Blackhawks

Its more hard luck for Cubs, Dempster

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Its more hard luck for Cubs, Dempster

Ryan Dempster sat down inside the Wrigley Field interview roomdungeon and cut through the silence.

Well, that sucks, Dempster said.

Its not quite Baseball is better And Dempster wasnt pointing fingers or pushing the panic button. It was more of an icebreaker after Wednesdays 2-1 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers. Reporters arent quite running out of questions, but everyones already seen this before.

Like on Opening Day, when Dempster took a one-run lead into the eighth inning against the Washington Nationals before turning it over to the bullpen and watching the Cubs lose 2-1.

This time Dempster blamed himself for a cutter he left over the middle of the plate in the seventh inning. Brewers catcher George Kottaras drove it into the right-field bleachers for a two-run homer that made all the difference.

Dempster lasted 6.2 innings and gave up two runs on five hits. The rotation has been better than advertised, keeping the Cubs in almost every game, but theyre still 1-5 now.

Were going to build on that and the wins will start coming, second baseman Darwin Barney said. Its Week 1. Were six games in. I dont think any of us are really pulling that chute yet.

The Brewers (4-2) got seven strong innings from Yovani Gallardo, but the Cubs still had their chances.

Ian Stewart and Bryan LaHair led off the seventh with back-to-back singles before Geovany Soto struck out swinging, Marlon Byrd struck out looking and pinch-hitter Blake DeWitt grounded out to end the threat.

Francisco K-Rod Rodriguez issued two walks in the eighth before finishing off Stewart for his third strikeout that inning.

Trying to shake things up, manager Dale Sveum pinch-hit for Byrd (1-for-21 this season) with two outs in the ninth and rookie catcher Steve Clevenger responded with a double to left.

John Axford blew away Reed Johnson with a 96 mph fastball for Milwaukees 12th strikeout and the closers 45th consecutive save.

We just have to keep our heads up, Soto said. Were one hit away or one pitch away.

Were all trying to be aggressive. Were not trying to feel for the ball. Were going as aggressive as we can, trying to do something at the plate, (but) sometimes its going to go like that. You got an ace out there pitching against us. Sometimes you just got to tip your hat.

You can rationalize it either way. What if the Cubs lay down the bunt at the right moment or drive the right pitch? Or what happens if the Cubs dont get lights-out starting pitching?

A lot of close games, Dempster said. Thats a good thing. That means youre right in every ballgame. You just got to figure out a way to put your team on the right side of the win column. Well just keep plugging away, working hard and well find a way to do that.

Anton Forsberg is giving the Blackhawks exactly what they need

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USA TODAY

Anton Forsberg is giving the Blackhawks exactly what they need

Anton Forsberg had just finished an extended morning skate Wednesday morning in St. Louis. The backup goaltender had played in one regular-season game for the Blackhawks to that point, so getting in extra work to stay sharp was helpful.

“I try to keep my focus in practice and work extra every day, get a few extra shots in practice with the extra guys who are out there, work with Jimmy and try to keep my game shape,” Forsberg said, referring to Blackhawks goaltending coach Jimmy Waite.

Whatever Forsberg’s working on in practice and skates seems to be working, because in two games with the Blackhawks he’s looked sharp. Forsberg probably deserved a victory on Thursday night when he stopped 40 shots in the Blackhawks’ 2-1 overtime loss to the Edmonton Oilers. It’s the backup life to wait and see when that next start will come, but Forsberg has been ready.

“For sure I felt more comfortable today, more used to the speed,” he said following Thursday’s game. “I felt I read the game better, felt I had more time moving around. It’s tough, again, to lose in overtime. Obviously I wanted to win and it’s frustrating.”

Frustrating for sure, but Forsberg is giving the Blackhawks exactly what they want and need: a dependable backup that gives them a chance to win. The two goals Forsberg gave up on Thursday weren’t softies, either — Patrick Maroon’s goal off a ridiculous Connor McDavid pass and Mark Letestu’s over game-winner that deflected off Brent Seabrook’s stick.

“He kept us in a tight game like he did in Toronto, got us to overtime. I kind of feel bad we didn’t get him a win in either of those,” Ryan Hartman said. “He played well both of those games. It’s nice to have a guy on the back end like that.”

