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InternetFM presents sports content from our partner site YourSportsFan.com including podcasts of “The Weekend Sports Report” with Les Grobstein, Steve Leventhal and Alison Moran, along with “Dorf on Sports” with Fred Wallin and Andy Dorf. YSF also features original sports articles.

Northwestern_WildcatsEnjoy waiting for football season while you can, because the year will just go by quickly, and then it’s another eight months away. On September 5th, Northwestern is set to kick off their season with their first matchup against Stanford since 1994, which ended in a 41-41 tie.  This is their seventh matchup overall, and the Wildcats are 1-3-2 against the cardinals with their lone victory taking place in 1958. Last year, Northwestern opened the season with a 31-24 loss against another Pac-12 team, California. There are a lot of storylines that will be interesting to follow, ranging from the Wildcat’s quarterback battle to recovery of two of their offense’s most important players. Here is our Northwestern – Stanford preview.

 

The Quarterback Battle

Quarterback controversies are always interesting, because it’s a battle of positions in between a battle of who’s the better team. As if last year wasn’t fun enough with the potential two quarterback system Northwestern, there’s still no guarantee who will start this year. Trevor Siemian, who started 11 games last season, was taken in the seventh round of the draft by the Broncos. For now the top two contenders are senior Zack Oliver and sophomore Matt Alviti. Oliver started Northwestern’s big game against Illinois last year, in which he completed 23 of 38 passes for 221 yards, one touchdown, and three interceptions in a 47-33 loss. “They’ve all got something to give to the team. When they make themselves better, we all get better.” Christian Jones said. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald was hoping to have a decision made before training camp. Now the season opener is less than two weeks away and the Wildcats still don’t know who their starter is. Both quarterbacks have the support of their teammates, and most players are indifferent. It is worth mentioning that with his experience, Oliver is most likely going to be named the starter, although nothing is official yet.

 

Injury update

Last year, Northwestern suffered two huge blows to their offense. Running back Venric Mark was suspended and eventually

Pat Fitzgerald at Northwestern Media Day

Pat Fitzgerald at Northwestern Media Day

transferred, and wide receiver Christian Jones was lost for the season with a torn ACL. And this past summer, Mark’s replacement Justin Jackson had surgery for a knee injury. Although Jackson seemed back to full strength at practice this past week, the offense was seen running plays with four or five different running backs. And this wasn’t first-team or second-team reps, this was in between drills. “This year I’m in the training room all the time, just trying to stay healthy. Once you get those miles on you it’s hard, so I’m just trying to stay healthy.” Jackson said. Christian Jones however, was not in attendance as he had a class. “He’s really well.” Coach Pat Fitzgerald said about Jones. “He asked about my progression back on the field. I’m not going to go into every detail, it wasn’t the physical hurdle it was the mental hurdle. And that’s the last one to get over and I think he’s close to that.” This will be Jones’s first game since 2013, the year in which he led Northwestern in receiving. He expressed that he is not experiencing any pressure to get back onto the field. “I wouldn’t call it pressure, just expectations that I set on myself, and the position coaches set on me. I want myself to be great, and I want to be as good as I possibly can be.” Jones said. “It’s a lot of anxiety. It’s been a year, but as soon as I start practicing, the sooner I get out there, it all becomes routine again.”

 

Running back situation
When Venric Mark transferred last year, the Northwestern running game was in question. But the answer arose immediately. Freshman Justin Jackson bursted onto the scene with 1187 rushing yards and ten touchdowns. With a loaded backfield this year that includes Solomon Vault and Warren Long, Jackson has no expectations on whether he will receive more or less carries his sophomore year. “I’m expecting to go in there and do what the coaches tell me. I have no other expectations other than go out

Players take the field at practice

Players take the field at practice

there and do my best every single play.” Jackson commented. “We all have our own specialties. And we compliment each other really well, and it’s gonna be hard for defenses to keep tabs on us because we’re all different types of runners.” Jackson wasn’t the only one impressing his spectators, both Vault and Long were breaking through in training camp. With Treyvon Green being the only significant running back not to return this year, there is no real concern for the Wildcat’s running game.

The White Sox, are the worst girlfriend in baseball. On paper, you could see yourself spending the rest of your life with her, but when you start to look at things, you realize she is somewhat of a hot mess.  A hot, enticing mess that makes you want to pull your hair out.  Inconsistent, clutching, somewhat unattractively to her youthful prime, but clearly and less than gracefully aging, she is an expensive lady who makes you question way too often why you don’t dump her for some sort of upgrade that at least appears to care a little bit more. As we all know, sports, teams, they have a hold on us, like the worst of girlfriends.  The south side team from Chicago has tortured its fanbase this past season, in the way only a bad girlfriend could.  

