Cubs

Ask Aggrey: Outside shooting still a weakness

714194.png

Ask Aggrey: Outside shooting still a weakness

Sixteen regular-season games left for the Bulls and all I can think about are the three games left in college basketball. Kentucky winning it all might not be quite the foregone conclusion that everybody thinks, but I think it's a strong possibility. Still, it's March Madness and anything can happen. The end of college basketball gets me thinking about the draft, not to mention the high school all-star game season, which starts, at least on the national level, with the McDonald's All-American Game this week at the United Center. Having seen him two summers ago, before everybody and their mother knew about him, I was fairly certain Chicago native Anthony Davis would be really good, but even I didn't expect him to be this good, this quick. His Kentucky teammate, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. another kid I've seen forever, is probably the second-best prospect in the college game. I know a lot of NBA fans can't get into college, let alone high school hoops, but the moral of the story is if you see these kids early, you won't be behind the curve when they're eventually tearing up the pro game. Even though their season is now over, I advise even casual fans, both locally and nationally, to check out Simeon's Jabari Parker while they have the chance to do so, since in about two years, they'll be paying a lot more for the privilege. Anyway, with no further adieu, enjoy this week's edition of my mailbag:

When it comes down to the overall rating on the Bulls players, is there one weakness that could jeopardize the Bulls run in the playoffs? -- Anthony J.

Anthony, even when Rip returns to the lineup, I think outside shooting will still be the aspect of the Bulls that other teams attempt to prey upon. We've seen it recently with Toronto playing a zone defense and when Derrick comes back, teams will try to trap him to get the ball out of his hands to force other players to make plays. Now, when it comes to making plays, I think the team in general has shown it's more than capable--that's the silver lining to Derrick's injury problems this season -- but even with Kyle, Lu, C.J. and JL3 proving they're more than capable three-point threats, opponents will try to make them show that they can knock down shots when it counts.

When should Rip Hamilton return? He should get some games in before playoff time so that he could get into game shape -- Whirl Wide IKhan

Whirl Wide (any relation to Wes?), I think Rip will be back sooner than people think. If I had to make an educated guess, I wouldn't be surprised to see him return when his former team, the Pistons, come to town Friday, giving him a game before the showdown in Oklahoma City next Sunday. I think both Rip and I agree that he needs to play for conditioning purposes, but being that he's always been the energetic type and Ronnie is basically a de facto starter, even when he's coming off the bench, even more important is continuing to build chemistry and attempting to learn the system inside and out. Rip and Thibs were huddled together watching video after practice last week, something Thibs did with Derrick last season, so he's trying his best to get up to speed for the long haul.

Could Rose still be named MVP in spite of his injuries? -- Truman D.

Truman, Derrick's MVP chances went out the window a long time ago because of the injuries, but even if he was still under consideration, the team's success without him has ruled him out. One could have made the argument that Bulls, at times, were a one-man gang--at least offensively -- last season, but there's no way to back that up this season with their 12-4 record without Derrick in the lineup. If anything, the team's MVP candidates this season have been their defense, the bench and Thibs. Give JL3 a couple more miracle games before he climbs into the top three.

Why do the Bulls do half pick and rolls? I always see picks but nobody rolls -- Tony M.

Tony, great question. When Carlos (I assume you're primarily talking about him, as Jo and Taj roll all the way to the hoop more frequently) first got healthy last season, Derrick talked about how playing with him was an adjustment because he didn't always roll all the way to the basket, like a lot of traditional big men do. The Bulls utilize that strategy to play to Carlos' strengths, which are mid-range jumpers, being able to take advantage of certain matchups in space and giving him good passing angles to find cutters, such as Lu and Ronnie. Also, the Bulls play a lot of high-low basketball with their bigs, so having Carlos with the ball at the elbow sometimes opens things up for Jo at the low block.

What did you think about that body check on Blake Griffin? -- Ryan .

Ryan, I think it was overblown. The refs made the right call and Jason Smith's reaction wasn't a good thing, but he apologized and was punished for it appropriately. That said, Griffin has to expect that, with the "Lob City" hype and his continued posterizations of opposing players. Nobody likes to be embarrassed and the word is out that if he gets frustrated, he can be thrown off his game. Maybe if he was a better free-throw shooter, he wouldn't take it so personally, since he'd know that he could get the two points back at the foul line.

Keep the questions -- whether theyre about the Bulls, the rest of the NBA, other levels of basketball or life in general -- coming. Youll get a much better explanation, though not as instant, than you would via Twitter with only 140 characters. You can submit a question by commenting on this article below or by clicking here.

Ben Zobrist breaks down how Dodgers pitching has made Cubs offense disappear

10-18_yu_darvish_usat.jpg
USA TODAY

Ben Zobrist breaks down how Dodgers pitching has made Cubs offense disappear

Ben Zobrist didn’t look for any deeper meaning in Kyle Schwarber’s first-inning homer off Yu Darvish on Tuesday night at Wrigley Field, or hope that one swing could change the entire momentum of this National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Zobrist knows what it takes to win in October, the Cubs identifying him as the missing piece to their lineup after he helped transform the 2015 Kansas City Royals into a championship team, and then getting a World Series MVP return on their $56 million investment.

That “Schwarbomb” turned out to be fool’s gold, the only run the Cubs would score in front of a quiet, low-energy crowd of 41,871, the defending champs one more loss away from golfing/hunting/fishing/signing autographs at memorabilia shows.

“That was great to get a homer, but I’d rather see some hits strung together,” Zobrist said after a sloppy 6-1 loss, standing at his locker for almost 10 minutes, answering questions in the underground clubhouse. “I’d like to see a couple doubles together, a few singles, three or four hits in an inning. We just haven’t done that.

“That’s what makes rallies. They’ve stayed away from those kinds of innings. That’s why they’re ahead right now.”

Darvish – Jake Arrieta’s replacement in the 2018 rotation? – canceled out the two singles he allowed in the first inning by getting two of his seven strikeouts and answering some of the questions about how he would respond to all the pressure in October.

Darvish – a trade-deadline acquisition that had echoes of Theo Epstein’s “If not now, when?” explanation for last year’s Aroldis Chapman trade – walked one of the 25 batters he faced and pitched into the seventh inning before handing the game over to a lights-out bullpen.

“There’s nothing that we didn’t see beforehand on video,” Zobrist said. “It’s just a matter of we need him to make more mistakes, and we got to take advantage of those mistakes when he makes them.

“When he got to 3-2 counts, he wasn’t throwing a heater. He was throwing the cutter, and it’s a tough pitch to hit. You have to sit on it, and even then it’s got good movement to it. He kept us off-balance.”

Forward-thinking manager Dave Roberts is at the controls of a Los Angeles bullpen that can match up against right- and left-handed hitters, target locations, unleash upper-90s velocity, execute the elevated fastball that messes with eye levels and lean on All-Star closer Kenley Jansen for multiple innings.

The Dodger relievers essentially put together a no-hitter that lasted nine-plus innings across Games 1, 2 and 3. Together, they have pitched 10.2 scoreless innings, facing 36 batters and allowing two hits and a walk and hitting Anthony Rizzo with a pitch.

“They kept the ball on the edges and kept us off-balance,” Zobrist said. “They’re not throwing the pitch in the middle of the plate when we need them to. They’re keeping it on the edges and those are hard (to hit). When you got guys with good stuff on the mound, you need them to make some mistakes for you, or at least start walking some guys.

“When they’ve gotten in those situations with a three-ball count, they’re still making the pitch when they need to. They’re not walking many guys – and we are.

“That’s why they’re up 3-nothing.”

Zobrist (4-for-23 this postseason) is now more of a part-time player/defensive replacement, no longer the switch-hitting force who dropped the bunt at Dodger Stadium that helped end the 21-inning scoreless streak during last year’s NLCS.

Zobrist insisted the Cubs are still all there mentally, not checked out after a grueling first round against the Washington Nationals and a brutal walk-off loss in Game 2 at Dodger Stadium. He owns two World Series rings and one has the Cubs logo and this inscription: “We Never Quit.”

“We keep it loose all the time,” Zobrist said. “We know what’s at stake. And we don’t shy away from it. We look forward to the challenge ahead. It would be a great story for us to be able to come back in this series and win this series.

“We make adjustments, we take advantage of mistakes and we come out with a victory tomorrow. That’s what we have to do.”

Winter is coming for Cubs team that looks checked out of 2017

Winter is coming for Cubs team that looks checked out of 2017

Kyle Schwarber took a Babe Ruth swing on Tuesday night at Wrigley Field, posed for a moment and dropped the bat out of his follow through, watching that Yu Darvish pitch soar 408 feet out toward the left-center field bleachers.

Those carefree Cubs relievers shown on the video board – wait, was that John Lackey bouncing around? – danced in the bullpen in the first inning. This is exactly what the Cubs wanted: Grab an early lead? Check. Get one of their big boys going? Check. Energize the crowd of 41,871? Check.

That sense of momentum lasted less than the time it takes to buy a beer or go to the bathroom at Wrigley Field, because the Los Angeles Dodgers look like the unstoppable force this October.

Now Wade Davis may never pitch in this National League Championship Series and Wednesday night could be Jake Arrieta’s final start in a Cubs uniform. Winter is coming after a 6-1 loss left the defending World Series champs looking mentally checked out of 2017.

The Cubs played AC/DC and Motley Crue in their underground clubhouse and answered questions about why they believe they can match the 2004 Boston Red Sox who took down the New York Yankee Evil Empire, becoming the only team to come back from an 0-3 deficit since the LCS expanded to a seven-game format in 1985.

But Kris Bryant’s glassy look and bloodshot eyes told a different story, the reigning NL MVP admitting how “draining” those five games felt against the Washington Nationals in Round 1.

“But you kind of expect that around this time when games mean a lot,” Bryant said. “It takes a lot of energy to get ready for these games, and at the end, you feel wiped out. It’s expected.”

But no one could have predicted this lack of buzz in Wrigleyville, which felt less than a lot of midweek games during the regular season. A silence fell over the old ballpark when Andre Ethier – who has three homers across the last two seasons combined – lined a Kyle Hendricks pitch off the video board in right field to lead off the second inning.

Hendricks – who has made 10 postseason starts across the last three years and kept the Dodgers completely off-balance last October on the night the Cubs clinched their first NL pennant in 71 years – watched in the third inning as Chris Taylor crushed another home-run ball that bounced off the roof of the batter’s eye in center field.

“I wouldn’t say we’re running out of gas,” shortstop Addison Russell said. “Every time we step on the field, I feel like we have a pretty good chance of winning. We’re going to come into the clubhouse tomorrow positive and just ready to strap it on.”

The Dodgers will be out for beer and champagne on Wednesday night and the chance to kick back and watch the Yankees and Houston Astros expend all their energy in the ALCS.

Dodger manager Dave Roberts – who pushed all the right bullpen buttons in Games 1 and 2 (eight no-hit/scoreless innings combined) – toyed with the Cubs by letting Darvish hit against struggling reliever Carl Edwards Jr. with a two-run lead and two outs and the bases loaded in the sixth inning.

Darvish showed bunt on all four pitches – and drew a four-pitch walk and slammed his bat to the ground in celebration. The fans booed after Edwards struck out Taylor on three pitches to end the inning.

“We were there just as much as any other game,” said Ben Zobrist, last year’s World Series MVP. “Mentally, there was no letdown. Physically, there was no letdown. It was just a matter of them capitalizing on some mistakes that we made. That’s part of the game. And they didn’t make a lot of mistakes.

“They played better baseball than us tonight. That’s why they got the W.”

The Cubs committed two errors in Game 3 and then had a National-style meltdown in the eighth inning, from Zobrist misjudging the flyball to right field that dropped in front of him, to Mike Montgomery throwing a wild pitch, to catcher Willson Contreras getting crossed up on a swinging strike three, his glove nowhere near Montgomery’s 92.7-mph fastball, which crashed into his right arm and ricocheted into the visiting dugout.

A three-run game became 6-1 – and head for the exits and then the offseason. There was Albert Almora Jr. in the ninth inning, driving a ball into the ivy in left field and sprinting right into lead runner Alex Avila at third base, bailed out only because Kike Hernandez waved his hand to signal a ground-rule double.

At least that made All-Star closer Kenley Jansen work the last three outs, accumulated stress that might benefit the Yankees or Astros more than the Cubs.

“They are done,” an NL scout wrote in a text message. “You can see it in their faces.”