Forsberg has blended in well with the Blackhawks. It helps that he already knew two of them, Brandon Saad and Artem Anisimov, his former teammates in Columbus. He and Corey Crawford already have a good rapport. Same goes for he and Waite, and Forsberg has soaked up any information they’ve given him.

“I feel like both him and Corey teach me a lot. We talk about different situations, especially all the reads,” Forsberg said. “I get to know how (Crawford) thinks the game. He’s been around a long time and has been doing well, so it’s interesting every day to hear what he has to say. Even Jimmy’s been around same thing there, discussing my game, what we want to improve, what we want to do different, what to keep the same and go from there.”

The extra work in practices and skates appears to be working as Forsberg has done a lot right in just his first two games, which were 10 days apart. The Blackhawks have had a good run of backup goaltenders; two games is a small sample size but Forsberg could be the latest reliable backup.

The craziest stats from Cubs 2017 postseason run

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AP

The craziest stats from Cubs 2017 postseason run

The Cubs go home for the winter with a bad taste in their mouths for the 108th time in the last 109 years.

But such is the nature of professional sports, where only one team and its fanbase gets to experience euphoria on the final day of the season.

The Cubs didn't play as well as they would've liked in the 2017 postseason, something they readily admit.

But the numbers behind the October run are pretty astounding.

Here are some of the most eye-popping stats from this fall, courtesy of NBC Sports Chicago stat guru Chris Kamka:

—The Cubs had the second-lowest batting average (.156) of any team in a best-of-7 League Championship Series.

The only team lower is the Houston Astros through five games, hitting .147 entering play Friday night against the New York Yankees.

The next lowest batting averages in a best-of-7 LCS:

.157 - 2012 Yankees
.164 - 2015 Cubs
.168 - 2016 Indians

—The Cubs also had the lowest batting average in a single postseason in baseball history among teams who have played at least eight postseason games.

And it's not a particularly close margin:

.168 - 2017 Cubs
.188 - 2012 Yankees
.198 - 1974 A's (won World Series with no LDS)
.204 - 2015 Cubs
.207 - 1973 A's (won World Series with no LDS)

—2017 was an interesting year when it came to home runs for the Cubs.

In the regular season, the Cubs were 77-37 (.675 winning percentage) when hitting at least one homer and just 15-33 (.313 winning percentage) when not homering.

But in the postseason, that script was completely flipped.

The Cubs were only 1-5 (.167) in October when homering and 3-1 when going homerless.

—The offensive issues go far beyond just homers for the Cubs.

They scored nine runs in that epic Game 5 of the NLDS but scored just eight runs as a whole in the NLCS. 

What's even crazier — all nine runs in Game 5 came without benefit of a homer. Every NLCS run the Cubs plated was off a longball as they went 0-for-14 with runners in scoring position.

And then there's this:

—The difference in offensive execution in the NLCS can be summed up just by looking at the strikeout-to-walk ratio of each team.

The Cubs struck out 53 times in the five games compared to only five walks.

The Dodgers, meanwhile, struck out just 41 times with a whopping 28 walks. 

—A huge reason for the Cubs' downfall was the disappearance of Bryzzo in the NLCS.

Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo combined for a .135/.179/.216 slash line with one walk and one hit by pitch. Their only run and RBI combined came on Bryant's homer in Game 5 Thursday when the Cubs were already down 9-0.

—Here's how each spot in the Cubs order fared in the postseason:

1. 4-for-36 (.111 AVG)
2. 7-for-38 (.184)
3. 7-for-38 (.184)
4. 5-for-33 (.152)
5. 10-for-37 (.270)
6. 7-for-33 (.212)
7. 5-for-30 (.167)
8. 0-for-31 (.000)
9. 6-for-28 (.214)

Total: 51-for-304 (.168)

—In the Cubs' defense, they were going up against an elite starting staff led by Clayton Kershaw (whom they faced twice) and a bullpen that ranks among the best in baseball history.

The Dodgers had the second-best bullpen WHIP in an LCS in baseball history, coming in at 0.294 in 17 innings pitched.

The only team better? The 2005 White Sox bullpen, though they only had to get two outs in that ALCS.

The 2016 Blue Jays bullpen came close, posting a 0.553 WHIP in 12.2 innings against the Indians last fall.