With the efforts made in the offseason to fortify the roster with veteran talent, many people, both fans, media members, and the organization itself projected the White Sox to not only compete, but to become an exciting contender this season.  Additions like Melky Cabrera, Adam LaRoche, Zach Duke, David Robertson, and Jeff Samardzija combined with the return of the young highlights including Jose Abreu, Avisail Garcia, and Chris Sale were supposed to lead the franchise back to the playoffs.  

The club’s season hasn’t necessarily gone as planned.  The reasoning behind going on somewhat of a free agency shopping spree was the projected increase in ticket sales throughout the season due to the quality of the signings.  However, the reality of it is that the Cubs do better with attendance on a Thursday day game at 1:20 versus the Colorado Rockies than the Cell on a Friday evening. With only five sell-outs this year, two of which were for the Crosstown Classic, one can assuredly say that attendance has been lackluster this season, at the least.

The lack of attendance is undoubtedly somewhat due to the fact that the club is grossly underperforming relative to what was predicted of them, while the curse of low attendance has been plaguing this team for many years, big expectations or otherwise.  Speaking of tendencies of the south siders, a team that has been notorious for big bats and equally big home run statistics, winning record or otherwise, are most certainly not killing it in the home run column as of late.  The White Sox rank 24th in the statistic with 99 home runs.  The club is 22nd in hits with 998, 27th in on base percentage at .302, and dead last in both RBIs and runs with 414 and 437 respectively.  Defensively speaking, their statistics aren’t gorgeous either, they have the 7th most errors in the majors with 72.  Pitching-wise, the club is just above the middle of the pack, ranking 19th with an ERA of 3.99.  So the question begs, when the Sox looked great on paper before the season started, what are they actually good at?

They go on bouts of bad pitching, bad base running, bad fielding, bad hitting, and the loss column follows.  It’s hard to identify what the problem is: the players, the manager, the front office, but no one really seems to blame and no one really knows where to start.  It seems they’ll too often battle back from a deficit, only to give the game back in the bottom of the 9th or 10th or 13th.  

But the thing that makes it sting so much is that they almost stay in it.  They still sit only six games back of the wild card, in a league with no true dominant teams.  (An argument could be made for the Royals, but their starting pitching isn’t all that stellar, and one might be made for the Blue Jays, but as we are seeing right now, they have hit a couple speed bumps following their hot streak.)  They have their spells of excitement. Winning seven in a row following the All-Star break, sweeping the Angels at home, taking two from the Cubs on the south side, popping off five runs in the first inning, magically having Tyler Saladino, the surprising call-up makes all three outs in an inning with spectacular diving and leaping plays at third. They do just enough to keep the fan from cashing out.  They keep it literally just close enough to still be in it.  That’s the thing about the White Sox.  The club constantly surprises you just when you think you were about to give up hope.  It’s as if they sense when you are about to check and swoop in and surprise you by dropping a juicy 8-burger in Anaheim.  

But the fact that they keep pulling you back in with mini victories isn’t even the worst part.  The fact is that you love her.  An always classy organization, as one would expect from Jerry Reinsdorf, there’s no ethical argument that can be made against her.  You absolutely adore who she used to be, the champion of girlfriends, full of life and character.  But that was a decade ago.  And you hope, you desperately hope that with the couple of brights spots, trying desperately to shine through, that she can recapture that status.  She has the potential.  But the question becomes, when does potential stop being potential and becomes simply the inability to live up to expectations, or just underachievement. So that’s the worst part. She strings you along, giving you hope, keeping you attached.  You love her, and because of her behavior she’s tearing you apart inside.  And you’re hoping, dearly, hoping that you don’t have to walk away.

 


packers-logoon the Weekend Sports Report with Packer Dave and Steve Leventhal

…we continue to discuss more preseason NFL with audio from Mike McCarthy as the Packers prepare to travel to his hometown of Pittsburgh for a preseason game. In the meantime the Bears are practicing in Indy ahead of their weekend matchup with the Colts. The show includes comments from Bears coach John Fox, RB Matt Forte and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.

Jeff Rich joins us to break down the rest of the NFC North, and John Poulter gives us his surprises and disappointments of the baseball season to date.  Also some hockey and soccer talk.

Don’t miss a cameo from Cubs play by play broadcaster Pat Hughes.

 

EPL logoHere is bonus content from the Weekend Sports Report.

John Poulter, SRN Assistant Sports Director, and Steve Leventhal (well, mostly John and Phil) have an 18-minute discussion analyzing and providing commentary from the English Premier League’s opening day 2015 and the first weekend of action.

That includes Chelsea’s draw with Swansea, Arsenal’s tough loss, and victories by Manchester United and Manchester City.


nfl-logoon the Weekend Sports Report with Packer Dave and Steve Leventhal

….Football is back, so Dave, Steve, and Jeff Rich discuss the Thursday night NFL Preseason games, looking at the Packers, Bears, and the AFC North. Then, John Poulter and Phil Meyers look at the streaking Toronto Blue Jays and Chicago Cubs, and preview the Cubs – White Sox series this weekend on the South side.  We had so much to talk about, that we created a bonus podcast out of our weekly soccer discussion.

Hear audio comments from Mike McCarthy, Aaron Rogers, Bill Belichick, and new Bears coach John Fox.

Don’t miss a cameo from Chris Berman!

The perfect example of the culture change in Chicago came on a Monday evening.  The Cubs gave up their three run lead to fall behind the Rockies one run, 8-7 in the top of the ninth.  With Dexter Fowler on first, two outs, up came Kris Bryant to bat.  For everyone working in the ballpark, who pined for their beds after the boys in blue gave up a 3-run lead in the top of the 9th, rather than those enjoying or playing the game, there were no thoughts of a walk, single, or even double.  KB’s at-bat was either going to be tallied as a K or a HR.  When Axford dealt a poorly placed breaking ball for his second pitch to Bryant, the recently struggling rookie third basemen teed off.  His shot to just right of center led to a lemon lime gatorade bath (which one can be nearly sure he much preferred over fellow Vegas native and blossoming talent, Bryce Harper’s chocolate sauce fate).

That’s what youth is, that’s what the Cubs are and are going to be in the playoffs.  Either a strikeout or a home run in the bottom of the ninth, two outs, winning run at the plate.  The Cubs have the potential to knock this roster experiment out of the park or watch it pass by and try again, next game, next season.  

Inexperience is not an excuse.  Or rather,  it’s the wrong articulation. “Inexperience” is a way of explaining a youthful group’s inability to perform in higher pressure situations.

Kris Bryant hasn’t been in high pressure situations before, at least not on this stage.  Kyle Schwarber is good, but he’s never felt this kind of pressure before.  Russell is a fielding maven and has been getting significantly better in his low pressure slot at the plate, but he has never been on the big stage either. Soler’s new to the scene. Rizzo, he’s killing it but he’s never been to the playoffs, which have a totally different feel.  Neither have Castro or Arrieta.  There are veterans there, who have been on that stage, including Lester, Ross, Motte, and Heron. There are veteran journeymen like Montero, Coghlan, Denorfia, Fowler, and Hammel. The vets, in theory, bolster the youthful squad with “experience” and “wisdom.”  In reality though, it all comes down to the ability to perform.  

Rookies and prospects are given the benefit of the doubt when they fail in new, big-time scenarios, veterans choke.  The point is, anyone can fail or succeed in such scenarios.  While experience may be an asset for veterans in those situations, at the same time, young players go to the plate with a sense of not knowing any better. They get behind the plate and just battle or in the field and just play. They hear things about the pressure or the situation or the stage but don’t really know what to do with it and so just go out and do what they do. Either way, its about either using the pressure to one’s advantage or not letting it get to them in order to perform.  Thus, if the Cubs fail in this postseason, it won’t be termed as that, it will be rather that something got in the way of their success.  The club is too young to have failed, they just don’t have all the pieces in play yet.  

Furthermore, with the exodus of the era of players highlighted by names like Derek Jeter, baseball in general, this season, with the exceptions of AJ Burnett, pre-injury, Mark Buehrle, Alex Rodriguez, and Albert Pujols, is more focused on the youth. Almost every other big name is 25 years old or younger.  Joc Pederson, Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Anthony Rizzo, Giancarlo Stanton, Manny Machado, Sonny Gray, Noah Syndergaard, Gerrit Cole, and those like them.  In a period where baseball loves young stars, it appears that the Cubs may be both born under and uplifted by a constellation of them.  

From their young Starlins and starlets, the Cubs have their ups like Kyle Schwarber hitting both game tying and eventual game winning home runs in his hometown of Cincinnati within his first couple days up in the bigs.  Anthony Rizzo, after weathering a rough patch, blasts home runs in four consecutive games or climbing the biggest roll of tinfoil ever made, over a wall and making arguably the best defensive play to grace SCTop10 all season long.  Starlin Castro walking off with a hit at home in extras on back to back nights in Ohio after being demoted to the 7-hole.  Addison Russell compiling a highlight reel of web gems at short while also boosting his batting average in the second half. There’s a 1.02 combined ERA in 10 consecutive starts from Jake Arrieta who is putting up video game numbers as of late.  

And they also have their lows.  Starlin Castro is seriously struggling at the plate, so much so that he has been demoted to the bench, batting sub .240 for the majority of the season.  Kris Bryant, appearing to fall back into habits of his first game up in the majors, is swinging at a lot, a lot of pitches he shouldn’t.  The club, getting swept by the league worst Phillies immediately following the All-Star Break.  They go through bouts of bad or no hitting, lackluster pitching, and unfortunate fielding.  

Joe Maddon is playing a major role, a fun uncle or cool dad figure, mentoring them through their ups and downs, always cool, calm, collected, and focusing on the positives or constructively assessing the areas for improvement.  Pensive, laid-back, and detail-oriented, Maddon plays a tremendous role in their previous and potential success.  

In addition to the somewhat surprising fact that the Cubs have the fourth best record in baseball, their ability throughout this season to come back, close, and simply not gift wrap wins to other teams has been tremendous compared to years past. They lead the league in one-run decisions and walk-off wins. But beyond that, to put it in a metric that Chicagoans can better understand: fewer people, much fewer people leave when the score is 3-2, 6-5,  9-8 or even 5-3 in the bottom of the ninth, god forbid. It’s finally exciting baseball in the Cubbie blue pinstripes.  

What will surely be determined either down the stretch or in the playoffs, is whether or not the Cubs will realize their potential or learn from their insufficiencies.  And essentially, what will eventually lead to the possible faltering of the Cubs is their inability to be consistently good.  They might have great moments and they might have bad moments but being consistently good may be the issue.  They have the talent to stick with anybody through 8 ½ innings, but down the stretch, when it counts, really counts, at the bottom of the ninth with two outs, for the win, will they belt a home run or just strike out?


nfl-football-hall-of-fameon the Weekend Sports Report with Packer Dave and Steve Leventhal

…. catch up with audio from NFL training camps, including Bears coach John Fox, Packers head man Mike McCarthy, and Vikes embattled star RB Adrian Peterson. Plus Green Bay Director of Player Personnel, Elliot Wolf talks about introducing his father Ron, at the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies this weekend.

Regular contributor John Poulter discusses his take on the baseball playoff races, the upcoming English Premier League kickoff weekend, and whether or not Blackhawks star Patrick Kane might be in hot water over recent reports of an alleged assault.  Jeff Rich gives us his thoughts on Cleveland Browns training camp. Steve and Jeff talk about the new movie “Trainwreck” and LeBron James’ co-starring role. Is Hollywood in LeBron’s future?

Don’t miss a cameo from Dan Patrick.

big-ten-logo-newThe offseason for college sports is like when a really hyped movie releases a trailer months before it’s actual release.  Fans can’t wait until it comes out.  But instead of full length trailers, you get lots and lots of teasers from your favorite teams. Considering the Big Ten won the first championship in the 4-team playoff format, there’s a lot to look forward to this year. And the most exciting previews come from the Big Ten media day. Urban Meyer comes off his third championship, Wisconsin moves on from their record setting running back, Michigan introduces a coach known for team turnarounds, and Penn State’s future looks bright.

Here’s a Big Ten preview culled from the recent Media Days in Chicago

Ohio State

Urban Meyer

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer

The main story out of Ohio State these past few days has been the suspensions of four players due to academic issues. Among them is the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Joey Bosa, as well as running backs Jalin Marshall and Dontre Wilson, and wide receiver Corey Smith. “I kind of knew about this for a little bit. It was a university — I think the department has policies that we expect and I 100 percent am fully supportive of it.” Coach Urban Meyer said in his opening statement. The comment I did make, we are playing an extremely talented team, very well-coached team on the road in a tough environment. However, we have recruited very well. So get going, move forward.” He continued. The four players will miss the season opener against Virginia Tech, the only team to beat the Buckeyes last year.

No surprise, Ohio State opens as #1 in the preseason coaches poll. The Buckeyes won their first national championship since 2002, and Urban Meyer wins his third overall after previously winning two at Florida. The one question that was asked to almost every player at each big ten school was, “How are you going to prepare for the game against Ohio State?” Nobody had a definite answer, only that they would cross that bridge when they got to it.

Michigan

After leading the San Francisco 49ers to three conference championships and a super bowl appearance, Jim Harbaugh returns as head coach for his alma mater Michigan. “I’m excited to see all our players, how they come back from the summer. The players have a chance to work on their skills, and people improve over those months and those summers, and you don’t really

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh

Jim Harbaugh

know how until you get onto the field.” Michigan has struggled in recent years, finishing 2014 with a 5-7 record and no bowl appearance, which led to the firing of Brady Hoke after four seasons. Harbaugh was already an Ann Arbor fan favorite. As the Wolverines starting quarterback in 1985 and 1986, he won more than 80% of his games. As a head coach, he has a history of turning teams from worst to first. After taking over a 1-11 Stanford team in 2007, the Cardinals won the Orange Bowl in 2010. This success earned him the head coaching job with the San Francisco 49ers, who went from 6-10 to 13-3 in 2011 and ended their nine season playoff drought. It’s almost a perfect fit that Harbaugh takes over the struggling Michigan Wolverines.

 

Northwestern

Last off-season, Northwestern hit a bit of a rough patch. Running back Venric Mark was suspended and then announced his intentions to transfer, and wide receiver Christian Jones was out for the season with a torn ACL. Not wanting the injury to

Pat Fitzgerald

distract him, Jones spent last season getting ready for his return. “Watching the guys play, trying to tell myself this isn’t as big of a deal as I’ll make it. Trying to keep myself from getting down.” Jones said. In 2013, he piled up 54 receptions for 668 yards and four touchdowns. Coach Pat Fitzgerald had his own thoughts on the offense this year. “We’ll be much improved, we gotta settle the quarterback battle, we have a dynamic running back crew, you look at the success we’ve had over time with our offense, I fully expect that we’ll be right back to where we’ve been.”

 

 

Nebraska

Towards the end of the 2014 season, Nebraska made the surprising decision to fire coach Bo Pelini after seven seasons, despite never amassing less than nine wins per year. The Cornhuskers hired Oregon State coach Mike Riley as his replacement last January. “The transitioning part is not easy.” Riley said. “But it’s also

Mike Riley

Mike Riley

exciting. I’m personally exciting about being in a new conference. In my world of coaching football and going to new places, new stadiums with a great history like there is in the big ten, it will really be a lot of fun.” He went on to say. Riley finished with a 93-80 record in twelve years with Oregon State.

Penn State

It took a few years, but things are finally looking up for Penn State following the Sandusky scandal. The NCAA reinstated their wins from 1998-2011 in January, and coach James Franklin is optimistic about the coming years. “So many positive things are falling into place now. Penn State is able to get scholarships back, having an opportunity to go to bowl games, the way recruiting is going, the way we played in the bowl, and the way the season ended.” He said. Penn State appeared in their first bowl game since 2011 after their four year bowl ban was lifted, and all scholarships restored in 2015.

Illinois

It’s not an easy start for Illinois coach Tim Beckman. Following accusations that he mistreated players, on top of not having a winning season in his three years with the team, his future remains uncertain. “You know, we’re focused right now on a 2015 football team. We took off from last year after a great end of the year. And we’ve been focused since January on becoming a better football program. The philosophy that we continue to use is what these football players believe in football.” Beckman’s record as coach has steadily improved during his tenure, from 2-10, to 4-8, to 6-7. Although he was asked more than once about receiving a contract extension, he says all he is focused on is the first football game.

Wisconsin

It’s always hard to replace a star college player after they leave for the draft. For Paul Chryst, he has no worries about Melvin Gordon’s successor. But can you really replace the guy who set the NCAA record for rushing yards in a game? Then again, Gordon replaced Montee Ball, the guy who set the record for most NCAA rushing touchdowns in a season and a career. With

Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst

Gordon going to the San Diego Chargers, Corey Clement is set to be the next big Wisconsin running back. “I finally get the chance I’ve always wanted. Melvin has only taught me the finer things of how to prepare for each game and how to come into camp ready, and I’m just anxious to get out there for the first game against Alabama.” Clement said. In his two years with Wisconsin, Clement has rushed for 1,496 yards and 16 touchdowns. “I think Corey has got a clear expectation of what it is to be the running back at Wisconsin. He knows who he is and he knows he doesn’t have to be Melvin. So I like where he’s at now.” Paul Chryst said.

Brian Cashman, NY Yankees GM.   Photo courtesy yankees.com

Brian Cashman, NY Yankees GM.
Photo courtesy: yankees.com

Yankees  GM Brian Cashman spoke to the mostly New York media following the trade deadline.  The AL East first place failed to make any more deals beyond the acquisition of Mariners utility player Dustin Ackley for for Ramon Flores and Jose Ramirez on Thursday.

