Cubs

Fire Postseason Report

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Fire Postseason Report

Major League Soccer is only in the early stages of its postseason tournament, but all the votes for the individual awards and Best XI selections had to be in last week.
The leagues Coach-of-the-Year wont be announced until Nov. 27, but competition for it took an unexpected twist on Friday when a prime candidate Jesse Marsch abruptly resigned as head man of the expansion Montreal Impact.
My vote for Coach-of-the-Year didnt go to Marsch. Not meaning to seem like a homer, but my choice was the Fires Frank Klopas. Klopas took a team that had 10 wins in 44 games in 1 seasons under his predecessor, Carlos de los Cobos. Under Klopas the Fire salvaged a .500 season (9-9-16) in 2011 and qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2009 this season. The disappointing last six games notwithstanding, Klopas impact on his club was unmatched. Its improvement was largely due to coaching, as Klopas rosters reflected a massive rebuilding job.
While Klopas was my clear-cut choice for Coach-of-the-Year, my choice for second was Marsch. Ironically, Klopas and Marsch were teammates on the first Fire team that swept the MLS and U.S. Open Cups in its inaugural 1998 season.
Marsch kept playing after that, and was a mainstay in the Fire midfield before finishing his career with four seasons as captain of Chivas USA. He clearly had the personality for coaching in his playing days, and his first head job with Montreal proved that.
The Impact had a slow start, not unusual for expansion clubs, but it challenged for a playoff berth before finishing 12-16-6 and in seventh place in the Eastern Conference. Montreal owner Joey Saputo said the Impacts record had nothing to do with Marschs departure, said to be a mutual agreement by all involved in the decision-making.
"We did not share the same philosophy," said Marsch. "It wasnt easy, with the relationships weve built, but for me it was the right decision."
Montreal is way ahead of the rest of MLS in planning for 2013. The Impact leaves on Monday (Nov. 5) for 12-day tour of Italy, during which itll play two Serie A members, Bologna on Nov. 8 and Florentina on Nov. 15. The Impact is also the first MLS team to announce preseason plans for 2013. It will open camp on Jan. 19 and play in the Disney Pro tournament in Orlando, Fla., while training there from Feb. 9-23.
Two of Marschs assistants with Chicago ties will be on board at least for the Italian tour. Denis Hamlett, who took the Fire to the playoffs twice as its head coach in 2008 and 2009, and Mike Sorber, who completed his playing career in Chicago, were on Marschs staff.
As for Marsch, dont be surprised if he winds up coaching Chivas USA next season. That Los Angeles-based club struggled to a 7-18-9 record under the coaching of Robin Fraser this season. Only Toronto FC (which had 23 standings points) had few than Chivas USAs 30 this season.
WELCOME, COACH SERMANNI
The Fires season-ending 2-1 playoff loss to the Houston Dynamo on Wednesday coincided with the arrival of Tom Sermanni, who had just been named head coach of the U.S. womens team. He concluded the media rounds at Toyota Park in a pre-game meeting with reporters.
Sermanni, coach of the Australian national team for 11 years, has a tough act to follow. The U.S. women won the gold medal at the Summer Olympics in London and have been No. 1 in the FIFA Womens World Rankings since 2008.
"Most coaches come into a situation where a team is doing poorly and you want to try and turn things around," said Sermanni. "This is a different challenge, but the same principles apply. You just start from a much better base. You dont come into this job to make radical changes. You try to make the team even better, if thats possible. The most important thing is to try to keep winning.
Sermanni, in Chicago for just two days, will return to the U.S. in December to watch the last three matches of his new teams Fans Tribute Tour. Jill Ellis, U.S. womens development director for the Chicago-based U.S. Soccer Federation, will coach those matches before Sermanni takes over on Jan. 1. Hes hopeful a U.S. womens pro league will be in place for 2013.
"Some of our players might want the experience of going to Europe, and that could be beneficial in some cases," Sermanni said. "But if a new league gets up and running here my preference would be for them to play here.
CALLING FIRE HOPEFULS
The first step for the Fire in preparation for next season is the two-day open tryout, to be held for the fifth time at Bridgeview Soccer & Sports Dome on Dec. 14-15.
Fire coaches will select one player from the tryout to participate in the first phase of the 2013 preseason. Only once has the survivor of the open tryout actually made the first team. In 2011 Mount Prospect defender Pari Pantazopoulos did it. He beat out over 200 candidates from 19 countries in the open tryout, then survived all three phases of the preseason to make the team. He didnt crack the roster for 2012, however.
Registration for the open tryout is 150, and the deadline is Dec. 11.

