White Sox

Five positives to take from the Cubs' brutal 2012 season

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Five positives to take from the Cubs' brutal 2012 season

Optimists claim, The glass is half full. Pessimists claim, The glass is half empty.Cubs fans are left asking where the heck the glass is.With 37 percent of the 2012 baseball season in our past, fans are already wondering when the agony will stop. I cannot promise that it will, but not all is lost in the world of Cub fandom.Here are five things that Cubs faithful can take away from the rubble that has become of the 2012 season.The first glimmer of hope lies with Starlin Castro. Yes, I said it. Starlin Castro.He may seem uninterested or mentally removed at times, but the Cubs shortstop is young and wonderfully talented. He has the perfect combination for Theos master plan and the newly dubbed Cubs Way. Castro has had an up-and-down season at the plate but he has grinded his way to a respectable .308 batting average. What is most encouraging about the young shortstop is his new found confidence in the field. A handful of situational blunders aside, Castro appears to be getting to balls in the hole, taking charge on shallow pop-ups and minimizing errors on easy plays, something that plagued him in the past. More likely than not Castro is one of the few faces from the 2012 team who will remain after the massive roster overhaul is complete. Castro may not appear to be maturing much, but he is compartmentalizing his successes and failures.Players will slump at times and make errors at others, but Castro does not seem to let one affect the other which is a promising sign for such a young ball player. His ability to differentiate the good from the bad shows signs of growth and leadership. Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein could build the youngest, most talented team in the league, but without a leader the roster revamp could be all for naught. Right now Castro is learning to deal with a lot of Cubs adversity, but that may not necessarily be a bad thing. In 2014, when the pieces begin to fall in place, Castro will know what it felt like to be a part of the worst team in baseball. This is something he can use to motivate himself and his future teammates. If, for some reason, you are looking to buy a Cubs jersey, make sure it has a No. 13 on the back.I havea feeling he will be around for a while.The second thing Cubs fans can take away from the 2012 campaign is Jeff Samardzija.In the world of Cubs baseball in 2012, the Shark is one of the few things worth the price of admission.The talented righty has brought some electric stuff to the table this season. Coming off a decent 2011 season Samardzija seems to have refocused. His big fastball, active slider and devastating splitter have proved to be too much for opposing hitters.What is most impressive about the young starter is his approach to the game. Needless to say offensive production has come at a premium for the Cubs this season, but Samardzija has not let this affect his performance. He understands that he can only control certain things, and any effort to be perfect will only add to the pressure he already faces. His ability to pitch his own game is allowing him to develop into an elite pitcher in the National League. From a technical standpoint Samardzija is dominating opposing hitters by getting ahead in the count, throwing first pitch strikes 60 percentof the time, slightly better than the league average. He understands this strength and plays into it quite well by staying aggressive in his approach despite the situation.The fan favorite with the flowing locks of hair has set the bar high and will not only be expected to sustain his success, but also to be the anchor which the pitching staff is built around. Samardzija is learning the game on the fly and the true test will be once he starts facing teams for the second and third time. Professional hitters are developing a book on the youngster as we speak. If Samardzija can continue to overmatch hitters despite his opponents prepared approach, he will have a long and successful career and should figure in Theo Epsteins long term plans.Despite his recent slide from a red hot start, Bryan LaHair is another reason Cubs fans should look at 2012 as a year of developing pieces for the future. He might simply be an example of the law of averages at work. LaHair came out of the gates swinging this year, literally. He showed the rare ability to drive the ball to the opposite field and, as Cubs fans, he spoiled us. We now know what LaHair is capable of and we expect him to go 3-for-4 with a home run on a daily basis. But thats just not how this game works. Baseball is cyclical. Players get hot and they slump, but the true test of ability is how each individual works through the tough times.LaHair shows the ability to grind out long at-bats, a reassuring fact as he works through some difficulties. He ranks 12th amongst the entire MLB in pitches per plate appearance (PPA) with 4.08 per at-bat. Right now pitchers are working around LaHair and he is struggling, but that is when you find out if you are a big time major leaguer or just aseat filler in Jed and Theos long-term plan. LaHair is a year-to-year type project right now who is performing at a level much higher than his contract suggests. The Cubs need him to continue to do so because he is the only legitimate power threat in the middle of the order other than Alfonso Soriano.The fourth, and probably most important, thing Cubs fans can take away from the 2012 season thus far is adversity. The game becomes easy when you are playing well, but the true test of a player, a team and an organization is the reaction to adversity. This is when we find out who the Cubs are because character is revealed through trials and tribulations. Who is going to be there on game 162 giving the same effort that they did on Opening Day? Who is going to fight for a 13-pitch at-bat, regardless of how many games back the Cubs are in the division? Who is going to battle day in and day out?Those are the players, coaches and executives you want to build the future around. Right now the Cubs are vulnerable and we are getting the chance to see who they truly are. Former National Leauge Rookie of the Year and Cubs analyst Todd Hollandsworth has some experience with both Cubs successes and failures, and he told us, "The guys who shows up to the ball park with the intention to win at all costs every single day are the guys who will bring this organization out of a slump. That is where the hope lies. The final positive that can be taken from the first third of the 2012 campaign is more of a mantra: In Theo we trust. If anyone is capable of pulling the Cubs out of their century long funk, it is Theo Epstein and his team of executives. He has already shown the ability to pull the trigger on moves such as drafting Albert Almora and dishing out the big bucks for Cuban defector Jorge Soler. One at a time he is assembling all of the young pieces to what could be a beautiful picture three to five years down the line. Theos past successes have come in drafts, block buster trades, and free agency, meaning there is no better man for the job. We just have to give him time and our trust because honestly as Cub fans, what do wehave to lose?

