Cubs

Bulls wrap up preseason in South Bend on CSN

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Bulls wrap up preseason in South Bend on CSN

The Bulls know that for the first time in two seasons they may not be the favorites in the Central division. But that doesn't mean they're buying into the hype surrounding the othercontender for the division title.
And the chip the Bulls will wear on their collective shoulder this season perhaps begins tonight, when Tom Thibodeau's group takes on the Indiana Pacers in South Bend on Comcast SportsNet at 6 p.m.
NBA.com surveyed all 30 general managers last week, and 24 predicted the Pacers would win their division this season. Only six chose the Bulls. While it's just a preseason game, and many teams are shutting their players down on the last day before the regular season, Tom Thibodeau is insistent on playing his regulars to win each contest. A win over the expected Central division winners could go a long way toward gaining momentum heading into the games that do count.
The question hanging over the Bulls is point guard Kirk Hinrich's health. Hinrich went down with a groin injury in Tuesday's win over Oklahoma City, and is listed as a game-time decision tonight. With little on the line, there's a good chance Hinrich sits this one out to give himself eight days of rest before the Bulls open the season against Sacramento on Halloween.
The Pacers also are dealing with a slight injury concern at the point, as George Hill missed Tuesday's game against the the Cavaliers with a hip pointer. Mike Wells said Indiana head coach Frank Vogel "did not sound optimistic" Hill would play tonight. If he can't, the Pacers will roll out free agent acquisition D.J. Augustin and Sundiata Gaines in his place.
Hill, who could be ready for the regular season, was one of two major decisions the Pacers made this offseason. Hill reached an agreement on a five-year deal with the Pacers over the summer. Indiana then matched a max offer sheet the Portland Trail Blazers signed center Roy Hibbert to. Following a 42-24 record and second round playoff appearance a year ago, the Pacers opened their pockets to keep pace in the improving Eastern conference. Hill and Hibbert, combined with Danny Granger and rising young star Paul George give the Pacers a mostly-home grown core certainly ready to compete for the Central title.
Aside from Hinrich, who did not need an MRI on his "tweaked" groin, the Bulls enter their final 48 minutes of preseason play relatively healthy. With Thibodeau expected to play his regular rotation for most of the game, the Bulls will look to play well from start to finish, something that eluded them Tuesday.
A lackluster second half against Oklahoma City erased a 14-point third quarter lead before the Bulls hung on late. Richard Hamilton, the Bulls leading scorer this preseason, said part of that is the team's newcomers still feeling out each other and their own individual roles. Improvement in that department can be seen, as the Bulls have won three straight after a 1-2 start. But it won't be easy against an Indiana team that should give the Bulls their toughest test of the preseason (Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook sat for OKC).
Tonight's matchup, being played at Notre Dame's Joyce Center, won't officially count for anything, but it could act as a small gauge as to who reigns supreme in the Central Division until the teams meet on Dec. 4.

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.