Cubs Obituary

Having cleared my head finally and accepted my terrible fate as a Chicago ball fan, here’s the way I see what happened to the Cubs:

First of all, don’t blame it on Pinella. Blame the players. This was a total team meltdown. Let’s count the ways:

Game 1: Dempster, a control pitcher all season (3.3 walks per 9 innings), walked 7 in 4+ innings, including all 3 base runners who scored on the pivotal grand slam in the 5th. How does steady Eddie just lose it all at once. Answer: he gagged.

Game 2: 4 infield errors, including two in the same pivotal inning where the Dodgers scored 5 runs with only 1 being earned. Another choke job.

Game 3: Fell behind early 2-0 when a Dodger was safe at 3rd after A.Ramirez missed an easy tag play and again later that inning when a runner was safe at home after Fukodome’s throw was way up the baseline when only a decent throw somewhere around the plate nails the runner easily. Two runs that shouldn’t have scored in a 3-1 game. You gotta make these plays … they’re not that difficult. Harden didn’t pitch very well either, but the series was lost in Chicago.

All 3 games: Do I even have to list the pathetic batting performances by the top of the order for the whole series? Soriano, Lee, Ramirez, Soto, et al. They were squeezing the bat so hard it turned to sawdust. Most of them were trying to hit 6 run HR’s. That doesn’t work in the playoffs. Ask the White Sox.

This was not Lou’s fault. Again … give the Dodgers credit … and fault the Flubs for playing like crap in one huge gagfest. One has to wonder if the Cubs … regardless of who’s wearing the uniform … can ever not choke from the pressure in Wrigley field during the playoffs. Now 100+ years of hope, frustration, curses turn normally good players into wimps. Derek Lee: Cub killer for the Marlins in ’03 … rally killer as a Cub during last 2 playoffs. 😦

Oh … congrats to Red Sox Nation on advancing. What a terrific ballgame tonight. Fun to watch.

Wally

Clausen Air Attack Grounds Stanford

Opening disclaimer: Youth basketball started here Saturday and my coaching duties prohibited my viewing of the Notre Dame game … other than from my Blackberry. So this post will be a little sketchy on the details and consequently more forward looking. It’ll probably be this way for several upcoming weeks, so please bear with this scribe and feel free to add your own anecdotes and analysis.

Since when does a Notre Dame team throw the ball 40 times while a Stanford team throws it only 28 times? Welcome to the Clausen Era! Jimmy had the best game of his young career, throwing for 347 yards, 3 TDs and no INTs. Not bad, eh? Jimmy was sacked only once, so another great job by the O-line. Meanwhile, Stanford QB Pritchard threw for 2 TDs but had 3 passes picked off and the turnovers were essentially the difference in the ballgame. Credit the Irish D for putting some extreme heat on Pritchard … he was sacked 5 times and when able to get away, he threw a few to our guys. Weis & Co have obviously decided that ND’s offensive identity is to pass the ball and take advantage of the significant, but young talent at the skill positions. With these results, who can blame him?

This ball game was not as close as the 28-21 score indicates. ND jumped out to a big 28-7 lead in the 3rd quarter, but then took their foot off the gas pedal and let Stanford back in it. Brandon Walker came up empty as he went 0-2 in the field goal department. (His batting average this season is actually worse than the Cubs has been vs LA in the playoffs). Walker’s ineptitude combined with ND’s annoying conservative play-calling in the 4th quarter to make the game more interesting than it needed to be for Irish fans. ND again struggled somewhat defending the run, but offset that with a ferocious pass rush resulting in sacks and several poor throws by Stanford.

So the Irish are 4-1 and look forward to what I’ll call a very pivotal game against the North Carolina Tarheels in Chapel Hill. The game should be very revealing and serve as a good barometer for whether ND should be considered a Top 20 team. First of all, it’s a road game. ND was unsuccessful in its only other road game this year (MSU). Secondly, North Carolina is a rapidly improving team with a very nice resume thus far … a 4-1 record including a win at Miami for coach Butch Davis. Third, the Irish have some momentum going. A win vs UNC would make them 5-1 going into an off week before travelling to Seattle at the end of October and unquestionably ranked in the Top 20 … a level most people felt unattainable for ND this year. And 5-1 going into UW also almost assuredly puts ND at the 8 win mark for the season, so this next game against a very tough opponent has a lot riding on it. We’ll see if the Irish are up to the task.

