Blackhawks

This time, Cubs think Rizzo can live up to the hype

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This time, Cubs think Rizzo can live up to the hype

The 38,516 fans had filed out of Wrigley Field. The players had showered and left the clubhouse, about to enjoy a wide-open night in Chicago before the off-day.

After Wednesdays 8-6 win over the San Diego Padres capped by Darwin Barneys first walk-off homer on any level the Cubs shifted to their No. 1 priority.

Baseball czar Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer watched Max Fried, a high school lefty from California, throw from the mound. Chairman Tom Ricketts and president of business operations Crane Kenney hung around the batting cage.

Manager Dale Sveum tossed batting practice to Carlos Correa, a shortstop from Puerto Rico. Executives, scouts, coaches Randy Bush, Tim Wilken, Oneri Fleita, Shiraz Rehman, Chris Bosio, Dave McKay all took in the scene.

The Cubs (18-32) could have as many as 40 prospects come through the North Side before the June 4 draft. Its all part of being thorough, one of the buzzwords in Epsteins front office.

Keep that in mind the next time someone asks about top prospect Anthony Rizzo, whose right wrist is said to be feeling better, which should allow him to go back to crushing the Pacific Coast League.

Scouting guru Jason McLeod drafted Rizzo for the Boston Red Sox, and was involved in the Adrian Gonzalez and Andrew Cashner trades with the Padres. The Cubs executives who promoted Rizzo last season felt like they cut corners, and it wont happen again.

Its dj vu, McLeod said. We went through the exact same thing last year and couldnt be happier with him. (Its) not the numbers hes putting up. Its the development that we talked about. He has been working on some things mechanically, his approach (and) his day-to-day routine.

Because he went through (that) last year with the anticipation in San Diego, and the struggles once he got up, its made him a better player mentally, because hes much stronger coming out of that.

I think hes in his finishing stages now, and it shouldnt be too long before hes up here.

To reset, the Padres were sinking below .500 last June, and werent getting enough production out of first baseman Brad Hawpe. So Hoyer promoted Rizzo, who had hit .365 with 16 homers and 63 RBIs in 52 games at Triple-A Tucson.

That line mirrors what Rizzo has done so far at Triple-A Iowa .354 average with 17 homers and 46 RBIs in 48 games. What he did last season in San Diego hitting .141 with 46 strikeouts in 128 at-bats has been seared into everyones thinking.

Padres manager Bud Black understood when a reporter mentioned how Cubs fans have become obsessed with Rizzo.

Thats just like our fans were it hasnt changed, Black said. Hes putting up tremendous Triple-A numbers that get people excited, which they should, because hes a great, talented young player.

When he came to us, I think the hype (got to him). Initially, he tried to live up to it, meaning he tried too hard. He was probably a little bit amped, overly excited, and when you take that into the batters box, youre not yourself.

Theres a big difference between Triple-A pitching and major-league pitching. Theres a learning curve and Anthony in a small sample size of at-bats with us hadnt quite gotten there yet.

Hes still a guy that can continue to grow as a player, as I suspect he will. The thing about Anthony is hes a bright kid. He has the ability to make adjustments.

Hoyer has said that no minor-league player should be viewed as the savior for a major-league offense. The Cubs had no intention of doing anything just for show during a 12-game losing streak, and they responded by scoring 24 runs during this three-game sweep of the Padres (17-35).

Late June looks like a more realistic timeframe for Rizzo. Hoyer made a point to say that Rizzo was only 21 years old last season, and skipped college after the Red Sox took him in the sixth round of the 2007 draft.

Padres first-base coach Dave Roberts who played high school ball with McLeod in San Diego and won a World Series ring with the 2004 Red Sox says Rizzo has what it takes.

Hes going to be a nice player, Roberts said. I think that last year we were forced to kind of bring him up here and he might not have been ready. You know, he probably wasnt. But I think in that situation, our hand was forced.

Will a nice player be enough for desperate fans? Are there still holes in the swing? Will the hype be overwhelming?

The Cubs certainly feel like theyve done their homework on Rizzo, who overcame Hodgkins lymphoma while in the Red Sox system and has been described as mature beyond his years. He had to go through the screening process the Cubs are using now.

You see a lot of ability and talent, but you really dont know the character, Sveum said. You give somebody a lot of money, sometimes you just dont know the background, so everything you do that way is risky when youre building.

You really need character people. But its a lot of things: Can you handle playing in a city like (Chicago)? Can you handle playing in the playoffs? Can you handle the pressure of these kind of things? So youre always looking for that.

Pretty soon, the Cubs are going to have to find out with Rizzo.

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' overtime loss to Lightning: Missed opportunities and one too many penalties

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' overtime loss to Lightning: Missed opportunities and one too many penalties

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks’ 3-2 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday night:
 
1. One too many penalties.

The Blackhawks flirted with danger in the first period when they handed the Lightning three straight continuous power plays, a four-minute double minor high-sticking penalty from John Hayden and a Jonathan Toews hooking call that resulted in a 5-on-3 opportunity for Tampa Bay for 43 seconds. 

