Cubs

Heat's road woes could play to Bulls' advantage in playoffs

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Heat's road woes could play to Bulls' advantage in playoffs

CHICAGO - Chris Bosh admitted prior to Thursday's Bulls-Heat matchup that if it came down to a Game 7 between the two powerhouses in the Eastern Conference Finals, he would rather have home-court advantage.

That possibility crept further away after the Bulls' 96-86 overtime victory over Miami at the United Center.

The Heat now sit at 40-17, four games behind the 45-14 Bulls in the bid for the No. 1 seed in the East. Miami has nine games remaining, Chicago has seven.

"Mathematically, we have a chance, but it looked better this morning," Bosh said after the game. "We just have to really put that behind our minds and just focus on tomorrow. Game 7 is a long ways away. We just have to stick with what we're doing."

The Bulls earned home-court advantage throughout the playoffs last season, but it didn't wind up mattering against the Heat. After claiming Game 1 in Chicago, the Bulls then lost four straight, including two in the United Center.

However, it may have more of an impact this year. The Heat have won just three of their last 11 road games and it's starting to get to them.

"Today would have been a great turnaround, but we're just going to have to wait longer," Bosh said. "We can't do anything about it. It is what it is. We just have to move forward and figure this thing out together.

"We're going to get this thing done. We're going to figure it out. We can't change anything right now. We're stuck in this position and we've been here for a while. We're just going to have to keep our heads up and get the job done."

Dwyane Wade echoed his teammates' thoughts.

"We'll keep pushing through it," he said. "It's not all good. It's not perfect, but that's sports. That's this game. I've been here nine years, and no team has ever been perfect. We've all gone through lows and we just have to correct it."

Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra isn't too concerned, however.

"It's OK," he said after Thursday's game. "We understand what we're playing for. Things change very quickly in this league. Just like this game, if we could have pulled it out in regulation. It changes in matter of 24 hours."

Miami is 0-2 in Chicago this season and most are expecting these two teams to match up in the Eastern Conference Finals once again.

If that happens, a Game 7 is not a stretch at all.

The Bulls and Heat have been evenly matched all season. Before Thursday's overtime period, each team had scored exactly 283 points in 12 quarters of head-to-head play. However, the reigning MVP, Derrick Rose, has contributed just two points in the last two games combined.

If the Heat can't correct their road woes by that late in the playoffs, the Bulls could have the edge.

"There is no easy win," Spoelstra said. "What we're trying to do will be the hardest thing that we have to do collectively as professionals. There are several legitimate teams that are contending for this one title. There will not be an easy road. And right now, we're dealing with that tough road."

Would trading Kyle Schwarber begin to solve pitching issues that run much deeper than Chris Bosio?

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USA TODAY

Would trading Kyle Schwarber begin to solve pitching issues that run much deeper than Chris Bosio?

The Cubs now apparently believe they are a stronger organization without Chris Bosio, firing a pitching coach known for his strong convictions, brutal honesty and bottom-line results in a move that doesn’t seem like an actual solution.

Hiring Jim Hickey – who has a good reputation from his years with the Tampa Bay Rays, a close friendship with Joe Maddon and what looks like a slam-dunk interview lined up for Monday – might make the manager feel more comfortable and less isolated.

But the new-voice/different-direction spin doesn’t fundamentally address the pitching issues facing a team that needs to replace 40 percent of the rotation and find an established closer and has zero expectations those answers will come from within the farm system.

This is an operation that won a seven-game World Series last year without a homegrown player throwing a single pitch.     

If the Cubs can say thanks for the memories and dump “Boz,” what about “Schwarbs?”

Advancing to the National League Championship Series in three straight seasons doesn’t happen without Bosio or Kyle Schwarber. But the fastest way for the Cubs to dramatically improve their pitching staff isn’t finding someone else who thinks it’s important to throw strikes. It could mean breaking up The Core and severing another emotional attachment.   

Theo Epstein saw Schwarber play for Indiana University and used the Fenway Park frame of reference, envisioning him as a combination of David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia with his left-handed power and energizer personality.