Wally

Wally’s (White Sox) World

I’m probably quite unique in the world of readers and contributors to this CC&WW site. I’m a die-hard fan of the Chicago White Sox … the ChiSox … the Palehose. (Actually, this probably makes me unique in the USA … aren’t many ChiSox fans out there). Admittedly, the Sox are certainly Chicago’s second baseball team in terms of popularity … the Cubs have the cozy ballpark, the yuppies, and the made-for-TV (WGN Superstation!) story of the cursed lovable losers. I understand all that, and I REALLY like the Cubs, too … I want them to end this 100 year drought just as much as anyone. But the fact is … I grew up on the South Side raised by parents and grandparents who worshipped Minnie Minoso, Nellie Fox, Louis Aparicio, Billy Pierce, big Ted Kluzewski and the ’59 pennant winners. Of course, 1959 was last time, prior to 2005, that any Chicago baseball team made it to the World Series … and it was five years prior to my birth. Then, starting in the very late 60’s, my dad and grandpa would take me to Comiskey Park about 4 times every summer … and my personal love affair with the White Sox (and baseball)was well underway. Loved the stadium … everything about it … looked like a palace when it was lit up for a night game. The exploding scoreboard … wow! And then there was Dick Allen … my hero … the

Allen

Allen

coolest, best player in the entire city for about 3 years. I wanted to be Dick Allen. (Wanted to be good looking, smart and rich too … but obviously have missed all my targets 🙂

Anyway, the WhiteSox have been flawed throughout the years. 2005 was a total, but welcome, shock to the system … it proved to me that ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN … since I thought that seeing a World Series ring earned by any Chicago baseball team was a pipe dream in my lifetime … as it had been for thousands of Chicagoans now deceased. ’05 changed all that. I now see possibilities in life where once I saw a wall. This Palehose team is certainly quite flawed once again. Can’t play small ball, they whiff too much waiting for the HR, middle relief is a total (or Dotel) nightmare, Ozzie is a time bomb, etc.

But the playoffs start today!!! I kinda like our chances at home … not sure why … the Twins beat us soundly 3 in a row last week … they are the “anti-Sox” … fight for every run, one at a time. They walk, bunt, steal bases, scrap and fight. I like ’em. The Twins are a team Joe Sixpack can root for. But somehow, I see possibility for the White Sox. Remember … ’05 changed everything … so I believe the Sox can do it. Sure, they’ll probably crash and burn tonight and I’ll be dead wrong … but I believe they can do it. I know it’s foolish … but belief can be empowering.

Man … I hope Danks has his good stuff tonight. I think Thome or Konerko are gonna go long. Hopefully, the Sox “CAN PUT IT ON THE BOOOOOOOOARD …. YYYYEEEEEEEESSSSSSS!!!” Game on … the playoffs have started 🙂

Wally

Irish Throttle Purdue

Notre Dame rode a dominant second half to a convincing 38-21 win Saturday. The second half of this game was really the first time this season that the Irish displayed the type of sustained, versatile offense that fans have been hoping to see. What a welcome sight, though, as this followed a typically sloppy, frustrating first half that saw the Irish waste more trips into the red zone … leaving fans to wonder if this game was destined to be another embarrassing loss at home to a very beatable opponent.

The Good:
The Irish are now 3-1 heading into next week’s home tilt vs Stanford. The outstanding second half should generate momentum and confidence next week. Notre Dame’s offense broke through, primarily due to 6 skill players: Clausen (275 yds, 3 TD, 0 INT), Tate (64 yds, 1TD ), Grimes (65 yds, 1TD) Floyd (100 yds ), Rudolph (1 TD) and Armando Allen (134 yds rushing, 1TD). Kudos to the offensive line (finally!) for again giving Jimmy time to pass but also opening up some running room. Brandon Walker finally made a field goal. A key pick-six by Robert Blanton turned a

Blanton

Blanton

nightmarish first half into a competitive game. Clausen again exhibited leadership and fine game management. I continue to maintain that he has done better thus far in his career than BQ at this point.

The Bad:
Another wasted first quarter which saw ND come out tentative on offense and suffer poor field position … again resulting in a deficit and lack of momentum into the 2nd quarter. As usual, Brandon Walker missed another easy kick. The Irish also failed to pick up a 4th and one from Purdue’s 39 yard line. The defense allowed way too many big plays and inexplicably allowed Purdue to wiggle out of poor field position in a play or two. Again, no sacks of the Purdue QB, which helped yield 360 yards passing. ND also gave up an average of 6.1 yards per running play, and the tackling was not very good for stretches. I remember seeing one Purdue player block 3 ND defenders on a long sideline run. This cannot continue.

Next week is Stanford. The Cardinal are 3-2 and coming off a 35-28 victory over hapless Washington. They have beaten Oregon State and San Jose State, but have lost to Arizona State and TCU. As last year’s incredible upset at USC attests, they are capable of playing over their heads for 60 minutes. Still, ND should be favored to win, but we’ll need to focus and not rest on this week laurels. I look at this game similar to the Purdue game … ND has more talent and the advantage of playing at home … should be a Notre Dame win. However, ND fans are looking for week-to-week continuity of solid play; we’ll continue to be skeptical until we see the Irish play well for 3-5 consecutive halves. Still, today’s 2nd half gives us hope that the Irish are turning the corner.

Nice to see USC flounder this week. Florida, too. No team out there is unbeatable. If #9 Wisconsin can cough one up at Michigan, can the Irish be that far from a realistic Top 25 ranking at 3-1? Just have to keep winning … that’s all we ask 🙂

Wally

Notre Dame Stumbles at Michigan State

The shoe was on the other foot this week as the Irish had the bad luck with turnovers and eventually succumbed to a pretty good Michigan State team in East Lansing. In many ways, this game mimicked the Week 2 game vs Michigan, but unfortunately ND was on the wrong end of turnover margin as MSU beat the Irish 23-7. If this didn’t cost them the game outright, it certainly prevented it from being real close at the end. The Irish repeatedly shot themselves in the foot, and it also appears that somebody shot the feet of ND’s kicker’s, too.

Let’s first talk about the kicking game. ND’s Brandon Walker missed 2 field goals … one was a rather lengthy 51 yarder in which he had the distance and the second was a real momentum killer in the 4th quarter, a very makeable 42 yarder. If you’re gonna win a tough rivalry game on the road, he’s got to make one of these kicks. But Walker’s accuracy and confidence have been very poor since he stepped on campus, so ND fans and coaching staff know this will likely be a problem all year. Furthermore, ND’s kicker on kick-offs has consistently been short of the end zone, and this tendency really cost the Irish in the 4th quarter after they grabbed the momentum and closed the score to 13-7. The ensuing kick-off was fielded by MSU at their 15 yard line and returned to the 45 … this really seemed to deflate ND as MSU marched down to kick a field goal making it 16-7. But there was plenty of time left, as ND moved the ball into the red zone yet again, only to witness Walker’s back-breaking miss from 42 yards.

Now let’s talk about ND’s running game, or lack thereof 16 net yards rushing! Before including lost sack yardage, ND had only 50 yards from their backs and averaged only about 2 yards per carry. Again, OL play was a huge weakness last season and run blocking has been a major deficiency for 3 games now. The pass blocking has been fairly good as MSU tallied the only sacks allowed by ND this season … 3 in this game. When Clausen had time, he was pretty effective. But the OL and running backs need to improve greatly if ND is to become a “real contender”.

Now we get to the turnovers. Similar to the San Diego State game, ND killed itself with red zone turnovers … primarily a 1st half INT in the end zone which cost them points, and a fumble by Michael Floyd on the MSU 13 yard line in the 2nd half likely also took valuable points away. There were a couple of very significant penalties as well, especially one in the 4th quarter which cost ND a 1st down at MSU’s 8 yard line and instead pushed them back to the 23 … leading to Walker’s second FG miss.
MSU gets credit, though, for playing a very good, smart game. They relied on their strengths … a really good running game, a stiff defense, and good line play on both sides of the ball. They made very few mistakes and waited for the Irish to make theirs. Still, for ND, there were some positives, especially when compared to last season’s team. The skill position talent is pretty obvious … Clausen, Tate, Floyd, etc … but the running game has been stifled and will continue to be until the OL matures and gets more push off the line of scrimmage. The defense really kept ND in this game … holding the score down … until the very end. The D-line is very young and is not generating enough pass rush, plus ND’s blitzes aren’t really yielding any payoff. MSU’s Hoyer was not sacked once and really not pressured all game. ND’s secondary is strong and has anchored the D through 3 games.

The Irish face Purdue next week at home. The 2-1 Boilermakers squeaked by Central Michigan Saturday and have yet to play on the road. Their lone loss was in OT to Oregon. If ND believes they are a bowl bound team, they must win this home game vs a suspect Purdue squad. The Irish have clearly superior talent up and down the roster and will be playing in front of the home fans. As for today’s loss, it should be another learning opportunity for this relatively young team. ND was an 8.5 point underdog coming in and the game was winnable in the 4th quarter, but ND made too many mental errors and red zone turnovers to come out on top. Irish faithful will be looking for a turn around next week.

Notre Dame over Michigan

It’s just an awesome fall Saturday when two things happen … Notre Dame wins AND Michigan loses. Notre Dame 35, Skunkbears 17. Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about! The fact that ND is the team handing Michigan a defeat makes it very, very special.

The Irish were ready to play this game right from the opening kick-off. UM was not. ND looked like the confident squad out there; Michigan had that other look. By the time the Skunkbears gathered themselves, they were down 21 zip and the horse had pretty much left the barn. When they closed to 21-10 in the 2nd quarter, ND answered right away with a TD drive of their own to make it 28-10. This type of response did not happen last year for the Irish.

