Bruins

Theo Epstein has strong words for lowly Cubs

774884.jpg

Theo Epstein has strong words for lowly Cubs

From Comcast SportsNet
CHICAGO (AP) -- Theo Epstein expected some rough stretches. He just didn't envision anything like this. A few hours after addressing his team's skid, the Chicago Cubs broke one of the longest losing streaks in franchise history, beating the San Diego Padres 11-7 on Monday. That ended a 12-game slide. The work, however, is just beginning. "I saw tough stretches, but I don't think this is indicative of the type of team we are," Epstein said before the game. "I think we're clearly better than this." Only seven times in their cursed history had the Cubs dropped 12 or more in a row, and they entered Monday's game on their worst losing streak since they started the 1997 season with a franchise-record 14 straight defeats. For all the optimism surrounding Epstein's arrival as president of baseball operations in the offseason, the results are awfully familiar. Of course, he needs time. He also realizes something needs to change. One thing that won't is the plan. Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer said they will continue to build for the future, but they don't want this season to get worse than it already is. "On both fronts, short- and long-term, there's work to do," Epstein said. "In the short term, in the trenches, there's a lot of work to do to get ourselves to a respectable level. This is a bad stretch. Just sort of appeal to the base instincts and start scrapping and keep grinding for pride. Long term, it underscores the magnitude of the job here and sort of how far we need to go to get where we want to be." On Monday, they let out a sigh of relief. A big one, at that. Not since they beat St. Louis on May 14 had they won a game, and the losses certainly were wearing on them. "We lost 10 in a row, but now that's in the past, so now we have to try to win 10 in a row," Alfonso Soriano said after collecting three hits with a home run. "We have to turn it around. You have to believe in this team because we're not that bad." The Cubs brought in Epstein and Hoyer, hoping they would help lift that championship albatross that's been hovering over them for more than a century. Chicago last won it all in 1908, when the Model T was rolling off the assembly line. With a new management team in place, there was a new sense of hope when the season began. After all, Epstein built the team that in that in 2004 ended Boston's 86-year championship drought and then won another title in 2007. For now, the Cubs are simply taking their hits. Hoyer called the losing streak "torturous" and insisted better times are ahead. Manager Dale Sveum sympathized with the players before the game, and when it was over, he made no effort to hide his relief. He played for Milwaukee in 1987 and was a part of a 12-game losing streak that year. That team ultimately finished with 91 wins. "Let's not kid yourself," said Sveum, in his first season as Cubs manager. "You lose 12 in a row, you finally win ... thank God I didn't break my streak. It's a big relief. All the guys, like I said today, you feel bad for them. It's tough. It shows you sometimes how tough it is to win a major league baseball game. Then to lose 12 in a row ... hopefully something like that gets everything going, the bats." Hoyer called the skid "a really painful bump that we're going through right now on the way to get there." The starting pitching, with Matt Garza and Ryan Dempster leading the way, has been solid. The bullpen has been a mess, repeatedly blowing games. Carlos Marmol lost his job as the closer, and Kerry Wood struggled before retiring. At the plate, things haven't been much better. Only three major league teams scored fewer runs entering Monday and with a .244 average, the Cubs ranked 21st. "We're losing right now and teams are beating us and we're on this kind of a streak, and it seems like a bad dream," said Bryan LaHair, one of the few bright spots in the lineup with a .312 average and 10 homers. "But if you're not becoming more hungry to want to win and go on 12-game winning streaks, then I don't know. I know it's what it's doing to me." He said it's not tough to show up at the ballpark. It is tough to leave during a stretch like this. "It beats you down more after the game than before because you've lost," LaHair said. It's not what Soriano envisioned when he signed that 136 million, eight-year contract before the 2007 season. He thought he was going to help the Cubs capture that elusive championship, and they came close, making the playoffs during his first two years. Since then, they've been on a steady decline and so has the veteran slugger. "Sometimes, it's like hard to believe where we are right now," Soriano said. "We played so good. And the last 12 games, we're nothing." Hoyer said the Cubs are "very open" to making changes, but they don't want to be "dumping guys off just to make a point." They would probably love to trade Soriano, but finding takers is not easy. Dempster has an expiring contract and might be attractive to a contender. Garza might be, too. He's eligible for arbitration after the season, and the Cubs might want to keep the 28-year-old. "When you rip the scab off, sometimes there's some pain until we grow some new skin," Epstein said. "We're going places. This is a tough road."

Even in their struggles, Bruins have reason(s) to be thankful

cp-spark-thanksgiving-bruins.jpg

Even in their struggles, Bruins have reason(s) to be thankful

Thanksgiving in the United States has become an important holiday in NHL circles because it provides a regular-season marker that allows teams to gauge their playoff viability. Roughly 75 percent of teams in a playoff spot at Turkey Day end up qualifying for the postseason, and teams within a handful of points of a playoff spot retain a pretty decent chance of pushing their way in. 

