Blackhawks

Fantasy baseball batters stock watch

Fantasy baseball batters stock watch

BuyGordon Beckham, 2B, White Sox: It's not easy to find pop in the middle of the diamond, so when a player like Beckham clobbers eight homers in 35 games, we have to take notice. He's had surprising trouble against left-handed pitching all year and he's a little lost on the bases, but there's been a line-drive spike during the recent power tear, so the flurry of homers passes the smell test. And don't forget how much everyone loved Beckham a few years back, when he was the No. 8 pick out of the 2008 draft. He's still just 25, and the development curve is different for everyone.

Gregor Blanco, OF, Giants: It looks like Bruce Bochy has finally settled on a leadoff man, as Blanco has a .387 OPB and 21 walks in that assignment, covering 33 games. Blanco hasn't run like a wild man but there's nothing wrong with six steals, and he's also scored 30 times over that sample. The bottom of the San Francisco order is anemic, everyone can see that, but the front half of the lineup is fine, especially if Pablo Sandoval returns next week.

Michael Saunders, OF, Mariners: Like so many Seattle hitters, Saunders is a force on the road (.919 OPS) and not so much fun at home (.185 average). But considering the odd road-home split to his early playing time (almost 75 percent of his at-bats have come on the road), perhaps the Safeco struggles are more small sample variance than anything. Saunders hangs in against lefties nicely (.528 slugging), and he's offering a mix of power (six homers) and speed (nine steals).
Wilin Rosario, C, Rockies: He's been a monster against lefties and a ghost against righties, something that has to change if he's ever going to be a full-timer. But right now Rosario has the gig to himself in Colorado - Ramon Hernandez is hurt - and there's a Coors-heavy schedule on the way. Rosario also has nine homers in just 112 at-bats - that sort of pop plays in any format. Have some fun in the thin air.

Hold

Melky Cabrera, OF, Giants: The regression fanatics love to mock Cabrera's .364 average, quickly pointing to his 40 percent hit rate. That's no great eureka moment - outlier stats come with outlier luck percentages. But when you note Cabrera's push forward in his contact and line-drive rates, you accept that he has the profile of someone who can legitimately contend for a batting title. Some giveback will likely happen, but this is someone who will easily hit .300-plus. The Giants committed highway robbery when they landed Cabrera for Jonathan Sanchez last winter.
Sell
Mike Aviles, SS, Red Sox: He's been batting near the bottom of the order of late, as Bobby Valentine finally got the memo about on-base percentage. And Aviles has been particularly ineffective against right-handed pitching (.242.253.364), which makes you wonder if he should be playing at all. It's not like his glove is fueling his value. With Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford expected back later in the summer (the recent rehab notes on Ellsbury have been encouraging), Aviles is doubtful to see the leadoff spot again.
Quentin Berry, OF, Tigers: He's been surprisingly handy in his two weeks with the Tigers, hitting .306 with 14 runs scored and seven steals. But Austin Jackson (abdomen) is expected back Saturday, and the Tigers probably won't want to slot Berry, a low-power option, on one of the outfield corners. And it's just a matter of time before the AL pitchers start exploiting some of the holes in Berry's offensive game - he's struck out 20 times through 62 at-bats, against just four walks. It's been a fun story, but it's just about over.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

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Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

There hasn't been a more dynamic duo in the NHL so far this season than Kucherov and Stamkos, who have combined for 68 points (27 goals, 41 assists) through 20 games, and sit first and second in the scoring race.

They've each recorded a point in every game except three — which coincidentally have been the same games — and they've lost all three of those contests. Kucherov has also scored a goal in 15 of 20 games this season. That's absurd when you consider he's scoring on a consistent basis; it's not like they're coming in spurts.

To put all that into perspective, he reached the 17-goal mark in his 36th game last year and still finished second in the league with 40 goals. He hit the 17-goal mark in 16 fewer games this season. How many can he realistically finish with? 60?

2. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

Tampa Bay knows how dangerous Chicago's dynamic duo can be as well, as evidenced in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final. The Blackhawks' superstars know how to get up for a big game.

In 13 career regular-season games against the Lightning, Kane has 18 points (six goals, 12 assists). Toews has 14 points (eight goals, six assists) in 14 games.

They're both producing at or above a point-per-game pace, and they're going to need more of that against this powerhouse Lightning team.

3. Something's gotta give.

Tampa Bay's offensive prowess is off the charts up and down the lineup. It has four lines that can come at you at waves, and a strong, active blue line led by potential Norris Trophy finalist Viktor Hedman and Calder Trophy candidate Mikhail Sergachev.

Although Chicago allows the fourth-most shots per game (34.0), it actually hasn't been bad at preventing goals — a large reason for that is Corey Crawford. 

The Lightning rank first in goals per game (3.95) and first in power play percentage (28.0) while the Blackhawks rank sixth in goals against per game (2.65) and four in penalty kill percentage (84.9).

Who's going to crack first?

For one writer, Hall of Fame semifinalist selection of Brian Urlacher closes a career circle

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USA TODAY

For one writer, Hall of Fame semifinalist selection of Brian Urlacher closes a career circle

The news on Tuesday wasn’t really any sort of surprise: Brian Urlacher being selected as a semifinalist for the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Some of the immediate thoughts were, however, for one writer who covered Brian from the day he was drafted on through the unpleasant end of his 13-year career as a Bear.

Good thoughts, though. Definitely good.

The first was a flashback, to a Tuesday in late August 2000 when the ninth-overall pick of the draft, who’d been anointed the starting strong-side linebacker by coach Dick Jauron on draft day, was benched.

It happened up at Halas Hall when Urlacher all of a sudden wasn’t running with the 1’s. Rosie Colvin was in Urlacher’s spot with the starters and would be for a few games into the 2000 season. I caught up with Brian before he walked, in a daze, into Halas Hall after practice and asked about what I’d just seen.

"I'm unhappy with the way I'm playing and I'm sure they are, too," Urlacher said. "I don't think I've been playing very well so that's probably the cause for it right there. I just don't have any technique. I need to work on my technique, hands and feet mostly. I've got to get those down, figure out what I'm doing. I know the defense pretty good now, just don't know how to use my hands and feet."

Urlacher, an All-American safety at New Mexico but MVP of the Senior Bowl in his first game at middle linebacker, had been starting at strong side, over the tight end, because coaches considered it a simpler position for Urlacher to master. But he was not always correctly aligned before the snap, did not use his hands against blockers effectively and occasionally led with his head on tackles. His benching cost him the chance to be the first Bears rookie linebacker since Dick Butkus to start an Opening Day.

It also was the first time in his football life that Urlacher could remember being demoted.

"It's not a good feeling," he said. "I definitely don't like getting demoted but I know why I am. I just have to get better."

Coaches understood what they were really attempting, subsequently acknowledged privately that the SLB experiment was a mistake. While the strong-side slot may have been simpler than the other two principally because of coverage duties, "we're trying to force-feed the kid an elephant," then-defensive coordinator Greg Blache said.

"So you see him gag and what do you do? You give him the Heimlich maneuver, you take some of it out of his mouth, try to chop it up into smaller pieces. He's going to devour it and be a great football player. But he wouldn't be if we choked him to death."

Urlacher didn’t choke and eventually became the starter, not outside, but at middle linebacker when Barry Minter was injured week two at Tampa Bay.

We sometimes don’t fully know the import or significance at the time we’re witnessing something. Urlacher stepping in at middle linebacker was not one of those times – you knew, watching him pick up four tackles in basically just the fourth quarter of a 41-0 blowout by the Bucs.

That was the beginning. Over the years came moments like Urlacher scooping up a Michael Vick fumble in the 2001 Atlanta game and going 90 yards with Vick giving chase but not catching him. Lots of those kinds of moments.

And then cutting to the ending, in 2013, when he and the organization came to an acrimonious parting after GM Phil Emery managed to alienate the face of the franchise both with the one-year contract offer and the way it was handled. Butkus had a nasty separation at the end of his Bears years, too, and Bill George finished his career as a Los Angeles Ram after creating the middle linebacker position as a Bear. Maybe that’s just how Bears and some of their linebackers wind up their relationships.

In any case, while there is no cheering in the pressbox, the hope here is that Brian goes into the Hall in a class with Ray Lewis in their first years of eligibility. Somehow that just seems like it all should close out for that confused kid from New Mexico who lost his first job out of college, but responded to that by becoming one of the all-time greats in his sport.