Preps Talk

This Cubs losing streak goes to 11

773678.png

This Cubs losing streak goes to 11

PITTSBURGH Rafael Dolis lifted his head to the sky and all his body language seemed to say: What else could go wrong?

Fireworks went off at PNC Park, lighting up the Pittsburgh skyline on Saturday night. With the bases loaded, Dolis had hit Matt Hagues left side with a pitch, forcing in the game-winning run.

A sellout crowd of 38,132 watched the Pirates hang around for a 3-2 victory. That ninth inning was another snapshot of frustration for the Cubs, whove now lost 11 games in a row.

This is the 11th losing streak of 11 or more games in franchise history, and this group is feeling that weight.

Paul Maholm who went five innings and walked five batters couldnt stop it against his old team. Giving up two runs is too much with this lineup. This probably isnt what he envisioned when he signed with the Cubs last winter.

Were going through a skid, Maholm said. Theres nobody in here pointing fingers at each other. We got to go win the game. We cant expect it to be given to us. We got to go out there and play hard like we have been and come up with hits, come up with big pitches and get it done. Thats our focus.

These are strange days for the Cubs (15-31). In the ninth, they watched Dolis walk Josh Harrison while he was trying to lay down a sacrifice bunt. And Dolis struck out emerging star Andrew McCutchen before it all unraveled.

The frustration level is building. You saw it when Starlin Castro screamed and threw his bat and helmet to the ground. With runners on the corners, Castro had whiffed on an 85 mph curveball to end the threat.

Moments earlier in the seventh inning, Blake Lalli had been thrown out by several steps at home plate. The night before, Castro had struck out in a similar situation against Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan to end the game.

Think Castro has been pressing, trying to do too much?

You could say that about everybody right now, manager Dale Sveum said.

The Cubs hadnt scored a run in 20 innings until the fourth, when Alfonso Soriano deposited Kevin Correias 90 mph fastball into the center-field seats.

In the fifth, Castro snapped the teams 0-for-26 streak with runners in scoring position, lifting a ball into the right-field corner and racing for a game-tying, two-out triple.

Thats the problem we try too hard because we want the big hit, Soriano said. We forget that we have to be more relaxed and let it happen. This game is not too easy, but sometimes we make it harder.

Sometimes, you have to let it go and play one at-bat, every pitch, not try to do too much. And I think now everybodys trying to do too much because were struggling offensively.

Even if Theo Epstein is essentially writing this off as a year for trial and error, and the manager and his coaching staff were hired to rebuild everything, this is still a results-oriented business.

Its only Memorial Day weekend, not the heat of September, and this is a last-place team, not a playoff contender. But the clubhouse knows that everyone is watching. There are veterans who could be moved by the trade deadline, and younger players who may never get a better opportunity to show they belong in the big leagues.

The Cubs havent experienced a losing streak like this since 1997, when they lost their first 14 games of the season. Theyll have to somehow keep it together.

The atmosphere in the clubhouse is great, Sveum said. Nobodys really hanging their head or pouting or anything like that. I think theyre doing a great job of keeping their head up and going about their business.

The preparation and the work ethic are outstanding. Theres nothing you can gripe about there. Were just not getting it done in the nine innings. We have to go out there and perform.

IHSA Football Playoff Pairings Show Roundup

IHSA Football Playoff Pairings Show Roundup

CLASS 1A

Revealing the Class 1A Bracket

Analyzing the Class 1A Bracket

CLASS 2A

Revealing the Class 2A Bracket

Analyzing the Class 2A Bracket

CLASS 3A

Revealing the Class 3A Bracket

Analyzing the Class 3A Bracket

CLASS 4A

Revealing the Class 4A Bracket

Analyzing the Class 4A Bracket

Predicting Class 1A-4A

CLASS 5A

Revealing the Class 5A Bracket

Analyzing the Class 5A Bracket

CLASS 6A

Revealing the Class 6A Bracket

Analyzing the Class 6A Bracket

CLASS 7A

Revealing the Class 7A Bracket

Analyzing the Class 7A Bracket

CLASS 8A

Revealing the Class 8A Bracket

Analyzing the Class 8A Bracket

Class 7A and Class 8A Predictions

 

In ugly home opener, Lauri Markkanen gives a glimmer of hope

In ugly home opener, Lauri Markkanen gives a glimmer of hope

Keeping the game simple is often a tough task for rookies entering the NBA, but it seems Lauri Markkanen has been a quick learner in that aspect.

Through two games he’s probably the lone bright spot, especially after the Bulls’ cringe-inducing 87-77 loss to the San Antonio Spurs in their home opener at the United Center.

Jumper not falling? Okay, go to the basket.

“It wasn’t falling so I tried to get to the rim a couple times,” Markkanen said. “At the end, I was like let’s do it and I connected on a 3-pointer, I felt more open just because I was at the rim. I think that helped.”

He was asked what the difference was in the second game of his career compared to the first.

“I mean the crowd was chanting for us (tonight),” Markkanen said, referring to Thursday in Toronto.

He wasn’t attempting to display any dry wit but applying common sense seems to work for him, even though he’s been thrust into a situation after an incident that doesn’t make any sense.

With Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic out for the foreseeable future, playing a game-high 37 minutes will be more common than anomaly.

“Whatever your minutes are, you gotta play them to the best of your ability,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s being allowed to play through some mistakes right now. He’s gonna play heavy minutes every night.”

He only shot five of 14 but achieved his first double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds after a 17-point, eight-rebound debut against the Raptors Thursday.

No, someone didn’t open a door for a draft to come into the United Center on that three-pointer that went wide left, but it didn’t stop him from being assertive and continuing to look for his shot.

There was plenty of muck, easy to see on the stat sheet. The 38 percent shooting overall, the lack of penetration, the 29 percent shooting from 3-point range and 20 turnovers.

It’s not hard to imagine what Markkanen will look like with competent and effective NBA players around him, along with a true facilitating point guard that will find him in this offense.

“Markkanen is a wonderful player,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “He’s aggressive, he’s smart and obviously, he can shoot the ball. He’s just going to get better and better as he figures things out.”

He received a crash course, facing the likes of Pau Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge and Rudy Gay Saturday night. On one instance, Gay drove baseline and made Markkanen buckle with a 3-point play.

Aldridge had 24 shots in 32 minutes as a new focal point with Kawhi Leonard out with injury.

So he’s not getting treated with kid gloves, nor is he backing down from the assignments.

“He didn’t shoot the ball well but he battled,” Hoiberg said. “He had a tough assignment with Pau, who’s gonna be in the Hall of Fame one day. Good experience. He guarded Aldridge, Rudy Gay some. He battled, he fought them.”

Even with the airball, had the moment that gives the Bulls fans hope, when he drove on Gasol, spun and hooked a lefty layup while being fouled by the veteran in the first half—giving the United Center faithful something to have faith in for a moment.

“Sometimes you get labeled as a shooter. That’s the label Lauri had,” Hoiberg said. “But he really is a complete basketball player. He’s versatile, he can put in on the deck. He slides his feet very well for a guy that’s seven feet tall, someone his age. Yeah, he’s learning on the fly. He’s gonna have ups and downs, as young as he is. He’s gonna have some struggles at times. But he’s played pretty darn well for everything he’s been through, understanding two days ago he’s gonna be in the starting lineup.”

And for all the bad air around the Bulls right now, from the on-court product to the off-court drama that seems to follow them around like Pigpen, it would be even worse if Markkanen’s first two games had him looking like a corpse, or someone who would be a couple years away from reasonably contributing to an NBA team.

“He’s good, he’s very good,” Gasol said. “I like him. I like his game.”