But Thanksgiving is also a great time for teams like the Bruins to also give thanks, just like everybody else, while they’re passing the turkey, the stuffing and the mashed potatoes.

Given that it’s the time of being thankful ahead of the holiday season, here is this humble hockey writer’s annual list of things that each member of the Bruins has to be thankful for as they sit down to enjoy a tryptophan-induced nap:
 
David Pastrnak – The 21-year-old is still thankful for the big bucks he signed for this fall . . . $40 million, to be exact. That should keep him in $8 sushi meals at the mall food court for as long as he wants them.
 
Brad Marchand –Marchand is thankful he finally got bumped up to the top power-play unit over the last couple of seasons, after Claude Julien really dragged his feet putting him there. Eleven power-play goals and 29 power-play points in his last 94 games certainly tell the story.
 
Patrice Bergeron – Bergeron is happy and thankful that he’s regained his health after missing the start this season, and that he’s been able to adequately handle the 21:01 of ice time he’s averaging per game.
 
Torey Krug – Krug is thankful he can again eat a nice steak dinner after being forced to have his food come out of a blender for months after fracturing his jaw during the preseason. Of course, that goes for a nice turkey dinner on Thanksgiving as well.
 
Danton Heinen – The 22-year-old is thankful for second chances after he whiffed during an eight-game audition last season in his first year of pro hockey. He’s making up for it by cementing a role with the Bruins this season now that he’s stronger, faster and a little more confident with the puck.
 
Charlie McAvoy – The 19-year-old defenseman is thankful he decided to leave BU after his sophomore season, making the very correct deduction that he was way more than ready for the NHL. If he plays his cards right, he may be thankful at the end of the season for a Calder Trophy.
 
Anders Bjork – The rookie is thankful that the B’s will be playing the Chicago Blackhawks in the Winter Classic at his alma mater, Notre Dame, next season. He may get to live out a lifelong dream of playing a hockey game on that iconic football field.
 
Jake DeBrusk – The rookie left winger is thankful that he got to score his first NHL goal in front of his family and his teary-eyed dad, Louie, during a pretty cool opening-night win over the Nashville Predators.
 
Tim Schaller – The New Hampshire native is thankful to be playing for his hometown hockey team, of course, but he’s more than just a local boy made good. Tim Schaller has been a positive factor for the bottom-6 with his size, speed and intermittent offense.
 
Zdeno Chara – The captain is thankful that both he and his employer agree that the 40-year-old D-man should continue playing for the Bruins beyond this season. Now it’s just a matter of agreeing on a contract at some point.
 
David Krejci – The playmaking center is thankful his cranky back has loosened up enough for him to get back in the lineup. Now the Bruins and their fans would be thankful if the points would start to follow now that he’s healthy enough to play.
 
Riley Nash – The forward is thankful that the B's thought enough of him to protect him in the expansion draft last summer, a show of commitment to a versatile, smart player who does a lot of little things well.
 
Sean Kuraly – The young center is thankful that he hasn’t yet hurt himself taking the jumping, flying and leaping goal celebrations that he’s quickly becoming known for.
 
Kevan Miller – The defenseman is thankful he’s back playing his natural right side for the most part after being pushed into left-side duty for much of the first couple of months this season.
 
Brandon Carlo – The second-year defenseman is thankful to still be on the Bruins, and not used as possible trade collateral in a possible Matt Duchene deal that was discussed quite a bit last year and through the summer.
 
Jordan Szwarz – The 26-year-old forward is thankful for another NHL opportunity in Boston after he’d gone a couple of years without a sniff during his time in the Arizona Coyotes organization after some early games with them.
 
Frank Vatrano – The Bruins forward and East Longmeadow native should frankly be happy that he’s still in the NHL given the training camp and early season he had with the Bruins. He’s scored a couple of goals and played well lately, so he has to hope that he’s pushed through the bad times.
 
Noel Acciari – The Providence College alum is happy to be healthy again after missing a month with a broken finger, and he’s proven that by going right back to the heavy hitting, shot-blocking tough kid that he’s always been.
 
Ryan Spooner – The speedy playmaker is thankful to be over his torn groin. He needs a strong season in order to once, and for all, show exactly what he could be to the Bruins, or some other team, at the NHL level.
 
Adam McQuaid – The veteran defenseman is thankful that he wasn’t selected by the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft last summer, and instead continues to be a strong, robust presence in the D-zone when healthy.
 
David Backes – The 33-year-old forward is thankful to be back skating again after a couple of painful  bouts with diverticulitis that left him in surgery with 10 inches of his colon being removed. I'm still amazed that he returned to practice as quickly as he did, but he is a hockey player after all.
 
Paul Postma – The  D-man is thankful to be getting a second chance with another organization after spending his entire career with the Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets.
 
Matt Beleskey – The winger is thankful that he’s getting a chance to bounce back from last year’s down season, but so far the zero points and minus-7 rating in 13 games leave lots of room for improvement.
 
Tuukka Rask – The No. 1 goaltender is thankful for all the rest he’s getting in the first half of the season, which should presumably make him healthy, fresh and strong down the stretch this season. That is, if he can actually get back in touch with a game that sees him with a turkey-like .897 save percentage right now.  
 
Anton Khudobin – The backup netminder is thankful he’s been given a chance to run with things this season as he’s already twice had a chance to start three games in a row after struggling to gain regular playing time last season.
 
Bruce Cassidy – The coach is thankful for another shot behind an NHL bench 13 years after the first one, and he’s making the most of it with a rag-tag group beset by injuries and youth right now.
 
Don Sweeney – The general manager is thankful the team is still within a handful of points of a playoff spot after everything that went wrong in the first couple of months.
 
Cam Neely – The tean president is thankful for the overwhelming talent within their youth movement and the strong, loyal fan base that backs this team no matter what. But it could be a bit of a rough ride ahead, as the B's rank fourth among the big four Boston sports teams, given how good, deep and close to championship-caliber the others are right now. 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Celtics' cup has runneth over so far this season

cp-1-spark-celtics-thanksgiving.jpg

Celtics' cup has runneth over so far this season

BOSTON -- The Boston Celtics are no different than the rest of us. They have a lot to be thankful for.
 
There’s the usual good health, family and friends. But they have a few more things to be thankful for, as well.
 
So as you take a brief time-out today from the turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce, here’s a look at five things the Celtics are thankful for this season.


 
KYRIE IRVING
 
The Celtics have had some solid players in recent years, but the addition of Kyrie Irving was a game-changer. He provides Boston with an unmistakable superstar who has a proven track record of success on all levels -- he's won an NBA championship and an Olympic Gold medal, and is also a four-time All-Star. Did I mention he’s just 25 years old?


 
AL HORFORD
 
His numbers will never adequately measure the impact Horford has had on the Celtics. The big plus with Horford was him simply agreeing to be a Celtic. For years this franchise has been built on the success of developing draft picks or trading for talented players. But rarely have they had the financial flexibility or, to be frank, the kind of appeal to free agents to go out and acquire a proven All-Star like Al Horford. His arrival has enhanced an already-established winning culture, one that has become a player on the free agency market ever since.


 
DANNY AINGE
 
Other than Oklahoma City’s Sam Presti, it’s hard to imagine another front office executive having as good an offseason as Ainge. He rolled the dice to go down two spots in last June’s NBA draft, and wound up with arguably the most NBA-ready player (Jayson Tatum) among those selected in last June’s NBA draft. (Remember, the likely rookie-of-the-year Ben Simmons did not play last year after Philadelphia drafted him with the top overall pick in 2016.) The free-agent pickups of Aron Baynes, Daniel Theis and Shane Larkin have all had moments where they carried the team to victory. Even second-round picks like Semi Ojeleye and two-way players like Jabari Bird have contributed to wins this season. Fans may not like some of Ainge’s decisions in the moment but he deserves a lot of credit for the team we see today, one that has played at a level few envisioned they'd reach this quickly.


 
BRAD STEVENS
 
And to think, the Big Three (Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford) Boston was planning to build around this season has played less than five minutes together. Stevens has been pushing all the right buttons, putting guys in unexpected positions to succeed with a cast that’s long on talent and well, well short on experience. Boston’s first win of the season came at Philadelphia, a game in which the Celtics played six different rookies. It’s not unusual for teams to use first-year players frequently, but for a team that was built to contend for a championship? That’s highly unusual. The biggest thing is despite the lack of experience on the floor, Stevens hasn’t allowed them to use that as a reason to fail. Instead, Stevens has had them lean heavily on film study and the wisdom of veterans, as well as empowered them to have a “next-man-up” mindset with one goal regardless of what they are tasked with doing: Get it done. No excuses.


 
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
 
Boston has spent most of this season atop the NBA standings, fueled in large part by a 15-game winning streak -- the longest of the Brad Stevens era and the fifth-longest ever by a Celtics team. But within that winning streak, there have been some noticeable areas of concern (i.e., bench scoring) that have made games more challenging. And that's what makes these Celtics so scary to the rest of the league. If they’re beating teams consistently now, how much better will they be when the offense catches up or, at a minimum, gains some ground on what has been an impressive stretch of play defensively? That’s why as good as this first full month of the season has been, there's reason to believe they’ll only get better. The Celtiheircs have seen  share of adversity. They've played without their All-Stars. They have fought back from double-digit deficits to emerge victorious. This is a young squad, but battle-tested already. Because of all that, they have a certain level of confidence that regardless of the situation, regardless of the score, they feel they will find a pathway to success. And that, Celtics Nation, is something to be thankful for.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE