Preps Talk

The circus comes to town with Ozzie, Big Z, Marlins

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The circus comes to town with Ozzie, Big Z, Marlins

The Miami Marlins are the perfect team for their time and place loud, flashy and made for television.

Starring in the reality show are two old friends from Venezuela. Deep down, they probably never wanted to leave Chicago, but must realize it was the best for everyone involved.

The cameras and microphones will surround Ozzie Guillen and Carlos Zambrano on Tuesday at Wrigley Field. That is where they love being the center of attention.

For the Cubs, all the drama this week will involve whether or not Ryan Dempster is traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers (or another contender) before his next start, and how Theo Epstein will break up this 36-52 team before the July 31 deadline.

The Cubs will have to be blown away to deal Matt Garza, whos emotional and hard-edged and might enjoy shaving cream pies a little too much but also never quite lived up to that unfair Zambrano Light label.

The clubhouse is quiet, serious and businesslike (especially without Marlon Byrd). There are no mood swings. It all starts with Dale Sveum, who rarely raises his voice and has seemingly bottled up all the emotions that come with managing a big-market team.

Or, as Zambrano said in April when Cubs beat writers walked into the Marlins clubhouse: You miss me. You have nothing to write about.

No one can accuse the Marlins of being boring. But at 42-46 and seven games out of a wild card spot, you can wonder how long theyre going to stay relevant, or if this house of cards is going to collapse.

Where Cubs officials preached patience and restraint and their fans rooted for Anthony Rizzos extra year of club control, the Marlins went all-in.

The USA TODAY salary database has the Marlins with a major-league payroll of 118 million this season, after coming in at less than 57 million the year before. Big-ticket items Jose Reyes (.263 average) and Heath Bell (6.56 ERA with six blown saves) have so far underachieved.

As the real estate market collapsed in South Florida, team executives convinced the city and Miami-Dade County to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into Marlins Park, which looks like a spaceship dropped into the middle of Little Havana.

Part art gallery, part nightclub, there are two 450-gallon fish tanks behind home plate. The players wear black hats and bright orange jerseys that look like a tropical storm developing on a weather screen. The girls in bikinis lounge by the pool and dance at the Clevelander, the bar beyond the left-field wall.

Can the Marlins be more than just eye candy?

By Monday, coolstandings.com, which simulates the rest of the season millions of times, gave the Marlins a 1.5 percent chance of making the playoffs. Baseball Prospectus had them at 7.1 percent.

Showtime is along for the ride filming The Franchise, a behind-the-scenes look inside the clubhouse, the managers office and the executive suites.

During last weeks premiere episode, you saw Jeffrey Loria, the art dealer who owns the Marlins, counting 97 F-bombs as Guillen gave a speech during their first team meeting in spring training.

You also heard team president David Samson, Lorias stepson, give this assessment: When that trade went down, Zambrano could have not shown up. He could have been an angry, sulky pain in the (butt) piece of (bleep), which is what the scouting report said he was. Everyone was wrong.

The Cubs kicked in more than 15 million to get rid of Zambrano last winter, and its never that simple with him. (Chris Volstad, the guy traded for Zambrano, hasnt won a game at the big-league level since July 10, 2011, though the Cubs still want him to keep starting at Triple-A Iowa.)

Zambrano can have a very good sense of humor, and a sense of faith and justice seems to shape the charity work hes done over the years. Hes also a family man who can act like an immature little kid.

After taking over at Clark and Addison, Epstein consulted with veterans in the clubhouse, and found out about enough physical altercations with teammates, that the new Cubs president understood Zambrano had to leave.

Whatever peace Zambrano has found in Miami, insiders insist it wouldnt have happened at Wrigley Field, where he would have felt the weight and pressure of Being Big Z.

Its a place that I will never, ever forget, Zambrano said in April. Chicago was always great to me. And I do really appreciate all the attention, all the criticism, too, because that made me get better.

Wrigley was a great place for me, my house for 10-and-a-half years. Theres nothing that compares to Wrigley. The atmosphere, the passion of the fans is something that you probably dont see in any other ballpark.

Zambrano had a 2.81 ERA through his first 11 starts, but entered Monday with a 4-7 record and a 4.20 ERA overall this season. He profiles like a back-end starter now, and for all the headlines and airtime hes dominated, thats pretty much what hes been the past few years.

Zambrano wont start against the Cubs, but maybe Guillen will throw him a bone and let him pinch-hit during this three-game series. The Franchise made it sound like Zambrano had clearance to attack the Gatorade coolers.

I love it, Guillen said on Showtime. Id rather have somebody throwing (bleep) in the goddamn dugout than see somebody (act) like they dont care.

Guillen has a beautiful mind for baseball, and the White Sox running out in first place shouldnt diminish what he accomplished here: Since the end of World War I, hes the only manager to win a World Series in this city.

But this is also what the Marlins signed up for: Guillen unplugged and unfiltered, even when hes asked repeatedly about Fidel Castro. Theres no turning back now.

High School Lites Football Roundup Week 5

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

High School Lites Football Roundup Week 5

High School Lites is back with an action-packed Week 5 full of thrilling matchups. NBC Sports Chicago has the highlights of some of the top matchups from Friday's games.

Be sure to follow us on Twitter @NBCSPREPS for all of the latest IHSA football scores and highlights. 

DRIVE: Batavia (episode 5)

TEAM OF THE WEEK: South Elgin football

VIEWER'S CHOICE GAMES OF THE WEEK: Oswego East beats Plainfield South 29-0

WINTRUST ATHLETE OF THE WEEK: Vinnie Panico

FRIDAY'S TOP 25 SCORES:

(1) Lincoln-Way East 38, Lincoln-Way Central 0

(2) Nazareth Academy 45, Benet Academy 7

(3) Batavia 41, Wheaton South 20

(4) Homewood-Flossmoor 28 Lincoln-Way West, 14

(5) Brother Rice 20 Providence Catholic, 0

Lake Zurich 23, (6) Stevenson 20

(7) Mount Carmel 28, Marmion Academy 7

(9) Simeon 48, Perspectives 13

(10) Marist 42, Joliet Catholic 6

(11) Loyola-Academy 21, St. Ignatius 14 (OT)

(12) Maine South 21, (16) Evanston 13

(13) Oswego 49. Plainfield East 0

(15) Richards 50, Shepard 14

(17) Phillips 49, Morgan Park 0

Conant 21, (18) Barrington 12

(19) Willowbrook 20, Hinsdale South 10

(20) Naperville Central 56, Metea Valley 13

(21) Bolingbrook 35, Bradley-Bourbonnais 13

(22) Montini 29, St. Rita 13

(24) New Trier 59, Niles West 0

(25) Hillcrest 27, Lemont 7

OTHER HIGHLIGHTS

Kenwood 46, Back of the Yards 6

Notre Dame 45, Marian Central Catholic 6

Warren 24, Lake Forest 10

Curie 13, Hubbard 6

SATURDAY'S TOP 25 GAMES

Dundee-Crown at (8) Cary-Grove

Downers Grove North at (14) Glenbard West 

York at (23) Hinsdale Central 

Week 3 NFL picks: Over 90 percent of experts pick Bears to defeat Cardinals

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USA TODAY

Week 3 NFL picks: Over 90 percent of experts pick Bears to defeat Cardinals

The Bears aren’t going to take the Arizona Cardinals lightly on Sunday, but Chicago isn’t expected to have too much trouble with their Week 3 opponent.

The Cardinals have scored six points through two games, shutout last week against the Los Angeles Rams. Quarterback Sam Bradford has struggled and his offensive line has been a big reason for it, making another favorable matchup for Khalil Mack to continue his strong start.

Few experts expect the Cardinals to pull off the upset, with over 90 percent of NFL prognosticators picking the Bears to win, according to NFL Pick Watch.

Analysts from CBS and MMQB as well as the analytics from FiveThirtyEight are picking against Chicago this week, while every Pro Football Focus analyst picked the Bears across the board.

The Cardinals are nearly touchdown underdogs by Las Vegas betting lines, and sportsbooks see the game as one of the lowest-scoring matchups of the weekend.

Arizona hasn’t had much offensive success this season, but with talent like David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald, an upset is only ever a few plays away. The Cardinals defense has done well in spite of the team’s struggles, and this game won’t be a walk in the park for the Bears on the road.