Cubs

Say hello to the 2012 Tour de France champ

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Say hello to the 2012 Tour de France champ

From Comcast SportsNet
PARIS (AP) -- After making history in Paris, Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins is heading home to London hoping to add an Olympic gold medal to go with his yellow jersey. The first Briton to win cycling's showcase event will start the Olympic time trial Aug. 1 as a big favorite for the gold, after dominating the event twice during the Tour de France. The 32-year-old Londoner showed during the Tour that he can beat all comers in the race-against-the-clock, even after 2,175 miles of racing over three weeks in one of the ultimate endurance tests in all of sports. After donning his winner's yellow jersey on the Champs-Elysees, Wiggins immediately began turning his focus to his Olympic race in just over a week. He even promised to forgo the Tour winner's traditional glass of champagne. "Everything turns to the Olympics and I'll be out on the bike tomorrow and I've got an Olympic time trial to try and win," Wiggins said. Sacrificing the traditional Tour winner's party was difficult but necessary, Wiggins said, because winning in his home Olympics "is a higher priority than anything else." "It's a little weird to leave Paris without a party because it would be nice to spend time with the team and really enjoy it," Wiggins said. Mark Cavendish, Wiggins' teammate on Team Sky, also is aiming to transition quickly from Parisian boulevards to English lanes. The world champion from Britain's Isle of Man wants to follow up his dominating sprint victory on the Champs-Elysees on Sunday with a win in the Olympic road race on July 28. If anything, Cavendish is even more heavily favored to win the road race than Wiggins is in the time trial. Regarded as the fastest man on a bike, the road world champion has not been as successful this year as in previous Tours. He kept his personal ambitions somewhat in check to put Wiggins in yellow during the Tour. He still won three stages along the way, taking his career total to 23, putting him in fourth place at the relatively young age of 27. Any other cyclist would consider that a very successful Tour, but Cavendish admitted he felt frustrated at times not being able to nab five or six stage victories as he has during his domination of sprints in recent years. Cavendish knew before the Tour this year's race would not be set up for him. He spent the first half of the season training specifically for the road race at the London Olympics, losing nine pounds (four kilograms) to be able to tackle the nine climbs of Box Hill in Surrey on Saturday. Wiggins enjoyed a perfect Tour from the start and secured the victory with a dominating performance in Saturday's final time trial to extend his already commanding lead. And with Cavendish having sacrificed some opportunities for more stage wins by helping his teammate protect the yellow jersey, Wiggins was all too happy to pay him back over the final miles of the race -- normally a time when the winner is merely cruising along and already receiving congratulations from other riders. Wiggins pulled ahead to lead the Sky train shortly before it pulled onto the Champs-Elysees for the final time as the team set Cavendish up for the sprint. "It's hard to take in as it happens," Wiggins said. "Every lap of the Champs-Elysees was goose-pimple stuff. We had a job to do with Mark today and we were all motivated to do that so it made it go a lot quicker. The concentration was high and for Mark to finish it off like that ... well, it couldn't get any better." Cavendish -- widely regarded as the best sprinter in the world -- won the final stage of the Tour for the fourth year in a row. After Wiggins pulled back, Edvald Boasson Hagen delivered the perfect lead-out for Cavendish to sprint away from his rivals at the end of the 74.6-mile stage. Cavendish accelerated coming out of the final corner, never looked back and raised four fingers as he crossed the line. "That was incredible, what a sight," Cavendish said. "The yellow jersey, Brad Wiggins pulling at the end. ... I just gave everything to the line, I wanted it so bad. It's the cherry on top of an amazing Tour for us." The seven stage wins was a record haul for British riders in the Tour, beating the previous record of six stage wins -- all by Cavendish -- in 2009. This time the victories were divided up between Cavendish (3), Wiggins (2), David Millar (1) and Christopher Froome (1). All four, with Ian Stannard, will compete in Saturday's road race on the opening day of the Olympics with the aim of propelling Cavendish to another triumph. "We won seven stages in total, that's one out of three stages won by a British rider," Cavendish said. "The guys in the Olympic team have one more job to do, but it's been an incredible few weeks for us."

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.