Bulls

For the Red Sox, is this rock bottom?

691696.jpg

For the Red Sox, is this rock bottom?

From Comcast SportsNetBOSTON (AP) -- Josh Hamilton started trotting around the bases rather than trying to catch a glimpse of where his home run landed in the right field seats at Fenway Park.It may have been too far for him to really see.Hamilton's three-run shot in the eighth was one of six homers the Texas Rangers hit in an 18-3 rout of the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday night.Mike Napoli hit a pair of two-run shots to lead the home run derby for the Rangers, who increased their winning streak to five straight."The ball was carrying pretty good tonight," Hamilton said.Only for the visiting club.For the Red Sox and fans hoping to get an early start on Fenway Park's 100th birthday, all celebrating ceased in the top of the second when the Rangers batted around and were well on their way to chasing starter Jon Lester in the third.The Rangers topped their four-run second and three more in the third by scoring eight in the eighth. Hamilton started it with a blast that landed about a third of the way up the seats in right. It wasn't quite as far as the red chair commemorating Ted Williams' 502-foot shots, but it was a lot closer than most others."Obviously I don't stand and watch it so I don't exactly where it hit," Hamilton said. "It felt good when it came off the bat."Hamilton matched his career high with five RBIs and finished with three hits. He was coming off a three RBI game at Minnesota, which included the winning homer in the eighth."He's a talented baseball player. That's how you describe him. He's a very talented baseball player," Texas manager Ron Washington said. "Nothing he does out there surprises me, at no time, because he's capable of doing it. It's not like that's something (where) he just gets hot and that's going to happen."Adrian Beltre followed him with a solo homer in the eighth Nelson Cruz added another later in the inning, all off of Boston reliever Mark Melancon.Michael Young was the other Texas player to homer."We're really good all the way up and down," said leadoff hitter Ian Kinsler, who had two hits and walked twice. "One through nine, we're capable of scoring runs. Tonight we were able to put all together and string a bunch of quality at-bats back-to-back."Texas finished with a season-high 21 hits, tagging Lester for eight of them before the Boston ace was pulled in the third inning."It was one of those nights where I flat out stunk," Lester said. "When I did make the adjustment and try and get back into the zone, it wasn't good enough. It wasn't a good night for me."Lester had pitched well in his first two starts, but didn't have much run support.The Rangers provided more than offense for Colby Lewis (2-0), who settled down after a shaky start and finished pitched seven solid innings.It was the most home runs for the Rangers in a game since they hit six against Detroit in August 2008."I can't describe this one," Boston manager Bobby Valentine said, adding to what has already been a difficult week.Boston star Kevin Youkilis struck out in all four of his at-bats. He did not play Monday because of a minor groin injury on a tense day at Fenway Park -- Valentine had apologized for remarks that criticized Youkilis.The Rangers scored four times in the second and added three more in the third for a 7-2 lead.They broke it open with an eight-run eighth that included a three-run homer by Hamilton and shots by Beltre and Cruz. The big inning came to an end when Beltre flied out and Boston fans gave the Red Sox a series of mock cheers.Texas chased Lester (0-2) in the third after his control struggles left the bases loaded and nobody out. Lester threw 49 pitches in the second and allowed seven runs on eight hits and walked four. His ERA more than doubled, going from 2.40 to 5.82 by the time the Rangers were done with him.The night had a promising start for Boston when the first three Red Sox got hits off Lewis. Mike Aviles led off with a single, then Dustin Pedroia homered.It was a short-lived lead.Cruz doubled with one out in the second and Napoli homered over the Green Monster. The Rangers added two more before Young, who led off the inning by striking out, ended it with a grounder to first. Young was the only Texas player not to reach base in the inning.Lewis was starting in place of rookie Yu Darvish, who was pushed back a spot in the rotation in so he could have four days of rest between starts. He allowed just the two runs on Pedroia's homer, struck out seven and didn't walk anybody."He started keeping the ball down and changing speeds and really kept them off balance," Washington said. "To recover from that first inning the way it went just goes to show you the type of pitcher that Colby Lewis is."Adrian Gonzalez added a solo homer for Boston in the eighth.NOTES:Texas 1B Mitch Moreland returned to the club after having surgery on an infected abscessed tooth, causing him to miss two games. ... Darvish (1-0) is scheduled to start Wednesday against Boston RHP Josh Beckett (1-1). ... Boston OF Carl Crawford had four at-bats Tuesday in an extended spring training game in Florida for his first playing time since having surgery on his left wrist. Valentine said Crawford walked once, made contact the other three times and felt good afterward. ... Valentine said there is no timetable for the return of CF Jacoby Ellsbury, who is out with a partially separated right shoulder. ... Valentine let it slip that the Red Sox will be wearing throwback uniforms on Friday night when they host the Yankees on the 100th anniversary of the first game major league game played at Fenway Park. The Red Sox have not announced anything about the uniforms. ... Hamilton hasn't walked in his 46 at-bats this season and Young hasn't walked yet in 45.

