Cubs

Blackhawks breakdown: Dave Bolland

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Blackhawks breakdown: Dave Bolland

CSNChicago.com Blackhawks Insider Tracey Myers and PGL host Chris Boden will evaluate the 2011-12 performance of each player on the Hawks roster. One breakdown will occur every weekday in numerical order.

Dave Bolland logged 16 12 minutes per game in 76 games in 2011-12. He matched his career-high with 19 goals and added 18 assists for 37 points. Bolland was one of the few Hawks who really stood out on special teams with a career-high seven power play goals and career-best three shorthanded goals. Bolland was even in plusminus, delivered 58 hits and won 48.4 percent of his faceoffs. He did not score a goal in the playoff series vs. Phoenix, finishing with three assists and an even rating.

Boden's take: The third-line center turns only 26 next week, and his value is highest come playoff time. While he had his healthiest season in three years and matched his career-best goal total (19), he remains somewhat of a riddle to Hawks fans who want to see more impact offensively with the defense and agitation he's usually so good at providing in crunch time. But at that end of the ice, the body of work indicates he won't come close to the 57 goals he amassed six years ago in London (OHL). Part of it has to do with ever-changing linemates he's been playing with. Faceoff consistency is another area the Hawks could use some improvement from him.

Myers' take: The checking-line center enjoyed his healthiest season since 2008-09, although his numbers werent too far off last season, when he played just 61 games. Bolland is still strong at shutting down the oppositions best scorers. He had his share of linemates this season - and played the second-line center position for a brief moment - and defensively, he was fine. Points-wise, he was streaky. Bolland was once again gathering up points at the time of year he usually does: the end of it. But there were some big gaps in there during the season, and the Blackhawks needed he and others to bolster their secondary scoring more.

2012-13 Expectations

Boden: With two years and less than 7 million left on his contract, some may wonder if Bolland could be one of Stan Bowman's moveable parts this off-season if he's looking to shake things up. Adding to the intrigue is the presence of Marcus Kruger -- if Patrick Kane's the second-line center and Jamal Mayers is back in the middle on the fourth line -- there's too many men in the middle. But when all is said and done, they'd have to replace a guy who provides 15-20 goals (sure, you probably wouldn't mind him getting it up to 25), and has been a plus-35 over the past four regular seasons and plus-11 the past four postseasons playing against the opponents top line. Phoenix's leading goal-scorer this season, Radim Vrbata, was held to one assist in the playoff series. If the Hawks do to trade him away, they would need someone who could step in and provide something similar.

Myers: Bolland needs to have another season like the last one in terms of his health. And while it may be a thought to shop Bolland elsewhere, it should remain just that. Yes, they have an extra center or two right now, but Bowman has constantly talked about how you can never have too many of them. So don't get rid of him. Of all of the Blackhawks' role-player types, he has still been the most consistent of that group. The Blackhawks need his checking ability and his presence in that locker room.

How do you feel about this evaluation? As always, be sure to chime in with your thoughts by commenting below and check out highlights of Bolland above.

Up next: Jimmy Hayes

Would trading Kyle Schwarber begin to solve pitching issues that run much deeper than Chris Bosio?

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USA TODAY

Would trading Kyle Schwarber begin to solve pitching issues that run much deeper than Chris Bosio?

The Cubs now apparently believe they are a stronger organization without Chris Bosio, firing a pitching coach known for his strong convictions, brutal honesty and bottom-line results in a move that doesn’t seem like an actual solution.

Hiring Jim Hickey – who has a good reputation from his years with the Tampa Bay Rays, a close friendship with Joe Maddon and what looks like a slam-dunk interview lined up for Monday – might make the manager feel more comfortable and less isolated.

But the new-voice/different-direction spin doesn’t fundamentally address the pitching issues facing a team that needs to replace 40 percent of the rotation and find an established closer and has zero expectations those answers will come from within the farm system.

This is an operation that won a seven-game World Series last year without a homegrown player throwing a single pitch.     

If the Cubs can say thanks for the memories and dump “Boz,” what about “Schwarbs?”

Advancing to the National League Championship Series in three straight seasons doesn’t happen without Bosio or Kyle Schwarber. But the fastest way for the Cubs to dramatically improve their pitching staff isn’t finding someone else who thinks it’s important to throw strikes. It could mean breaking up The Core and severing another emotional attachment.   

