Cubs

Red Sox continue historic collapse

540877.jpg

Red Sox continue historic collapse

From Comcast SportsNet Thursday, September 22, 2011
BOSTON (AP) -- Boos poured down on the struggling Red Sox as they left the field after their latest loss. In the clubhouse, it was quiet as they packed for their final road trip -- and perhaps their last games -- of the year. The Red Sox road to the playoffs hit more rough spots when they blew another late lead, falling to the Baltimore Orioles 6-4 on Wednesday night, their 14th loss in 18 games. Boston's lead in the AL wild-card race increased by a half game to 2 when the Tampa Bay Rays lost a doubleheader to the New York Yankees. But the Red Sox seemed stunned by their collapse, with blank looks on their faces and little expression in their voices. "We certainly haven't made it very easy for ourselves," manager Terry Francona said. "That doesn't mean we can't get where we want to go, but we have our work cut out for us." Vladimir Guerrero hit a two-run single in the eighth inning that broke a 4-all tie. Then the Red Sox went meekly in the last two innings, failing to get a hit and ending on Jed Lowrie's soft grounder to pitcher Jim Johnson. The Red Sox led Tampa Bay by nine games on Sept. 3. Now they also must hold off the Los Angeles Angels, who also are 2 games out in the AL wild-card race after beating Toronto 7-2 on Wednesday. The Red Sox have six games left -- three at Yankee Stadium and three at Baltimore. Tampa Bay has seven remaining -- four against the Yankees and three against Toronto. Can the Red Sox, who straightened out their season after losing their first six games and 10 of their first 12, do it again? "I think I can answer that better next Wednesday" after the regular-season finale, Francona said. "I'm not in a very good mood right now. We just lost a game, you know. We've lost a lot of games. We're going to have to fight for everything we get the rest of the way." Ace Josh Beckett started for Boston, hoping to put more distance between Boston and the Rays. Beckett (13-6) allowed just one hit through five innings as the Red Sox built a 4-1 lead. But he gave up a run in the sixth and two more in the seventh on Mark Reynolds' second homer that tied the game. "I kept thinking when we kept it at 4-2, I thought we could get a big hit and we did," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. In the eighth, Beckett gave up a single to J.J. Hardy and a double to Nick Markakis. Alfredo Aceves relieved with runners at second and third, then gave up Guerrero's hard, two-run single to center field. "You want to pitch good all year long, but especially whenever your team needs you," Beckett said. "You need to give them innings and quality innings and that was something I wasn't able to do." One night before Boston's best starter faltered, star closer Jonathan Papelbon blew a save chance for only the second time this season when he gave up a three-run double to Robert Andino in the eighth that gave Baltimore a 7-5 win. Clay Rapada (2-0) got the win on Wednesday and Johnson earned his ninth save in 14 chances -- his third in as many days against Boston. "It's pretty tough," Beckett said. "I wish I could have done better today. Things didn't work out. I got away with some pitches early and I didn't get away with them later on." Carl Crawford, who has struggled most of the season after signing a seven-year, 142 million contract, had a single, double and triple for Boston and drove in two runs. "That'll be welcome if he wants to get real hot like he can," Francona said. "That'll really help us." Reynolds hit a solo homer in the second before Boston tied the game in the third on a triple by Crawford and an RBI groundout by Jason Varitek. Crawford gave the Red Sox a 3-1 lead in the fourth with a two-run double after a single by Adrian Gonzalez and a double by Dustin Pedroia. Consecutive singles by Mike Aviles, Gonzalez and David Ortiz made it 4-1 in the fifth against Tommy Hunter, who left the game with two outs in the seventh with a strained right groin. "It got pretty tight," Hunter said. "It's one of those things that's been lingering all year. I'm glad I didn't throw another pitch." The Orioles added a run in the sixth when Andino singled, stole second and scored on a single by Hardy. They tied it in the seventh when Matt Wieters singled and was forced out at second on a grounder by Adam Jones before Reynolds hit his 36th homer of the season -- his second of the game over the Green Monster in left field. "It's pretty tough," Beckett said. "I wish I could have done better today. Things didn't work out." NOTES: Reynolds tied a career-high with two homers in a game. It was the fifth time he did it this season and the 12th time in his career. ... After a day off on Thursday, the Red Sox begin a season-ending six-game road trip with Jon Lester (15-8) facing the New York Yankees in the opener of a three-game series on Friday night. Boston finishes the season with a three-game series in Baltimore starting Monday. ... With two hits, Gonzalez passed Mo Vaughn for the most hits in a season by a Red Sox first baseman. Gonzalez has 208, one more than Vaughn had in 1996. ... Jacoby Ellsbury got a hit for his 33rd consecutive game against Baltimore. It's the longest hitting streak against the Orioles franchise and the longest by a Red Sox player against any team.

Joe Maddon's advice to new Bears head coach Matt Nagy

Joe Maddon's advice to new Bears head coach Matt Nagy

Joe Maddon knows a thing or two about taking a storied Chicago franchise from a rebuilding team to a World Champ.

Bears head coach Matt Nagy hopes to have that in common with the Cubs skipper one day, and it helps that the two share a similar background: Nagy, like Maddon, grew up in Pennsylvania in a town called Manheim, about 80 miles from Maddon's hometown of Hazelton.

It took Maddon only two years to lead the Cubs to the top for the first time in 108 years, but expectations should be tempered for Nagy's Bears. It's more about the process than the results early on. 

And the only way Nagy can help eventually lead the Bears back to another Super Bowl is by doing what Maddon did.

