Cubs

Fantasy as a Reality

Fantasy as a Reality

Friday, April 30, 2010
4:43 PM

As I am once again consumed by the monster that is my rotisserie baseball team, I sometimes wonder, Am I alone? Do others have this incurable disease? Or, Who on Gods earth unleashed this evil virus on the unsuspecting masses? Well some of those questions were answered for me when I watched the revealing 30 for 30 on the W.W.L. titled, Silly Little Game. The one hour show featured the Founding Fathers of Fantasy Sports, the original members of the Rotisserie Baseball League. I found it to be funny, sad, enlightening and downright scary, all at the same time. Having a sports affliction is never an easy thing. There is always heartbreak waiting for you around every turn. What these visionaries were able to do was to offer things that we never had before, among them, control and choice, while taking a geeks love of numbers to a different level. The numbers part is at the heart of this. For as anyone who has played any game knows, playing is the real joy of it. When, for any reason, we cant play, there is still a connection by understanding what we see in a game as it is played by others. For us observers, the ability to see what happened and truly be able connect the dots on what has transpired becomes a new type of competition. In fact, it becomes the root of just about all bar arguments. Now, in a measurable way, we can test our abilities against other couch-bound warriors in a match of wits. Instead of the old, Those who cant, teach, its, Those who cant, play fantasy games!

In a truly inspired moment, Daniel Okrent was able to take his obsession with baseball and take it to another level. Actually its a little beyond that, I liken it to someone who plays the guitar hearing, or seeing, Hendrix for the first time. You can hear Jimmy, but can you HEAR Jimmy? Fascination with the numbers of baseball was not something new. This was part of its allure. But to be able to use these numbers in a way that was not as a historical reference was what was revolutionary: Using past performance, to predict future results and to quantify them in a way that you could measure your predictions against others. Well, maybe it wasnt revolutionary, bookies have been doing it since the beginning of time, but it sure was different, and fun.

By being able to select your team, is where the control and choice comes in. For fans constantly clamoring about the ability of the G.M. of their favorite team to be able to construct a roster, this was their chance to do so. The fact that you do it against a group of individuals as sick as you are ensures that there is competitive balance and also means that you have to prioritize and make choices on what is important and how you can get more of it. Just like the big boys!

But an interesting thing happened on the way to baseball nirvana and this is the part that hit close to home for me. It also amused my wife, who happened to be in the room pretending not to notice, while I watched. (Her snickers and eye roles belied her indifference!) It was the psychosis that started even before the league had formally begun. The process of selecting league members and their merit was eerily familiar. The intense preparation for the draft and then the impending sense of ineptitude and doom as it occurred would have been funny if it wasnt so true. That most of them called it the greatest and worst day is something I can truly relate to. Then the real fun begins. As I listened to one member refer to her league mates as seemingly normal, I laughed out loud. Because as I know, there is nothing normal for anyone who is involved in any sort of fantasy sport. It takes over. No, you dont understand, I mean it climbs in your head, kicks of its shoes, hops on the sofa, and announces, Im going to be here a while and theres nothing you can do about it. Oh, and by the way, Im in charge! Am I married to fantasy sports?!

My ability to watch any game has been skewed as much as it has been enhanced and when you do what I do for a living, there is no escape. For instance, I walk into the bar on Wednesday for my night shift and the Phillies-Giants game is on. My Phillies! Only they had been dominated by the Freaky Franchise all afternoon and were down in the ninth 4-1. Of course, they proceed to start a rally and San Fran closer Brian Wilson is brought in. My closer! So as I walk into the bar Wilson is pitching to Jayson Werth, still with the three run lead, but the bases are loaded with two outs. What have we here? Not only that, two of my guys are on base and I can use the runs, but I need the save more. Not to mention, the Phils are scuffling right now and are behind the Mets. Theyre out of 1st place in the division for the first time in over a year, and as manager Charlie Manual says, I like being in 1st place. Well Charlie, I do to, with the Phils and Roto, but if Werth gets a hit, my WHIP and ERA are going to take a beating. Talk about conflicted. As Werth fouls of ANOTHER pitch, I actually ask myself, What am I rooting for here? Honestly! So when he bloops a double down the right-field line to clear the bases and tie the game, I think, Cool, maybe one of the relievers I have in the game, can get a win, provided by one of my hitters, since I have a total of 8 players combined from both teams in the game. Am I scaring you yet? I could go on!

But Ill spare both of us because as Im typing this little scenario, which seems to be played out many, many times, every night. Im reminded of something Okrent said about this: Theres nothing more interesting than your own team, and nothing more boring than stories about someone elses. He said this in relation to the fact that to capitalize on the growth of the game that he and his mates had founded, they organized a convention for Rotisserie Baseball players, where the Founding Fathers would be the featured speakers. The way he described their horror at being stalked by these geeks is hilarious.

So for me, I found the show to be a mirror for myself to gaze in. As I looked at the reflection and wanted to recoil, I could not. As the show depicts how the new game grew to the point that it could not be controlled by its original masters, neither can I. Fantasy sports now are as much of the sports culture and experience as the smell of the hot dogs and the long lines for the restrooms at the game. They enable a connection and understanding that I feel enhances the rooting interest, even for a stuffy purist. That they can make you crazy and obsessive only adds to the fun, and cant be avoided, because to win you have to be in and once youre in, theres no way out! A Silly Little

Game indeed!

The Cubs are in a way better spot than they were a year ago

The Cubs are in a way better spot than they were a year ago

ST. LOUIS — It's night and day watching the 2018 Cubs compared to the 2017 version.

Even with the injury to Javy Baez Sunday night, the Cubs are in a way better spot now than they were a year ago.

On June 17 of last season, the Cubs sat at 33-34 with a run differential of just +6.

They looked flat more often than not. "Hangover" was the word thrown around most and it was true — the Cubs really did have a World Series hangover.

They admit that freely and it's also totally understandable. Not only did they win one of the most mentally and physically draining World Series in history, but they also ended a 108-year championship drought and the weight of that accomplishment was simply staggering. 

The 2018 iteration of the Cubs are completely different. 

They began play Sunday night with a chance to sweep their division rivals in St. Louis and sitting in first place in the National League Central, percentage points up on the Milwaukee Brewers. A +100 run differential paced the NL and sat behind only the Houston Astros (+157) and Boston Red Sox (+102) in the AL.

Through 67 games, the Cubs sat at 40-27, 13 games above .500 compared to a game below .500 at the same point last summer.

What's been the main difference?

"Energy," Joe Maddon said simply. "Coming off the World Series, it was really hard to get us kickstarted. It was just different. I thought the fatigue generated from the previous two years, playing that deeply into the year. A lot of young guys on the team last year.

"We just could not get it kickstarted. This year, came out of camp with a fresher attitude. Not like we've been killing it to this point; we've been doing a lot better, but I didn't even realize that's the difference between last year and this year.

"If anything, I would just pinpoint it on energy."

Of course the physical component is easy to see. The Cubs played past Halloweeen in 2016 and then had so many demands for street namings and talk shows and TV appearances and Disney World and on and on. That would leave anybody exhausted with such a shortened offseason.

There's also the mental component. The Cubs came into 2018 with a chip on their shoulder after running into a wall in the NLCS last fall against the Los Angeles Dodgers. They have a renewed focus and intensity.

But there's still plenty of room for more. The Cubs aren't happy with the best record and run differential in the NL. They know they still haven't fully hit their stride yet, even amidst a 24-12 stretch over the last five weeks.

"I think we've been pretty consistent," Jon Lester said. "We've had some ups and downs on both sides of the ball as far as pitching and hitting. But the biggest thing is our bullpen and our defense has been pretty solid all year.

"That's kept us in those games. When we do lose — you're gonna have the anomalies every once in a while and get blown out — we're in every single game. It's all we can do. Keep grinding it out.

"Our offense will be fine. Our defense and the back end of our bullpen has done an unbelievable job of keeping us in these games. And if we contribute as a starting five, even better. 

"You have the games where our guys get feeling sexy about themselves and score some runs. That's where the snowball effect and we get on that little bit of a run. I feel like we've been on a few runs, it just hasn't been an extended period of time. I don't have any concerns as far as inside this clubhouse."

Lester hit the nail on the head. The Cubs sit at this point with only 1 win from Yu Darvish, Tyler Chatwood struggling with command and low power numbers from several guys including Kris Bryant.

Throw in the fact that Joe Maddon's Cubs teams always seem to get into a groove in August and September when they're fresher and "friskier" than the rest of the league and this team is currently in very good shape for the remainder of the year. 

If they can get 3 wins away from the World Series after going 33-34, the sky should be the limit for a 2018 squad that's in a much better position 67 games in.

Cubs optimistic Javy Baez avoided serious injury on hit-by-pitch

Cubs optimistic Javy Baez avoided serious injury on hit-by-pitch

ST. LOUIS — Cubs nation can breathe a sigh of relief for now.

The team announced Javy Baez has a left elbow contusion after taking a 90 mph fastball off it in the third inning of Sunday night's game. Baez will still undergo X-rays to be sure there is nothing more sinister at play, but for now, it looks as if he has avoided serious injury.

Still, this is not what the Cubs wanted to see.

The Cubs entered play Sunday night having gone 24-12 since getting swept out of St. Louis in the first weekend of May. They were feeling good about themselves, starting to get their mojo back and playing more like the team everybody expected.

And then Baez took a fastball off the left elbow.

After a couple minute delay, Baez was led off the field and Addison Russell came in off the bench to replace him at first base.

The 25-year-old was in the midst of a breakout season for the Cubs, sitting 5th in the National League with 46 RBI and on pace for a near 30-30 seaosn (33 homers, 29 stolen bases). 

He had slowed a bit (.175 average, .502 OPS in June) but still gives the Cubs so much energy and versatility on a daily basis with his ability to move around the infield and lineup.

If the Cubs are going to be without Baez for any length of time, it could be a huge blow to a team that was just hitting its stride.