“We stayed engaged with all clubs to come up with a match that would improve our club” stated club General Manager Cashman, “but was unable to get anything done.”

Regarding deals that didn’t happen, Cashman noted, “I can’t speak to any specific names of players, rest assured.  There were a lot of manes that I talked to, a lot of teams,  some names that are public, some that aren’t public, some that are obviously very high profile, some that are low profile, some that are buried on people’s farms systems.  We just could not find a match.”

“I like the team we have, we had some recent trouble, but were trying to fortify. We will be relying on our farm system as we’ve done all year,” he added.

Cashman emphasized the team was “staying the course,” highlighting that the farm system was strong and the team would be relying on their veterans and youth.

He went on to say that the team would be bringing up pitcher Luis Sevarino, and he would be making his next start in the big leagues.

Listen to the entire conference call.

 

chicago-bears-logoon the Weekend Sports Report with Packer Dave and Steve Leventhal

….we are pleased to be joined by John Mullin of Comcast Sports Net – Chicago.  He gives us a Bears training camp preview, and also talks about the great 1985 Chicago Bears team.  Sam the intern checks in from Big Ten media days with a special report.

Also John Poulter and Jeff Rich talk about baseball as the trade deadline approaches.  Which teams improved for the playoff run, and who is rebuilding for the future? Plus discussion of soccer, including the International Champions Cup, the USA’s poor performance in the Gold Cup, and the upcoming start of the English Premiere League.

Lastly Dave discusses the new stadium deal in Milwaukee that will keep the Bucks in town.

Don’t miss a cameo from Hall of Fame QB Len Dawson.

 

cubs-logoJason Hammel’s struggles on Sunday only highlighted the Cubs need for a beefier rotation.  The young Cubs were swept by the MLB worst, Philadelphia Phillies.  Mr. Prolonged Relief, Travis Wood has been the temporary fix, certainly a good tool to have in the arsenal.  Operating with a four-man rotation, the Cubs are clearly in need of starting pitching, according to multiple reports, the Cubs are chasing Cole Hamels and David Price.  Considering how well Hamels pitched at Wrigley on Saturday, one might assume that the Cubs are even more interested.

With the inconsistencies coming from Lester, Hammel and Hendricks, combined with the empty rotation spot due to Tsuyoshi Wada, if the Cubs have any interest in pursuing a playoff berth, they should and will pursue a trade for some starting pitching before the deadline.

With this notion, comes questions as to who they would deal.

You likely wouldn’t get rid of pitching, for that is the main concern. It would be highly unlikely that any of the young new guys would go, the core that is.  That list likely includes Rizzo, Bryant, Russell, and Schwarber, especially with the catcher performing so well as of late.  He is creating an instant impact, even having Nola pitch around him in the fourth. While Castro seems like a logical choice to deal due to his propensity to groundout and less-than stellar fielding record, combined with the plethora of shortstops the Cubs have already playing elsewhere.  However, those same things that make him a logical choice are what make him less than a desirable candidate for any type of trade, even if it were a package deal.

Then one has to consider what the Phillies are in the market for.  The team with the worst record in major league baseball is likely going to be pillaging for prospects.  However, one can never underestimate the lengths to which a front office will go to make a “clever” move, especially one like the Phillies.

With the deadline looming, the series couldn’t have come at a better time for the Cubs.  Through the fortune of proximity, one might not be surprised if the two come to terms.  However, with each team getting an intimate look at each others’ lineup, it will likely come down to the asking price for Hamels.  With the front office’s efforts to stockpile prospects, there is plenty to choose from in blue. Whether the Cubs want to continue in that practice or really start dealing for major league talent will prove to be telling as to where in their progression plan the front office believes the Cubs to be. The question simply will be as to whether or not the Cubs are willing to part with as much as the oft-criticized Phillies front office is asking or if the Cubs still feel they’re in building mode and go with a smaller name pitcher for this season.

With the plethora of suitors though, it is easily foreseeable that another club is willing to part with more for Hamels.  The Cubs however, are apparently in talks about Zobrist and Price among others.

To a small degree, the important thing is not necessarily what move the Cubs make, but rather that they make one.  If one is to believe the “plan” of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, then the Cubs still are a year out of truly contending.  The important part then, instead, this season, is the distinct culture change from one of glorified mediocrity to one of competent management and exciting baseball.  Just ask Joe Maddon, as he likes “to believe the energy already exists here.”  An energy, any loyal North-Sider can easily describe as distinctly different.  There’s a culture change on Addison.  It’ll be interesting to see what steps Jed and Theo make to continue painting a new Cubbie Blue.

tagline: Cubs at the trade deadline

dwayne-wade-miami

Miami’s Dwayne Wade

on the Weekend Sports Report with Packer Dave and Steve Leventhal

Jeff Rich talks NBA Free Agency and American League and National League Central with us, while John Poulter updates us on the Pan Am Games going on in Toronto this month, as well as his take on the American League East.  Plus, updates on the Green Bay Packers, and Big Ten football.

Don’t miss a cameo from NBC’s Bob Costas.

 

PSG manager Laurent Blanc post match

PSG manager Laurent Blanc post match

A hot, humid summer evening at Toronto’s newly expanded BMO Field was the site of the only game on Canadian soil in this year’s International Champions Cup, presented by Guiness.

This year’s event, the third such annual event is a little more world-wide than the 2014 event, as it includes games in the USA, Australia, China and England as well as the game in Toronto. In 2015 there are 15 teams participating, including teams from England (Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United), France (Paris Saint-Germain), Italy (AC Milan, Fiorentina and Internazionale), Mexico (America), Portugal (SL e Benfica) and Spain (AS Roma, FC Barcelona and Real Madrid) as well as three teams from MLS (LA Galaxy, New York Red Bulls and San Jose Earthquakes).

The game in Toronto featured the oldest, most famous, storied club in Portugal SL e Benfica (“Benfica”) and French Champions Paris Saint-Germain (“PSG”). Benfica was formed in 1904 and has won 72 domestic and international club trophies in its long history. PSG was formed in 1970 by the merger of Paris FC and Stade Saint-Germain (also formed in 1904) and has competed in that country’s Ligue 1 since 1974. It is owned by Qatar Sports Investments and as such is the richest club in France and one of the richest in the world.

Rui Vitoria, manager of Benfica, speaks to the press

Rui Vitoria, manager of Benfica, speaks to the press

With Pan Am Games events taking place nearby, the atmosphere at BMO Field was noisy, with most of the announced crowd of 17,843 supporting Benfica as Toronto has a large Portuguese population. The majority of the crowd were wearing the famous cherry red shirts of Benfica and loudly cheered their heroes from the player introductions and for every move their favourites made.

For a preseason/exhibition fixture the game was lively and well played. Benfica controlled the play for most of the first half but the opening goal came from PSG’s Jean-Kevin Augustin in the 29th minute, totally against the play. Benfica answered fairly quickly with Talisca evening the score in the 34th minute. After re-grouping, Benfica seemed to get their confidence back after the equalizer and Jonas put the Portuguese side ahead in the 42nd minute. As we usually see in these games, half-time brought substitutions as both teams had extra players on hand. Benfica, with 30 players in uniform for the game made three changes but PSG stayed the course with their starters until the 66th minute. PSG brought a much smaller squad of 19 players.

Lucas Moura tied the game for PSG with a 64th minute penalty, which became a turning point in the game as PSG continued to gain confidence and that confidence was rewarded with Lucas Digne scoring the winning goal in the 79th minute when Benfica goalkeeper Paulo Lopes could not hold on to the ball. Digne was voted as the man of the Match. By the end of the game, Benfica had substituted all of its starters and PSG had used six of its eight available substitutes.

Both managers’ post-game press conference comments centered around the fact that their teams took the game seriously even though it was very early in their respective preseasons. Having seen many of these exhibition type games by top European teams in Toronto over the years, I would have to agree with both managers’ comments. PSG Manager Laurent Blanc was especially proud of his relatively inexperienced side, which included many young players who are considered key to the team’s future and who were brought along on the tour to gain experience.

The game was one of the better exhibition fixtures we have seen in Toronto over the years and a good advert for European soccer in Canada’s largest city.

tag: Benfica vs PSG – Toronto


cubs-logoon the Weekend Sports Report with Packer Dave and Steve Leventhal

Mark Grote pre- and post-game host of Cubs baseball on WBBM in Chicago joins us to discuss how the Chicago Cubs are doing at mid-season.  The All-Star break is over and the pennant chase begins in earnest. Mark also tells us which are his favorite MLB stadiums to visit.

Jeff Rich chimes in with his thoughts on the mid-Summer classic, as well as the NL Central.

Steve and Dave kick off the show with a quick look at the Bears and Packers as training camp is weeks away.

As the South Siders head to 1060 W Addison this weekend, with them comes a clash of expectations.  Both teams pursued roster overhauls in the winter, both teams adding new starting pitching as well as some much-needed sources of run support. The Cubs focused their free agency search on a catcher and a starting pitcher. Securing the lefty batting Montero, the second-best pitch framer on the market, and a lefty ace in Lester, as well as re-signing Jason Hammel, the club felt that they had navigated the FA market well. As has been preached and preached though, throughout the Cubs organization, the primary source for talent for the North Siders would be through the farm system.  Bringing Kris Bryant up along with defensive specialist, Addison Russell, and relying on the likes of other young talents like Jorge Soler, Starlin Castro, and an improved Anthony Rizzo, the Cubs appear to be exponentially better a couple weeks into the season, at least, that is how it appeared on paper.  Fans were citing Back to the Future, and this time, letting themselves maybe, just maybe, believe that they wouldn’t have to say “next year” in September.  The White Sox, very busy themselves in the offseason, looked as though they too, would be much better on paper.  Adding the former Cub, Jeff Samardzija to beef up the starting rotation, as well as signing the big bats of Adam LaRoche and Melky Cabrera while also trying to address their greatest weakness, the bullpen, with the additions of Zach Duke and David Robertson, the White Sox appeared to be all-in on spending and winning.  The potential addition of rookie promising prospect hoping to become an ace, Carlos Rodon, tied the picture together with a pretty bow that made fans think…“the ten-year anniversary of their last World Series! It makes nothing but beautiful, poetic sense!”

And now, in perfect dramatic fashion, the two clubs face off immediately prior to the mid-point of the season and the all-star break.  Speaking of, the Cubs will have two members playing, Anthony Rizzo as a first base reserve, and Kris Bryant, starting in the place of Giancarlo Stanton, both of whom will also be competing in the home run Derby the evening prior.  The two young big-batted stars could likely face the White Sox only representative for the game: Chris Sale.  All three selections are well deserving. Sale tied the major league record for eight consecutive starts with double digits strikeouts, and holds a 2.80 ERA and a 7-4 record.  Bryant and Rizzo are the heart of the offensive power in the Cubs lineup.  Bryant, batting .275 has an on base percentage of .381 with 12 HRs and 50 RBIs. Rizzo is threat at every at-bat, with an average .296 and an OBP of .401 with 16 HRs and 48 RBIs.

But at the midpoint, the records and standings reflect the reality of both clubs’ expectations.  The North Siders, at 46-38, are 3rd in the NL Central, the best division in the National League, and hold the second wild card spot by a 3-game lead on the Mets.  Though the team has struggled against the major-league leading and long-time rival Cardinals this season, it appears as though Maddon’s team has a real chance to compete against any team, any given day.  However, the White Sox, with a record of 39-44 are last in the AL Central and third worst in the American League.  Some blame the lack of clarity in the dual leadership front-office, others blame the big, brand new roster, that at times, appears they do all they can to give away close games, and others call for the head of “reluctant manager,” Robin Ventura.

Both offenses struggling as of late, it appears that the series will be a battle of arms.   The matchups are listed below:
Friday 3:05—–Hendricks (3.82, 4-4) v Rodon (4.18, 3-2)

Saturday 3:05-Lester (3.48, 4-7) v Sale (2.8, 7-4)

Sunday 1:20—Arrieta (2.8, 9-5) v Quintana (3.69, 4-8)

It feels as though Sale, when and if he pitches a complete game is unstoppable, and that the White Sox can beat just about anyone, while Lester who started the season struggling, has started to find his stuff for about 5-6 innings an outing.  While Quintana has been decent throughout the season, still battling the lack of run support, his opponent on Sunday, Arrieta, has proven to be the Cubs’ true ace.  So it appears, that if the last two games split, the series will come down to the two young guns in Hendricks and Rodon.  Game 1 would also likely be the day that big bats come into play.  Beyond that, the Cubs have an edge in their bullpen.  The White Sox have struggled in the category for the past two years, while the Cubs have surprised everyone, having one of the best in the game in the first half of the season.

With the reality of the MLB being a near total lack of dominant teams, outside of the Cardinals, and a plethora of fun, exciting baseball thanks to the likes of a crop of young, talented players flowing into the ranks and succeeding, and high-scoring, divisional races throughout both leagues, one could argue that the series is of importance for more than just pride and bar-bragging rights within the city limits for the first season in a number of years.  The South Siders, coming off a surprisingly successful trio of series against the Cardinals, Oriole, and Blue Jays, the White Sox could be beginning to turn things around pre-break in the league while only 5.5 games back of the second wild card spot.  The Cubs however, are looking to gain ground on both the Pirates and Cardinals going into the break, hoping to prove that indeed, “they can only get better.”

Though records and narrative point in opposite directions, the two clubs and their different strategies to overhauls could both still succeed.  Either way, one can be sure that this weekend will be one of the best Crosstown Classics in quite some time.