After brilliant 2012, Sale calculating the next step


After brilliant 2012, Sale calculating the next step

Chris Sale's first year as a starter with the White Sox was thoroughly impressive, with the 23-year-old lefty compiling a 3.05 ERA with 192 strikeouts in 192 innings. He earned a pitcher of the month honor, threw an inning in the All-Star Game and finished sixth in AL Cy Young voting.

So what's the next thing for Sale to accomplish, given his breakout 2012 season?

"No hitters," quipped manager Robin Ventura.

"For him, he's getting stronger, I think he understands what it takes to go the full year," Ventura added in a more serious tone. "But we're happy with his progress. He's a talented kid, we're lucky to have him and just keep him healthy."

Sale slowed down in August and September last season, throwing 68 innings over 11 starts with a 3.84 ERA with 12 home runs and 20 walks allowed. From April through July, Sale had a 2.61 ERA with seven home runs and 31 walks allowed in 124 innings covering 18 starts and one short-lived relief appearance.

The slender left-hander said he added 15 pounds in the offseason, with the gain mainly concentrated in his legs. He said he's eating better and working on his core strength, all in an effort to be as good as he was in the first four months of 2012 throughout the entire 2013 season.

"Last season, I felt like I kinda fizzled out late," Sale said. "Those are the most important innings. It doesn't matter how good you are in May, April, June, July -- August and September is when it's really crunch time, and that's when I want to be at my best. I just want to build enough strength to be at my best at the end of the season and kind of be that guy that I was at the beginning of the season."

Sale's average fastball velocity dipped below 92 miles per hour in September, which statistically was his worst month of the season. In six starts in the season's final full month, Sale allowed 16 runs with 37 strikeouts, 12 walks and four home runs allowed in 35 innings, good for a 4.11 ERA. Opponents had a .785 OPS against Sale as the White Sox stumbled to a second-place finish.

"There were starts where I felt great and I'd go out there and give up five or six runs," Sale explained. "There were times where I didn't feel so good and those would be some of my better games. So you don't really pinpoint this or that on production or outcome of the game, you kinda go based on feeling. I want to feel at my peak later on in the season and kinda be able to see the season through and make all my starts and be the guy I need to be for this team."

Ventura recently said he expects to hold Sale back at the start of spring training games, which runs a week longer this year due to the World Baseball Classic. The White Sox will continue to treat their most prized pitcher with care, doing whatever they can to keep him on the mound and off the disabled list. Last year, that meant pushing a few of his starts back or skipping them entirely.

While Washington opted to shut down their own burgeoning ace in Stephen Strasburg late last season, the White Sox didn't go that route. But the intent of both team's strategies were the same.

Addison Reed played with both -- at San Diego State with Strasburg, and in the White Sox organization with Sale -- and the closer explained how imperative it is to have someone like Sale or Strasburg for a full season, even if it means going to great lengths to do so.

"Those guys are pretty important to a team. They could make or break a whole season," Reed said. "I think with them being smart with Sale, that will do nothing but help us out. As long as we keep him healthy, I think we have a pretty good chance."

Draft night highlighted the unfulfilling feeling of this past Bulls season

Draft night highlighted the unfulfilling feeling of this past Bulls season

The door has officially been closed on the 2017-18 season for the Chicago Bulls, and the word that most comes to mind is “unfulfilling.”

Or maybe even “indistinguishable.”

Draft night was supposed to be a culmination of a painful seven-month stretch that only had occasional yet costly moments of light.

Death lineup? Meet Death March. And Death April, while we’re at it.

The Bulls brass sold everyone on a full rebuild after trading Jimmy Butler one year ago, with an unspoken promise that this draft would bear franchise-changing fruit—hence the general feeling of angst or even indifference with the solid selection of Wendell Carter Jr. and their not-so-secret affection of Chandler Hutchison.

