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Frankie O's Blog: It's a Man('s bracket) baby!

Frankie O's Blog: It's a Man('s bracket) baby!

Friday, March 18, 2011
9:33 a.m.

By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com

That time of year again when one word takes over the lexicon of most adult (by age!) males in this country. The fact that we only use it now makes it more special. But like wearing white pants after Labor Day, I dont want to hear about yours, nor will I talk about mine two days after the Final Four is over. Enough is enough. For now though: Its game on!

I had a more difficult time than usual, since thanks to D-Rose and the Bulls, Ive watched a ton of pro basketball this year and that hasnt left time for a lot else. Not to mention the fact that I always try to watch the Heat when they play a good team so I can watch them lose. That never gets old! So my college basketball knowledge, while not always a strong-suit, is even less so this year. (Yes, even guys who go on TV wearing a red bow tie, have limitations!) This college basketball season did not seem to capture my, or most people that I talk to at the bar, attention. Sure, I have Jimmer Fever, but how many games against great competition did he play? At a time when we were all watching? Add to that, the local college scene is a mess. Illinois was all over the road, leading to a lot of Webber must go discussions (or should I say vents!) from the Illini unhappy faithful. This team had a lot of expectation, played well early, then tripped all over themselves for most of the second half. And they were the good story! DePaul and Northwestern are irrelevant, and most of the lesser-lights are rebuilding. For me, it got so bad, that I didnt once look at Joe Lunardis bubble!

Still on Selection Sunday, the competitive juices, along with the beers, started flowing. Contemplating your bracket is one of the rites of spring and an opportunity to win cash and bragging rights, not necessarily in that order. But most of the time, well almost ALL of the time, my efforts spent on my bracket are just an exercise in futility. I dont know if there is anything that I have spent a considerable time at over the years that has produced less results. I mean besides the diets that is. (Can I help it that the only places that sell food when I get done work sell breakfast, burgers or pizza only? Or that all said food types taste better when washed down by beer?) But hope springs eternal when you hit that send button and gazing at that freshly printed bracket in your hands is a living testament to your sports acumen. At least thats what you think when you go to sleep, the morningafternoon (I work nights!) will bring another reality.

This year, I took the tact of picking teams that I would like to see win, divided by their seed, times the lesser of two evils. Who said this wasnt an exact science? One thing Ive learned through years of paralysis from over-analysis is that, in the end, its whether you pick the winner or not. Style points dont matter. How many times has one of my genius picks played a great game, only to falter down the stretch and lose by a basket? A gazillion! Thats how many! Then I have to listen to chalk boy, who didnt think twice about the game, he just picked the better seed, tell me that he picked the winner. Ugh.

So I put it all together and came out with the number one over-all seed winning. What?! Chalk? Hold on! Along the way, I picked 10 lower seeds to win in the first 32 games. This included 3 12-seeds and a 13!! Who else, besides someone in Jr. high school, do you know who can say that? I didnt think so. Amongst my very Sweet Sixteen, I have a 13 and a 10-seed. After this point though, my common sense screamed to take over and I joined the chalk highway. I didnt go all President Obama and pick 4 number 1s, but I did take two. I finished with a Final Four of Ohio State, Kansas, San Diego State and, against my better judgment, St. Johns. 1,1,2 and 6-seeds. I think Ohio State will beat Kansas in the final. Anyone who knows me understands how difficult it was for me to type that, but I had to stick with my formula.

I understand that none of that is going to happen, thats just the way it is, but I do know, that I will watch every game that is humanly possible and root for the big upset whenever it presents itself. The story of Cinderella is what makes this tournament so great. Like everything else, its about the story and no story is better than one about over-coming adversity or a higher seed. Add to it that upsets blow-up brackets, and that connects all of us in two ways: Were all captivated by this tournament and all it offers. And, after cursing our misfortune, almost all of us can toss our bracket in the garbage, where it belongs and know it will be 11 stress-free months until we need to add the b-word to our vocabulary.

Why what Mike Montgomery did against LA could go a long way toward keeping him in the Cubs' rotation

6-19mikemontgomery.jpg
USA Today

Why what Mike Montgomery did against LA could go a long way toward keeping him in the Cubs' rotation

Joe Maddon needed Mike Montgomery to get through at least six innings given the circumstances presenting the Cubs' manager before Game 2 of Tuesday’s day-night doubleheader against the Los Angeles Dodgers. 

