White Sox

Hoop Screams

Hoop Screams

Thursday, March 11, 2010
10:32 PM

Winters over! Well, sort of. Were still going to have temperatures in the 30s here (probably until May!), but THE event that signifies that spring, on the calendar anyway, has arrived, is upon us: The Big Dance, a.k.a., March Madness has begun. This takes over the bar unlike any event of the year. Thats because everyone is in to it. Why? One word: brackets. Everybody has one. In fact, some people have more than one. While I frown on that practice, a MAN only needs ONE bracket, youve gotta do whatever you think it takes to win. Winning is the only thing that matters.

If youre like me, its been less than a stellar year for watching college basketball. Between my fantasy football addiction, the Blackhawks, (who knew that watching EVERY Hawks game on TV could be so much fun?) the Winter Olympics and the fact that locally the teams arent that good and nationally not that compelling, Ive spent less time this year watching college hoops. Thats about to change, big time! No matter what, I lock in during this weekend every year. Although they arent always an accurate barometer, watching the major conference tourneys is a good way to prep for the madness thats about to ensue. I especially like watching the Big East games, since its this years best conference and the fact that the games are at Madison Square Garden. Theres always a great energy in games played at the hoops Mecca. For as long as I can remember, the conference tournament that you needed to watch was the ACC on Tobacco Road, well now I think the one in New York is the one that you must tune in to. The teams Ill be watching are Villanova, go figure, and West Virginia. The Cuse has the ranking, the Ville has the momentum and Pitt always seems to flex their muscle there, but Nova and W.V. have me intrigued as to how far they can go.

In fact, the two seem to be heading in opposite directions of what I expected only a month ago. Im hoping theyll give me a clue this weekend as to what to expect from them when the games really matter. And thats the big thing to remember about this weekend. Winning this weekend looks good on the banner that you get to hang in your gym, but winning during the next three weekends is what everyone will remember, or care about. Winning conference tournaments usually takes so much out of a team, because of the compressed schedule and level of play, that they have nothing left. So I usually temper my enthusiasm about the winners, and dont hold it against some of the good teams if they exit early.

If that sounds like Im hedging my bet, then youre catching on, because as much as I study and watch, I sometimes think, I can do just as well picking all of the games by throwing darts at a board or using a monkey. There are no style points on a bracket. Pick the winner! Some wins are better than others obviously. Picking a correct upset can give you an advantage for several rounds, but what if youre wrong? You know that a team thats not expected to win matches up well with the one that is. Do you pick them? My favorite is when I pick the upset, and the game is close for 39 minutes, then the higher seed wins the game at the end, just like 96 of the people Im playing against have picked. It makes me understand why Phil Hellmuth, when after a bad beat, has uttered: If luck wasnt involved, Id win every time!

Ive had enough. So this year, while everyone is pondering bubble teams and whos this Joe Lunardi guy and where did he come from? (Philly! Hes the Mel Kiper Jr. of braketology!) Im coming up with a new strategy, new for me anyway. Why knock myself out? I need less stress in my life, not more, so if you cant beat em, join em. Just call me Chalk Boy! The numbers dont lie: In the last three years the number 1 seeds have made it to the Elite Eight every time. They made it to the Final Four eight out of twelve times. The other four slots were filled by three 2s and a 3. That doesnt sound like there were a lot of upsets. Well there were a few last year, you had a 13 beat a 4 and three(!) 12s beat a 5, but at the end, ALL of the 1, 2 and 3 seeds made it to the sweet sixteen. Add to that two 4s and Chalky had fourteen out of the sixteen teams last year without even trying. (I had plenty of people at the bar bragging that they had fourteen and Im thinking, Your telling people you picked all of the favorites? Arent you embarrassed? But that was last year!!) So while upsets are fun, because we love when David beats Goliath and know what it can do to everyones brackets, if the good teams are there at the end, where the biggest points in your bracket are to be had, why pick them? The 12 against 5 is always the popular upset, especially after last year, but will that happen again? More than likely, it will only happen once like it almost always does. The trick is which one? Guess right and youre in the lead, guess wrong and now youre missing two 5s and are playing catch up. If you dont take any, youve only lost one 5 and should be in the same position as almost everyone else. Sounds simple enough!

So while I listen at the bar to everyone saying that this year is wide-open, that there are no dominant teams, that its going to be like 2006, when no 1 seeds made the Final Four, I just smile. Knock yourself out. History says thats not going to be the case, and This Guy is going to ride the trend! So instead of debating the merits of Butler, New Mexico, Northern Iowa, Murray State, Oakland and Sienna, teams in the past that would pique my interest, then break my heart after I picked them, Im going to play it safe. Bring on Kentucky, Syracuse and my pick to win it this year, Kansas. Nothing like living on the edge! But alas, I can only go so far, because if Duke ends up a 1, I cant go there. Some habits are hard to break.

White Sox Talk Podcast: Inside the White Sox draft room with Nick Hostetler

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AP

White Sox Talk Podcast: Inside the White Sox draft room with Nick Hostetler

Chuck Garfien and Ryan McGuffey speak with White Sox scouting director Nick Hosteler inside the team's draft room at Guaranteed Rate Field.

How accurate are the mock drafts? (2:45) Can Andrew Vaughn meeting the lofty expectations? (6:40) Bobby Witt Jr's unique background (8:30), why this draft could bring a face of the franchise type player the top (11:15), and what it's like in the war room on draft day (12:30). Do they have a consensus pick yet? (13:45) Do they need to stock up on pitching? (17:35)

Is Nick Madrigal meeting expectations in Class-A? (26:40) Hostetler's sleeper pick from last season that White Sox fans should watch (30:00) and more.

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below:

White Sox Talk Podcast

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How close is Ian Happ to rejoining the Cubs?

How close is Ian Happ to rejoining the Cubs?

Is Ian Happ nearing a return to Chicago?

In a surprise move at the end of spring training, the Cubs sent the 24-year-old switch-hitter down to the minor leagues to work on his swing and try to cut down on strikeouts.

Happ's numbers in Iowa don't jump off the page at you (.240/.362/.422), but it looks like he may be turning a corner of late. He homered Monday night then went 4-for-4 with another homer, 2 doubles and 5 RBI in the second game of a doubleheader Wednesday.

That's obviously a very small sample size, however, and even including that, Happ is still struggling to make consistent contact. He has struck out 14 times in 25 at-bats over his last 8 games. 

His overall strikeout percentage on the season is 25.9 percent — a major improvement on the 36.1 percent mark he struggled through in the big leagues last year. But Happ had never struck out more than 23.6 percent of the time in a season coming up through the minor leagues, so that number is still higher than the Cubs would like to see.

"If [the mini hot streak] were sustained, you'd have to really start listening," Joe Maddon said. "I'm following him via video, watching the at-bats. I'm doing that almost daily with him. I know prior to that, he had still had some problems with strikeouts. 

"And then hit a home run the other day and that seems like that's led to this other home run. That would be primarily a call on the front office and the minor-league part [on when to call him up], but I will watch the video. The home run I saw, I liked. I thought he had much better balance on the entire swing."

Obviously the Cubs aren't going to overreact to a couple games and deem Happ ready to return to the big leagues based off a handful of at-bats.

But there's also a solid case to be made that he could help the club in Chicago right now.

Despite a hot start to the season, the Cubs' role players have really fallen off the last few weeks and much of the offensive damage has come from the big boppers (Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javy Baez, Willson Contreras) recently.

There's no indication Ben Zobrist is coming back anytime soon, as Maddon said Thursday morning he hasn't spoken to the veteran in a couple days. 

David Bote and Jason Heyward have looked better this week, but they were struggling for the first couple weeks of May. 

Daniel Descalso has really been scuffling, hitting .097 with only 1 extra-base hit in May and his defense at second base has been below average.

Then there's Mark Zagunis, who isn't doing much of anything for the Cubs — literally. He hasn't started a game since April 26 and hasn't seen even one inning in the outfield since then, either, serving exclusively as a pinch-hitter for the last month.

So if the Cubs decide soon that Happ is ready to return to the big leagues, they have a simple decision on the roster spot and right now, there might be an avenue to a decent amount of playing time either at second base or the outfield.

Happ may not be the best or most experienced defender at second base, but he's seen some time there in the minors this season (59.2 innings) and he can also play either of the corner infield spots and all three outfield positions.

But would it be prudent for the Cubs to call up Happ if they don't even have room for him to play every day? That could throw a wrench in his development, which is clearly something the organization has been committed to.

Albert Almora Jr. is still easily the best centerfielder on the roster and has been great offensively for the last month, so it's not like he's done anything to deserve falling back into a platoon with Happ in center like they shared for much of 2018.

"It's hard. You would want to [call him up only if there's ample time to play him]," Maddon said. "But if you could morph him in and there's a platoon that's worthwhile, you could do that, also.

"But part of him being [in the minors] right now on a consistent basis is to get these kind of at-bats to get this all worked out and you would not want to lose that, either. But when he were to come back, being that he could hit left-handed obviously permits us to do other things."

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