Bears

Roster gains and labor pains

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Roster gains and labor pains

The teams that have ruled the roost recently in the Central Division finished in third and fourth place this season, and theyve been sent home after one round.

As the Blackhawks go forward into another long summer after that glorious short one a couple of years ago, management, the personnel and scouting departments and head coach Joel Quenneville probably have a wish list on how to get better. Beyond that, they probably have a secondary - perhaps more realistic - plan.

As we speak, St. Louis and Nashville have passed up them and the Red Wings. The Blues and Predators could very well square off in the Western Conference Finals to determine who plays for the Stanley Cup. Stan Bowman - as the man whose job it will be to set this team up to aim even higher than the 101 points they earned this year - left the impression in his season-ending press conference that drastic change isnt necessarily coming. That doesnt mean there wont be changes, but the ones he makes with what might be limited roster flexibility will be crucial.

If Michael Frolik and Bryan Bickell remain, theyll have to play the first six months like they did the last 2 12 weeks for this team to get better. Likewise, if Viktor Stalbergs still here, how much more upside does he have after the statistical strides he made this year?

Like Nick Leddy, Marcus Krugers next step needs to be accompanied by some more bulk to provide an offensive bump. So, when all of us amateur lineup-makers start scribbling down lines and defensive pairings, the spots start to fill up pretty quickly if you toss in Andrew Shaw and Daniel Carcillo. After all that, where do Jimmy Hayes, Brandon Saad, Jeremy Morin or Brandon Pirri fit in, if at all? Do they stay with the organization, or are one or two packaged to provide what each of you think is missing? Is Dylan Olsen the guy who will provide size and nastiness despite his relative inexperience?

It would seem there would have to be a new face or two, maybe one up front and one on the back end. But then theres this: free agency begins July 1, but the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) doesnt expire until Sept. 15, about the same time training camps would be opening. Can teams really be that aggressive on that first day of July if they dont know what their salary cap will be -- especially if that number might actually shrink from the 64.3 million theyre allowed to spend now?

If the salary cap stays exactly the same, Capgeek.com indicates the Hawks have about 6.8 million to spend outside of their committed contracts. Detroit has roughly 20 million. The only potential free agents of their own currently earning more than seven figures is deadline pickup Kyle Quincey. The future of Nicklas Lidstrom and Tomas Holmstrom are up in the air amidst rumors theyll pursue Ryan Suter and Zach Parise.

Those Preds need to re-sign Suter, Shea Weber and Alexander Radulov, but have 32 million to spend. And St. Louis is in shape at 28 million of cap space with potential free agents T.J. Oshie, David Perron and Chris Stewart. All are currently earning salaries between 2 and 3 million.

With Donald Fehr now running the union, he knows all too well how his leverage improves the closer a season gets - arguably coming off what might be the most successful, money-making season in NHL history. If these negotiations that havent even begun extend into September (and why wouldnt they?), we could be looking at a mad roster scramble like we saw in the NFL last August - working by whatever that new salary cap is - once a new deal is done. Who knows? If it goes down, some teams may have to actually shed salary to get to that number.

Since there are no games and matchups to worry about, Blackhawk fans may well have to wait until the matchup -- and games -- between Bettman and Fehr are over before seeing what changes come for 2012-13.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should the Bears let Mitch Trubisky throw more?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should the Bears let Mitch Trubisky throw more?

Adam Jahns (Chicago Sun-Times), Ben Finfer (ESPN 1000) and Jordan Cornette (The U/ESPN 1000) join Kap on the panel. Justin Turner hits a walk-off 3-run HR off of John Lackey to give the Dodgers a 2-0 lead in the NLCS. So why was Lackey even in the game? How much blame should Joe Maddon get for the loss?

The Bears run the ball over and over and over again to beat the Ravens in overtime, but should they have let Mitch Trubisky throw the ball more?

Dry humping and second-guessing: Joe Maddon defends his Game 2 bullpen decisions

Dry humping and second-guessing: Joe Maddon defends his Game 2 bullpen decisions

Joe Maddon has no easy decisions.

