eyes, yes.  Good thing Dempster was looking back at the ball in awe instead of at Braun or you would have had two pitchers go down in agony that night.  Fox’s arm looked as though it fell off right then and there.  That’s gotta be tough to rehab all that time and throw it out during one of your first outings back.

Surprisingly, our starting rotation is playing to its potential.  Prior to Sunday, Suppan had 4 quality starts in a row.  That’s a shocking as Paula’s song-and-dance return to the stage on last week’s American Idol. But our bullpen isn’t all that much better than yours with the exception of Trevor Hoffman.  When you have someone like Jorge Julio, who’s given up 7 hits and 10 runs (9 earned) in the last 7 days, you tend to want to throw things at the television before the man even finishes running to the mound.



On a bright note, Fukudome’s on base-percentage when he comes to Miller Park is ridonkulous.  Even with three of your stars MIA you might be able to win even if you skipped the other 8 men in the starting lineup and just sent him out to bat for you every third inning.

DK: A) Somehow I just picked up Trevor Hoffman in fantasy baseball league.  B) I think we should call him George Julio, just like it was Bill Mota last year.  C) We can say five of the Cubs stars are MIA.  The aforementioned Big Z, D-Lee, and A-Ram, but don’t forget Milton Bradley and Geovany Soto who are both hitting well below the Mendoza line.

Besides about thirty pounds, what has gotten into Rickie Weeks this year?  He is finally playing like an All-Star second baseman, no longer looks completely incompetent in the field, and doesn’t talk like he has marbles in his mouth during post-game interviews anymore.

Well a tip of the cap to you and the Brewers.  You got us this time around evening the season series at 3-3.  Finally, the Crew travel south to Wrigley in early July for a four-game series so we will get home field advantage.  Hopefully by then our big guns will be healthy and our bullpen situation figured out.  ‘Til then…

MW: …’til then get on the Rickie bandwagon. What’s gotten into him is aggressive swinging early in the pitch count combined with patience at the plate for more hits, more BB’s, and fewer K’s.  Finally the leadoff hitter we’ve been waiting for. Too bad we almost gnawed our arms off it took so long. Braun and our pitching staff need to stay healthy for the Independence Week showdown in Chi.  We may be even now, but we know your baby bears have every intention of setting off some fireworks on the field before the real thing lights up the skies above Lake Michigan. It’s always a superb matchup during which we’ll have to do this again.