Cubs

Fire shut out by Red Bulls

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Fire shut out by Red Bulls

HARRISON, N.J. -- With record-setting temperatures stifling Red Bull Arena, New York coach Hans Backe asked captain Thierry Henry if he wanted to sit the game out.

Henry declined and scored in the 71st minute to lift the Red Bulls to a 1-0 victory over the Chicago Fire on Wednesday.

"The boss asked me if I wanted to play," Henry said. "I told him that I needed to play. I needed to get back into a rhythm, because I haven't been playing much lately. I'm getting better, but to get better, I need minutes. I hadn't scored in a while, so I needed to do something to win the game."

It was Henry's 10th goal of the season - and first since April 28, when he scored the lone goal in a 1-0 win over New England. Henry missed four games in May due to a hamstring strain, returned for one game, then missed two games in June with a strained calf.

The Red Bulls (10-5-5) moved into second place in the Eastern Conference and remained the lone MLS team to be undefeated at home (6-0-3).

Chicago (9-7-4), which was 6-1-3 against the Red Bulls since 2008, remained in fourth place in the East.

Bill Gaudette, playing in just his second game with the Red Bulls, got the shutout without having to make a save.

The game drew an attendance of 15,815 in record-breaking 106-degree temperatures, the hottest July 18 ever recorded in New Jersey.

"It was amazing," Henry said. "I never played in anything like this. It's the kind of day where you want to stay in the air conditioning and drink lots of water. You just do whatever you can."

Backe thought his team played well despite the heat and humidity.

"They were difficult conditions to play in, but it would have been more difficult if we were to lose," he said. "The players had to know how to handle the heat. They could go forward when we had the opportunity, but you can never tell in conditions like this. We made the most of our chances."

After the majority of the game was played to a crawl, Henry blasted a left-footed shot that went off the far right goalpost and into the net.

Rookie Connor Lade, who entered the match only a few minutes prior, made a fine play at midfield to move the ball up the field. Lade fed newcomer Sebastian Le Toux, who made a perfect 35-yard cross to Henry. The French superstar settled the ball with his chest, then put it to his left foot. The shot was from a tough angle, but Henry managed to get it high off the post and past Sean Johnson.

"We wanted to win this game," Henry said. "I got a great pass from Seb and it was striker's instinct. It was one of those things. Sometimes, they go in. Sometimes, they don't."

Le Toux, playing in just his second game with New York, saw Henry make the move to goal.

"A forward like him knows how to score," said Le Toux, acquired last week in a trade with Vancouver. "He knows what to do in space. He made a great touch with his chest and it was a beautiful goal."

The Red Bulls survived a scare in the 84th minute, when Gonzalo Segares' header appeared to go past Gaudette, but an alert Brandon Barklage headed it out of danger to preserve the lead.

The Red Bulls had the better of the play in the first half and had three excellent scoring chances. In the 21st minute, Mehdi Ballouchy hit a low shot that Fire goalie Sean Johnson stopped by making a diving save. Two minutes later, Ballouchy had another chance, but he fired his shot over the crossbar. In the 32nd minute, Le Toux made a brilliant attempt that sailed over the crossbar. Le Toux also had a shot in the closing minute than a sprawled Johnson managed to punch out of the goal.

In the second half, the Red Bulls continued to control play and had a great scoring chance when Henry made a fine feed across to Markus Holgersson, whose header went over the crossbar.

Chicago could not muster any kind of a consistent offensive attack in the sweltering heat.

"It was extremely hot, but we weren't the only ones playing in it," said Fire forward Dominic Oduro, a former Red Bulls player. "You can't run 100 percent of the time on a day like this. The heat was really a factor. Unfortunately, they were the ones who got the goal and we couldn't do anything."

Chicago midfielder Marco Pappa added: "It's hard to get anything going in this kind of weather. They had one nice shot from Henry and that was it. Our shape and fitness wasn't the best for a day like this."

Predicting NLCS Game 3: Cubs are due for a win...right?

Predicting NLCS Game 3: Cubs are due for a win...right?

The Cubs are "due."

That's a funny thought in general. For anybody or any team to be "due," that's saying that everything will even out eventually.

That's often true in baseball. But that's over the course of a 162-game season, far and away the longest sample size in professional sports. 

In an abbreviated postseason series, there really is no such thing as "due" because the season's over before you get a chance to see things even out.

The baseball gods don't ensure that everybody gets the same amount of luck at the same time. The sample size is absolutely too small for that. Plus, the Cubs have had plenty of luck and caught their fair share of breaks already this postseason.

So while it's easy to point to some of the Cubs numbers and say things like "they're not going to hit .162 as a team forever," that's not necessarily true because there are only two guaranteed games left in the 2017 for Joe Maddon and Co. It is absolutely possible the Cubs' season is over before they get a chance to correct their offensive woes.

Though, it would be pretty stunning to see the Cubs offense finish a 9-game October stint with Jon Lester and Jose Quintana as the team's leading hitters (both are 1-for-4, .250 average). 

Like a deliriously-happy, champagne-soaked Theo Epstein said early Friday morning in our nation's capital, "we always hit eventually."

So if I'm a betting man (which I'm not, unless you count fantasy sports), I'm betting on the Cubs offense finally waking from their fall slumber. 

They're simply too good to continue these numbers. This team has combined for a .513 OPS, which is essentially a team of Andres Blancos, a 33-year-old backup infielder who defined "light-hitting" with a .192 average and .549 OPS in 144 plate appearances this season.

The urgency is now a very real thing with the Cubs, and that's something — maybe the ONLY thing — that has really motivated this 2017 squad. They've really only played well when they've had a sense of urgency and they did not have that the first two games in Los Angeles.

Which is understandable. After such a physically, emotionally and mentally draining Game 5 that didn't end until early Friday morning, the team had to travel all the way across the entire continental U.S. only to wind up getting diverted to New Mexico where they sat on the tarmac for five hours.

Every single starting pitcher on the team was exhausted and working on short rest, and that's not to say anything about Wade Davis, who gave everything he had just to get the Cubs to the NLCS.

The Cubs have now had a full day off to clear their heads, get back to center and find their mojo again.

I'm betting that's exactly what they've done, because this team has proved over and over again how resilient they are. I mean, really, a 2-0 deficit is nothing for a team that stared down a 3-1 deficit in the World Series a year ago.

Prediction

Cubs 5, Dodgers 2

The Cubs started out the two-game set in LA by having a few good at-bats against the game's best pitcher (Clayton Kershaw) before things got awful against the Dodgers bullpen.

But if we're talking about being "due," that Dodgers bullpen is due for a regression on some level. They've been absolutely incredible this postseason, allowing only one baserunner to the Cubs in eight innings thus far.

Breaking things down individually, there are positive signs for several guys:

—Kris Bryant struck out only three times in 8 at-bats in LA, which is actually an improvement considering he struck out 10 times in 20 at-bats in the NLDS.

—Addison Russell lined a homer to left off Rich Hill for the Cubs' only run in Game 2. He had some really good at-bats in Game 5 and the game's biggest hit when he doubled home two runs off Max Scherzer.

—Javy Baez walked in Game 2. I mean, if that's not enough of a reason for positivity, what is??

Either way, the Cubs offense has their hands full against Yu Darvish (10-12, 3.86 ERA) and Alex Wood (16-3, 2.72 ERA) the next two games and if they win one of those two, Kershaw awaits in Game 5 Thursday.

Five teams you can't overlook come IHSA playoff time

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Five teams you can't overlook come IHSA playoff time

With the IHSA Football Playoff Pairing Show just days away, here are five teams that you need to keep in mind when the brackets are announced. They could cause big matchup problems once the postseason begins. You can catch show live this Saturday night starting at 8 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago+ with live streaming at nbcsportschicago.com/IHSAPairingShow and via the NBC Sports app.

Class 8A

Edwardsville: The Tigers (5-3) got off to a rough start and lost their first three games, including an opening week stunner, 53-49, to Naperville North. It was a game that the Tigers led 42-0 in the second quarter. However, coach Matt Martin and company are riding high with a five-game winning streak. They feature an explosive offense led by junior QB Kendall Abdur-Rahman and a deep group of backs. Keep an eye on freshman RB Justin Johnson. 

Naperville North: The afforementioned Huskies (5-3) have lost two of their last three games but don't be fooled. Naperville North can trade offensive punches with everyone in the 8A field behind QB Drake Davis, WR Nick Calcagno and a deep group of receivers. Senior LB Ryan Marrano leads the Huskie defense. The team has marquee wins over Edwardsville, Wheaton North, Lake Park and Naperville Central.

Class 7A

Mount Carmel: The Caravan (5-3) will wind up starting the state playoffs on the road.  And trust me: every opponent will not be excited to see this tradition-heavy program come to town. Mount Carmel will look towards its running game with QB Alek Thomas (a TCU baseball and football commit) along with a big offensive line led by senior Jeremy Cooper (Cincinnati). 

[MORE: Edgy Tim's Week 9 Power Rankings]

Class 6A

Providence Catholic: The Celtics (5-3) are coming off a tough Week 8 loss to Loyola. Don't let the three losses fool you. The combined record of the three teams Providence lost to is 22-3. Keep an eye on senior RB Deshon Gavin (WIU commit), a big and physical offensive line and a strong group on defense. Providence has won five of its last six games.

Class 5A

Rochelle: It is the last season for Hubs' veteran head coach Kevin Crandall. Rochelle (5-3) will look to run the football early and often. They also have a fast, physical defensive unit. Rochelle's three losses this season come to the likes of Sterling (8-0), Morris (7-1) and Johnsburg (8-0) and this team will be a tough out for every opponent in 5A. Rochelle is 157-95 under Crandall, including three 12-win seasons.