Preps Talk

Next stop South Side: Cubs dont look ready for prime time

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Next stop South Side: Cubs dont look ready for prime time

The Cubs got their advertisements for Wrigley Field, two games on national television, even if the grass looked torched after those concerts last weekend.

Theo Epstein didnt get an at-bat or throw a single pitch, but his presence hung over this marquee series. It finally ended Sunday night, with fans chanting Youk! for Kevin Youkilis and one keeping the home-run ball David Ortiz had deposited in the bleachers, a souvenir from Big Papi.

The Boston Red Sox will take a sloppy 7-4 victory, which pulled them back to .500, but still left them in last place in the American League East.

This followed the invasion from Detroit Tigers fans wearing orange and raising the decibels to levels you hadnt really heard at Clark and Addison all season (excluding concerts).

But this wont be for tourists. When the attention shifts to the South Side on Monday night, the city will get an up-close look at the Cubs and White Sox, two teams trending in opposite directions.

Obviously, theyre doing a nice job over there, manager Dale Sveum said. Were worried about day in and day out with us, and winning ballgames every single day, no matter who were playing.

But we all know that there will be a different atmosphere when we play the White Sox, especially after getting swept here. Hopefully, we come out and (show) were capable of competing with first-place teams.

The Cubs (22-44) couldnt hang with the Tigers or Red Sox and lost both series during this homestand. Paul Maholm made a quality start on Sunday night before three relievers gave up four runs in the final three innings.

Every guy in the locker rooms busting it, Maholm said. Theyre prepared. Theyre doing everything they can. Were just not coming up with the hit. Were not coming up with the big pitch. Its on us. We got to go out there and do it.

The White Sox (35-31) got a huge emotional lift the last time they played the Cubs, when conventional wisdom had it being a no-drama crosstown without Ozzie Guillen and Carlos Zambrano.

Then word began to leak out that Kerry Wood was going to retire, Jeff Samardzijas 85 mph splitter smashed into Paul Konerkos face, Gordon Beckham barreled over David DeJesus and Sveum exploded.

The White Sox woke up on May 18 with an 18-21 record, 4 12 games back in the American League Central, and already the talk was starting that general manager Kenny Williams could go into selling mode.

On Monday of that week, the Cubs had beaten the defending World Series champs in St. Louis to move to 15-20, five games back in the division. That wouldnt lead you to start printing playoff tickets, but it also didnt foreshadow a team that could break the franchise record for losses.

There isnt a direct cause-and-effect here. But its hard to ignore the big bounce the White Sox got off that series, part of a stretch that saw them win 13 of 14 games and surge into first place.

And you watched the Cubs bottom out with a 12-game losing streak, part of a stretch in which they would lose 20 of 24.

U.S. Cellular Field is where Lou Piniella cursed out Milton Bradley, and Zambrano had to be separated from Derrek Lee. Strange things seem to happen on the South Side, and its on Matt Garza to channel all that adrenaline on Monday night.

Its going to be loud and rowdy, outfielder Reed Johnson said. Thats the atmosphere you want, especially now when youre struggling as a team. (You) know theres going to be a packed house and it makes it a little easier to play that way. Its a little easier to concentrate.

Were playing good baseball. It just seems like we cant do those little things to finish off a ballgame.

Contenders are already starting to circle the Cubs. The New York Yankees were among the teams that had top talent evaluators in the seats behind home plate on Sunday night, and this is shaping up to be a sellers market.

Ryan Dempster says his focus is on his next start against the White Sox on Wednesday night, but the groundwork is already being laid behind the scenes.

Alfonso Soriano will get three more games to rest his knees and showcase himself as a designated hitter, where hes hitting .386 with six homers, 17 RBI and a 1.224 OPS in 57 career at-bats.

Because after watching the Cubs drop to 3-15 against left-handed starters, the defense commit two errors and another bullpen breakdown, Sveum knows he needs some reinforcements.

The thing thats going on all year long is basically we get into close ballgames and something breaks down, Sveum said. We cant score if its close, or we just cant make a pitch when its close to hold em or shut em down or get the game into extra innings.

We got to be better at those things, somebody stepping up and getting a big hit when it counts not when were four or five runs down.

Playoff drama highlights a busy week on High School Lites

Playoff drama highlights a busy week on High School Lites

High School Lites had a busy show as it was the final week of the regular season for IHSA boys basketball Class 3A and 4A. The Class 1A and 2A playoffs also tipped in boys basketball as the show has some thrilling regional titles that were decided in the final minute. And finally, the girls basketball Class 1A and 2A state semifinals were played on Friday as the state's top teams played in Bloomington.

Be sure to follow us on Twitter @NBCSPreps for the latest news and scores for IHSA basketball.

Wintrust Athlete of the Week: Richards wrestler Mia Palumbo

Saint Xavier Team of the Week: Simeon boys basketball

Highlights

Marshall shocks Leo in Class 2A regional final

Aurora Christian runs past Harvert Christian for 1A regional title

Buzzer-beater lifts Monticello over Gibson City for regional title

Jacobs goes unbeaten in Fox Valley with win over Dundee-Crown

West Aurora gets by rival East Aurora

Yorkville completes season sweep of DeKalb

Lemont escapes past T.F. North

Marshall needs OT to get past Teutopolis in girls 2A semifinals

Harlan takes down Eureka in 2A semifinals

Stockton runs by Okaw Valley in 1A

Schlarman races by Lebanon

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

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NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. One big reunion.

The Blackhawks will square off with the Blue Jackets for the first time since Oct. 7, which was the second game of the season. In that game, they won 5-1 led by Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad, each of whom scored a goal and added an assist.

Of course, that was the first game since the offseason trade that sent Artemi Panarin to Columbus and Saad back to Chicago, along with Anton Forsberg. Artem Anisimov, of course, was part of the original deal that sent Saad to Columbus in 2015, so there are a lot of emotional ties between the two teams.

Forsberg didn't get a chance to face the Blue Jackets in the first meeting, but there's a chance he will this time with it being the second of a back-to-back and Jean-Francois Berube getting the start in Friday's 3-1 win over San Jose.

2. Panarin and Kane bromance.

The emotions of a difficult break-up have probably died down by now, but Panarin and Kane gave us this moment at center ice during pregame warmups in their first game against each other and it hit Chicago right in the feels:

Panarin has spent enough time apart from Kane for people to realize how big of a star he is in his own right, leading the Blue Jackets in all three scoring categories: goals (17), assists (32) and points (49).

He hasn't gone more than three games this season without recording a point, and is looking to extend his point streak to four games, which would tie a season high.

3. Struggling Blue Jackets special teams.

The Blue Jackets got off to a great start but are barely clinging onto a wild card spot going into Saturday's game, and a big reason for that slide is their lack of success on special teams. Usually one can pick up the slack for the other, but they've been brutal in both departments.

The Blue Jackets are 0-for-9 on the power play in their past five games and are ranked 31st overall, converting on only 14.1 percent of their opportunities. They also have own the 27th-ranked penalty kill with a 76.3 percent success rate.

So if there's an area the Blackhawks can exploit, it's that. But, you know, still be mindful of that Russian winger's one-timer from the faceoff circle.