Blackhawks

Cubs arent worrying about Marmol yet

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Cubs arent worrying about Marmol yet

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. Carlos Marmol was frustrated enough to flip over a garbage can in the clubhouse.

Its only spring training, but everythings magnified when youre making big money and coming off a down year. Thats the nature of the job. Closers usually get noticed only when they mess up.

Marmol apologized for the outburst on Monday and sat quietly at his locker. In his last two appearances combined, the Cubs closer has allowed seven runs on six hits, walked two batters and hit two more.

Concerned? manager Dale Sveum said Tuesday. No, breaking balls like his arent going to do a lot down here in Arizona. Youre always going to struggle with it and youre going to try and throw it harder and make it spin more. Its actually a counter-effect. But I think all along we just want to get his fastball command (back). Thats his biggest thing.

The Cubs have told Marmol to abandon his cutter and say that has helped his velocity tick back toward 94 mph. Twelve months after being rewarded with a three-year, 20 million contract, he appeared to be in better shape after losing around 10 pounds.

The people that have been around him know that hes been working as hard as he ever has, Sveum said. Its just a confidence thing.

Marmols mechanics are difficult to keep in line because he has such a violent, unique delivery, but the Cubs have stressed a few minor adjustments that he will have to internalize once the game speeds up.

Even if Marmol was pitching lights out, would it really matter? You cant draw conclusions yet, even after a season in which he led the majors with 10 blown saves and briefly lost the closers job.

Dont try to crank the breaking ball, Sveum said. Its not going to work in Arizona. Theres no air here. Nobodys breaking balls really break here. Thats why you see a lot of 15-14 games. Its a lot of fastballs and a lot of breaking balls that dont break that much. You just got to be careful of getting frustrated with that.

So theres no closer controversy yet. But Sveum says there could be as many as four if not five spots available in the bullpen (depending, in part, on whether or not Jeff Samardzija makes the rotation), making it a huge question mark.

One or two bad innings cant break a five-year window. Between 2007 and 2011, no reliever in baseball notched more strikeouts than Marmols 540 Jonathan Papelbon was second at 400 or had a lower batting average against (.164).

Marmol just has to remember what it takes. His manager isnt looking at other options.

Closers are meant to be closers because they can handle those last three outs, Sveum said. Its not that easy to find people. They might have the stuff, but they dont have the makeup to get those last three outs.

It's official: Blackhawks-Bruins to play at Notre Dame Stadium in 2019 Winter Classic

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USA TODAY

It's official: Blackhawks-Bruins to play at Notre Dame Stadium in 2019 Winter Classic

It’s official: The Blackhawks are headed back outdoors.

The NHL announced that the 2019 Winter Classic will be held at Notre Dame Stadium, featuring the Blackhawks and Boston Bruins on Jan. 1.

"The Blackhawks and Bruins, two of our most historic franchises, will be meeting outdoors for the first time at the 2019 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. "Notre Dame Stadium, with its capacity approaching 80,000, will provide an ideal setting for this ground-breaking event and will host the largest live audience ever to witness a game by either of these teams."

"The Chicago Blackhawks are honored to be participating in this marquee event at an iconic venue like Notre Dame Stadium," Blackhawks President & CEO John McDonough said in a statement. "The University of Notre Dame has strong alumni roots in both Chicago and Boston, and, with an established rivalry between the Blackhawks and Bruins, fans will be treated to an exciting game in a unique atmosphere. We appreciate the invitation to the game and look forward to what will be a great day for both franchises and the National Hockey League."

It's the sixth time the Blackhawks will be playing outdoors, and their league-leading fourth Winter Classic. The Blackhawks are 1-4-0 in outdoor games, and are winless in three Winter Classic games.

Chicago's only outdoor win came against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2014 Stadium Series Classic, a 5-1 victory at Soldier Field.

Joao Meira spills the first news of the Fire's offseason

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USA TODAY

Joao Meira spills the first news of the Fire's offseason

The wait to find out which players have their options picked up or declined by the Fire might still be a couple weeks, but the first news of a player move in the Fire's offseason came via Twitter.

Defender Joao Meira announced he won't be returning to the club in 2018.

Meira signed with the Fire just before the start of the 2016 preseason after being out of contract in Europe. The Portuguese center back signed a one-year deal with a club option for the second year.

After he played 28 matches with 26 starts in 2016, the Fire picked up his option. He became even more of a fixture at center back in 2017, beating out Jonathan Campbell for the other starting spot alongside Johan Kappelhof. Meira played in 30 regular season matches and made 27 starts, finishing fourth on the team in minutes played (2,412).

That Meira won't be back isn't a major surprise for a few reasons. First, he was out of contract. He was one of two players, along with Bastian Schweinsteiger, on the Fire's roster that the team had no control over for 2018. On top of that, the 30-year-old had made it clear that he wanted to be closer to his home and family in Portugal.

Meira's departure leaves a gap at the center back position for the Fire. Kappelhof, who enters the third year of a three-year guaranteed deal in 2018, and Campbell, who will likely have his club option picked up, enter as the only healthy center backs in 2018. Christian Dean was added in August via trade, but is coming off a broken foot, an injury that has plagued him before. His status for the start of the 2018 season is unclear.

Grant Lillard, a potential homegrown signing and a senior at Indiana, could compete for time at center back next season. He is one of the top rated players in the country for the Hoosiers, which are the No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. While Lillard could step in from a numbers perspective and would add size to the Fire's back line (Lillard is 6-foot-4), he wouldn't be able to replace Meira's ability on the ball. Meira wasn't as effective of a defender as Kappelhof, but was arguably the best passer among the Fire's center backs and helped alleviate pressure at times.

This also opens up an international spot on the Fire's roster. The Fire went over the alloted total last season, but were able to put John Goossens and Jorge Bava on the disabled list to clear room. Meira's exit gives a bit more flexibility in that department.