The penalty kill unit that ranked fourth in the league entering the matchup, however, killed off all three of those penalties against the NHL's top-ranked power play, and did so in commanding fashion.

The Blackhawks went 5-for-5 on the penalty kill in regulation, but couldn't stop the sixth one — a questionable slashing call on Nick Schmaltz —  in overtime when Brayden Point buried the winner on a 4-on-3 opportunity.

It was also interesting that Jon Cooper elected to go with four forwards (Nikita Kucherov, Vladislav Namestnikov, Point and Steven Stamkos) and zero defensemen during that man advantage, putting all of his offensive weapons out on the ice. It's something more teams should do in that situation.

2. Patrick Kane gets going.

After scoring just one goal in his previous 10 games, Kane found the back of the net twice in the opening frame against Tampa Bay and stayed hot against a team he historically plays well against. And he nearly netted a hat trick in overtime but couldn't cash in on a breakaway opportunity.

Kane has 20 points (eight goals, 12 assists) in 14 career regular-season games against the Lightning, and extended his point streak to five games. He has three goals and four assists over that stretch.

We wrote about how important it is for the Blackhawks' superstars to get going again with the offensive contributions mainly coming from role players as of late, and Kane getting into a groove is a perfect step in that direction.

3. How about that goaltending battle?

Corey Crawford and Andrei Vasilevskiy showed us exactly why they belong in the Vezina Trophy discussion, and as of this moment, it's hard not to include both of them as finalists. They put on a goaltending clinic, seemingly topping the other as the game went on.

The two teams combined for 71 scoring chances, and Crawford and Vasilevskiy came up big when their teams need them the most.

Crawford finished with 35 saves on 38 shots (.921 save percentage) in the loss while Vasilevskiy stopped 29 of 31 (.935 save percentage), and improved to 15-2-1 on the season. 

4. Missed opportunities.

You couldn't have asked for a better start for the Blackhawks. They scored the first goal 3:49 into the game and the second on the power play at 15:54, killed off three penalties, including a 5-on-3, had 24 shot attempts (13 on goal) compared to the Lightning's 16 attempts (11 on goal) and led in even-strength scoring chances 9-6.

It was a different story the rest of the way.

The Blackhawks took their foot off the gas pedal a bit and let the Lightning back in the game by getting away from what they do best, and that's control the puck. Obviously, you expected the league's best offense to push back and it's certainly not an easy task to keep them off the scoresheet all together. 

But the Blackhawks had their chances to stay in front or retake the lead and just couldn't bury them. Tampa Bay had 50 shot attempts from the second period on while the Blackhawks had only 32, and finished with 44 scoring chances compared to Chicago's 27.

5. Richard Panik in the doghouse?

Joel Quenneville didn't go to his line blender in this one, but he did shorten some leashes. Panik, most notably, had a season-low 12:28 of ice time in the loss and had 15 shifts, which was second-fewest only to Ryan Hartman (13) on the team.

Panik had a prime chance to break a 2-2 tie in the third period but was denied by Vasilevskiy, who made a remarkable left-pad save. Instead, Panik extended his goal drought to 12 games and didn't get a shift in overtime.

He's certainly better and will get his scoring chances when playing on the top line with Toews and Brandon Saad, but the missed opportunities are magnified in tight losses. It doesn't look like a move down in the lineup is coming given the success of Alex DeBrincat, who gives the Blackhawks an offensive weapon on the third line, but perhaps it should be considered.

Bring your own stuffing: Jazz swat Bulls on Thanksgiving Eve

Bring your own stuffing: Jazz swat Bulls on Thanksgiving Eve

On the second (turkey) leg of a back-to-back, the Bulls didn't bring much energy in a 110-80 loss to the Utah Jazz. 

Instead of diving into the nitty-gritty of the uninspiring effort, though, we decided to just serve you up a Thanksgiving meal of highlights. Here are the top blocks from Wednesday's game: 

5. Derrick Favors is no Rudy Gobert -- that we know -- but imitation is the highest form of flattery. 

4. Are Bobby Portis chase down blocks the new LeBron James chase down blocks? Let's not get carried away... yet. We'll chalk it up to just a real nice hustle play by Bobby. 

3 and 2. Speaking of hustle plays... Jonas Jerebko isn't exactly known as a dominant defender. He sure made it hard for the Bulls on what should of been an easy fast-break bucket in the third quarter, though. First, he silenced Kris Dunn's reverse. Then, he met Lauri Markkanen at the rim and sent the rookie packing. The Baby Bulls 2.0 can blame it on fatigue, but they just handed Jerebko a highlight tape for years to come.   

1. In fairness, Jerian Grant had to get up a shot as the quarter was coming to a close. It is as vicious as it looks, though.