With the way his tattered bullpen has pitched this postseason, there's a very real possibility that any guy he calls on to pitch is the "wrong" guy or the right guy in the "wrong" spot.

For everybody wanting Maddon to ride Wade Davis as a workhorse this fall — something the Cubs skipper has already done just to get to this NLCS — remember how much flak he took for overusing Aroldis Chapman a year ago at this time.

Davis also hasn't been superhuman this postseason, allowing a pair of runs (including a homer) and seven baserunners in 4.1 playoff innings, good for a 4.15 ERA and 1.62 WHIP.

So when Maddon sat in the dugout late Sunday evening watching helplessly as John Lackey served up a walk-off homer to Tormund Giantsbane Justin Turner, the "Madd Scientist" immediately found himself in the crosshairs of Cubs fans and the media.

The first question he fielded in his postgame press conference was about not using Davis and there were several follow-ups. That and the offensive futility is about all anybody wanted to talk about after the Cubs fell down 0-2 in the NLCS.

Maddon explained Davis was available only in a save situation due to workload issues — the Cubs closer was in uncharted territory Thursday night/Friday morning, throwing the most pitches (44) and innings (2.1) he's thrown since Aug. 24, 2013 when he was still working as a starter. That's a span of 1,511 days.

"Wade knew that going into the game, it was going to be with the say," Maddon said. "We caught the lead, he's in the game. So whatever the narrative was, it's really a false narrative. He was not coming into that game until we grabbed the lead. He was not going to pitch more than three outs. That's it."

How does Maddon respond to his second-guessers?

"Doesn't matter," Maddon said. "First of all, social media, the moment I start worrying about that, I really need to retire. Second of all, that was all predetermined [Sunday] night again."

Davis also has a recent history of arm troubles (he was on the disabled list twice in 2016 for a forearm issue) and also saw his workload jump in September just to help the Cubs get to the postseason. In the final month of the regular season, Davis threw 237 pitches, 42 more than he threw in any other month of 2017. The last time he topped 200 pitches in any month was May 2015.

TV cameras showed Davis throwing in the Cubs bullpen alongside Lackey at one point in the ninth inning, leading to surprise by a huge faction of the (*looks around and whispers*) social media fanbase when the game broadcast resumed after commercials and the pitching change was to bring Lackey — not Davis — into the game.

"Wade was not warming up to come in that game," Maddon said. "Wade was probably just testing his arm at that point. We had talked about it before the game — up and in. 

"For those that aren't involved in Major League Baseball and professional baseball in general, when a guy's throwing too much, it's very important to not dry hump him, as the saying goes. Get him up and put him back down and bring him back in later. So I wasn't going to do that."

(Wow, really was not expecting to hear or write the phrase "dry hump" regarding this story.)

Maddon insists health is not the problem with Davis.

"Yes [he's healthy]. Oh yeah," Maddon said. "Listen, this guy just did yeoman kind of work — I love that word — in Washington and was not prepared to go more than three outs. I don't understand why that's difficult to understand.

"And furthermore, you have to also understand it wasn't the last game of the year or the second to last game. It was about winning eight more games. All these things are factors."

Maddon has a point. This isn't a Buck Showalter case where the Baltimore Orioles manager failed to use his best reliever — Zach Britton — in a non-save situation in a winner-take-all American League wild card game because he wanted the closer to be ready for a save.

The Cubs went down in a game that was tied 1-1 with their best reliever failing to get in the game even though he hadn't pitched in the last two days. 

But Davis can't cover every inning in relief, especially when the Cubs' two starters (Jose Quintana and Jon Lester) lasted just 9.2 innings against the Dodgers, leaving the Cubs bullpen to account for the other 8+ innings somehow.

The rest of the Cubs bullpen has to step up, too, which they did before the ninth inning of Game 2.

Still, Maddon couldn't resist getting one more defensive shot in before putting the matter to bed:

"I really hope you all understand that social media doesn't count at all," he said. "Twitter doesn't count at all. And really, as sportswriters, you should do a better job than relying on Twitter to write a story, quite frankly."

Well then.