Bulls

Could Cubs have several All-Stars?

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Could Cubs have several All-Stars?

The Cubs entered play Thursday with the worst record in all of baseball. Yet somehow, they actually have several players in the All-Star conversation.

The team may not be doing well, but some Cubs are having good individual seasons.

With the All-Star game roughly a month away, Dale Sveum spoke to the media Wednesday about his players' chances.

"We got a few," the Cubs skipper said. "Ryan Dempster, Alfonso Soriano, Starlin Castro and Bryan LaHair. We got a few that are right there on the bubble. As far as consistency, obviously Dempster doesn't have the wins but he's been as good a starting pitcher as there is in baseball. He's got the real numbers there except the wins.

"Obviously, Sori's past three weeks. If he puts up another four homers and 10 RBIs, it's going to be tough to probably keep him out of it, as well as Dempster...It will be interesting to see what happens."

As a disclaimer, the chances of more than one Cub appearing on the 2012 National League All-Star roster are extremely slim. In this day and age, every team is represented, but the best teams have the most representatives and the worst teams have the least.

That stands to reason. Why should the Cubs have three or four guys make the roster when they have the worst record in the league?

Let's take a look at the four candidates Sveum mentioned (all stats are through June 13):

Alfonso Soriano

Sori took forever to get warmed up, failing to hit a home run until May 15. But he's been on a tear since then, clubbing 12 in the last month. However, that slow start will likely be his doom, as he ranks 12th among NL outfielders in OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) and is tied with Matt Kemp for eighth in home runs. Kemp has almost 100 less at-bats, though, thanks to two DL stints.

Soriano is also 23rd in the NL in on-base percentage. The All-Star team will feature anywhere from six-to-10 outfielders and there are simply better candidates. Carlos Gonzalez of the Rockies, the Cardinals' Carlos Beltran and the Brewers' Ryan Braun are locks. Giancarlo Stanton of the Marlins, Andrew McCutchen of the Pirates and Melky Cabrera of the Giants are also likely shoe-ins.

Then there's Andre Ethier, who currently leads the NL in RBI with 55, and his teammate, Kemp, who may still get voted in given his superstar status. That leaves Soriano battling with Dexter Fowler, Michael Cuddyer, Jay Bruce, Martin Prado, Michael Bourn, Hunter Pence and Angel Pagan for what may only be one or two spots.

Chances: Slim

Bryan LaHair

The best thing going for the Cubs' late-bloomer is the fact that first base in the NL is kind of a crapshoot right now. Ryan Howard is still sidelined and Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder have packed up and switched leagues. That leaves only Joey Votto, who is arguably the best hitter in the game right now.

LaHair is second to only Votto among NL first basemen in average, slugging, OBP and OPS. His 12 home runs leads the group.

Votto is a lock, but only Paul Goldschmidt (.857 OPS) and Adam LaRoche (.848) provide any real competition to LaHair. Because of that, LaHair may very well find his way on the roster, even though his numbers have steadily dropped off of late.

Chances: Decent
Ryan Dempster

If I had to pick one guy to represent the Cubs in the All-Star game, I'd go with Dempster. As Sveum said, Dempster has been one of the best starting pitchers in the game this season, even though he's only picked up two wins. But that's just proof that pitchers shouldn't be judged on wins.

Dempster's 2.31 ERA ranks fifth in the NL and his 1.03 WHIP is good for eighth. The NL has a great collection of starting pitchers to choose from for the All-Star game roster, but Dempser has to be near the top of the list.

Of course, he may not be wearing a Cubs uniform by the time the midsummer classic rolls around next month. Dempster will almost assuredly be traded before August, and a deal could take form over the next few weeks.

Chances: Very good
Starlin Castro

Castro is the Cubs' most marketable player and was the team's only All-Star in 2011. He also has the added advantage of playing at a rather offensively-challenged position.

Castro leads the NL in both hits and average and is fifth in OPS and tied for second with 16 steals.

Jose Reyes, Rafael Furcal, Jed Lowrie and Troy Tulowitzki provide the most competition, but Tulo has been hurt and suffered a setback on his rehab assignment this week, so there's no guarantee he'd be able to play in the All-Star game. Furcal has fallen off after a blazing hot start and Lowrie plays for the Astros, who don't figure to boast more than one All-Star, either. That being said, Lowrie may be Houston's best option, as his 12 homers and .868 OPS lead NL shortstops.

Castro still has a good chance of making it, but if the Cubs are only going to get one guy on the roster, how do you deny Ryan Dempster?

Chances: Decent

Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija each have an outside chance of making it. Both have had solid stretches this season and Samardzija may have even been the most likely Cubs candidate before getting rocked for eight runs on nine hits in less than four innings his last time out. Prior to that, the 27-year-old carried a 5-3 record on a bad team to go with his 3.13 ERA.

There are still several weeks left until the complete rosters are chosen, and a lot can happen in those games. Players can get hot or go through a terrible cold spell or injuries could befall some surefire options.

But it's still amazing that a last-place team has so many hopefuls.

Lauri Markkanen nearly 'Finnishes' in Skills Challenge against former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie

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USA TODAY

Lauri Markkanen nearly 'Finnishes' in Skills Challenge against former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie

Los Angeles—Lauri Markkanen called himself “The Finnisher” when asked what the movie of his life would be called.

Apparently, that moniker didn’t apply to the All-Star Skills challenge as he took down the best big men but couldn’t close against a former Bull, Spencer Dinwiddie, in the final.

The contest highlights players’ ability to dribble around cones shaped like NBA logos, throwing a chest pass into a net while having to complete a layup and then 3-pointer before their opponent does.

Markkanen took down Detroit’s Andre Drummond and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid before facing off with Dinwiddie. He held a pose after hitting a triple to beat the uber confident Embiid, in what will likely be used as a memorable gif following the weekend.

His confidence doesn’t come across as blatantly as Embiid’s, but that snapshot shows he’s no humble star in the making. He didn’t even practice for the contest, by his own admission.

“I heard some of the guys did,” Markkanen said. “I didn’t do much, just before the competition, I did a little warm-up.”

Missing on the first pass attempt into the circular net in the final, it gave Dinwiddie the advantage he wouldn’t relinquish, hitting on his second 3-point attempt before Markkanen could make it downcourt to contest.

“It’s a lot harder than I’ve seen,” Markkanen said. “I thought it was gonna be super easy but it was kind of tough. Maybe I need to hold my follow through (on the pass).”

“I saw he missed (the first shot) and I started going. I thought he would’ve missed it too. I think I would’ve gotten it on the third shot.”

Being one of the multi-dimensional big men in today’s game who can be adept on the perimeter as well as the interior, it almost seems like the contest was made for Markkanen. Although he doesn’t do much handling in Fred Hoiberg’s offense, it’s clearly a skill he will develop as time goes on.

The last two winners of the skills challenge were Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis, and Markkanen was well aware of the recent trend.

“The last two years the bigs have won,” Markkanen said. “I’m kind of pissed that I couldn’t keep the streak going after (those two). I think there’s a lot of guys who can do that now, it’s why they changed the format to bigs versus smalls.”

For Dinwiddie, who was discarded by the Bulls last season after a promising start in the preseason so they could pick up R.J. Hunter, he’s taken advantage of an opportunity with Brooklyn.

“I think for Chicago it was just another series of unfortunate events,” he said. “They were in win-now mode. I was an unproven guard on a non-guaranteed contract and they felt Michael Carter-Williams gave them a better shot to win.”

After last season's personal tragedy, Tim Anderson ready to unleash real self

After last season's personal tragedy, Tim Anderson ready to unleash real self

GLENDALE, AZ --  There’s a different Tim Anderson at White Sox spring training this year.

You can see it on his face  You can hear it in his voice.

