Columnist Mike Nadel offers the best of his blog, including items on the Cubs and White Sox.

While the White Sox have signed Mark Buehrle to a lucrative contract extension, the Cubs have given their fans something at least as valuable: hope.
 
The Cubs and Sox were among the subjects featured prominently this past week on my blog, The Baldest Truth (www.thebaldesttruth.com ). A few excerpts follow.
 
Contending Cubbies
 
Hope. That’s pretty much all Cubs fans ever ask for - and that’s exactly what they have at the All-Star break.
 
The team is playing infinitely better than it did in April and May. Lou Piniella has settled on a pretty set rotation of players. And the bullpen, led by kid closer-to-be Carlos Marmol, has become better than average.
 
Still, as I’m wont to do, I offer a reality check to the fine denizens of Cubbieland.
 
Aside from Carlos Zambrano, do you really trust any of the starting pitchers? Do you even trust Cra-Z, who could put a lot of pressure on himself with a new contract on the line? Do you wonder if the catchers will ever hit? Do you worry that Mike Fontenot might turn back into a pumpkin? Are you concerned about Derrek Lee’s strange power outage, Aramis Ramirez’s sore knee, Ryan Dempster’s lingering injury, an iffy shortstop situation and Piniella’s loss of confidence in Felix Pie?
 
And are you aware that, even after the June-July, post-brawl surge, the Cubs are just as close to fourth-place Pittsburgh as they are to first-place Milwaukee?
 
Of course, the Brewers have plenty of problems of their own. As do the injury-ravaged Cardinals. And the ever-penurious Pirates.
 
The second half of the season could end up being a battle of attrition in the NL Central - kind of like the match-play round of golf I recently had with another sportswriter, with several holes being won by the guy who simply was less lousy.
 
For the record, I was lousier on the final hole - and it cost me the price of a lunch in the Wrigley Field media dining room.
 
Right about now, Cubbie fans are hoping not to lose their lunches due to lousy second-half play by their heroes.
 
JUST TRY, BABY
 
I was glad to hear GM Kenny Williams talk very adamantly about the White Sox being buyers and not sellers even though they have no chance to make this season’s playoffs.
 
“I’ve never given up on these guys,” Williams said. “We’re gonna keep pushing the envelope.”
 
Both Chicago ballclubs have enough financial wherewithal that they should always be trying to acquire excellent players - and to win.
 
ESP-Oh-No!
 
One of the fun things about ESPN is that it isn’t afraid to try different things. Sometimes the experiments work, sometimes they don’t. “Who’s Now” might just be the most idiotic thing the network ever has forced down its viewers’ throats.
 
If you are lucky enough to have missed the contrived “contest,” here’s a very brief snapshot: ESPN has placed a bunch of sports figures in four brackets. It is using a lengthy SportsCenter segment nightly to tout each “match.” Last Thursday, for example, pitted QB/pitchman Peyton Manning against swimmer/Playmate Amanda Beard. As if that concept isn’t ridiculous enough, the network has three “experts” - college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit, ex-NFL receiver Keyshawn Johnson and Washington Post columnist (and “Pardon the Interruption” regular) Michael Wilbon - argue for the merits of the candidates in attempts to influence the viewers’ vote.
 
It’s about as bad television as one can find. Even a few minutes dedicated to soccer each night would be time better spent.
 
I’d feel especially sorry for Wilbon, the Chicago kid who has made it big, but I know he has no problem cashing the checks. (Nor would I if I were in his shoes.)
 
ESPN never would admit this is a clunker and just drop it, but let’s hope it never tries something this banal again.
 
Never, ever, ever, ever.
 
List-A-Thon
 
In conjunction with my 25th anniversary in sportswriting, I'm putting a top-5 list on each of five consecutive blogs.
 
Through Monday, I had posted four, and here's my No. 1 choice on each. (To see the entire lists, filled with detail, check out The Baldest Truth.)
 
No. 1 pro sports coverage memory: Michael Jordan’s final 40 seconds in a Bulls uniform.
 
 
 
No. 1 jerk I've covered extensively: Bobby Knight.
 
No. 1 athlete I truly liked: Kirby Puckett.
 
No. 1 venue in which I've covered events: Williams Arena.
 
Quotable:
 
“Zero. I can’t afford to do that. I’m used to being the bad guy, wearing the black hat. The nature of this job is you’re gonna make some very unpopular decisions.” - Kenny Williams when asked if pressure from fans had a role in the White Sox finally coming to contract terms with Mark Buehrle.
 
“I don’t expect him to call me and say, ‘We need to talk in the office; I want you to resign.’ The other phone calls, yes, I expect those. That’s his job.” - Ozzie Guillen, when asked Saturday if he thought Williams would be telling him soon about players being traded.
 
Mike Nadel (mikenadel@sbcglobal.net) is the Chicago sports columnist for GateHouse News Service.