Cubs

The Lakers are starting to find their groove

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The Lakers are starting to find their groove

From Comcast SportsNetPHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers are winning again. It's just a two-game streak, but it's still a turnaround from their abysmal play of late.Bryant scored 34 points, Metta World Peace added 19 points and a career-high 16 rebounds and the Lakers won consecutive games for the first time in nearly a month with a 111-98 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday.Dwight Howard had 17 points and 11 rebounds for the Lakers, who led 60-50 at halftime. Darius Morris had a career-high 15 points, all in the first half, and Chris Duhon scored 14. It was World Peace's first double-double since Jan. 13, 2010, at Dallas.The Lakers (11-14), who beat Washington 102-96 on Friday night, won two in a row for the first time since a three-game streak from Nov. 16-20."It's guys playing with confidence and guys trusting each other," said Bryant, who was 12 for 21 from the field and 8 for 9 from the free-throw line. "We played well, communicated well, kept attacking and good things happened. I know the questions have been coming because we hadn't been winning, but our time will come."Even without injured stars Steve Nash and Pau Gasol, the Lakers hardly resembled the team which entered the night four games below .500. Bryant has scored at least 30 points in six consecutive games."We did a great job of attacking early and then we stayed with it," he said. "Our bench did a great job and stepped up and our whole team stepped up and just played with confidence."Nick Young paced the reeling Sixers (12-12) with 30 points while Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner added 16 apiece. Thaddeus Young had 14 for Philadelphia, which dropped its third straight game for the first time this season."We just have to keep working, keep going to practice and go back to the drawing board," Thaddeus Young said.Like the Lakers, the Sixers also have been playing short-handed. Point guard Jrue Holiday, who averages a team-best 18.4 points, missed his second consecutive game with a sprained left foot.Los Angeles led 87-73 after three, but the Sixers closed to 91-82 with 8:27 remaining.The Lakers responded with a 9-3 surge to go back up by 15 at 100-85 with 5:15 left. Suddenly, all those boos careening down from the rafters toward Bryant and his teammates turned into fans heading up the aisles to leave the building."They knocked down a lot of 3s and they kind of spread the floor," Nick Young said. "You have to give them credit."Los Angeles was 14 for 34 from 3-point range. Duhon was 4 for 10 from beyond the arc, and World Peace and Morris each made three 3s."Guys are playing well, we had open looks and guys were able to knock them down," Duhon said. "I think you have to take what the defense gives you."The Lakers' 10 3s in the first half broke the record for most in a half at the Wells Fargo Center, which opened in 1996.NOTES:Jordan Hill, a forward-center with Los Angeles, was a late scratch with back spasms. ... Sixers C Kwame Brown started for the eighth time. He also has seven DNP-Coach's Decision this season. Brown received a technical foul with 10:39 left in the third quarter. . Including this game, the Sixers are playing 10 of the next 12 against teams from the Western Conference. . Eagles running back LeSean McCoy attended the game. ... The Lakers went 19 for 24 at the line, compared to 6 for 11 for the 76ers.

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.