Epstein wasn’t the only Cubs official to develop a man-crush on Schwarber, but he’s the only one with ultimate control over baseball operations. Epstein’s style isn’t pounding the table as much as the ability to frame questions in the draft room, gather as many opinions as possible before the trade deadline and at the winter meetings, trying to form a consensus.

“I will say that it’s really an organization-wide evaluation of this player, but I’m not skirting responsibility,” Epstein said. “I’ll happily endorse him as the type of player that we want to win with here at the Cubs, and have won with. I don’t know, the fact that he hit 30 bombs in a bad year is a good start.

“But power is not everything. I think he fell into this year becoming more of a slugger and less of a hitter than he really is. It’s important for him to get his identity back as a dangerous hitter. Honestly, I think we feel he has the potential to be an all-around hitter on the level of an Anthony Rizzo. When he reaches his prime, that’s what he could be.”

Where will that be? As a designated hitter in the American League? That’s obvious speculation, but Schwarber has improved as an outfield defender – his strong throw at Dodger Stadium led to another NLCS Maddon Moment where the manager compared the Buster Posey Rule to the Chicago soda tax.      

A 43-45 record at the All-Star break also exposed some of the weaknesses in the clubhouse and downsides to Maddon’s methods. The Cubs flipped a switch in the second half, got hot in September and had the guts to beat the Washington Nationals in the playoffs. But that doesn’t completely wipe away the concerns about a group that at times seemed too casual and unfocused and didn’t play with enough edge. For better or worse, Schwarber approaches the game like a blitzing linebacker.

“He’s got a certain toughness and certain leadership qualities that are hard to find,” Epstein said, “and that we don’t necessarily have in surplus, in abundance, running around in this clubhouse, in this organization.

“A certain energy and grit and ability to bring people together – that’s important and we rely on it. But the biggest thing is his bat. We think he’s the type of offensive player that you build around, along with a couple other guys like him.”

Maddon would never admit it, but was the Schwarber leadoff experiment a mistake?

“I’ll judge that one based on the results and say yeah,” Epstein said. “I think we can talk about the process that went into it. Or in an alternate universe: Does it pan out? But those are just words. It didn’t work.

“Everything that went into Kyle’s really surprising and difficult first half of the season, we should look to correct, because that shouldn’t happen. He’s a way better hitter than that. What he did after coming back from Iowa proves it.”

In the same way that Maddon should own what happens with the next pitching coach, Epstein will ultimately have to decide Schwarber’s future.

Schwarber didn’t complain or pout when he got sent down to Triple-A Iowa this summer, finishing with 30 homers, a .782 OPS, a .211 batting average and a 30.9 strikeout percentage.    

Trading Schwarber would mean selling lower and take another team having the same gut instincts the Cubs did in the 2014 draft – and offering the talented, controllable starting pitcher that sometimes seems like a unicorn.

Is Schwarber still the legend from last year’s World Series? An all-or-nothing platoon guy? An intriguing trade chip? A franchise player? Eventually, the Cubs are going to find out.

“We have to look to do everything we can,” Epstein said, “and more importantly he has to look to do everything he can to get him to a point where he’s consistently the quality hitter and tough out and dangerous bat in the middle of the lineup that we know he can be.

“He wasn’t for the first half of this year – and he knows it and he feels awful about it. He worked his tail off to get back to having a pretty darn good second half and getting some big hits for us down the stretch.”

And then the offseason was only hours old by the time the Cubs showed they will be keeping an open mind about everything this winter, not afraid to make big changes.

Jake Arrieta shaved his beard again and he keeps looking younger

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USA TODAY

Jake Arrieta shaved his beard again and he keeps looking younger

It's become a tradition that Jake Arrieta shaves his beard after the season ends.

The 31-year-old did it again days after the Cubs were eliminated from the 2017 postseason, and it's still a sight we'll never be used to seeing.

Check it out:

Weird, right?

Here's how he looked following the Cubs' World Series win in 2016:

And again in 2015:

It's crazy how much younger he looks.