I Knew Charting My Sleep Would Be Wasteful…

… in October.

I started blogging/posting about my sleep patterns, in part, because I feel as if writing about something other than sports gets my brain functioning in a different way and I’m convinced it makes me better at writing sports.

I’m probably going to need something else to write about other than October sleep because playoff baseball wrecks the equation. My sleep efficiency percentage went from the high-80s, low 90s to high 70s since the playoffs started. I don’t believe that’s a coincidence. I’m sure there are things I can do to remedy that and get a better night’s sleep … but I’ll figure it out later.

I made a conscious effort not to drink on Thursday during Game 5 of the NLDS, and yet, I woke up feeling hungover. “I’m never not drinking again.”

Some people make pre-game hype mixes before games. I’ve crafted a playlist of John Mayer songs in the order of his April concert he did in Chicago. It’s one of the best live shows I’ve ever seen, and frankly, started to put me in a good place back in April when I really wasn’t in a good place.

I’m not saying I want summer forever (though, wouldn’t that be great?) but if we can hold off fall until I update my fall wardrobe that would be cool.

I’d continue to ramble if I didn’t have a good chunk of stuff on my plate today. Thanks for reading.

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It’s October and I’m an emotional mess

One week into October and I’m already an emotional wreck.

I’ve spent the past week telling myself I’m OK and that things were fine, only for Friday to get here and the butterflies to show up all over again.

“That’s Cub.”

For the first time in my lifetime, the Cubs are in the playoffs for the third straight season. If you’re reading this and you’re thinking “this year feels different” you’re not alone. And that’s because it’s true, 2017 is different.

The 2017 Cubs come into the postseason as the defending World Series champions. People forget that.

And yet, fans/friends/pundits are ask skeptical as ever regarding this team’s chances at a repat. To be fair, the Cubs have quite the challenge ahead of them. The Washington Nationals are a very good baseball team coming off a 97-win season and former Cubs manager Dusty Baker is out for revenge. If the Cubs overcome that monster, odds are they’ll face baseball’s best team – the Los Angeles Dodgers – in the NLCS again. That is if L.A. doesn’t slip up against the upstart Arizona Diamondbacks.

The road to a repeat will be rough, but the Cubs don’t seem to be fazed … so maybe I shouldn’t be either.

Yes, the Dodgers, Nationals, and D’backs all have talented teams. But so do the Cubs. Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant are studs. So is catcher Willson Contreras. The up-the-middle defense of Addison Russell and Javier Baez is as good as it gets – and they both can hit for power, too. Ben Zobrist is a seasoned vet and World Series MVP. Jason Heyward is a $184 million dollar defensive ace. Kyle Schwarber is all of 24 years of age and is already a dadgum postseason legend.

Kyle Hendricks went toe-to-toe with Clayton Kershaw and out-pitched baseball’s best active pitcher in an elimination game to clinch the pennant and tossed an admirable 4-2/3 innings in World Series Game 7 against Corey Kluber. So what’s a matchup against Stephen Strasburg? Jon Lester owns a nifty 2.72 ERA in 49.2 postseason innings since joining the Cubs in 2015. With all due respect to starting Opening Day for the White Sox this year, Jose Quintana is lined up to pitch the biggest game of his career in NLDS Game 3. Jake Arrieta is pitching for a billion dollar (rough estimate) free agent contract in Game 4 (if necessary).

And if the Cubs have the lead in the ninth, Wade Davis – the team’s lone All-Star – isn’t just great, he’s an October legend in his own right having locked down the Kansas City Royals 2015 title. Behind him in the bullpen are Carl Edwards Jr. (who recorded the first two outs in the 10th inning of World Series Game 7), Pedro Strop, Mike Montgomery (who recorded the final out to clinch the World Series win), and a slew of other experienced arms. I guess that includes our good friend #MentholMoose.

I don’t blame you if you cast doubt on the Cubs. And I can’t blame you if you’re not a ball of nerves right now. I’m there with you. But as we did last October, let’s get through this together. As Cubs fans, we’ve been through worse … so, let’s enjoy some postseason baseball.