Theo Epstein saw Schwarber play for Indiana University and used the Fenway Park frame of reference, envisioning him as a combination of David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia with his left-handed power and energizer personality.

Epstein wasn’t the only Cubs official to develop a man-crush on Schwarber, but he’s the only one with ultimate control over baseball operations. Epstein’s style isn’t pounding the table as much as the ability to frame questions in the draft room, gather as many opinions as possible before the trade deadline and at the winter meetings, trying to form a consensus.

“I will say that it’s really an organization-wide evaluation of this player, but I’m not skirting responsibility,” Epstein said. “I’ll happily endorse him as the type of player that we want to win with here at the Cubs, and have won with. I don’t know, the fact that he hit 30 bombs in a bad year is a good start.

“But power is not everything. I think he fell into this year becoming more of a slugger and less of a hitter than he really is. It’s important for him to get his identity back as a dangerous hitter. Honestly, I think we feel he has the potential to be an all-around hitter on the level of an Anthony Rizzo. When he reaches his prime, that’s what he could be.”

Where will that be? As a designated hitter in the American League? That’s obvious speculation, but Schwarber has improved as an outfield defender – his strong throw at Dodger Stadium led to another NLCS Maddon Moment where the manager compared the Buster Posey Rule to the Chicago soda tax.      

A 43-45 record at the All-Star break also exposed some of the weaknesses in the clubhouse and downsides to Maddon’s methods. The Cubs flipped a switch in the second half, got hot in September and had the guts to beat the Washington Nationals in the playoffs. But that doesn’t completely wipe away the concerns about a group that at times seemed too casual and unfocused and didn’t play with enough edge. For better or worse, Schwarber approaches the game like a blitzing linebacker.

“He’s got a certain toughness and certain leadership qualities that are hard to find,” Epstein said, “and that we don’t necessarily have in surplus, in abundance, running around in this clubhouse, in this organization.

“A certain energy and grit and ability to bring people together – that’s important and we rely on it. But the biggest thing is his bat. We think he’s the type of offensive player that you build around, along with a couple other guys like him.”

Maddon would never admit it, but was the Schwarber leadoff experiment a mistake?

“I’ll judge that one based on the results and say yeah,” Epstein said. “I think we can talk about the process that went into it. Or in an alternate universe: Does it pan out? But those are just words. It didn’t work.

“Everything that went into Kyle’s really surprising and difficult first half of the season, we should look to correct, because that shouldn’t happen. He’s a way better hitter than that. What he did after coming back from Iowa proves it.”

In the same way that Maddon should own what happens with the next pitching coach, Epstein will ultimately have to decide Schwarber’s future.

Schwarber didn’t complain or pout when he got sent down to Triple-A Iowa this summer, finishing with 30 homers, a .782 OPS, a .211 batting average and a 30.9 strikeout percentage.    

Trading Schwarber would mean selling lower and take another team having the same gut instincts the Cubs did in the 2014 draft – and offering the talented, controllable starting pitcher that sometimes seems like a unicorn.

Is Schwarber still the legend from last year’s World Series? An all-or-nothing platoon guy? An intriguing trade chip? A franchise player? Eventually, the Cubs are going to find out.

“We have to look to do everything we can,” Epstein said, “and more importantly he has to look to do everything he can to get him to a point where he’s consistently the quality hitter and tough out and dangerous bat in the middle of the lineup that we know he can be.

“He wasn’t for the first half of this year – and he knows it and he feels awful about it. He worked his tail off to get back to having a pretty darn good second half and getting some big hits for us down the stretch.”

And then the offseason was only hours old by the time the Cubs showed they will be keeping an open mind about everything this winter, not afraid to make big changes.

Jake Arrieta shaved his beard again and he keeps looking younger

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USA TODAY

Jake Arrieta shaved his beard again and he keeps looking younger

It's become a tradition that Jake Arrieta shaves his beard after the season ends.

The 31-year-old did it again days after the Cubs were eliminated from the 2017 postseason, and it's still a sight we'll never be used to seeing.

Check it out:

Weird, right?

Here's how he looked following the Cubs' World Series win in 2016:

And again in 2015:

It's crazy how much younger he looks.