Bulls

Cubs dont want to hear about next year

723522.png

Cubs dont want to hear about next year

Alfonso Soriano has heard Cubs fans loud and clear, the cheers and the boos, and always shows up the next day with a smile on his face.

When asked if they will be patient enough for a long-term rebuild, the 136 million man sort of shrugged his shoulders and gave a look that said: Eh.

I dont say long-term, man, because in baseball, you never know, Soriano said. We have very good young talent. If everybody stays healthy, were going to compete every game. The group that we got is hungry to win. Who knows? Well see what happens.

That pretty much sums up the team that will stare down Stephen Strasburg and the Washington Nationals on Thursday at Wrigley Field. They are on one side of the parallel tracks baseball czar Theo Epstein likes to talk about.

So much of this season figures to be about identifying core players for the future, pushing Starlin Castro to the next level, figuring out what to do with Matt Garza and integrating Brett Jackson and Anthony Rizzo.

But after Opening Day, the Cubs think they can give the ball to a credible starting pitcher 161 more times this season. They are banking on bounce-backs from Ian Stewart and David DeJesus and breakthroughs by Bryan LaHair and Jeff Samardzija. They think Dale Sveums no-nonsense DNA will transform the clubhouse.

Were going to have to have a lot of things go our way, Epstein acknowledged. Were going to have to earn a lot of victories in close games in order to put us in a position where we look up in the middle of the year and were in this thing. So nothing will be given to us.

If you listen to the prognosticators, if you look at it on paper, its probably an uphill battle. But that doesnt mean were giving anything away. The goal here is to get in the playoffs and win the World Series and we start out on equal footing. Well make our own way this season.

Over the winter, the Cubs didnt import any new stars. The front office clipped coupons during the industrys wild spending spree on impulse buys. Garza has Carlos Zambranos old locker, while Carlos Marmol moved into the space once occupied by Aramis Ramirez.

The Cubs say they are going to improve incrementally, that it will all add up across the course of a six-month marathon. Kerry Wood couldnt remember doing this much work on the back fields during spring training.

Its something that they wanted to address and something they wanted to clean up, Wood said. It wont be because of lack of effort and lack of work in spring, Ill tell you that. Weve gone out and at least addressed it the way we should have, which is working at it (and) trying to get better.

Sveums Straight Talk Express rolled through Arizona, pounding away at fundamental play, and maybe this time it really will carryover into the season. His body language doesnt say first-year manager.

Its a little more purpose-driven now, utility man Jeff Baker said. Its one of those things where (when Sveum) actually says were going to focus on this stuff during the year, I think were actually going to do it. In times past, (with) some of the things that are emphasized, its like as soon as you leave spring training, theyre kind of gone.

Unfortunately, thats kind of the way it goes, but I dont think its going to happen with him.

He already has that instant credibility from his baseball card, what hes done. Hes coached on some winning teams and hes been around winning players and winning organizations and I think guys are excited here to be a part of the next winning thing.

How soon will that happen? A front office driven by data will cling to the outliers. General manager Jed Hoyer thought back to 2010, his first season as general manager of the San Diego Padres.

We had no expectations, Hoyer recalled. Las Vegas thought we were going to be under 70 wins and I think we had the best record in baseball in mid-August and we ended up winning 90 games. To say I expected that would be a lie. The most important thing you can do is be prepared every game, have a team that plays hard every game. If you have that, anything can happen.

Every single year there are teams that are going to surprise people, teams that are going to prove the experts wrong. If that doesnt happen, if that isnt our script, I certainly hope that throughout the course of the year we continue to add talent to our organization and build for a great day in the future. But I would never give away any one season.

So a Cubs organization that has grown colder and more corporate will wake up on Opening Day, quiet the talk about processes and information-management systems and think: Why not us?

Three Things to Watch: Bulls-76ers

2-22_76ers_matchup_nba_chi_tonight.jpg
NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Bulls-76ers

The Bulls square off against the Sixers tonight on NBC Sports Chicago, with coverage beginning at 6:30 with Bulls Pregame Live. Here are three things to watch as the Bulls begin the stretch run of their regular season.

1. The new rotation: Most of the Bulls’ rotation looks the same, but the addition of David Nwaba, Cristiano Felicio and Cameron Payne will have a different feel. The Bulls clearly want to get a look at these guys before the end of the regular season, meaning they’re not just going to get sporadic minutes. They’ll have to play through their mistakes, play out-matched at times and be put in uncomfortable situations. But the Bulls need to see what they have, especially in Payne, who has missed the entire season to this point with a broken foot.

2. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons: They’re quite the 1-2 punch and have the Sixers looking at their first playoff appearance since Derrick Rose hadn’t yet torn an ACL. Yeah, that’s a long time. Embiid just finished his first All-Star appearance (starting in his second year) and Simmons is the front runner for Rookie of the Year. The Bulls will have their hands full with these two. Luckily…

3. Kris Dunn is back: The Bulls wanted to get Dunn some run before heading to All-Star Weekend to play in the Rising Stars Challenge, and he looked healthy in that thumping against the Raptors last week. The good news is John Paxson says Dunn won’t be on a minutes limit, which means he’s healthy. That, of course, is more important than how he’s playing. It’ll be fun to see him, LaVine and Markkanen play together down the stretch. Their numbers together aren’t great, but the Bulls are 2-2 with all three in the lineup, and tanking or not…it’s more fun to watch when those three are rolling. 

Blackhawks edge out Senators in shootout: 'It was really nice to get a win'

2-21_forsberg_usat.jpg
AP

Blackhawks edge out Senators in shootout: 'It was really nice to get a win'

It was a rare sight to see the Blackhawks in a shootout on Wednesday night.

It was just the second time this season — and first time at the United Center — that the Blackhawks made it past 3-on-3 overtime. 

The last came on Dec. 2, 2017, a 3-2 shootout loss to the Stars in Dallas. On Wednesday night, the Blackhawks were on the other end, beating the Ottawa Senators 3-2 in a seven-round shootout. Nick Schmaltz netted the game-winner.

"We'll take it," coach Joel Quenneville said. "I thought we had a decent game tonight. Overtime not so good, I liked the shootout victory, Fors made some big saves for us particularly as the game got deeper. Our third was OK, I thought our first two were way better, and overtime we gave up some high quality, some bells were rings for a bit there. But it was nice to see the shootout win."

Patrick Kane had a goal and an assist, recording another multi-point game, his 16th of the season.

"I mean we need every point we can get at this point," Kane said. "There's still belief in this locker room. Obviously we need to go on quite a run and have a big record here down the stretch. But take it a game at a time and nice to get two points."

Anton Forsberg was a big reason the Blackhawks even recorded those two points. The 25-year-old netminder stopped 34 of 36 shots and made a handful of big saves down the stretch.

"It was really nice to get a win for sure," Forsberg said. "I would love to have a lot more wins, but right now just gotta look forward and get as many wins as possible."

Added Quenneville: "I think it was good for him to win a game the way he did. Lot of shots were on the line, as we progressed, got deeper, hitting the point first was big for him and for us and then finding a way to get the extra one was a good win."