Cubs

Thibodeau undecided on Rip's fill-in as Bulls enter tough stretch

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Thibodeau undecided on Rip's fill-in as Bulls enter tough stretch

DEERFIELD -- Now that Rip Hamiltons left-foot injury has been diagnosed as a torn plantar fascia -- an ailment that doesn't disappear overnight -- the question is, who starts at shooting guard during the veterans absence? Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau didnt shed much light on the situation following the teams practice Monday at the Berto Center.
Im not sure yet, said the coach, who followed that revelation up with could be, when asked if either second-year swingman Jimmy Butler or backup shooting guard Marco Belinelli would fill in for Hamilton.
Everybody we have has played well at one time or another, so I feel good about that position. Marco has started a lot of games before, Jimmy has played terrific all season long and we have some flexibility, too. Kirk Hinrich, the teams current starting point guard can go to the two, so well be fine, he continued, as injured superstar Derrick Rose periodically popped out, while running sprints under the supervision of the team's training staff.
Were going to look at everything. Were going to take a look at what makes most sense to us and well go from there. But I like the way Jimmys played, Marcos playing better and better, so we have a lot of things going in the right direction right now.
Thibodeau lamented the loss of Hamilton, who is averaging 13.9 points per game and is valuable threat on a mostly scoring-deficient squad. More significantly, hes one of few players on the Bulls that opposing teams have to truly game-plan for defensively.
Well see. Basically, it could be a week, could be two weeks, could be longer. Once Hamilton feels good enough to play, hell be back, Thibodeau said. Its not only scoring, but his playmaking. With that being said, we have more than enough to win with. The next guy has to step up, know what his job is, do his job and get it done.
Hes doing fine, good spirits. He actually worked out today. Hes got some soreness, but hell be fine, he added. You see it more and more. In his case, its better that its torn; that speeds everything up -- thats one of those things, it lingers for a while -- but hell be fine. Hes had a number of different injuries. He understands what he has to go through to get back.
Due to how well Butler has been playing as of late, it wouldnt be surprising to see Thibodeau give Belinelli the nod as the starter, to keep the budding chemistry on the Bulls second unit going. Butler and Taj Gibson have repeatedly energized the Bulls with their defensive prowess and transition scoring off the bench, something Butler himself noted Monday.
I wouldnt mind that at all. I was talking to Griff Bulls assistant coach Adrian Griffin about it and I like being that spark off the bench with Taj. I feel like that gives me a lot more energy. Just running out there with Taj, seeing the energy that he gives off, the big plays that he makes, the hustle plays, I kind of want to be like that coming off the bench, he explained. I dont think I have a case. I just feel like if I start or come off the bench, my job is to bring energy to the team and hit open shots.
To tell you the truth, I never even think about it. I feel like coming off the bench or starting, I feel like we all just want to win the game, so if I come off the bench or play at the end of the game, I just want the Bulls to have more points than our opponent, Butler continued. Im a lot more confident, but I think its because the work that I put in every day that the confidence that my teammates have in me is so much different than in the beginning of the season. The games starting to slow down, Im starting to be more patient, I know where to get on the floor, where to get the ball, so it makes everything a lot easier.
It means a lot because theres a lot more reps, and theres a lot more possessions up and down the court, different plays with different players, so you get the feel for a lot of different things, not only in the game, but the many different teammates that I might play with.
Still, Butler claimed that hes just as in the dark as the rest of us.
That, or Thibodeau swore him to secrecy.
I really do not know. Coach, he hasnt said anything, he deadpanned. Hell let us know tomorrow.
I dont even think Ill have to call my mom. She reads the Internet more than I do, so shell tell everybody before I even get a chance to, the Texas native went on to say. Rips a great player, a great leader and he does a lot of things well for our team, so he definitely will be missed, but hell be coaching us up, hell be there spiritually and on the bench, cheering, and letting everybody know what they could do better. Thats what leaders do.
Thibodeau has been pleased with Butlers progress after he saw scant playing time as a rookie a year ago. His slashing ability, athleticism, toughness and defense have all been boons for the Bulls and while hes still developing as an outside shooter, there are signs -- including a big corner three-pointer down the stretch of the Bulls narrow home win Saturday over Philadelphia -- that he can make an impact in that aspect of the game, as well.
