Cubs

Samardzija has a big chip on his shoulder

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Samardzija has a big chip on his shoulder

SURPRISE, Ariz. Jeff Samardzija still looks the same, with long hair, a goatee and the 6-foot-5-inch, 225-pound frame the Cubs think can handle 200 innings.

There are subtle differences. Several times manager Dale Sveum has described Samardzija as on a mission, words that usually dont really mean much in spring training, but you do notice that the swagger is back.

Thats 100 percent correct, Samardzija said. I hold a lot of stuff inside. I dont say too much stuff, but I have a big chip on my shoulder, especially the older I get and I slowly see my football skills diminishing. I got to understand that I got to start pitching good. It means something to me.

At the age of 27, Samardzija believes he belongs in the rotation. He helped his cause by breezing through three scoreless innings in Wednesdays 6-4 win over the Kansas City Royals at Surprise Stadium. He faced nine batters, struck out three and then joked about football afterward.

Thats telling because Samardzija one of the most accessible players on the team could sometimes get defensive when reporters brought it up in the past.

That topics been a rollercoaster, Samardzija said. There are times where I dont mind it at all and I have fun with it and there are times where it really cuts me. I felt like I made that decision based on the right reasons. From my heart, thats what I wanted to do play baseball.

So I never felt like I had to or needed to defend myself. I just felt like people should understand that it was for the right reasons, when the truth is you got to prove to them that its the right reasons.

Like Ive always said, Im trying to be the Cubs pitcher and not the former Notre Dame football player.

Sveum who once turned down a football and baseball scholarship to Arizona State coming out of high school sees value in Samardzijas experience. It takes guts.

To perform on a football field, especially at a major-college level, is a tremendous amount of pressure, Sveum said. Millions of people watching on TV, let alone the 100,000 people (in the stands) on Saturday. The training and the work ethic and the shape you have to be in to play at that level is just off-the-charts.

Samardzija may have been rushed to the big leagues in 2008, but the Cubs couldnt resist his potential in the middle of a pennant race. He spent most of the next two seasons at Triple-A Iowa, tinkering with his mechanics and developing his pitches.

It might not have been the best route, but like I said before, it was the necessary route at the time, Samardzija said. Lou (Piniella) and Jim (Hendry) and all those guys that were here you got to win just to keep your job. In 08 and 09, we were trying to win. And if they thought that me being in the bullpen in the big leagues was the best way to win, then thats how its going to go.

People tend to forget that were just pawns here. Were just the guys on the chess board. Everyone else is making the moves.

Samardzija finally began to see results last season, going 8-4 with a 2.97 ERA and 87 strikeouts in 88 innings out of the bullpen. Theo Epsteins front office sees his velocity, build and confidence and thinks this could be a legitimate starter.

The biggest thing this regime has done is come in and instilled confidence in me, which has been huge, Samardzija said, because Ive battled these last few years just trying to prove that Im where Im supposed to be.

Ever since Day 1, these guys (have) told me that theyre putting a lot on me, theyre expecting a lot out of me and that they know I can do it. Sometimes (thats) what you need to push you over the edge.

What Chicago sports fans should be thankful for

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USA TODAY

What Chicago sports fans should be thankful for

Families gather and people talk about things they are thankful for on Thanksgiving, but what are Chicago sports fans happy for now?

Raised expectations on the North Side

Got to be thankful that a “disappointing” season is winning the division and losing in the NLCS. The expectations have skyrocketed, and that’s thanks to a ridiculous nucleus of bats and a steady front office. Not many clubs can say that. Also, though, it’s important to be appreciative of the Wrigley bar stretch. They may charge $8 for a Miller Lite, but it’s always a damn good party.

Javy tags, too. Don't forget Javy tags.

Rebuild sparking hope in White Sox fans

Where to begin? Obviously, be thankful for the plethora of young talent that will soon take over the South Side. Be thankful for Avi Time (while you still can). Be thankful that taking your friends or family to a game won’t cause you to take out a second mortgage. Be thankful for the 2020 World Series and, of course, 2020 MVP Eloy Jimenez. But most importantly, be thankful that Rick Hahn’s phone stays buzzing.

Eddie O back in the booth for the Blackhawks

The Blackhawks are having a rough start to the season, but at least Eddie Olczyk is back in the booth. The longtime Blackhawks broadcaster returned to the booth on Oct. 18 after missing time while undergoing chemotherapy treatments for colon cancer.

With some of the key names from the Blackhawks’ title runs either leaving or being unable to play this season (in the case of Marian Hossa), Blackhawks fans are probably thankful to see a familiar face and hear a familiar voice during games.

Lauri Markkanen leading the Bulls rebuild

OK, there’s not much to be thankful for about the current Bulls team. At 3-13, the Bulls are tied for the fewest wins in the NBA (maybe in the long-term that’s something to be thankful for as well). However, Zach LaVine’s pending debut after his eventual return from injury should help create some excitement.

The thing Bulls fans really should be thankful for this year is the play of rookie Lauri Markkanen. The 20-year-old leads the team in scoring (14.6 points per game) and rebounds (8.3 per game) while shooting at a high percentage (34.2 percent on threes and 50.6 percent on twos). It’s only the beginning of the Bulls’ rebuild, but Markkanen is a good start.

Mitchapalooza

If a few things broke the Bears’ way, Chicagoans could have been grateful that the team was finally out of the cellar. Instead, we’ll settle for the fact that there seems to be some building blocks already in place. Mitchell Trubisky, Tarik Cohen, Leonard Floyd and Akiem Hicks seem to fit that category. Also, some may be thankful that this is likely John Fox’s last season at the helm.

Fire ending a playoff drought

After finishing dead last in MLS in 2015 and 2016, the Fire were one of the most improved teams in the league in 2017. After posting the third best record in the league, the Fire made a first playoff appearance since 2012.

The playoff run didn’t last long with the Fire losing a play-in game at home, but the arrival of Bastian Schweinsteiger and the league’s leading goal-scorer, Nemanja Nikolic, helped fill the stadium with six sellouts and gave Fire fans something to cheer for.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Where do Cubs go from here with Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis?

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Where do Cubs go from here with Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis?

In the latest CubsTalk Podcast, Kelly Crull and David Kaplan look ahead to Thanksgiving and discuss the official coaching hires for the Cubs.

They also talk about where the Cubs go from here with Jake Arrieta and Wade Davis, whether Alex Cobb could factor into the rotation plans and Kap goes off on the 11:30 a.m. Opening Day start time.

Check out the entire podcast here: