By Tony Hooker
No pithy themes or fairy tales this week, so that can only mean it’s time for the potpourri column., otherwise known as I have no idea of what to write about, so here goes.
It pains my redbird loving soul to write it, but somewhere, right now, there are Cub fans gloating over another win against the Cardinals. And rightfully so. The Cubs are clearly playing at a different level than the Cards right now. Injuries happen in baseball, but we can’t expect to compete with the hottest team in the league with half our weapons shelved. It seems like one of those times of the long season where if we hit, we can’t pitch and if we get good pitching we can’t hit. It happens, and as a long-time fan of the game of baseball, all I can do is recognize it for what it is. The biggest surprise has to be the baby bear’s bullpen. (Fatty like alliteration!) What all the experts called the most pronounced weakness on the team has been incredible so far. I’m not sure even the most ardent Cubs fan could have told you that Ryan Tepera or Andrew Chafin would be as good as they’ve been. Coming into 2021, most Cub fans would have traded closer Craig Kimbrel for a bucket of used practice balls and a bag of Big-League Chew. After posting ERA’s of 6.53 and 5.28 in his first two seasons on the north side, all he’s done this year is save 17 games and post a miniscule ERA of 0.68. Rookie Tommy Nance has yet to give up an earned run, fanning 13 and walking zero in his first 12 games in the big leagues. Former Effingham St. Anthony and Parkland Cobra pitcher Dan Winkler has also been a contributor, posting a 0.79 ERA in 25 games.
At the plate, the Cubs have been solid up and down the lineup. Kris Bryant, who was the subject of myriad trade rumors in the off-season, has played at an elite level all season. Rizzo has been Rizzo, and the entire lineup has the ability to go deep, especially in the friendly confines. Of particular pain for Cardinal fans has been the play of former Redbird Patrick Wisdom, who’s hitting .347 with eight homers and an .878 slugging percentage in 18 games. The fact that his progress to the majors was blocked by Matt Carpenter, who has hit .226, .186, and .183 in the three seasons since Wisdom was traded to the Rangers is particularly galling, but I’m not bitter or anything. As a redbirds fan, my only hope is that the Cubs pitching staff regresses to their career mean, because if they continue at this level, they’ll be a tough out. Of course, the “Brew Crew” in Milwaukee is putting together another solid season, which surprises me, even though it shouldn’t.
Hope springs eternal for Illini
I’m not sure if it will translate to wins and losses on the field, but there sure seems to be an air of competence and confidence (alliteration!) hovering over the Smith Center and Memorial Stadium these days. Bret Bielema has won every press conference he’s had in his five months at the helm, and the staff he’s assembled seems to be a fantastic combination of experience, exuberance and high expectations. (alliteration!) I for one can’t wait to see how it all plays out. My prediction: 6-6 or 7-5 with a bowl game appearance.
High school football
Having a son on the coaching staff means that I can not even pretend to be impartial (as if I ever was when talking about my blue devils!) but I hope that they put in the work they need to do to have a successful season in a return to normal this fall. My other hope is that those few Heritage boys who were on the team can find a place to pursue their passion for the game.