It was why fans believe the Bulls got cold feet about trading to move up, and why they believe the Bulls weren’t being pragmatic in staying away from Michael Porter Jr.

Porter, some believe, has star written all over him given his prep ranking this time last year and the Bulls were in position to speed up this process without having to go into a painful Process.

They were desperate for a star, believing the tankathon had produced so much suffering it had to be something on the back end.

There was the fight (or the punch).

The aftermath.

The miserable 3-20 start.

The 14-7 streak that produced the audacity of hope.

The reality that 14-7 was damaging enough to the lottery chances that a 3-11 finish couldn’t rectify.

And finally, the coin flip that cost them five spots in the lottery one month ago.

So that empty feeling has less to do with Carter and Hutchison, who’ve done nothing to earn the “blah” reaction from the fan base and some media. It has everything to do with the unanswered questions over the last 82 games and lack of clarity over the three hauls from draft night last year.

It’s not that Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn underperformed individually last season, but the lack of cohesiveness due to injuries and circumstances has led to the varying thoughts.

LaVine is approaching restricted free agency and by all accounts is taking his continuing rehab in Washington very seriously.  Markkanen has added plenty of muscle since the offseason began, appearing as if he can play Michael B. Jordan’s in-ring foil in the next installation of “Creed” as Ivan Drago’s long lost son.

And despite the report about Dunn not working as hard on the floor this offseason, that would be more of a concern if this were late August, not June.

The last time they were seen together on the floor, they looked no closer to a pecking order than the day they arrived.

What we know is that they’re productive NBA players, capable of putting an individual tattoo on a game at a moment’s notice, skillful enough to take your breath away.

And for whatever reason, the expectations changed once the three displayed they could be dynamic on their own—a star needed to be anointed and groomed to go with the star they believed was coming their way after the season.

Management is fully behind Markkanen, but Paxson’s strong words about LaVine at the season-ending news conference illustrated how much it feels LaVine has to prove next season.

With his restricted free agency status looming, the Bulls’ initial offer will show how much they value him until and if he gets a better deal on the market.

And the fact the Bulls weren’t afraid to draft Trae Young while having a healthy debate about Collin Sexton on draft night has to show they have at least some skepticism about the future at point guard.

But stars—developing stars, acquired stars, drafted stars—have to do it on their own. No amount of promotion or prodding from management will validate their faith, if that’s the route the Bulls choose to go.

This has to be a meritocracy or it won’t work and, honestly, it’s time for a reality check.

All the worry about the Bulls getting back to title contention sooner rather than later seems like folks getting ahead of themselves.

The front office has taken its share of shots from media and fans, so some questioning is earned but they’re right about one thing. Rebuilds aren’t completed in a day or 12 months.

Expecting some magic potion to arrive in the form of a top draft pick isn’t going to cure what ills this roster, and it doesn’t seem likely all the cap space will result in a free agent choosing the Bulls over the usual suspects.

However, methodical building can look like complacency if not done with a sense of urgency.

And with urgency in mind, this past season was unsatisfying to say the least—heading into the next phase with two more young pieces to develop while the first three are still in the evaluation stage.

Blackhawks add another defenseman to pipeline, draft Nicolas Beaudin at No. 27


Blackhawks add another defenseman to pipeline, draft Nicolas Beaudin at No. 27

DALLAS — Despite taking Adam Boqvist with the No. 8 overall pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, the Blackhawks took a second defenseman at No. 27 with the selection of Nicolas Beaudin.

Beaudin is a 5-foot-11, 172-pound defenseman who's known to be a puck-mover. He's a left-handed shot, which is something the Blackhawks could use more of in the organization along their blue line.

The 18-year-old registered 69 points (12 goals, 57 assists) in 68 games with the Drummondville Voltigeurs of the QMJHL, and added three goals and eight assists in 10 postseason contests.

Beaudin is the third defenseman the Blackhawks have taken in the first round the last two years, with Henri Jokiharju and Boqvist being the other two.