Not only were the Cubs short a man in the bullpen (thanks to Brandon Morrow’s pants-related back injury), but Maddon had to use four relievers — including Pedro Strop for two innings — after Tyler Chatwood managed only five innings in Game 1 earlier in the afternoon. 

So when Montgomery — who had only thrown over 100 pitches once in the last two and a half seasons before Tuesday — saw his pitch count sit at 40 after two innings, and then 63 after three, he knew he needed to regroup to avoid creating a mess for the Cubs’ bullpen. 

What followed was a start that, statistically, wasn’t the most impressive of the five Montgomery’s made since re-joining the Cubs’ rotation earlier this year. But it was an important start in that the 28-year-old left-hander didn’t have his best stuff, yet didn’t give in to a good Dodgers lineup. And holding that bunch to one run over six innings was exactly what the Cubs needed in what turned out to be a 2-1 extra-inning win. 

“Especially when you don’t have have your best stuff, you always gotta — that’s when you really learn how to pitch,” Montgomery said. 

It’s also the kind of start that could be a major point in Montgomery’s favor when Maddon is presented with a decision to make on his starting rotation whenever Yu Darvish comes off the disabled list. Knowing that Montgomery can grind his way through six innings when his team needs it the most without his best stuff only can add to the confidence the Cubs have in him. 

Montgomery didn’t have his best stuff on Tuesday, issuing more walks (four) than he had in his previous four starts (three). He threw 48 pitches between the second and third innings, and only 25 of those pitches were strikes. Of the nine times the Dodgers reached base against Montgomery, six were the result of fastballs either leading to a walk or a hit. 

Even though the Dodgers were able to bother Montgomery a bit on his fastball, Maddon said that’s the pitch of his that’s impressed him the most over the last few weeks. 

“He never got rushed,” Maddon said. “In the past he would seem to get rushed when things weren’t going well, when he spot-started. Overall, fastball command is better — even though he was off a little bit tonight, the fastball command still exceeds what I’ve seen in the past couple of years on a more consistent basis. The changeup, really, good pitch. He got out of some jams but I think the fact that he knows where his fastball is going now is the difference-maker for him.”

Darvish will throw a simulated game on Wednesday after throwing two bullpen sessions last week. Maddon still doesn’t have a timetable for the $126 million right-hander’s return, and said he’s not entertaining what to do with his rotation until Darvish comes off the disabled list. But Maddon did mention Montgomery’s relative lack of an innings load — the most he’s thrown in a season in 130 2/3, which he did in 2017 — as a reason to perhaps not rush him into a permanent starting role the rest of the season. Going to a six-man rotation is a possibility, too, Maddon said. 

But the over-arching point is this: Montgomery will remain in the Cubs’ rotation as long as he keeps earning it. That can be the product of strong outings in which he has good stuff, or games like Tuesday in which he shows the Cubs the kind of resiliency most starters need to get through a full season. 

“I pitch well, good things happen,” Montgomery said. “I’ve always thought that. Opportunities, you just gotta make the most of them.”

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 28th + 29th homers in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 28th + 29th homers in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

For the second time in 1998, Sosa went back-to-back games with multiple home runs. After going yard twice on June 19 of that season, Slammin' Sammy again sent two balls into the bleachers on June 20.

He singlehandedly beat the Phillies that night, driving in 5 runs in a 9-4 Cubs victory.

But that wasn't the most impressive feat of the day from Sosa. His second homer was actually measured at a whopping 500 feet! It was the longest of the season, but not the longest of his career. On June 24, 2003, Sosa hit a homer at Wrigley measured at 511 feet.

The back-to-back big games raised Sosa's season OPS to 1.083 with a ridiculous .685 slugging percentage. He began June 1998 with a .608 slugging percentage.

Fun fact: Kerry Wood struck out 11 batters in 7.1 innings on June 20, 1998 to pick up his 7th big-league victory. As Wood marched to the National League Rookie of the Year that season, he finished with a 13-6 record and 233 strikeouts in only 166.2 innings for a career-high 12.6 K/9 rate.