“I’m busting out of the shell. I’m talking more,” he said as he sat down for an interview with NBC Sports Chicago (in the video above).

It’s not the new Tim Anderson. It turns out, it’s the real one that’s been there all along.

“This is me. It’s always been me. I never knew how to express myself. I feel like I’m being a lot more open,” Anderson explained. “That’s what I want to give to fans. Let them know the real me. You’re cheering for me. Why not know me? I’m being open and kind of let fans into my life.”

The White Sox shortstop has learned a lot about life in the past year. It all started in May when the White Sox were in Baltimore to play the Orioles. Anderson received a phone call at 4 a.m. It was news from back home.

It was the worst phone call of his life.

His best friend Branden Moss had been murdered in the parking lot of a Tuscaloosa, Ala., bar after helping the victim of a fight.  

The two were like brothers. Anderson is the godfather to Moss’s young daughter. Moss was the godfather to Anderson’s 2-year-old daughter.

“It was heartbreaking,” Anderson said.

While Anderson grieved, playing baseball seemed like it would be a perfect escape for his pain. Only it wasn’t. Far from it.  Baseball might have made things even worse.

In fast-paced sports like football and hockey, players don’t have much time to think. It’s react, react, react. Whatever might be happening off the field feels like a million miles away.

Not in baseball.

The game moves at a much slower speed. There’s plenty of time for your mind to wander. Thoughts kept going back to Anderson’s lost friend, taken from him in an instant.

At 23, he didn’t have the tools to deal with the emotional pain and excel at baseball at the same time.

“The year was rough. I wasn’t having fun in between the lines. I was making the game harder than it was. I was thinking too much. I was feeling sorry for myself and the list can go on. When my friend died it definitely took a lot out of me. I had a dark moment,” Anderson said. “Some days I didn’t feel comfortable coming to the ballpark because I knew it was going to be a bad day.”

Making matters worse, there were many nights when Anderson didn’t sleep. Not a wink. Still, he dragged himself to the ballpark and somehow tried to play.

The results weren’t pretty. On June 22, Anderson already had 16 errors at shortstop, most in the majors. At the plate, he was hitting .256/.284/.374 with six home runs and 19 RBIs.

He knew he was better than that. He also knew something else: He needed help.

In July, Anderson started meeting with a therapist who was able to unlock the pent up thoughts and emotions that he was burying inside him.

The therapist would write down everything that Anderson was feeling on paper and then read it back to him.

“Just going in and talking and pouring everything out of you. It lets you hear what you’ve been going through,“ Anderson said. “When she did it, it was a lot. I took what she read to me, balled it up and threw it away. I got lighter. It was a brightening. Those counseling sessions definitely helped me.”

Soon, Anderson was back to being himself both on and off the field.

In the month of August, he had 8 doubles, 5 home runs and 16 RBI.

“Woof. I was hot,” he said after hearing those stats. “That’s Tim. That’s more Tim that we need to see.”

In September, he batted .327 with 3 home runs and 9 stolen bases.

“We need a lot of that this year. That’s the way I want to go. That’s the way I want to go about it. Get back to what got me here.”

There was still an issue with his plate discipline. He had 32 strikeouts and only 1 walk in September.

“We play a tough sport as it is. They’re going to come,” Anderson said about the walks. “I mean, when I walk more, what are you going to tell me? ‘Start swinging more?’ It’s one of those things. It’s a give and take. We’ll see what happens.”

In 2017, Anderson received a crash course in adversity. What did he learn from all that pain and misery?

“Tough times happen, but they don’t last forever.”

Now that he’s survived the personal storm from last season, he wants “another shot at it. I feel like last year went left. This is new season.”

So, what does he envision for himself in 2018?

“Having fun, smiling a lot, picking up my teammates, hugging on the coaches and players. A lot of love, more so than stats,” Anderson said. “I’m fired up. I’m excited. I feel like I’m ready to lead this pack. We got a great group of guys. We’ve got a chance to do something special.”