Crisp robbed of go-ahead HR, A's fall to ChiSox


Crisp robbed of go-ahead HR, A's fall to ChiSox


CHICAGO (AP) Brent Lillibridge is fast becoming a favorite in Chicago.Lillibridge helped make John Danks a winner with a homer-saving catch in the eighth inning, and the Chicago White Sox beat the Oakland Athletics 3-2 on Saturday night.Lillibridge robbed Oakland's Coco Crisp with a leaping catch above the wall. With Daric Barton on second and one out in the eighth, Crisp lofted a flyball deep to left-center. Lillibridge retreated to the wall, leaped and snared Crisp's drive before it cleared the fence."I'm speechless," Danks said. "I really am. That was unbelievable. Coco hit it on the barrel. When he hit it, I thought it was halfway up the concourse. Luckily the weather kind of knocked it down. Brent made a hell of a play out there."That turned out to be the last batter Danks (2-8) faced. He allowed just four hits, struck out four and walked two in 7 2-3 innings. He won his second straight start after going winless in his first 11 starts to start the season."I don't want to overshadow what John did tonight," Lillibridge said. "He was outstanding tonight. He gave us a chance. It was a lot of fun to do something to impact that game."Modesty aside, Lillibridge's teammates recognize his key contributions, coming at several different positions."Obviously Paul (Konerko), Alexei (Ramirez) and (Carlos) Quentin are having just huge years, but you have to think of him as a team MVP at this point," Danks said. "We were all talking among ourselves, you have to kind of find him a spot in the field everyday."Lillibridge, an infielder in the minor leagues, has started at four different positions this season, including all three outfield spots. In addition to his defense, he's hitting .273 with seven homers in 88 at-bats. He walked twice, stole a base and scored a run on Saturday."This kid is the best outfielder we have," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said."He can play center field, left field, right field. Wherever we decide to plug him, it comes very easy to him now."Ramon Castro hit his third homer of the season, a solo shot in the fourth. Alex Rios had two hits and a walk for Chicago, his third straight game with two hits.Athletics starter Gio Gonzalez (5-5) is winless in his last five starts. Oakland issued nine walks, has lost 11 of 12 games and fell to 1-2 under interim manager Bob Melvin."I don't have much history, but maybe not (Gonzalez's) best command," Melvin said. "He certainly battled and made pitches when he needed to. "Chicago's Jesse Crain worked 1 1-3 hitless innings, picking up his first save one night after White Sox closer Sergio Santos blew a two-run, ninth-inning lead in Oakland's 7-5 win on Friday."Danks pitched very well," Guillen said. "Crain came out and closed the game. Outstanding by everyone. Great job coming back after last night's game."Gonzalez was wild during most of his 115-pitch outing. He allowed three runs in 5 1-3 innings, five hits, a career-high seven walks, hit a batter, committed a balk and threw two wild pitches."Maybe one walk changed the game, that was basically it," Gonzalez said. "Other than that, got some groundball double-plays, made some things happen. It wasn't pretty, but it kept the team in the game."Gonzalez was removed with one out in the fifth, during which Chicago scored the go-ahead run without the benefit of a hit. Lillibridge drew a one-out walk, then stole second and went to third on Kurt Suzuki's throwing error.Gonzalez was replaced by reliever Brad Ziegler with a 1-0 count on Ramirez, who walked. Quentin hit a comebacker to Ziegler, who threw wide to second for an error, allowing Lillibridge to score and put Chicago ahead 3-2."We actually got the groundball, he was just a little quick going to second base," Melvin said. "We were just a little sloppy in the field. I will say, to an extent, the balls are pretty wet. Both sides have to play in it. When you make three errors, you don't win a lot of games."Danks held the Athletics hitless through the first three innings, allowing just two walks. Cliff Pennington led off the fourth with Oakland's first hit, a single. He stole second and scored on Josh Willingham's single. Pennington just beat the throw of Lillibridge.That tied the score at 1, but Castro broke the deadlock with a leadoff homer in the bottom half of the fourth.Oakland knotted the game in the sixth. Crisp doubled just inside the third-base line to lead off, went to second on Pennington's sacrifice and scored on Hideki Matsui's sacrifice fly to right.Gonzalez's control problems led to Chicago's first run in the third, when Ramirez scored the first run on a wild pitch.The White Sox stranded 12 runners , the one negative on a night Chicago closed within 4 12 games of first in the AL Central."We said all along we're a good team," Danks said. "I think wholeheartedly before this is said and done, we're going to be in the middle of it. It's going to be a fun summer."NOTES: Guillen told the media before Saturday's contest that he's in favor of the proposal for baseball to add an additional wild-card team in each league, saying "it'd be great for baseball." Guillen said that he'd like to give Santos a couple of days off after he threw 65 pitches over his last two outings and blew a save in Friday's 7-5 loss to Oakland. Guillen added that he still didn't want to label Santos as his closer even though "he's the one we've been using a lot." Konerko singled in the fifth, extending his hitting streak to 12 games.

After tough start to season, Kings make organizational shift towards youth

After tough start to season, Kings make organizational shift towards youth

The time has come. After losing five straight and 10 of their last 12 games, the Sacramento Kings sit at the bottom of the Western Conference standings at 13-30. With playoffs well out of reach, the team is making an organizational decision to go young.

You could say that the Kings made this decision last February when they dealt DeMarcus Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans. You could also point to draft day 2017 when the team traded down and turned the 10th overall selection into picks 15 and 20, giving the team three first round selections, an early second rounder and rookie Bogdan Bogdanovic coming from overseas.

Sacramento walked into the 2017-18 campaign with ten players on rookie scale deals, including nine first round selections with two years of NBA experience or less.

After a rocky first half, the team is going to a complete youth movement. The plan is for the veteran core of George Hill, Garrett Temple, Kosta Koufos, Vince Carter and Zach Randolph to rotate in and out of the lineup over the final 40 games of the season. 

Both management and the coaching staff is on the same page with the decision, NBC Sports California has confirmed. Two or three players will sit each night as they team explores what they have in youngsters.

"Going forward, what I'm going to do is, we're going to play a rotation where two of our five veterans are going to be out every night. It might be some times there'll be three. It's an opportunity for some other guys to get some minutes as we go throughout the course of the season. I've got it laid out...I've got about five or six games laid out, and every week I'll go out again because you want to communicate with those guys when they're not going to play. Other guys, they've got to be ready. If you're in the first three years of your contract, you can expect to play a little, or a lot, or none, but you should be ready to play," Joerger told the media after the Kings' loss to the Thunder on Monday night.

Developing young players was the top priority coming into the season. With the team struggling, the franchise's decision to speed up the transition from veterans to inexperienced players comes as no surprise.

Prized first round selection De’Aaron Fox has already 22 of 35 appearances for the Kings and is settling into the starting point guard position. Since returning from injury, the 20-year-old out of Kentucky is posting 14.3 points and 6.7 assists over 32.5 minutes per game.

Despite early season struggles with consistency, the fifth overall selection in the 2017 NBA Draft is improving. With the ideological shift in direction by the franchise, it is now Fox’s show, but he’s not the only one expected to produce.

Willie Cauley-Stein has taken a huge leap forward in his third season with the team as well. After struggles in his first two years in the league, Cauley-Stein is averaging career-highs in points (12.0), rebounds (6.5), assists (2.2), steals (.9), blocks (.8) and minutes played (26.2).

With his confidence at an all-time high, Cauley-Stein is going to be asked to do even more with a reduction of minutes by Zach Randolph. The lanky 7-footer will have an opportunity to prove he is a go-to weapon in the final 40 games of the season.

The Kings have a pair of wings that appear ready to excel in Bogdanovic and Buddy Hield.

Bogdanovic has made tremendous strides through his first few months in the league and he’s clearly ready for a bigger role. The presence of Hill and Temple has forced Bogdanovic to play out of position at the small forward position.

The 25-year-old Serbian has already seen a surge in minutes and production during the month of January. Bogdanovic has scored in double-figures all six games this month and he’s averaging 15.3 points on 55 percent shooting from field and 50 percent from long range. He has a maturity to his game after spending years playing professionally in Europe and Joerger has relied heavily on him throughout the early season.

Hield has improved in year two, especially on the defensive end. He came out of Oklahoma as a pure scorer and hasn’t disappointed. The 6-foot-5 shooting guard is shooting over 44 percent from 3-point range this season and showing a good feel for the game as a volume scorer off the bench.

The front office and coaching staff have an outline of what Fox, Cauley-Stein, Bogdanovic and Hield project as players, but there are plenty of other youngsters on the roster that the club needs more time to assess.

Skal Labissiere has fought his way out of a rough patch and is showing signs of improvement. His rebounding numbers have steadily jumped up and he’s figuring out how to defend stretch fours on the perimeter.

Before his injury, Frank Mason III was making strides as the team’s backup point guard. The second round pick is solid, but struggled with his shot before going down with a plantar fascia injury. He’ll be back in early February and should slide right back into the rotation.

Justin Jackson and Malachi Richardson have taken turns bouncing between the Kings and  the Reno Bighorns. Jackson has a maturity about him on the floor, but he’s been inconsistent with his shot and needs to get stronger.

After earning his way into the rotation last season, Richardson has struggled when given the opportunity this year. He’s worked tirelessly on his body and he’s a great practice 3-point shooter. He’s learning to play the 2, 3 and even some stretch four this season, which shows versatility, but he passes up too many open looks.

Lastly, the Kings have a complete unknown in 7-foot-2 center Georgios Papagiannis. Like Richardson, the giant out of Greece has worked hard to reinvent his body. He’s clearly quicker and more agile than he was in his rookie season, but at 20-years-old, he’s still considered a project.

It might be 10-15 games earlier than expected, but at some point this season, the Kings were going to throw their young players to the wolves and see how they fair. Sitting out games is a tough pill to swallow for veterans, but with just 13 wins through the first three months of the season, the writing has been on the wall for a while.

What the Giants’ farm system lost in trade for Andrew McCutchen

What the Giants’ farm system lost in trade for Andrew McCutchen

San Francisco’s second splash of its offseason reloading plan came to life Monday with the acquisition of outfielder Andrew McCutchen in a trade with the Pirates.

In trading for the five-time All-Star, the Giants held on to top prospects Heliot Ramos, Chris Shaw and Tyler Beede. The win-now move bolstered the Giants’ outfield — one that needed the most help in all of baseball — while the Pirates again have a potential big piece in their outfield with Bryan Reynolds headed to Pittsburgh. 

While the farm system took a win in keeping its biggest names, let’s look at what the Giants’ future lost with the addition of McCutchen. 

Bryan Reynolds, 22, OF
The Giants clearly have their own prospect rankings. Baseball America (5) and MLB Pipeline (4) ranked Reynolds ahead of Steven Duggar, who is the Giants’ No. 8 prospect by Baseball America and No. 6 by MLB Pipeline, after the 2017 season. Duggar is expected to compete for the Giants’ starting job in center field unless they make another big move like signing Lorenzo Cain. 

There’s a reason Reynolds is ranked so high though. The Giants’ top pick in the 2016 MLB Draft, is a switch-hitter who is primarily a center fielder, but like Duggar, he played all three outfield positions in 2017. 

"I think it's too early to dictate if he'll be in a corner or center," Nestor Rojas, Reynolds’ manager for the San Jose Giants, said to me in July. "He's really good and he has the tools to play center field. He's got speed and he's got range. He can do really well in all three." 

Reynolds slashed .312/.364/.462 with 10 home runs at Advanced Single-A this past season. He was the Giants' lone representative at the Futures Game and named San Jose Giants MVP. Even if he never unlocks his power, Reynolds is expected to be a solid big leaguer one day with well-rounded overall tools. 

[READ: How Reynolds went from undrafted to Giants' top 2016 pick]

Kyle Crick, 25, RHP
Crick was expected to be a future ace when the Giants took him No. 49 overall as a high school pitcher back in 2011. Control issues hampered him mightily. 

Down in the minors, Crick flashed dominance on the hill at times with a fastball that reaches the upper 90s. Still, command won the battle and the Giants turned Crick into a reliever. The move may have saved his career. 

As the Sacramento River Cats’ closer in Triple-A last season, Crick recorded six saves with a 2.76 ERA and 39 strikeouts in 29.1 innings pitched. Crick earned his call-up to San Francisco and was solid for the Giants. He put together a 3.06 ERA in 30 games out of the bullpen, giving a glimpse of what he can be in the future. 

Crick has always been full of potential. Now as a reliever, he’s starting to turn it into results at the highest level. The Pirates may have a future shut-down arm in the ‘pen, but in the Giants’ reload, there are plenty of in-house options that can do the job he was expected to do in 2018.