Cubs

Against all odds, Bulls must make this personal

756800.png

Against all odds, Bulls must make this personal

Carlos Boozer brought it up after Sunday's Game 4 loss. Richard Hamilton was asked about it at Bulls practice Monday. The time Rip's Detroit Pistons rallied from a 3-1 deficit in the 2003 playoffs to beat the Orlando Magic in the first round. It's worth mentioning. It gives you hope. It can be done.

But then you look a little closer and you realize it's not done very often. Only eight teams have come back from a 3-1 deficit to win a NBA playoff series. The last team to do it was the Phoenix Suns, who beat the Los Angels Lakers in a Western Conference first-round series in 2006. In case you're wondering, only three of those teams went on to win it all. But, let's not get ahead of ourselves. We just need to concentrate on the Bulls fighting off elimination in Game 5 Tuesday.

I have no idea if the Bulls are going to win this game and live to play another. For the first time all season, I truly have no feel for this game. As soon as I think we can stick a fork in this tattered bunch, another part of me thinks they're going to come out guns-a-blazing in front of the home crowd and reclaim their faded glory.

In franchise history, the Bulls have never rallied from a 3-1 deficit in a playoff series, failing in all five previous attempts. Let's face it, the odds are against them.

Call me crazy, but I still believe if the Bulls can just make a few adjustments and play like their lives depend on it, they may be able to not only win Game 5 but win the necessary three straight and advance.

The most encouraging thing I heard at Bulls practice Monday was when Rip Hamilton said, "Right now, it's personal. We can't just go out there as professional basketball players, we have to make it personal."

Yes, take it personally. Bulls players should be personally offended that a No. 8 seed is about to knock off a No. 1 seed for only the fifth time since 1984. Not in our house!

It's time to pull out all the stops. Use Mike James if you have to -- he's bigger, more physical (to help counter Evan Turner) and plays better defense than C.J. Watson and John Lucas III. He'll be more proficient at running the offense since he's not a scoring point guard and he might distribute the ball better to get Luol Deng and Hamilton more shot opportunities. And, for Pete's sake, maybe he can stop Jrue Holiday during the critical 4th quarter?

I'm not saying James is the answer by any means, I'm simply suggesting that coach Tom Thibodeau needs to throw out the playbook at this point because whatever the Bulls have been doing hasn't been working. They've been sticking to a failed plan and it's time to make adjustments.

Play with a sense of urgency, make it personal and the Bulls can win this thing. Of those eight previous teams I mentioned that came back down 3-1 to win the series, six of them played Game 5 at home. The Bulls have as good a shot as any to make history here.

Even if it is against all odds.

Jake Arrieta full of appreciation in return to Wrigley mound: ‘I’ll never forget this city’

Jake Arrieta full of appreciation in return to Wrigley mound: ‘I’ll never forget this city’

The last time Jake Arrieta pitched at Wrigley Field, his night ended with Cubs fans giving him a rousing standing ovation. The former Cubs right hander tossed 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball, leading the Cubs to victory in Game 4 of the 2017 NLCS—their only win against the Los Angeles Dodgers that series.

Arrieta returned to Wrigley Field as a visitor on Monday night, making his first start against the Cubs since joining the Philadelphia Phillies last season. Ironically, Arrieta’s counterpart for the night was Yu Darvish, who ultimately replaced Arrieta in the Cubs starting rotation.

Despite now donning Phillies red, Cubs fans once again showed their love for Arrieta, giving him a lengthy standing ovation ahead of his first plate appearance. Darvish even stepped off the mound in respect for the moment.

“I loved it, absolutely loved it,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said to reporters postgame. “[I’m] very happy that our fans would acknowledge him like that. Yu stepped away from the mound nicely. Jake deserved it.”

Arrieta tipped his helmet in appreciation for the crowd, taking in the moment for more than 30 seconds before stepping into the batter’s box. After the game, he told reporters that moment brought back memories of his time with the Cubs.

“That was something that really brought back great memories of getting that same sort of ovation pretty much on a nightly basis,” Arrieta said. “[I’m] very appreciative of that. I can’t say thank you enough to the city of Chicago, I really can’t.”