A Hobbled Hero: Baez, Cubs keep finding wild ways to win

A Hobbled Hero: Baez, Cubs keep finding wild ways to win

Javy Baez has only seen one pitch in the Cubs-Phillies series, but that's all he needs to make a major impact.

"El Mago" notched his first walk-off RBI since May 8, 2016 in the bottom of the ninth inning Tuesday night, lacing the only pitch he saw from Juan Nicasio down the right-field line. Baez had missed the entire series to that point due to a heel injury he suffered Sunday in Washington D.C. and actually underwent an MRI before Tuesday's game to make sure there was no other damage.

Baez's single put the finishing touches on the Cubs' first win this season when trailing after eight innings. They now lead the majors with five walk-off victories.

After another blown lead by the bullpen (the third in the last week), the Cubs entered the bottom of the ninth down 2-1, but Kris Bryant led off with a walk and then Anthony Rizzo doubled. After a Willson Contreras flyout, Jason Heyward was intentionally walked and then Albert Almora Jr. hit a tapper in front of home plate that Bryant just barely beat out at home to tie the game.

Then came Baez, as Joe Maddon opted to go to the hobbled star in place of Daniel Descalso, who was 0-for-4 on the evening to that point.

Prior to the ninth inning, Maddon wasn't sure if Baez would even be available to pinch hit in the game, but trainer P.J. Mainville taped up Javy's foot/ankle at the start of the inning and gave the Cubs skipper the all-clear.

"Just give PJ some credit on the tape job," Maddon joked. "This is right out of the Lombardi era kind of stuff. Tape and aspirin — go ahead and play. That's what everybody's football coach said."

If Baez hadn't delivered the walk-off hit and the Cubs wound up in extra innings, Maddon said he didn't know if Baez would be able to even play the field on his injured heel and the only player left on the bench was backup catcher Victor Caratini.

"In moments like that, you can only think it so far," Maddon said. "And then at some point, you gotta throw it at the wall and see what happens."

Maddon doesn't know if Baez will be able to play Wednesday night, but plans to make two lineups and then check with the shortstop to see about his status when he arrives at the field.

Baez's Cubs teammates are no longer surprised at the ridiculous things he does or how easy he makes some very difficult tasks look. Bryant joked he was actually upset Baez didn't hit it over the fence for a walk-off grand slam.

"I don't even know what's going on with him half the time anyway," Bryant said. "It's like, 'oh, Javy's pinch-hitting. And then I was debating like, 'don't swing at the first pitch," but I was like, 'no, it's Javy.' 

"It was awesome. He just like goes up there and swings the bat. If he didn't have to run to first base, he wouldn't. It's just like, 'I'm so good, I'm just gonna get this hit and then we're gonna go home.'"

However awe-inspiring Baez's Kirk Gibson impression was, the only reason the Cubs were even in the spot to win the game at that moment was because of the hustle and aggressive baserunning from Bryant. 

His game-tying run on Almora's tapper in front of the plate was huge, but his first trip around the bases was even more impressive. 

With Bryant on second base and Rizzo on first in the first inning, both runners were off on the full-count pitch to Contreras, who hit a routine grounder to Phillies shortstop Jean Segura. As Segura made the throw to first to retire Contreras, Bryant never hesitated around third base and scored on some heads-up, aggressive baserunning that looked like a page right out of the El Mago Playbook.

Bryant said as he was running, he thought about what it's like to play the left side of the infield on such a routine play and felt like he could catch the Phillies by surprise.

"I saw [third base coach Brian Butterfield] holding me up, too, and I just kept going," Bryant said. "I almost felt like I had eyes in the back of my head. It was kind of like one of those experiences that it's hard to explain, but I just kept going."

That run was all Jose Quintana and the Cubs needed for six innings, until Carl Edwards Jr. came on in relief for the seventh. Edwards allowed a leadoff single and then a double two batters later, giving way to Brandon Kintzler with two outs.

Kintzler gave up a groundball single up the middle to Andrew McCutchen and just like that, the Cubs' thin 1-0 lead had evaporated in the blink of an eye. And with the offensive issues (they were 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position before Baez's hit), that looked to be enough to send the Cubs to their second straight defeat in frustrating fashion.

