Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Cubs Preview #2- 3/11/08

Roster Spot 20- C- Henry "Hank White" Blanco #24
Ht:5'11'' Wt: "220" (bullsh*t) Bats: Right Throws: Right

Such grace..such poise..


To have been a Cubs fan since the 2005 season is to have witnessed the rise of one of baseball's greatest heroes. Henry "Hank White" Blanco is more than just a ballplayer. Hank is hope in human form. When we see his mulleted head, his tribal arm tattoos, and his wispy goatee kneeling down behind the plate, we know that we have a damn good, if not guaranteed, chance to win that ball game. From the moment of Hank's arrival, he has inspired his own fervently devoted group of Cub followers, the Hank White Fan Club. (http://hankwhitefanclub.wordpress.com/)

While that group, with its hallmarks such as the Hank White Equivalent Batting Average, and the Hank-o-Meter can give far better justice to our warrior, I shall do my best.

But if Hank is this team's greatest player, you ask, how can he not even be the starter at catcher? Hank's rare combination of good looks, powerful throwing arm, and poise at the plate cannot be unleashed every day. No, he must be reserved for the situation that is truly his calling: Carlos Zambrano.

Except on opening day, whenever Carlos strides the mound this year you'll most likely see Hank walking out to home plate. Together they are the Cubs unbeatable Latin Gladiator duo. If Carlos is indeed El Torro, or The Bull, as he has named himself (and everyone else fell in line in sheer terror), then Hank is The Matador, for only he can truly tame Carlos. Many would say that the rise in Carlos' era and losses last year can be attributed to his contract situation, I attest it solely to the fact that Hank spent most of the campaign on the DL and played in only 22 games. In 2005 and 2006, with Hank as his near-fulltime catcher, Carlos was 14-6 and 16-7 with era's of 3.26 and 3.41. In 2007, with Hank on the DL and Carlos left at the mercy of the Michael Barrett/Jason Kendall/Koyie Hill/Rob Bowen four-headed catching blunder, Carlos finished 18-13 with a 3.95 era.

But besides statistics, which can be manipulated by anyone to suit any purpose and 35% of people know that, Hank has one true talent for managing Carlos: Balls. I remember a game in 2005 in which Carlos was struggling to throw a strike. I mean couldn't find the strike zone with GPS. Hank responded by coming out from behind the plate, meeting with Carlos, exchanging a few words, and going back. Carlos struck out the next batter, ended the inning, was calm throughout and the Cubs won the game. What were Blanco's secret words of wisdom? Zambrano went on record as saying, quote, "Henry said he would slap me if I didn't throw a strike". The power to instill fear in the Bull himself. The power of Hank White. A power notably lacking in a certain former Cubs catcher who found himself paired up with Carlos last year, resulting in this:



Another power of Hank's not shared by most other Cub catchers include the ability to throw out baserunners. In his career Hank has thrown out nearly 43% of all attempted base stealers, well above the major league average of 27%.

Thus we come to the conclusion that Hank White=Baseball God. But why no start? Well, Hank is a weary man, who has come to the conclusion that he must extend his greatness beyond the baseball world soon, and has graciously decided to stay along with the Cubs long enough to train their current starter and his apprentice, Geovany Soto. I mean seriously, is there any better mentor for this guy:


Than this guy:


Viva Hank White!

UFC Time with Iggins!: Anderson Silva edition.

Iggins!

Well, Kratos finally got fed up with mortals and left to stay somewhere up on Mount Olympus. He was muttering something about Anderson Silva. In any case, I'll be bringing you MMA knowledge from now on so let's get it started:
  • Speaking of Anderson "The Spider" Silva, apparently he wants to fight Roy Jones Jr. Roy has been the one megastar of the boxing world who has actually praised the UFC, and he has many times expressed interest in fighting in mixed martial arts, namely the UFC. In a strange reversal, the Spider actually wants to box Roy, in a boxing ring. For anyone who can't remember what such things look like, a boxing ring is disappointingly square. Anderson's reasons for wishing to box Roy are that he feels mixed martial artists often get dissed by boxers for not being "technical" enough, and the Spider wishes to dispel that feeling. Methinks maybe he could.


  • Keeping with the special subject for today, I've heard a lot of argument about what Silva said after he beat Hendo, commending Dan Henderson but saying that, ultimately, Rich "Ace" Franklin was the superior fighter. I'm on Silva's side here: yes, during the two fights Silva has had with Ace the Spider has dominated, and during the Hendo fight Silva actually lost the first round. But if you rewatch these fights it's clear that Ace has a far superior stand-up game to Hendo, and that the Spider expected his match with Hendo to be a stand-up battle. When Silva got taken down and had his mouth and nose covered up by Hendo, obviously Henderson lost a lot of points in Silva's mind. When Silva fights, he likes to put on as much of a show for the crowd as he can, and having Henderson attempt to cover his breathing holes while laying on him for the better part of the first round visibly angered the Spider, and when the second round started he threw his proverbial gloves off and completely dominated Hendo. Hey, why not put together an Ace vs. Hendo match to settle this for real? It's not like putting anyone versus Silva is going to be an interesting fight (beyond the intense schaudenfreude).
  • In short, I'm predicting that Roy Jones will be entering the octagon this year, more than likely at middleweight because there is simply nobody else who can fight the Spider. I would bet money that exactly when Roy gets his first fight will depend heavily on whether Brock Lesnar beats Mark Coleman at UFC 87. If Lesnar proves to be a mere novelty then Dana White (President of the UFC) will need a new big name to draw in new fans.

Cubs Preview 3/11/08

Roster Spot 21- P- Jon Lieber #32

Ht:6'22'' Wt:240 Bats: Left Throws: Right

Jon Lieber circa 2001: Age 6 years to ferment mediocrity

If you're like me, when you heard in January that the Cubs were bringing back their one time ace for a second go-round, you couldn't help but go back in time to the summer of 2001, when Don Baylor was manager, Sosa was in his prime and still adored, Ricky Gutierrez was second on the team in rbis, Fred McGriff was supposed to be our savior and sucked balls, and Matt Stairs brought hope to the chubby masses. In that year, Jon Lieber was as good as it gets and lead the National League in games started and innings pitched, with a 20 win campaign and an All Star invite. Jon's line for the season?


34 games, 34 games started, 232.3 innings pitched, 20-6, 3.80 era.


Which was the third season in a row in which Jon posted 200+ innings and had double digit wins, and the first in which he became a true major league ace.


Those 2001 Cubs came so close, contending for a playoff spot until the last week of the season before wilting and finishing a respectable 88-74, and with Lieber and the then healthy Kerry Wood as the bedrocks of their staff, the Cubs looked forward to contending in 2002.


But, as always happens with the Cubs, the wheels fell off for both the team and Lieber. With the Cubs falling to 65-97, Jon struggled to a 6-8 record through his first 21 starts of the year before blowing out his elbow.

After having Tommy John surgery to repair the elbow, Lieber spurned the Cubs contract offer and signed a two year deal with the Yankees and spent the 2003 season recuperating before leading the Yankees in wins with 14 in 2004. Lieber then bounced to the Philadelphia Phillies where he did even better by posting a 17 win season and looked to be the same pitcher of 2001. Then in 2006 Lieber fell to 9-11, and entered the 2007 fighting to keep his spot in the Phillies rotation, failed, and was sent to the bullpen. After managing to land in the rotation once more due to injuries to several other members of the rotation, Lieber went a mediocre 3-6 with a 4.73 era before ending his season prematurely with a torn ankle ligament, and was released by the Phillies in October.


So, twice stricken with season-ending injuries and coming off of the least productive season of his career, Jon rejoined the team where he enjoyed his greatest success, and once more finds himself fighting for a rotation spot. Due to the recent strong outings by Ryan Dempster and Marquis, Lieber is more than likely going to find himself in the bullpen when the season starts.
Once the ace, now the sixth best starting option. Its not entirely stupid to wish for the old Lieber again, and to think that he's still only 2 seasons removed from a 17 win campaign. But 2001 is gone, Sosa is retired, and reality is reality, and that reality is that this is not the Jon Lieber we knew.