After last season's personal tragedy, Tim Anderson ready to unleash real self

After last season's personal tragedy, Tim Anderson ready to unleash real self

GLENDALE, AZ --  There’s a different Tim Anderson at White Sox spring training this year.

You can see it on his face  You can hear it in his voice.

“I’m busting out of the shell. I’m talking more,” he said as he sat down for an interview with NBC Sports Chicago (in the video above).

It’s not the new Tim Anderson. It turns out, it’s the real one that’s been there all along.

“This is me. It’s always been me. I never knew how to express myself. I feel like I’m being a lot more open,” Anderson explained. “That’s what I want to give to fans. Let them know the real me. You’re cheering for me. Why not know me? I’m being open and kind of let fans into my life.”

The White Sox shortstop has learned a lot about life in the past year. It all started in May when the White Sox were in Baltimore to play the Orioles. Anderson received a phone call at 4 a.m. It was news from back home.

It was the worst phone call of his life.

His best friend Branden Moss had been murdered in the parking lot of a Tuscaloosa, Ala., bar after helping the victim of a fight.  

The two were like brothers. Anderson is the godfather to Moss’s young daughter. Moss was the godfather to Anderson’s 2-year-old daughter.

“It was heartbreaking,” Anderson said.

While Anderson grieved, playing baseball seemed like it would be a perfect escape for his pain. Only it wasn’t. Far from it.  Baseball might have made things even worse.

In fast-paced sports like football and hockey, players don’t have much time to think. It’s react, react, react. Whatever might be happening off the field feels like a million miles away.

Not in baseball.

The game moves at a much slower speed. There’s plenty of time for your mind to wander. Thoughts kept going back to Anderson’s lost friend, taken from him in an instant.

At 23, he didn’t have the tools to deal with the emotional pain and excel at baseball at the same time.

“The year was rough. I wasn’t having fun in between the lines. I was making the game harder than it was. I was thinking too much. I was feeling sorry for myself and the list can go on. When my friend died it definitely took a lot out of me. I had a dark moment,” Anderson said. “Some days I didn’t feel comfortable coming to the ballpark because I knew it was going to be a bad day.”

Making matters worse, there were many nights when Anderson didn’t sleep. Not a wink. Still, he dragged himself to the ballpark and somehow tried to play.

