Blackhawks

Amdist lineup changes, Rizzo won't budge

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Amdist lineup changes, Rizzo won't budge

With Starlin Castro entering his third year in the majors, Dale Sveum and the Cubs decided to place the young star in the No. 3 spot in the order in hopes he would stick there long-term.

It didn't work out as they had hoped and Castro was moved back to the two-hole on a regular basis, beginning a merry-go-round at the No. 3 spot on the lineup card.

Sveum tried Joe Mather for seven games, but the utilityman only mustered a .222 average and didn't drive in a single run. David DeJesus (.162 AVG in 11 games), Bryan LaHair (.489 OPS in four games) and Alfonso Soriano (1-for-4 in his only game) didn't fare much better.

But with top prospect Anthony Rizzo's call-up this week, Sveum finally has his guy.

"He's our third hitter," Sveum said of Rizzo. "I don't see changing that in the future."

The first-year manager described his ideal No. 3 hitter and Rizzo currently fits the bill.

"One thing you want from your third hitter is some power and grinding for RBIs," Sveum said. "When guys get out there on base, he'll understand how to get them in...When you lead off with a single and a double and runners on second and third, he's mature enough to get 'em over and get RBIs in situations you don't want to falter in.

"You want a real solid guy that can do a lot of things. Obviously, home runs are nice, and average is nice. But those key RBIs in the first inning are the biggest of all to take the lead or tie the game. Those are a lot of key situations that come up for a third hitter over the course of 162 games."

In the first inning Friday, Rizzo came up with the bases empty, but worked a seven-pitch walk before he was stranded on third base on a LaHair ground out. He finished the contest 0-for-3 in his third game since his call-up.

LaHair, Rizzo's predecessor at first base before a move to the outfield, collected three singles in the win over the Astros to raise his average to .288 and OPS to .902. But the late bloomer may not see many at-bats during the rest of the series.

Houston is slated to send two lefties out to the mound over the weekend, with J.A. Happ first up on Saturday before Wandy Rodriguez goes on Sunday.

LaHair has struggled mightily against left-handed pitching, compiling a .086.200.171 slash line in 40 plate appearances so far this season. By contrast, he is hitting .320.396.604 against righties.

Despite those numbers, Sveum said he was entertaining the thought of leaving LaHair in against a left-handed starter here or there.

"You just have to see some results," Svuem said. "Unfortunately, the results just are not real competitive. But you do also need to give him a chance once in a while."

As for Rizzo, Sveum said the 22-year-old slugger was going to stay in the lineup against lefties for the foreseeable future. This weekend will be a good test for the potential franchise cornerstone.

Four takeaways: Brandon Saad breaks out in strong bounce-back performance by Blackhawks

Four takeaways: Brandon Saad breaks out in strong bounce-back performance by Blackhawks

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 3-1 win over the Anaheim Ducks at the United Center on Tuesday:

1. Brandon Saad's breakout game

After turning in one of his best efforts of the season on Sunday against Tampa Bay, the Blackhawks rewarded Saad with a promotion to the top-six again. And he took advantage of that opportunity.

In the first period alone, Saad recorded four shots on goal, scored his first of the season on the power play, drew a penalty and had a takeaway in 7:42 of ice time, which led all forwards. He finished with nine shot attempts (a season-high seven on goal) and 18:56 of ice time.

On his power-play goal, Saad battled for position in front of the net, called for the puck and scored on his second effort. He did all the right things and got rewarded, including on the empty-netter that sealed the victory.

"I've had some chances, especially as of late," Saad said. "But it's definitely nice for them to get in and get a win on top of that."

Said coach Joel Quenneville: "He was excellent tonight. ... I thought he had great speed all over the ice, had the puck way more. We’re happy for him. Big factor in the win."

2. Erik Gustafsson's slap-pass becoming a thing

For the second time this season, Gustafsson contributed to a game-winning goal that involved a fake shot and slap-pass from the point. Patrick Kane was the recipient of the cross-ice pass and buried home the one-timer from the right faceoff circle

"I can’t score by myself, so it’s better to pass it," Gustafsson joked. "No, I know Kaner is out there. He’s always getting open when someone else has the puck so it’s easy to find him and there was one guy in front of me so I wanted to pass it."

3. Blackhawks cut down on high-danger chances

On Sunday against Tampa Bay, the Blackhawks allowed 25 high-danger chances at even strength. It put them at the very bottom of the league for most on average per game, ironically falling below Anaheim.

Through two periods on Tuesday, the Blackhawks allowed zero and only five at 5-on-5 for the entire game. Certainly a 180 from two nights ago, and an area they will continue to build upon.

"We just took away those quality chances," said Corey Crawford, who made 24 saves and picked up his first win at home since Dec. 17, 2017. "I don't think they really had too many where they had time in front of the net to really think about where they wanted to shoot and our guys were on the right away in the middle of the ice and that'll give you a great chance to win a hockey game."

4. Special teams battle

There were a total of 20 penalty minutes (10 for Anaheim, 10 for Chicago), which meant lots of power play opportunities and not as much even-strength time.

The Blackhawks had four of them in the first period, and converted on the second try when Saad scored his first of the season. The penalty killed went 4-for-4, allowing a combined eight combined shots on goal but limiting the quality chances.

Chris Sale labors in World Series opener for Red Sox

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USA TODAY

Chris Sale labors in World Series opener for Red Sox

When Chris Sale was with the White Sox, fans dreamed of seeing him headline a postseason playoff rotation.

That never materialized in his time with the White Sox, but Sale is headlining a World Series rotation for the Red Sox. The 29-year-old pitched Game 1 for the Red Sox against the Dodgers on Tuesday.

Sale didn't last long, making it into the fifth and getting pulled before recording an out. In those 4+ innings, Sale gave up three runs while striking out seven.

One of the key plays of the game featured Manny Machado getting an RBI single against Sale in the third inning to tie the game at 2-2. Machado later had an RBI groundout to again tie the game in the fifth before Boston regained the lead in the bottom half of that inning.

Was that a meeting of the White Sox past (Sale) against the White Sox future (Machado)? Machado will be a highly sought after free agent this winter and the White Sox have been connected to the former Orioles infielder since last offseason.

Game 1 featured a stellar pitching matchup of Sale against Clayton Kershaw, but it didn't materialize as it looked on paper. Sale labored while Kershaw gave up five runs in 4+ innings.

This postseason hasn't been a standout one for Sale. The lefty has a 4.40 ERA in 16 1/3 innings over four appearances (three starts and a relief appearance).

The longer Chris Sale is with the Red Sox, the less this will feel relevant to the White Sox, but it is still something to see the longtime White Sox ace on the mound starting a World Series opener.