Winning The NL Central In 2017 Was Hard

Here is an incomplete list of things that happened this year en route to the Chicago Cubs winning the National League Central Division title for the second straight year:

  • Randal Grichuk’s opening-night walk-off against Mike Montgomery
  • Milwaukee’s weather-related beef
  • Having a worse run-differential than the White Sox in May
  • Wade Davis being the only Cub named to the NL All-Star team
  • Wade Davis being the losing pitcher in the All-Star Game
  • Eddie Butler making 11 starts, Brett Anderson adding 6 more, and the two combining to pitch to a 5.65 ERA in 17 starts
  • Brian Duensing beginning the year on the DL.
  • Relief appearances from the following pitchers: Dylan Floro, Seth Frankoff, Jack Leathersich, Miguel Montero, Pierce Johnson, Zac Rosscup, Jon Jay
  • Remember when Jeimer Candelario, Victor Caratini, Mark Zagunis spent a handful of games in the starting lineup?

I can’t stress enough how important it is to cherish what the 2017 Cubs accomplished by winning the NL Central again.

Baseball is hard. Winning in baseball is really hard.

Let’s not forget the Brewers spent 69 days in first place and owned a 5.5-game lead on July 15. The Cardinals had a share of first as late as August 12. Even the rebuilding Reds spent 17 days in first place – that’s three more days than the Cardinals (14) if you’re keeping score at home.

Winning only gets more difficult from here.

According to Ken Rosenthal, the Cubs are just the fifth World Series champion since 2000 to win the division in the following season. By my math, that means 69 percent of World Series winners have not won their division the year after winning it all.

Winning is hard. Repeats are harder.

In the Wild Card era, only the Yankees (1998-2000) have repeated as World Series champions. Those Yankees, along with the Atlanta Braves (1995-1996), Phillies (2008-2009) and Rangers (2010-2011) are the only teams to win back-to-back pennants.

Winning the division might have been framed as pre-ordained by some in the spring, however, it was anything but.

Nothing came easy for the 2017 Cubs. Each of the five starters who opened the season with the team spent time on the disabled list at some point. Jon Lester (shoulder), Jake Arrieta (hamstring), Kyle Hendricks (hand tendinitis), John Lackey (foot), and Brett Anderson (back) each missed turns in the rotation because of an injury.

Every day players including Ben Zobrist (wrist), Jason Heyward (hand), Willson Contreras (hamstring), and Addison Russell (plantar fascitis) were also placed on the DL.

In total, eight returning members of the 2016 World Series champions missed at least 10 days because of a DL stint. This doesn’t count the days Anthony Rizzo missed with a sore back, Kris Bryant narrowly avoided DL time because of a hand injury suffered sliding into third base or an ankle injury trying to catch a foul ball, or any other nagging injury along the way that players pushed through despite a new 10-day DL that was supposed to encourage teams to rest injured players.

What makes baseball enjoyable (to me at least) is that it’s an everyday thing that keeps you interested and entertained from April through September, while also allowing for time to take some big-picture perspective if you allow yourself to not get too caught up in the day-to-day results.

What made this season enjoyable to me was the journey the Cubs took to get here.

You’d think winning 200 regular season games, five playoff rounds, and a World Series over the last two years would buy you some wiggle room in the event of a 2017 hangover, but it wasn’t the case … at least, judging by my mentions on Twitter. And yet, winning the division and putting yourself in the postseason picture washes it all away.

Things like losing all six games in California to the Dodgers and Padres and watching the Cubs lose an 18-inning game on Sunday Night Baseball seem like they happened ages ago. And frankly, I’d be happy not to ever think about those games again.

Assembling consistent winners in modern baseball is difficult. Front offices are smarter. Organizations are deeper. The players throw the ball harder and hit it deeper into the night than ever before. Everyone has analytical skills that can be applied by stat guys, scouts, and sometimes both.