The results weren’t pretty. On June 22, Anderson already had 16 errors at shortstop, most in the majors. At the plate, he was hitting .256/.284/.374 with six home runs and 19 RBIs.

He knew he was better than that. He also knew something else: He needed help.

In July, Anderson started meeting with a therapist who was able to unlock the pent up thoughts and emotions that he was burying inside him.

The therapist would write down everything that Anderson was feeling on paper and then read it back to him.

“Just going in and talking and pouring everything out of you. It lets you hear what you’ve been going through,“ Anderson said. “When she did it, it was a lot. I took what she read to me, balled it up and threw it away. I got lighter. It was a brightening. Those counseling sessions definitely helped me.”

Soon, Anderson was back to being himself both on and off the field.

In the month of August, he had 8 doubles, 5 home runs and 16 RBI.

“Woof. I was hot,” he said after hearing those stats. “That’s Tim. That’s more Tim that we need to see.”

In September, he batted .327 with 3 home runs and 9 stolen bases.

“We need a lot of that this year. That’s the way I want to go. That’s the way I want to go about it. Get back to what got me here.”

There was still an issue with his plate discipline. He had 32 strikeouts and only 1 walk in September.

“We play a tough sport as it is. They’re going to come,” Anderson said about the walks. “I mean, when I walk more, what are you going to tell me? ‘Start swinging more?’ It’s one of those things. It’s a give and take. We’ll see what happens.”

In 2017, Anderson received a crash course in adversity. What did he learn from all that pain and misery?

“Tough times happen, but they don’t last forever.”

Now that he’s survived the personal storm from last season, he wants “another shot at it. I feel like last year went left. This is new season.”

So, what does he envision for himself in 2018?

“Having fun, smiling a lot, picking up my teammates, hugging on the coaches and players. A lot of love, more so than stats,” Anderson said. “I’m fired up. I’m excited. I feel like I’m ready to lead this pack. We got a great group of guys. We’ve got a chance to do something special.”

Injuries affecting Fire's preseason with season three weeks away

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USA TODAY

Injuries affecting Fire's preseason with season three weeks away

It may be a good thing that the Fire’s originally scheduled season opener March 3 at Colorado got moved back.

The Fire’s preseason has been riddled with injuries to key players and the extra week may end up being needed to get the team ready for the season. Four players (not counting the already known long-term injuries to Michael de Leeuw and Djordje Mihailovic) sat out Saturday’s game against Florida Gulf Coast University due to injury: Daniel Johnson (a right ankle injury suffered in a game against Philadelphia on Feb. 8), Grant Lillard (left knee), Matt Polster (left knee) and Luis Solignac (left hip).

Polster’s injury is especially notable because he has had recurring left knee problems since first suffering a sprain in the 2016 season finale at Toronto. Polster missed the first nine games of 2017 due to the injury and missed three more in August due to a related injury.

The 24-year-old, who is now the longest tenured player on the team and the only player remaining from before general manager Nelson Rodriguez’s tenure began at the end of the 2015 season, arrived with the Fire after playing with the U.S. national team in January. He played all 90 minutes on Jan. 28 against Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Bastian Schweinsteiger still hasn’t played in the preseason and the team hasn’t listed him as injured.

All the absences, combined with rest for some of the team’s regulars, resulted in a starting lineup against Florida Gulf Coast that featured two players who have appeared in an official match with the Fire. Three trialists and four draft picks started.

Four of the Fire’s seven scheduled preseason matches are in the books. The Fire lost 2-1 to Montreal on Feb. 14. One of the bright spots was a rare set piece goal after the Fire trailed the Impact 2-0. Dax McCarty headed in a free kick from Diego Campos. Campos has been dangerous on set pieces, hitting the post with a free kick and assisting a goal from a corner kick in Saturday’s 2-0 win against Florida Gulf Coast.

Next up is a match against USL expansion team Nashville SC on Feb. 21. Next Saturday the Fire play at Orlando to finish up play in Florida.

The Fire close out the preseason March 3 against the team’s USL affiliate, Tulsa, at Toyota Park before the season opener on March 10.