"Just be yourself," Maddon said when asked what his advice is to Nagy. "The one thing that I found when I came to Chicago that I thought my hometown of Hazelton was a microcosm of this city and the people here. Very inviting, open folks, passionate about their sports and Bears football, so I wish you nothing but the best. But all I can say, typically, Pennsylvia: Just be yourself."

Check out Maddon's full comments in the video above.

Just the right fit: Steve Kerr sees the Bulls finally meshing into Fred Hoiberg's system

26940487_10155710651796858_490868967_n.jpg
USA TODAY

Just the right fit: Steve Kerr sees the Bulls finally meshing into Fred Hoiberg's system

Thirteen days after Fred Hoiberg was hired as the 19th head coach in Bulls history, Steve Kerr and the Warriors were crowned NBA champions. Part of Kerr’s offseason included meeting for lunch with the newest member of the 30-man head coaching fraternity. It was an important sitdown for Hoiberg, getting to speak with both a man who had followed a similar path to his now-current position, and one he was trying to emulate from a stylistic perspective.

“I think the world of Steve. He’s been great to me since I’ve been in the league,” Hoiberg said Wednesday. “He’s just done an unbelievable job and I feel fortunate to be able to talk to him about situations. And I’ve done that through good times and bad.”

Conversation between the two has been far more good than bad these days. Golden State remains the golden standard of the NBA. Wednesday's win over the Bulls was their 14th consecutive on the road, third longest in NBA history. They have the league's best record (37-9), its most efficient offense and fourth most efficient defense. 

They're far and away the favorites to hoist a third Larry O'Brien trophy in June, and even without Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala on Wednesday they pulled away with ease and cruised to a ninth win in their last 10 games. But the Bulls team they beat competed for 48 minutes - just as they've done the last six weeks - and looked far different from the one that suffered a 49-point loss in Oakland in late November.

Hoiberg admitted that the Bulls, like every team in the league, attempts “to pattern their style after this team.” And at times the Bulls looked the part of the up-tempo, step-on-your-throat offensive juggernaut the Warriors have been the last three seasons under Kerr. They scored 40 in the first, and inexplicably put together a 17-0 run spanning the first and second quarters to take a seven-point lead. It wasn't quite as pretty as Golden State's perfection looks, but the Bulls had 15 assists and scored 17 points off Warriors turnovers.

“They go in spurts, they have little streaks and runs, especially at home because they’re a talented team,” Kevin Durant said after the game.

The Warriors were just fine getting into a shooting contest with the Bulls, knowing their core containing three of the world’s best shooters would ultimately outlast their opponent. And it did. In the third quarter the Warriors’ Splash Brothers took over, with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson combining for 22 points on 6-for-10 shooting from deep. Their league-best defense, even without Green, stifled the Bulls, who scored just 11 points in the quarter.

The Bulls, as they've done in this six-week span that's included a 12-8 record, fought down the stretch, inching the deficit down to nine early in the fourth quarter and as close as five in the final minute. But the Warriors closed - same as they always do - and despite a narrow win as far as they're concerned, managed to shoot 50 percent from the field, make 13 3-pointers and hand out 24 assists. Kerr's philosophies, combined with an unprecedented roster in terms of talent, added another tally to its record-breaking win total.

And it's that combination that Kerr believes can propel the Bulls. He admitted being "flattered" that Hoiberg models much of his offense around what the Warriors have done, and said that he's followed Hoiberg since his Iowa State days (when Kerr was an NBA commentator for TNT) and sees the talent not only improving, but meshing with Hoiberg's philosophies in Year 3.

“We’re winning because we have some of the best players in the world. The only way you can truly replicate what we’ve done is to amass a ton of talent,” Kerr said. “Bulls are on the right track. They drafted Markkanen, they got some good players back in the Butler trade, and got some nice young pieces and are playing really well.”

The Jimmy Butler trade return struggled on Wednesday, going 13-for-41, but has proven to be perfect fits with Hoiberg's offense. Dunn will only improve having a creator like LaVine alongside him, and Lauri Markkanen added two more triples to his record-breaking rookie campaign. Nikola Mirotic scored 24 points with four triples, and Bobby Portis stayed efficient with 12 points on 6-for-10 shooting. Even David Nwaba, whose roster spot would have been filled by a second-round pick, played stifling defense on Curry down the stretch and even added eight points in 27 minutes.

The Bulls hit 10 3-pointers, extending their franchise record of double-digit makes to nine straight games. Their offensive rating since Dec. 7 is 12th in the league, just a tick below the Cleveland Cavaliers. Perhaps because of the offensive improvements the defense, too, has shown improvement: they're 16th in the league in efficiency since the 3-20 start. And for what it's worth, they held Golden State to seven fast-break points, more than 14 below their league-leading average.

"We have a group this year that has bought in, especially the past six weeks to getting up the floor and trying to play with pace and get shots up before the defense gets set," Hoiberg said.

So while the Bulls wait for their talent to simmer and improve, they'll go along with and continue to mesh with Hoiberg's philosophies. Golden State's 73-win record won't be in reach, and the Bulls shouldn't wait for two Hall of Famers and four All-Stars in one lineup. But Kerr and the Warriors started somewhere, and while Hoiberg needed to sift through players to find the right fits the last three years, the start of their rebuild is now in focus.

"I think we share a lot of the same vision for the game: spacing and ball movement and everybody touching the ball, feeling part of it. He knows his stuff," Kerr said of Hoiberg. "In this league it takes talent and it takes the right fit and I feel like it’s happening for them now. I know it’s taken a couple of years to get to this point, but in this league fit is everything."