Cubs

Can Corey Crawford rebound?

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Can Corey Crawford rebound?

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville recognized Corey Crawfords up-and-down season on Wednesday. He also recognized the goaltender, who was stellar at the end of 2010-11, could return to that.

Hes going to get more comfortable going into next year, Quenneville said. I expect him to get better as we go along here. Having confidence and showing it in him would be the right thing to do. Hes a quality kid and goaltender.

Crawford wasnt where he needed to be at some times during the postseason, and two of the overtime goals he allowed to Phoenix has some wondering if hes the goaltender to lead this Blackhawks team into 2012-13. In a season where guys like Brian Elliott and Mike Smith have excelled, Crawford took a step back.

But consider this, folks: it wasnt that long ago that Elliott and Smith were struggling themselves. Crawford had a so-so season, but he could very easily rebound with a great one again.

Earlier on Twitter today, I asked tweeps a question: If someone told you when the season started, that Smith would have this kind of year, would you have believed them? There were a lot of nos, because for the last two seasons Smith was struggling in Tampa Bay. He spent part of last season in Norfolk, the Lightnings minor-league affiliate, and when he was with the big club his goals-against average hovered around 3.00. This year with the Coyotes he had a 2.21 GAA and was a big part of them making the playoffs.

And Smith doesnt get a break in the shots-faced category. With the exception of their regular-season finale against Minnesota when he faced 24, Smith faced 32 or more shots in every game since March 18.

Elliott has also rebounded. He had a 3.19 GAA with Ottawa last season before he was traded to Colorado, where it ballooned to 3.83. With St. Louis, its 1.56.

Yes, both of those goalies are doing those with different teams than where they had their rough GAAs. Then lets look at Carey Price, whos been with the Montreal Canadiens for several seasons now: his GAA has gone from 2.83 two seasons ago to 2.77 last season to 2.35 this one.

The point? Some of this years best have had their lulls.

Crawford said on Wednesday that hell look at what he did right, try to build off it, and learn how to handle the tough times better.

One (thing) is to be able to just get over that hump and keep playing, to not let things get to you and thats probably very important for a No. 1 goaltender, Crawford said. This was a year when maybe a little bit more frustration set in than should have. I just have to make sure those down times arent as long or as bad for next season.

Even with the roller-coaster season he had and it was that, for sure Crawford still collected 30 victories for the second consecutive season. But in the sports world youre always remembered for what you did lately, so Crawfords potential moving forward is up for debate.

Crawford can rebound, just like other goaltenders already have. Its ultimately up to him to do it.

Breaking down where Cubs can turn NLCS around and beat L.A.

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USA TODAY

Breaking down where Cubs can turn NLCS around and beat L.A.

“Sometimes, you got to lay your marbles out there,” Jon Lester said Sunday night inside Dodger Stadium’s visiting clubhouse, before the Cubs flew home from Los Angeles down 0-2 in the National League Championship Series. “And you get beat.”

It will be extremely difficult for the Cubs to win four of the next five games against the Dodgers, starting Tuesday night at Wrigley Field. But the Cubs had the, uh, marbles to win last year’s World Series and have developed the muscle memory from winning six playoff rounds and playing in 33 postseason games since October 2015.

There is a cross section left of the 2015 team that beat the Pittsburgh Pirates and silenced PNC Park’s blackout crowd in a sudden-death wild-card game. While 2016 is seen in hindsight as a year of destiny, those Cubs still had to kill the myths about the even-year San Francisco Giants, survive a 21-inning scoreless streak against the Dodgers and win Games 5, 6, 7 against the Cleveland Indians under enormous stress.

There is at least a baseline of experience to draw from and the sense that the Cubs won’t panic and beat themselves, the way the Washington Nationals broke down in the NL Division Series.

· Remember the Cubs pointed to how their rotation set up as soon as Cleveland took a 3-1 lead in last year’s World Series: Lester, Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks would each give them a chance to win that night. The Dodgers will now have to deal with last year’s major-league ERA leader (Hendricks) in Game 3 and a Cy Young Award winner (Arrieta) on Wednesday night in Game 4.