Once upon a time, winning a World Series was easy. Be the best team in your league, capture the pennant, and beat whoever represented the other league in the World Series. Now, you have to win your division or a one-game playoff round, beat two division winners, then knock off whoever comes out of the other league if you want to hoist the Commissioner’s Trophy at year’s end.

For the first time in my lifetime, the Cubs are trying to win another World Series trophy. Now, imagine having that thought on Opening Day 2012.

Sometimes when you can’t sleep…

I bought a memory foam pillow because I thought it was time for a change. So far, so good. I think I might want to buy another. Maybe upgrade from this WalMart brand eventually? I’m open to suggestions. I’m more of a side sleeper if that helps. I threw out some sheets because I wanted something new. Of course, I didn’t come to that realization until after washing them. What a waste of water, time, and dryer sheets. I guess I’m open to suggestions regarding queen size sheets, too.

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The Obligatory Cubs On Memorial Day Post

There’s an old adage in baseball about Memorial Day being the first mile-market of significance of the baseball season. We’re here, and the Cubs aren’t great. In fact, they’ve played mediocre baseball for most of the first two months.

They are 25-24, but luckily only 1.5 games out of first place. The NL Central is kind of a middling mess right now, evidenced by the Pirates being in last place with a 23-28 record – and still just 4.5 games back of first-place Milwaukee. Hey! The Brewers are a thing. I made a comp to Harvey’s Wallbangers that went over a lot of people’s heads earlier in the year. Hit a wiki page or something, guys. I’m not sure if their starting pitching can hang, but they’ve got a handful of flamethrowers in the bullpen and could put up a puncher’s chance as long as Neftali Feliz isn’t handling the high leverage situations.

So, what’s the Cubs deal? Where do I start?

**They miss 2015-2016 Dexter Fowler, who slashed .261/.367/.427 with a .348 wOBA out of the top spot in the order. Fowler (.228/.319/.430) isn’t off to a great start with the Cardinals, but is riding a low .265 BABIP, so progression to the mean is probably on the horizon.

**Meanwhile, the Kyle Schwarber leadoff experiment has been a disappointment. His .177/.297/.348 slash line is ugly, as is his .218 BABIP and .287 wOBA. The 13.5% walk rate is good, but the 29.2% strikeout rate isn’t. He’s already been dropped in the order AND made a platoon player. He’ll always be an October legend (.364/.451/.727 in 51 PA over 14 G) but until he goes on one of those tears again, he should be dropped in the order.

**I’ve been asked a dozen times if I’ve ever seen anything like Jake Arrieta’s rise and crater. And actually, I have. Kind of. I keep going back to three names when I think of the Jake Arrieta Cubs experience.

**The first is Clay Buchholz, a pitcher who had a superb four-year run with the Red Sox from 2010-13, before falling off. From 2010-13, Buchholz was 46-19 with a 3.15 ERA (3.92 FIP), 1.22 WHIP, and 135 ERA+ pitching in the AL East. Injuries have taken their toll on Buchholz, but when he was good, he was really good.

**I see some Rich Harden in Jake Arrieta. Yes, another case where injuries hindered a guy. But when Harden was good, he was stellar. Unfortunately, that stellar arm could only get you five (max: six) innings at a time. Harnessing great stuff is difficult.

**The third name is a little obtuse, but follow me for a moment. R.A. Dickey re-invented himself with the Mets with a dominant pitch (hey, that sounds familiar) during his age 35-37 seasons. He was 39-28 with a 2.95 ERA (3.55 FIP) and a 129 ERA+. At age 37, he went 20-6, struck out a league-leading 230 in 233 innings and stole the NL Cy Young from Clayton Kershaw. And then the Mets traded him to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for, among other pieces, Noah Syndergaard. Whoops.

