White Sox

Are the Cubs turning a corner on offense?

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Are the Cubs turning a corner on offense?

During the first month of the season, it wasn't hard to point to the issues that plagued the Cubs -- the bullpen and the offense.

The bullpen had a horrendous day Thursday, but we don't need to touch on that right now.

The offense, meanwhile, may have started to turn a corner a bit.

After a tough April in which they only hit nine home runs, the Cubs have started to hit for some power. In two May games, Dale Sveum's squad already has five home runs -- two from Bryan LaHair and one each from Geovany Soto, Ian Stewart and Starlin Castro.

They've only scored three runs in each game (which should have been good enough for wins based on how fantastic the starting pitching was), but the Cubs have totaled 10 hits in each game, good for a .274 average (20-for-74).

Five different Cubs have had multi-hit games and Reed Johnson (0-for-4) was the only position player not to pick up a safety in the rain-shortened two-game series against the Reds.

Some other interesting notes on the offense in May:

--Soto has doubled his season home run and tripled his season RBI total in the month's first two games. He had just one home run and one RBI in April, but has two RBI and another homer already in May.

--Stewart is showing signs of life at the plate. The Cubs third baseman was incredibly unlucky in April, but started May off 3-for-8 with a homer and double.

--Bryan LaHair is a beast. Two home runs, a single and a walk to kick off May after an incredible April. Not bad for a guy so many people were critical of heading into the season.

--Alfonso Soriano was 3-for-8 in the two games in Cincinnati, but all three were singles. He finished April without a homer and has only two extra-base hits this season (both doubles) in 80 at-bats.

As the weather warms up, the bats will come out to play more and more. May has been proof of that. Too bad the five home runs were all solo and the Cubs could get only one of the other baserunners home.

Dallas Keuchel on facing Tim Anderson: 'You kind of want to fight him'

Dallas Keuchel on facing Tim Anderson: 'You kind of want to fight him'

Ozzie Guillen had a famous saying about A.J. Pierzynski that you’ve probably heard before.

"If you play against him, you hate him. If you play with him, you hate him a little less."

It would be hard for any player to match Pierzynski’s reputation, who was (and continues to be) beloved in Chicago but was booed and despised in almost every other MLB city.

And yet, here comes Tim Anderson.

“When you play against him, you kind of want to fight him all the time,” White Sox left-hander Dallas Keuchel said Wednesday.

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Keuchel has experience playing against Anderson and now he is teammates with him, seeing a different side of the White Sox shortshop that won the American League batting title last year.

“He’s definitely misunderstood,” Keuchel said.

Comparing Anderson to Pierzynski isn’t exactly apples to apples. Pierzynski’s reputation was a little more convoluted, while Anderson just likes to have fun with general disregard for baseball’s outdated “unwritten” rules. His bat flips catch the attention of much needed younger sports fans, yet also seem to trigger just as many old-school players around the league. Just ask Royals pitcher Brad Keller.

RELATED: Why Brad Keller hit Tim Anderson: Bat flip was 'over the top'

Keuchel now has the perspective of being on the same team as Anderson and he means well when he says the opposition wants to fight his new teammate.

“That's not necessarily a bad thing, because you see the passion he plays with, you see how much he loves the game,” Keuchel said. “It definitely gets under your skin, which can help him.”

The former Astros and Braves pitcher even had examples.

“I remember a few times where we'd be going over the scouting report and (the report said) you can go in this area if you're ahead of the count, or if you're behind in the count, you can go in this area,” Keuchel said. “And then all the sudden I'm going in those areas and he's pulling a groundball double down the line and I'm just dumbfounded. But now I see where he's at. His mindset, the way he's trying to be more knowledgeable about the game about his at-bats.”

The White Sox hope Anderson picks up where he left off last season, and he’s showing early signs of that, even delivering a signature bat flip – er, throw – in an intrasquad game. But at this point, Anderson has earned the right to flip, even if opposing pitchers hate it.

“That's where you get the true professional,” Keuchel said. “You put the talent with the mindset and the knowledge to get better and you're sitting pretty, you're sitting with a batting title, you're sitting with respect around the league. I think he's going to be a force to reckon with and someone who some of the younger guys can even learn from.”

 

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Why Blackhawks' Alex Nylander is standing out in Phase 3 training camp

Why Blackhawks' Alex Nylander is standing out in Phase 3 training camp

When forward Alex Nylander came to the Blackhawks last offseason in a trade that sent Henri Jokiharju — a young and promising defenseman for Chicago — to the Buffalo Sabres, Blackhawks fans and media were left scratching their heads.

Then, Nylander scored the Hawks' first goal of the season in their first game of the 2019-20 campaign against the Philadelphia Flyers in Prague. 

Throughout the season the winger would show flashes of offensive brilliance that occasionally earned him ice time among the Blackhawks' top forwards like Patrick Kane. 

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But as soon as we would feel remorse for doubting the trade and his abilities, Nylander would cough up the puck or hesitate in the midst of a quality scoring chance immediately after. 

The 22-year-old is using the NHL's Return To Play program as an opportunity to show growth and dependability in his game.

Nylander was one of few Hawks that regularly participated in Phase 2's small group voluntary workouts. Teammates are already noticing his game in Phase 3's training camp, which began on Monday.

Related: Why Blackhawks' Phase 3 training camp has had an extra intensity

"Nylander, I thought, looked really good. He’s quick, he’s firing the puck and he’s a lot of fun to play with," Hawks forward Dylan Strome said after Day 2's practice.

When asked about Strome's comments on Wednesday, Alex said he's confident in how he's performed in camp, but wants to reach another level for the Blackhawks' big postseason opportunity. 

"I feel pretty good right now, been getting those skates in before in Phase 2 which was huge. I feel really good here in camp, but I want to be prepared because this is obviously going to be my first playoffs," Nylander said. "Like Stromer said, I started playing really well at the end of the season, especially with Stromer and Kane, good chemistry and stuff like that and kind of building on that and keep it going for the playoffs, it's going to be huge."

The Blackhawks will be playing the Oilers in a best-of-five play-in series for this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs on Aug. 1 in Edmonton. Before the qualifying round starts, the Hawks will take on the St. Louis Blues July 29 in an exhibition game.

"We have huge games there obviously and we just need to be as ready as possible," Nylander said. "It was nice to get to know (teammates) and play with them in Phase 2, so we got to know each other better off the ice and on the ice, so just keep carrying it on every day in training camp and working hard and we'll be ready for the playoffs."

Nylander had 26 points (10 goals, 16 assists) in 65 games with the Hawks before the NHL paused on March 12 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.