Yes, ND capitalized on many Michigan turnovers. But the Irish turnovers (2) were not killers themsleves. This was not a pretty game, especially in a second half played in a downpour. It was important that ND had a decent lead when the rains came because mounting an offense would be challenging … let alone hanging on to the ball, as UM discovered.

This game does not prove that ND is a Top 20 squad or anything very noteworthy just yet. They need another good game next week … It won’t be easy, but a win at Michigan State should be enough to propel the Irish into the Top 25. BUT, to me, this game proves that the Irish are indeed improved versus last season. They had very few negative plays and again did not give up a sack. They were confident and swarming from the opening kick. Execution on some key plays was terrific and they did not incur significant penalties. The SDState game left more questions than answers. This game offered more answers … positive ones.

At times the defense was stout, but at times it looked very porous as well. Tackling the McGuffie kid proved more challenging than it probably should have. But the D was certainly opportunistic, and the Irish offense certainly cashed in when the gifts were offered by UM. I’d really like to see a more effective and sustained running game … maybe ND will grow into that by season’s end. BUT, no sacks allowed vs Michigan … that says a lot! It’s amazing what your QB can do when not running for his life on 80% of passing plays. Clausen has played very well and exhibited great leadership thus far.

In the 2nd half with the lead, did anyone get the feeling that Lou Holtz was coaching this team? ND became sooooo conservative … it was vintage “Holtz with a lead”. Anyway, on to East Lansing next week to face the MSU Spartans. This will be a very tough game for ND. MSU is very tough at home and a pretty talented team to boot. The Irish will have to focus on stopping a very good Spartan running game.

In the meantime, I’m just going to bask in the afterglow of a ND victory over the hated Skunkbears of Michigan. It really doesn’t get much better than this for ND fans!

Notre Dame Post Game

Well … that’s not the game most of us expected from the Irish in the opener vs San Diego State. Sure, ND won 21-13, but the fact that SD St came within a whisker of going up by 13 points early in the 4th quarter was unnerving to say the least. Thoughts of last season’s nightmares quickly came back … until Clausen hit Golden Tate with the go-ahead TD a few minutes after the miraculous fumble recovery on the goal line.

Before throwing the Irish under the bus after one game, putting this weekend into the proper context for the overall analysis is appropriate. Don’t get me wrong … I’m still worried about this team … and specifically about this team’s ability to finish over .500 this year. BUT, let’s take a look around the country: Ohio State struggled mightily with Ohio U, Michigan did the same with Miami of Ohio, Alabama looked like crap vs Tulane, Pitt was in danger vs Buffalo, plus others in this category. Each of these big favorites were at home playing their 2nd game of the young season. ND was playing its opening game against SD State, a team that suffered a very disappointing loss in its opener the week before. If you believe the axiom that a team makes its greatest improvement between game one and game two, then maybe ND fans shouldn’t panic too much at this point. Having said that, here’s what this “analyst” summarizes as the positives and negatives from this first game:

The Good:
• A win … ND had only 3 W’s last season!
• Did not give up any sacks … last season, ND set a dubious team record for sacks allowed last season
• Dominated the 4th qtr and came back to win
• Clausen looked pretty good, showing a stronger arm than last season. One of the two INTs was not his fault and he threw 3 TD passes.
• Defense showed some mettle … really played tough and kept ND in the game while the offense struggled. The secondary is vastly improved.
• Much better overall special teams play.

The Bad:
• Did not display a dominant running game, averaged only 3 yards per carry, the OL was supposed to run over the weak SD St line. This didn’t happen.
• Given the amount of blitzing by the Irish D, very few sacks of the SD St QB. He got off 60 passes. Why does it always seem our blitzers run smack into the blockers. It’s almost like we don’t know how to blitz.
• ND’s place-kicker missed his first kick and continues to be a head case. This weakness figures to bite ‘em in one of the games coming up.
• More stupid penalties … especially by veteran players – Maurice Crum’s late hit in the first half was really a momentum killer.
• Critical turnovers in the red zone kept the game closer than it should’ve been. And ND was only 1 for 5 on red zone scoring conversions. This cannot continue.

The Michigan Skunkbears visit the Irish next Saturday for the annual early season tussle between the two rivals. UM is struggling to find its identity under new coach Rich Rodriguez and the players to run his scheme. They do have talent, though, so we should expect a very tough game … likely a defensive battle. I am less confident of an Irish victory in this game than I was before Sat’s struggle vs SD State. ND really needs to beat Michigan if they’re gonna get the 7-9 wins everyone “expects” this season. I’m starting to think 5-7 wins is more likely … until I see improved OL play, especially for the running game. Let’s hope the Irish live the axiom and actually improve a great deal between now and the UM game. They better if they hope to win !!