**So where do they go from here? The Cubs will need to get their offense up. It’ll start with improving on a .326 team OBP, which ranks 13th in baseball. That number needs to be in the top-10 to be a factor and in the top-5 to be a game-changer. The rotation needs a boost. Despite Sunday’s blowup, Jon Lester has been fine. And Kyle Hendricks – after allowing 11 ER in his first three starts – has allowed eight earned runs in the six starts that followed, pitching to a 1.96 ERA (3.43 FIP) … or basically what Mike Leake (1.91 ERA, 2.99 FIP) has pitched to all season. The bullpen needs to get settled. Hector Rondon has been streaky. Carl Edwards Jr. has been great despite a walk rate north of 10%. And Wade Davis has been as good as advertised. I’d be super curious to see what kind of deal would keep him around. Jake Arrieta and John Lackey represent $28 million that could come off the books at season’s end. I hate the idea of paying closers, save for the elites. Who says no to 3/$50M?

We’ll check back in on the date I always tell people to ask me hwo I feel about the Cubs/baseball – July 1, which will be my 31st birthday. WOOOOOOF.

The Bulls Made The Playoffs And I’m Not Sure Why

Wait. The Bulls made the playoffs?

Who authorized this?

Why?

How?

OK. I know how. Jimmy Butler was superb down the stretch. The Bulls were 33-38 after losing to the Raptors in overtime on March 21. After that, Butler averaged 26.3 points on 52.1% shooting, 7.3 assists, and 6.0 rebounds in the Bulls’ final 11 games. They went 8-3.

It makes you wonder why a handful of talking heads in town want to trade him. To get picks? Sure. Let’s trust high picks with a front office that loooooooved Kris Dunn? The Bulls considered trading Butler for Dunn, who shot 37.7% from the field, 28.8% from the 3-point line, and averaged 3.8 points in 17.1 minutes per game. I think you want a little more production out of someone drafted with a top-5 pick. Remember, this is the same front office that traded up to draft Doug McDermott, said it wanted to get younger and more athletic weeks before drafting the athletically limited Denzel Valentine, and thought Marquis Teague was a better fit than Draymond Green.

Pass.

The Bulls and Celtics couldn’t be more different. Boston is a good team led by a good coach, and proactive front office that executed a rebuild AND has high picks to deal in case it wants to go nuclear to land a star on the trading block. The Bulls are a mediocre team at best, led by a coach who is totally out of his element, and a front office that seemingly devalues everything that makes modern basketball entertaining, and ultimately, good.

Basketball’s best teams have athleticism and perimeter shooting. The Bulls don’t really have either. They are to basketball what the White Sox were to baseball in recent years before the Cubs won a World Series after a five-year teardown/rebuild effort that seemed to set the wheels of change in motion over at 35th and Shields. I’ll never understand why the Cubs (who don’t play in the same league as the White Sox) can seemingly impact things when the Cavaliers (who share the same division and conference as the Bulls) win a NBA title and the Bulls stay committed to the status quo. As far as I’m concerned, it pretty much says everything you need to know about how the two organizations are run.

The Bulls are now locked into the 16th draft pick, where NBADraft.net projects them to pick UCLA PF T.J. Leaf. Whatever. Just don’t draft Grayson Allen.

My dilemma: I got a good price on the Celtics winning the East. Do I root for my money or for my interest? Does it even matter? Because in the end, the Bulls got everything they wanted out of the 2016-17 season — two more home games worth of revenue.

Pictures From Chicago Cubs Ring Night

A collection of images I shot while at the Cubs-Dodgers game on Wednesday, April 12, 2017 at Wrigley Field. The Cubs players, staff, and front office received rings for their efforts in helping the franchise win its first World Series since 1908.

Fun times were had by all. Except probably certain members of the 2017 Cubs, who ended up losing Wednesday’s game 2-0 to the Dodgers.

Looking at “The Park At Wrigley.”

A new addition under the right field bleachers. All of the Cubs’ Hall of Famers have Cub-centric plaques at Wrigley. Greg Maddux was pretty good. Shame Larry Himes decided he wasn’t good enough. That guy…

I really like the design on the 2016 NL Pennant. Well done.

I take the worst selfies.