Thibodeau explained: Hes a very good corner three-point shooter, so if its there, I want him to shoot it. I think hes played very smart, hes playing to his strengths. Hes moving extremely well without the ball, hes a great cutter, hes tough on the baseline. Hes done a number of things well. He attacks the basket, gets to the free-throw line, sprints the floor in transition and those are the things we need him to do.
Butler chimed in: Oh, definitely. I think my teammates know that I should take that shot. They know if Im there and if Im open, Im going to take that shot. I think Im going to make it, they think Im going to make it, so Ive just got to get out there and shoot it.
Of course, Belinelli came to Chicago with a reputation as a shooter and although he struggled mightily to begin the season, hes starting to play better as time goes on. Perhaps more important to Thibodeau is the fact that hes starting to grasp the level of defense it takes to be a contributor to the Bulls.
I think hes getting more comfortable and I think his team defense is very good right now, it continues to improve, hes putting a lot of effort into it and thats all we want him to do, just keep improving, the coach said. I think hes got a little more comfortable with everything and hes got experience. I think he knows his opponent well and hes putting forth good effort each and every day.
Its unlikely that Thibodeau follows through on his suggestion that Hinrich is a potential starter at shooting guard -- that decision would mean Nate Robinson would start at point guard, taking away his instant-offense scoring off the bench -- but it isnt completely out of the realm of possibility.
The value of Kirk is that he can defend three positions and it doesnt matter who those three are. Hes a great defensive player. But were going to do whats best for the team, what we feel gives us the best chance to win, Thibodeau said. Well see. Id like to get into a rotation, so guys have an idea when theyre coming in, but well take a look at a lot of different things.
Hinrich, who has significant experience playing both guard positions -- and even functioned as a small forward, at least on the defensive end, during his brief tenure in Washington, playing alongside John Wall and Gilbert Arenas -- is prepared for anything.
Id be comfortable doing whatever. Ive been working on dummy offense at the two a little bit, just so I would know it, he rationalized. I wouldnt have any problem with anything Thibodeau did, to be honest, as long as its what we wanted to do as a team and what direction we wanted to go with that we thought was going to give us the best chance to win.
Still, the veteran seemed to indicate that he believed that either Belinelli or Butler would be playing next to him Tuesday night, when the Bulls host the Pacers in the first of four games in five nights, including a two-game road trip that will see them visit Cleveland and Detroit.
Were still going to run our stuff. Obviously theyre Belinelli and Butler a little bit different than Rip. Both of them have a little bit kind of different games, per se, so either one of them, I think, would fill in nicely and I think were lucky to have guys like that to come off the bench and step up, said Hinrich, who noted that Hamilton was treating it his injury I saw him on the stationary bike a little bit, while the team practiced. They play that spot every day. The only difference would be they would be with the starting unit. Theyre familiar with the system, they know how were going to play and its a matter of coming out and playing.
You can weigh the pros and cons of it all you want. The bottom line is both of them are going to get their minutes. I dont know which unit its going to be with.
Regardless of who starts in the backcourt, the Bulls are aware that their upcoming stretch wont be easy, since after their trio of matchups against Central Division rivals, theyll return home to face one of the leagues top teams in the Knicks -- giving them a pair of back-to-back contests in a four-game span -- and then delve into an even tougher slate during the middle of December. Indiana, which was reeling at the outset of the season, following the loss of go-to scorer Danny Granger, has been much-improved as of late, playing a similar style of ugly basketball to the Bulls, as one of the few teams in the league with a defense thats statistically better than Chicagos.
Theyre playing very well right now. Theyve played well on this trip. Theyve been on the road for a while. They play hard, their defense is terrific, they pound the ball inside, they share the ball, so itll be a good test for us, said Thibodeau.
"Whatever comes your way, you have to be ready for. We had the long West Coast trip with one back-to-back and so, thats a little bit different. Then, it was split for the Milwaukee game. Now, youre dealing with some back-to-backs. I think the whole key is to get ready for your next opponent. Sometimes the schedules going in your favor, sometimes its going against you. But just be ready for each opponent and concentrate on improvement. Thats all we want to do, keep getting better each and every day, and if we do that and were locked into the right things, we will improve.
Hinrich added: Weve got four games in five nights this week, but weve got a big one tomorrow against a division opponent and hopefully we can continue to play well, and continue to get some wins.
I think they Indiana kind of got off to a slow start, but theyre playing really well lately and theyre a very good team.

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.