But the magic of El Mago and Bryant allowed the Cubs to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and send fans home happy and with a little more belief that this just might be a special summer on Chicago's North Side.

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White Sox get lesson in why they need their own Justin Verlander type to finish off rebuild

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USA TODAY

White Sox get lesson in why they need their own Justin Verlander type to finish off rebuild

Who will be the White Sox version of Justin Verlander? Their version of Jon Lester?

The big-name veteran brought in from outside the organization to be the cherry on top of a rebuilding effort and push things into contention mode. Who will Rick Hahn & Co. bring in to play that role on the South Side?

The White Sox got a firsthand lesson in why such a player is a necessity, dominated in every sense by Verlander on Tuesday night in Houston. Verlander, who long tormented the White Sox when he played for the division-rival Tigers, took a no-hit bid into the seventh inning and finished with one run, one hit and one walk allowed in eight dazzling frames. Jose Abreu's solo homer that broke up the no-hitter in the seventh was the one moment on the evening in which Verlander looked human.

That's the kind of thing Verlander's been doing since the Astros traded for him during the 2017 season, which ended with them winning the World Series. They might do it again this year, the best team in baseball halfway through this four-game series against the White Sox. And he's a big reason they've stayed atop the list of championship contenders the last two years.

Verlander's acquisition was a little different than that of Lester on the North Side of Chicago. The Cubs needed to inject some legitimacy into their rebuilding project and got it by giving Lester, who knew Theo Epstein and his front office from the Boston days, a ton of money to top their rotation. The Astros needed a similar push from one of the game's best pitchers, and they got it by trading for Verlander in a waiver deal with the Tigers. But Verlander accomplished the same goal for the Astros that Lester did for the Cubs. Even in 2019, they're two of the more reliable arms around.

The White Sox might not be ready to vault into contention mode on Day 1 of the 2020 season. Michael Kopech's next start will be just his fifth as a big leaguer. Dylan Cease won't have much more than a month or two of big league experience. Eloy Jimenez has already missed a month of developmental time. Luis Robert will likely be getting his first taste of the majors.

But adding a Verlander type to that group could make a huge difference.

Now, Verlander is one of the best pitchers ever, plain and simple, a first-ballot Hall of Famer. To suggest that kind of pitcher will be available this offseason is perhaps unrealistic. Verlander was set to be among a loaded free-agent class before he signed an extension to stay with the Astros. He wasn't alone, and that thought-to-be-loaded free-agent class is now significantly less loaded. But there are still options, and perhaps more than ever a trade looks like it might be the way to go. If the White Sox do have a top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher on their wish list, Verlander's teammate and Wednesday night's scheduled starter, Gerrit Cole, is on track to be among the available free agents.

So, too, is Madison Bumgarner, who more closely fits the mold of accomplished guys like Verlander and Lester. Bumgarner's got an unparalleled amount of postseason success, but he comes with plenty of questions, too. He pitched in just 38 combined games in 2017 and 2018, and while longevity hasn't been an issue this season — he's failed to go six innings in only one of his 10 starts — effectiveness has been an issue. He's got a 4.21 ERA through 62 innings. His highest single-season ERA prior to 2019 was 3.37 in 2012.

It doesn't have to be Bumgarner. And maybe it doesn't even have to be a pitcher. The White Sox have a list of potential starting-pitching options that includes Kopech, Cease, Reynaldo Lopez, Lucas Giolito, Dane Dunning and others. The Cubs and Astros couldn't craft rotations of homegrown players. The White Sox might be able to, though considering the injuries that have plagued those young arms and the current lack of major league ready starting-pitching depth, a big-time starting-pitching addition would really fortify things.

It could also add that kind of legitimacy that Lester brought to the Cubs. Get one big name to come aboard a still-emerging group, and that could draw more talent that could really kick things into high gear.

There might be no one way to do a successful rebuild, but if the White Sox want to follow the template the Astros and Cubs have used to win championships in recent years, a Verlander type would be a good way to go about doing that. The opportunity has to exist, but you'd have to imagine it's an opportunity the front office will be looking for this winter.

Certainly they're already motivated to do just that. Watching Verlander cut through their lineup Tuesday night should back that motivation up.

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