No surprise as Bulls, Zach LaVine decide to wait on contract extension

No surprise as Bulls, Zach LaVine decide to wait on contract extension

Only a couple names went off the board of 2014 draftees who reached agreements on extensions with their teams, with Zach LaVine sitting on the sidelines as the midnight deadline came and went.

His debut in a Bulls uniform and contract will have to wait.

Although LaVine’s representatives and the Bulls front office remained in communication, there was never any serious talk of a deal being reached and he’ll hit restricted free agency this summer.

The Bulls will have a better picture of what type of player LaVine is post-surgery on his left knee, and LaVine will have a chance to reconstruct his market value the way he’s done to his knee—as evidenced by his casual stroll down the lane, two dribbles and two-handed dunk while running a dummy offense with the assistant coaches over the weekend at the Advocate Center.

His return isn’t imminent, as he’s still weeks away from being cleared to practice, following the track of his rehab from surgery.

Perhaps in a bit of curious timing, Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg was talking about LaVine, saying his future shooting guard wasn’t going through much in the way of 5-on-0 drills.

“The big focus right now is on his rehab,” Hoiberg said.

But considering how few options Hoiberg has on a team that isn’t expected to win more than 20 games, the thought of how he’ll use LaVine on the floor in this offense isn’t unrealistic.

“He's doing a lot of unpredictable movements, but a lot of that is 1-on-0 workouts. Yeah, absolutely there's things we look at and see actions that other teams might be running for their skilled players or shooters.”

Justin Holiday will be keeping the seat warm for LaVine until LaVine is completely healed from his surgery, and while the Bulls are adhering to the nine-month recovery prognosis after his February surgery, his return will be highly anticipated.

“Some of the things we're running for Justin right now I think will be very good for Zach as well,” Hoiberg said. “Then we're going to get both of those guys on the floor, it's going to give you two really good options as far as shooting and spacing and two athletic wing players.”

With the Bulls in the infancy stages of a rebuild, LaVine’s success is one they’ll be invested in above any other player on the roster considering the financial stakes.

LaVine can command a deal well over $100 million this summer and will join the likes of draftmates Jabari Parker, Julius Randle and Aaron Gordon into the always-tricky world of restricted free agency.

The Bulls have done this dance before, most recently with Jimmy Butler before Butler blossomed into an All-Star. There was a small gulf between Butler’s contract wishes and the Bulls offer before the 2014-15 season began, one that resulted in Butler receiving a max contract when Butler took the biggest single-season leap in his career.

Preserving precious salary cap space has been paramount for the Bulls, who originally signed Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo to short-term deals with an eye on the summer of 2018, believing many teams will have overspent with the salary cap boom.

In that instance, they’re correct and are in position to have among the most cap space in the NBA next summer when Wade’s contract buyout runs off the books being close to $40 million under the cap. As of now, only Robin Lopez is guaranteed over $10 million for next season and Nikola Mirotic’s deal is a team option.

For LaVine, he began to blossom playing as a third wheel behind Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins in Minnesota before tearing his ACL. If he’s a reasonable facsimile physically, he will produce at a higher clip than scoring 18.9 points as a No. 1 option in Chicago.

As the centerpiece in the Butler trade, the Bulls have no intentions on letting him walk and LaVine is even more incentivized to perform for a potential max contract.

“I'm very excited about Zach. You can tell how much he wants to be out there with our guys. Every day he comes in and says, 'Coach, I'm ready to go out there',” Hoiberg said. “It's a process. We have to make sure he 100 percent healthy, even though he feels no symptoms right now at all. He's got no soreness in that leg. But he can't wait, his teammates can't wait and the staff obviously is very excited to get him back out there.”

Breaking down where Cubs can turn NLCS around and beat L.A.

bryant-1016.jpg
USA TODAY

Breaking down where Cubs can turn NLCS around and beat L.A.

“Sometimes, you got to lay your marbles out there,” Jon Lester said Sunday night inside Dodger Stadium’s visiting clubhouse, before the Cubs flew home from Los Angeles down 0-2 in the National League Championship Series. “And you get beat.”

It will be extremely difficult for the Cubs to win four of the next five games against the Dodgers, starting Tuesday night at Wrigley Field. But the Cubs had the, uh, marbles to win last year’s World Series and have developed the muscle memory from winning six playoff rounds and playing in 33 postseason games since October 2015.

There is a cross section left of the 2015 team that beat the Pittsburgh Pirates and silenced PNC Park’s blackout crowd in a sudden-death wild-card game. While 2016 is seen in hindsight as a year of destiny, those Cubs still had to kill the myths about the even-year San Francisco Giants, survive a 21-inning scoreless streak against the Dodgers and win Games 5, 6, 7 against the Cleveland Indians under enormous stress.

There is at least a baseline of experience to draw from and the sense that the Cubs won’t panic and beat themselves, the way the Washington Nationals broke down in the NL Division Series.

· Remember the Cubs pointed to how their rotation set up as soon as Cleveland took a 3-1 lead in last year’s World Series: Lester, Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks would each give them a chance to win that night. The Dodgers will now have to deal with last year’s major-league ERA leader (Hendricks) in Game 3 and a Cy Young Award winner (Arrieta) on Wednesday night in Game 4.

“Obviously, we know we need to get wins at this point,” Hendricks said. “But approaching it as a must-win is a little extreme. We've just got to go out there and play our brand of baseball.

“Since we accomplished that, we know we just have to take it game by game. Even being down 3-1 (in the World Series), we worry about the next game. In that situation, we didn’t think we had to win three in a row or anything like that. We just came to the ballpark the next day and worried about what we had to do that day.”

· The history lessons only go so far when the Dodgers can line up Yu Darvish as their Game 3 starter instead of, say, Josh Tomlin. There is also a huge difference between facing a worn-down Cleveland staff in late October/early November and a rested Dodger team that clinched a division title on Sept. 22 and swept the Arizona Diamondbacks in the first round. Joe Blanton and Pedro Baez aren’t walking through that bullpen door, either.

“We’ve done it before. We’ve been there before,” shortstop Addison Russell said. “But this year’s a new year. That’s a different ballclub. We’re definitely going to have to bring it.”

· Outside of Kenley Jansen, can you name anyone else in the Los Angeles bullpen off the top of your head? No doubt, the Dodger relievers have been awesome in Games 1 and 2 combined: Eight scoreless innings, zero hits, zero walks and Anthony Rizzo the only one out of 25 batters to reach base when Jansen hit him with a 93.7-mph pitch.

But the Dodgers are going to make mistakes, and the Cubs will have to capitalize. Unless this is the same kind of synthesis from the 2015 NLCS, when the New York Mets used exhaustive scouting reports, power pitching and pinpoint execution to sweep a Cubs team that had already hit the wall.

“Their bullpen is a lot stronger than it was last year,” Kris Bryant said. “They’re really good at throwing high fastballs in the zone. A lot of other teams try to, and they might hit it one out of every four. But this team, it seems like they really can hammer the top of the zone. And they have guys that throw in the upper 90s, so when you mix those two, it’s tough to catch up.”

· Bryant is not having a good October (5-for-28 with 13 strikeouts) and both Lester and Jose Quintana have more hits (one each) than Javier Baez (0-for-19 with eight strikeouts) during the playoffs. But we are still talking about the reigning NL MVP and last year’s NLCS co-MVP.

Ben Zobrist is clearly diminished and no longer the switch-hitting force who became last year’s World Series MVP. Kyle Schwarber doesn’t have the same intimidation factor or playoff aura right now. But one well-timed bunt from Zobrist or a “Schwarbomb” onto the video board could change the entire direction of this series and put the pressure on a Dodger team that knows this year is World Series or bust.

“We need to hit a couple balls hard consecutively,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Once we’re able to do that, we’ll gain our offensive mojo back. That's all that’s going on.

“I inherited something from my dad, and that was patience. So you’ve got to be patient right now. You’ve got to keep putting the boys back out there. You keep believing in them, and eventually it comes back to you.”

· Maddon is a 63-year-old man who opened Monday’s stadium club press conference at Wrigley Field by talking about dry-humping, clearly annoyed by all the second-guessers on Twitter and know-it-all sports writers who couldn’t believe All-Star closer Wade Davis got stranded in the bullpen, watching the ninth inning of Sunday’s 1-1 game turn into a 4-1 walk-off loss.

By the time a potential save situation develops on Tuesday night, roughly 120 hours will have passed since Davis threw his 44th and final pitch at Nationals Park, striking out Bryce Harper to end an instant classic. Just guessing that Maddon will be in the mood to unleash Davis.