Arrieta took fans back to his Cubs tenure on Monday, throwing six innings of one run ball in the Phillies’ 5-4 10-inning win. Although the 33-year-old didn’t pick up the victory, he matched Darvish—who threw six innings of three-run ball—pitch by-pitch.

Phillies manager Gabe Kapler noted how well Arrieta handled his emotions throughout the night.

“I thought he handled the emotions really well. I thought he was in control of the game even when we were down,” Kapler said to reporters. “He always maintained his poise and he just got stronger as the outing went on and that’s why we were able to have him take down the sixth inning for us.”

It’s well-documented how Arrieta’s career improved for the better after the Cubs acquired him in a trade with the Baltimore Orioles in July 2013. When the Cubs acquired him, Arrieta held a career 5.46 ERA in 69 games (63 starts). He finished his Cubs career with a 2.73 ERA in 128 regular season starts. He also won five postseason games with the Cubs, including Games 2 and 6 of the 2016 World Series.

Despite moving on in free agency, Arrieta spoke highly of his time with the Cubs, their fans and the city of Chicago.

“Cubs fans all across the country, all across the world, they really respect and appreciate what guys are able to do here for them,” he said. “It means a lot, it really does.

"I’ll never forget this city, the fan base, the organization, everything that they did for me. It was 4 1/2 incredible years of my career.”

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Cubs games easily on your device.

Yu Darvish crashed Jake Arrieta's party, but Cubs bullpen falters

Yu Darvish crashed Jake Arrieta's party, but Cubs bullpen falters

Yu Darvish was one pitch away.

Holding onto a 1-0 lead with two outs in the sixth inning, Darvish threw Phillies catcher JT Realmuto a 2-2 cutter. It made sense - Darvish had been spotting that pitch well all night, and the Phillies were averaging a paltry 79.8 mph exit velocity against it.

With one strike standing between Darvish and a 6-inning shutout, Realmuto took Darvish’s cutter and sent it back up the middle for a game-tying RBI single. A 2-RBI triple from César Hernández followed. In the blink of an eye, what was shaping up to be one of Darvish’s finest moments in Chicago was instead reduced to yet another start spent searching for silver linings.

“Really good. He was outstanding tonight,” Joe Maddon said. “He pitched really well.

“He had really good stuff. He had command of his stuff, he had command of himself. I thought he was outstanding - even better than what he looked like in Cincinnati. I thought that was probably his best game for us to date.”

Darvish has continued to lean heavily on his cutter this season, more so than any year prior. After throwing it 13 percent of the time last season, he’s going to that pitch almost 25 percent of the time now. If that holds, it’d beat his previous career-high, set in 2013, by six percentage points.

All things considered, that pitch has actually been good for him this season. It’s his go-to offering when he needs to induce weak contact, and batters are hitting .125 against it so far. He gets batters to chase cutters 29.5 percent of the time, the most of any pitch he throws. While he has admitted in games past that he relies too heavily on his fastball, Maddon sees no issues with the new trend.

“I have no concerns with that whatsoever,” he said. “There’s different ways for pitchers to attack hitters, and if it's successful, I really would not change a whole lot.”

Though the night was dedicated to celebrating one of the franchises most beloved pitchers, it was one of their most maligned that continued to show signs of figuring it out. He’s put together back-to-back starts with three or less walks for the first time this season, and has allowed two or less runs in three of the last five.

The pitcher even stepped off the mound during Arrieta’s first at-bat, in order to let the standing ovation continue on.

“He’s is a legend in Chicago,” Darvish said after the game. “And I pitched against him and pitched pretty good, so it makes me confident.”

The bullpen again struggled on Monday night, as the trio of Mike Montgomery, Brad Brach, and Kyle Ryan allowed two runs on five hits, including the game-winning solo home run from Realmuto in the 10th. For a moment it looked like the Cubs had a win wrapped up when Brach got outfielder Andrew McCutchen to bite on a two-strike slider, but was (probably incorrectly) called a checked swing.  He would eventually draw a walk, leading to Jean Segura’s game-tying single.

“On the field, I thought for sure [that McCutchen swung],” Brach said. “Looking at the first base umpire, I was a little taken aback. That’s why I went off the mound - just to regather myself, because I didn’t want to let the emotion get to me there.

“It’s a 50-50 call, and unfortunately it didn’t go my way.”

 

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream