Bulls

Cubs: Starlin Castro, and the future of the franchise

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Cubs: Starlin Castro, and the future of the franchise

PITTSBURGH There will come a time where the narrative will shift from what Starlin Castro could become to what he hasnt done yet.

Fair or not, thats just the game of expectations. At the age of 22, Castro has already put up two .300 seasons, played in the All-Star Game and led the National League in hits.

The Cubs marketing department had already put Castro up on billboards by the time Theo Epsteins front office inherited what may be a franchise shortstop to build their team around.

But people will want more, and expect to see a power surge and better defensive focus, even though Castro is already pretty, pretty good.

Ready or not, Cubs manager Dale Sveum said back in spring training that it was time to commit to Castro as the No. 3 hitter, for the future of the franchise.

By Friday, the Cubs were on a nine-game losing streak and had scored in four of their last 47 innings. Sveum responded by moving Castro to the No. 2 spot and signaling that Joe Mather will get an extended look hitting third and playing center field.

Its time, Sveum said. (Its) the combination of not really scoring throughout the whole season and Mathers been as good as anybody swinging the bat. Its going to give him a little opportunity to see what he can do.

I told Castro: Its not a demotion. Its just more shaking the team up. He was great about it (and said): Hey, I just want to win. I dont care where I hit in the lineup.

Thats an essential part of Castros personality: Nothing seems to faze him.

Just how high is Castros ceiling? That will be a central question as Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer try to lay the foundation for sustained success.

Castro entered Friday hitting .313 with two homers and 25 RBI, which was tied for third in the majors among middle infielders. Clearly, he can provide offense at a premium position.

But if the Cubs are going to mirror those Boston Red Sox teams that would grind out at-bats and play four-hour games, then Castro will have to improve his .323 on-base percentage. He has walked once in the past six weeks.

Does Castro profile as a No. 3 hitter for the future?

He hasnt done anything (wrong), Sveum said. Hes hitting .350 with men in scoring position. Hes hitting over .300. Thats pretty good out of the third spot. You might want more home runs.

But you take some of those balls he hit with the wind howling in, you could still have five or six home runs. Theres nothing hes done to be put down to the two spot. Its just more something to change to get everything going.

Sveum kept talking, using a Lou Piniella line from a few years ago: You never know, sometimes you pick a lineup out of a hat and you win. I wasnt going to go that far but

Castro has already played for three different managers. Hes done it in a big market playing for a marquee team (in fifth place). It would be interesting to see how he responds to the pressure of a pennant race, how he performs with a better supporting cast.

But before we get to that point, Year 3 in the big leagues could say a lot about the rest of Castros career.

Three Things to Watch: Bulls dance with Warriors

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Three Things to Watch: Bulls dance with Warriors

Is there any better way to break in your new Black Friday television than Bulls-Warriors tonight? We think not. Coverage starts at 9 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live, and the game is also available to stream via the NBC Sports app

Here are three things to keep your eye on: 

1. Not the score. Let's be honest: the Bulls probably won't sneak out a win at the Oracle. In fact, ESPN's matchup predictor only gives Fred Hoiberg's young squad a 2.9 percent chance to come up victorious. UIC has three times better odds against juggernaut Kentucky at Rupp Arena on Sunday, in case you needed some context.  

With the talent gap in mind, though, it will be important for the Bulls to come out with high energy. The Warriors will likely take the contest lightly in the first half, so starting off strong reflects well on the coaching staff and starters. Stay within 10 points by the half, and that's considered a massive triumph. 

2. Lauri Markkanen vs. Draymond Green? Assuming the Dubs start out with Green on Markkanen, this will be rookie's biggest test of the season. Green is an elite defender, capable of wrecking gameplans from the tip. He's physical, quick and athletic. 

Markkanen is coming off two duds on the West Coast trip, but his aggressiveness hasn't wavered. It'll be important for him to continue to attack even with the reigning Defensive Player of the Year hounding him. 

3. Steph, KD and Klay doin' work. The Bulls offense hasn't exactly been a thing of beauty through the first 16 games. Their offensive rating is a brutal 94.4, ranked last in the NBA. Golden State, on the other hand, sits at the top with a rating of 113.1. 

Take some time to admire the skills of Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson because when it comes to working cohesively on offense, they've set the gold standard. 

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.