“Obviously, we know we need to get wins at this point,” Hendricks said. “But approaching it as a must-win is a little extreme. We've just got to go out there and play our brand of baseball.

“Since we accomplished that, we know we just have to take it game by game. Even being down 3-1 (in the World Series), we worry about the next game. In that situation, we didn’t think we had to win three in a row or anything like that. We just came to the ballpark the next day and worried about what we had to do that day.”

· The history lessons only go so far when the Dodgers can line up Yu Darvish as their Game 3 starter instead of, say, Josh Tomlin. There is also a huge difference between facing a worn-down Cleveland staff in late October/early November and a rested Dodger team that clinched a division title on Sept. 22 and swept the Arizona Diamondbacks in the first round. Joe Blanton and Pedro Baez aren’t walking through that bullpen door, either.

“We’ve done it before. We’ve been there before,” shortstop Addison Russell said. “But this year’s a new year. That’s a different ballclub. We’re definitely going to have to bring it.”

· Outside of Kenley Jansen, can you name anyone else in the Los Angeles bullpen off the top of your head? No doubt, the Dodger relievers have been awesome in Games 1 and 2 combined: Eight scoreless innings, zero hits, zero walks and Anthony Rizzo the only one out of 25 batters to reach base when Jansen hit him with a 93.7-mph pitch.

But the Dodgers are going to make mistakes, and the Cubs will have to capitalize. Unless this is the same kind of synthesis from the 2015 NLCS, when the New York Mets used exhaustive scouting reports, power pitching and pinpoint execution to sweep a Cubs team that had already hit the wall.

“Their bullpen is a lot stronger than it was last year,” Kris Bryant said. “They’re really good at throwing high fastballs in the zone. A lot of other teams try to, and they might hit it one out of every four. But this team, it seems like they really can hammer the top of the zone. And they have guys that throw in the upper 90s, so when you mix those two, it’s tough to catch up.”

· Bryant is not having a good October (5-for-28 with 13 strikeouts) and both Lester and Jose Quintana have more hits (one each) than Javier Baez (0-for-19 with eight strikeouts) during the playoffs. But we are still talking about the reigning NL MVP and last year’s NLCS co-MVP.

Ben Zobrist is clearly diminished and no longer the switch-hitting force who became last year’s World Series MVP. Kyle Schwarber doesn’t have the same intimidation factor or playoff aura right now. But one well-timed bunt from Zobrist or a “Schwarbomb” onto the video board could change the entire direction of this series and put the pressure on a Dodger team that knows this year is World Series or bust.

“We need to hit a couple balls hard consecutively,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Once we’re able to do that, we’ll gain our offensive mojo back. That's all that’s going on.

“I inherited something from my dad, and that was patience. So you’ve got to be patient right now. You’ve got to keep putting the boys back out there. You keep believing in them, and eventually it comes back to you.”

· Maddon is a 63-year-old man who opened Monday’s stadium club press conference at Wrigley Field by talking about dry-humping, clearly annoyed by all the second-guessers on Twitter and know-it-all sports writers who couldn’t believe All-Star closer Wade Davis got stranded in the bullpen, watching the ninth inning of Sunday’s 1-1 game turn into a 4-1 walk-off loss.

By the time a potential save situation develops on Tuesday night, roughly 120 hours will have passed since Davis threw his 44th and final pitch at Nationals Park, striking out Bryce Harper to end an instant classic. Just guessing that Maddon will be in the mood to unleash Davis.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should the Bears let Mitch Trubisky throw more?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should the Bears let Mitch Trubisky throw more?

Adam Jahns (Chicago Sun-Times), Ben Finfer (ESPN 1000) and Jordan Cornette (The U/ESPN 1000) join Kap on the panel. Justin Turner hits a walk-off 3-run HR off of John Lackey to give the Dodgers a 2-0 lead in the NLCS. So why was Lackey even in the game? How much blame should Joe Maddon get for the loss?

The Bears run the ball over and over and over again to beat the Ravens in overtime, but should they have let Mitch Trubisky throw the ball more?