White Sox

Beyond no-call, losing to Pacers stings for Bulls

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Beyond no-call, losing to Pacers stings for Bulls

Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau didnt mince words after his teams 80-76 loss to the Pacers.In my eyes, he got wiped out, the coach said Tuesday night, still trying to control his rage at the officials swallowing their whistle at the conclusion of the game. He had a layup. It was a train wreck.But Im not going to put it on the officials. Weve still got to get it done. A tough call went against us.Thibodeau is right, on both counts. His teams lack of execution down the stretch, offensive droughts and inability to defend Pacers swingman Paul Georgewho had 34 points, nearly half of his squads outputkilled them.But in the end, that one play did them in. Trailing 78-76 with 14.1 seconds to go, Thibodeau drew up a beautiful play out of a timeout, with Luol Deng making a backdoor cut and receiving a pass from Joakim Noah on the baseline.Everything was perfect. Deng caught the pass, went up for layup and was met by massive Pacers center Roy Hibbert, seemingly drawing a foul, except no whistles sounded.Ive got to see it again, but I thought I got fouled. I havent seen it yet, said a despondent Deng afterwards. Im mad at myself that I didnt get a shot up. When he contacted me, I lost the ball, but if I would have got a shot up, even if I missed it, I think a teammate could have got the rebound. Thats the one thing Ive got to do better with that play.We designed it for me to cut back door, he continued. Jo made a good play. I saw he overplayed me, I cut back door and its just something I could have done better.It was a great play. Thats my fault. Ive got to finish that.Noah added: It was a non-call. The refs thought that he was straight up. Thats the last play of the game, but we didnt play well. Weve got to win these games and its unfortunate, but weve got to come back and respond tomorrow.Pacers head coach Frank Vogel saw it differently, calling it a heck of a defensive play by Hibbert.Hes the biggest reason why we lead the league in field-goal percentage defense. Its that play, thats the biggest reason. Hes the best in the league at exercising the fundamental of verticality. Hes in his lane and off his feet, making a legal defensive play and earning a no-call, he elaborated. Youre allowed to jump straight up. No matter where you are, youre allowed to jump straight up and absorb contact, and when he learned that and went away from trying to draw charges, like he was doing earlier in his career, he went from not being able to stay on the court to being one of the best defensive centers in the NBA.Regardless of that play, which certainly seemed like a foul to the naked eye at full speed and would have given Deng a chance to tie the game late, the Bulls compounded their issues with a host of mistakes throughout the contest. After backup point guard Nate Robinson led a fourth-quarter comeback to overtake the Pacers, unforced errors and difficulty getting quality shots became their biggest problems.We shot ourselves in the foot, Thibodeau said of his team, which shot 38.4 percent from the fieldIndiana was held to 36.3 percent shooting, but George was 14-of-25 form the floor by himselfand committed 19 turnovers on the evening. Theyre very good defensively. I knew it was going to be that type of game. Theyre a very good help team and youve got to keep the ball moving, and if you try to go one-on-one against them, youre going to have problems. Theyve got length. George is a great defender. Weve got to do better.Usually, turnovers comes down to one or two things. Either its too much one-on-one or trying to make a risky pass and not recognizing whats going on. You have to understand where you are in the game, how the game is being played, is it the fourth quarter, are you trying to thread the needle, are you dancing with the ball. If youre doing those things, its going to lead to turnovers, he added, before launching into why he would no longer tolerate the Bulls using a roster full of newcomers still familiarizing themselves with each other as a reason for their ball-security issues.
We said that in training camp. We said it after the first two weeks. At some point, youve got to say, Okay, weve been together 16 games, seven preseason games. Youre a pro player. Were not using that as an excuse. Weve got to do better.Robinson took the loss especially hard, blaming himself for the teams lack of poise with the ball in their handshis ill-timed alley-oop pass attempted for Joakim Noah stands out, but he wasnt the only culprit. Still, he took the bulk of the responsibility for the Bulls late-game execution.The no-call on Hibbert doesnt define the game. I think we had like 19 turnovers and I had four myself, so thats something weve got to do, take care of the ball down the stretch and for this loss, I definitely take the blame for this one. Just down the stretch, Ive got to be smarter with the ball, make the right plays and got to execute, he said. We got the shots that we wanted, we just didnt make them. Youre not going to make every shot each game. Youve got to play hard. We played through it, got stops when we needed them. Down the stretch, weve got to take care of the ball.We took the shots that they gave us, but I think we could have took better shots, as well, including myself. But for the most part, turnovers. Turnovers killed us today.Just bringing energy to the game, thats something that we all try to do. The game is interesting and youve just got to play it the right way. We try to do that. We try to make the right plays for guys, getting guys in spots where they can be successful and tonight, we just didnt take care of the ball, the diminutive scorer continued. We got every shot that we wanted, each guy on our team. We just didnt make the shots. Theyre a hell of a team. Im not taking that from them at all. But for us, we just didnt make the shots. We got the stops when we needed them and we got buckets when we needed them. We just didnt make them down the stretch.Countered Thibodeau: I dont want to put it all on him. Weve just got to do better. The last five minutes, its got to be better. As a team. Its not any one particular guy.Youve got to make the right play, the right read. Youve got to do your job. If your job is to set a screen, you set a great screen. If youre job is to give yourself up and make a great cut; usually when youre cutting hard, when you finish your spacing, youre going to loosen the defense. I thought the second shot hurt us, so those are things. The turnovers, in a game like this, where its a low-scoring game, those possessions are huge, the coach went on to say. We cant play loose with the ball. Youve got to play strong inside. Were doing a lot of tipping and thats not going to get it done, not against the tough teams in the league, so weve got to do better.
Noah chimed in: We definitely turned the ball over too much. Cant turn the ball over in the last five minutes of the game. Weve just got to get good shots. Some good things, some bad things. But overall, the energy wasnt very good tonight. As a whole, we have to play better. Too many turnovers. I think we could have rebounded the ball better.This loss stung hard in the Bulls locker room, particularly after theyd built some momentum with consecutive wins over two playoff contenders in Dallas and Philadelphia, closing out a home stand that begun so disappointinglysurrendering a 27-point lead to Milwaukee last weekon a similarly negative note. Making it even more poignant is the fact that Indiana is also missing their leading scorer, Danny Granger, and the Pacers are a rival that the Bulls prefer keep little-brother status instead of taking the reins of the Central Division this season, during the ongoing absence of Derrick Rose.Deng stated the obvious: Our games are always close. Give them credit, they came here and got what they wanted. I dont think we played well.With two road games coming up against the dregs of the division, Cleveland and Detroit, the Bulls will have the opportunity to build up their confidence again. Theyll need it with a tough December stretch awaiting them upon their return to Chicago.

James Shields is having a stellar May and making comeback wins possible for the White Sox

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USA TODAY

James Shields is having a stellar May and making comeback wins possible for the White Sox

If you haven’t checked in with what James Shields is doing in a while, your opinion of the veteran pitcher’s performance might need some updating.

Shields didn’t exactly win the confidence of White Sox fans during his first two seasons on the South Side. After arriving in a midseason trade with the San Diego Padres in 2016, he posted a 6.77 ERA in 22 starts, during which he allowed 31 home runs. He followed that up with a 5.23 ERA and 27 home runs allowed in 2017.

And the 2018 season didn’t start out great, either, with a 6.17 ERA over his first five outings.

But the month of May has brought a dramatic turn in the vet’s production. In five May starts, he’s got a 3.27 ERA in five starts, all of which have seen him go at least six innings (he’s got six straight outings of at least six innings, dating back to his last start in April).

And his two most recent starts have probably been his two best ones of the season. After allowing just one run on three hits in 7.1 innings last Thursday against the Texas Rangers, he gave up just two runs on five hits Tuesday night against the Baltimore Orioles.

The White Sox, by the way, won both of those games in comeback fashion. They scored four runs in the eighth against Texas and three in the eighth against Baltimore for a pair of “Ricky’s boys don’t quit” victories made possible by Shields’ great work on the mound.

“That’s what it’s all about,” he said after Tuesday’s game. “It’s our job as starters to keep us in the game as long as we possibly can, no matter how we are hitting in a game. At the end of the game, you can always score one or two runs and possibly win a ballgame like we did tonight.”

The White Sox offense was indeed having trouble much of Tuesday’s game, kept off the scoreboard by Orioles starter Kevin Gausman. Particularly upsetting for White Sox Twitter was the sixth inning, when the South Siders put two runners in scoring position with nobody out and then struck out three straight times to end the inning.

But Shields went out and pitched a shut-down seventh, keeping the score at 2-0. Bruce Rondon did much the same thing in the eighth, and the offense finally sparked to life in the bottom of the inning when coincidentally presented with a similar situation to the one in the sixth. This time, though, the inning stayed alive and resulted in scoring, with Welington Castillo, Yoan Moncada and Yolmer Sanchez driving in the three runs.

“I’m out there doing my job,” Shields said. “My job is to try to keep us in the game. And we had some good starters against us that have been throwing well. If I can keep them close, we are going to get some wins and get some wins throughout the rest of the year like that. That’s the name of the game.”

Shields’ value in this rebuilding effort has been discussed often. His veteran presence is of great value in the clubhouse, particularly when it comes to mentoring young pitchers like Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, among others. Shields can act as an example of how to go about one’s business regardless of the outcomes of his starts. But when he can lead by example with strong outings, that’s even more valuable.

“I’m trying to eat as many innings as possible,” he said. “We kind of gave our bullpen — we taxed them a little bit the first month of the season. We are kind of getting back on track. Our goal as a starting staff is to go as deep as possible, and in order to do that, you’ve got to throw strikes and get ahead of hitters.

“Not too many playoff teams, a starting staff goes five and dive every single game. My whole career I’ve always wanted to go as deep as possible. I wanted to take the ball all the way to the end of the game. And we’ve done a pretty good job of it of late.”

It’s a long time between now and the trade deadline, and consistency has at times escaped even the brightest spots on this rebuilding White Sox roster. But Shields has strung together a nice bunch of starts here of late, and if that kind of performance can continue, the White Sox front office might find that it has a potential trade piece on its hands. That, too, is of value to this rebuild.

Until that possibility occurs, though, the team will take more solid outings that give these young players an opportunity to learn how to come back and learn how to win.

Cubs still searching for answers for Tyler Chatwood's puzzling control issues

Cubs still searching for answers for Tyler Chatwood's puzzling control issues

Tyler Chatwood looked to be turning the corner with his control issues, but alas, he and the Cubs aren't so lucky.

After walking only two batters in a solid start in Atlanta last week, Chatwood had taken a big step in the right direction. It was, after all, only the third time he'd walked fewer than 5 batters in an outing this season.

Those control woes reared their ugly heads once again Tuesday night at Wrigley Field in a 10-1 loss to the Indians. Chatwood walked 6 batters and managed to net only 8 outs, getting hammered for 4 runs in the third inning.

"Ugh, it was tough," Maddon said. "The stuff was so good, we just couldn't get a strike."

"It's definitely frustrating," Chatwood said, "because one at-bat, I'll feel really good and the next one, I feel like I'm fighting myself.

"Last time [out], I was able to stay in the rhythm. Tonight, I was kinda battling, rushing rather than staying back, so it's just keeping that feeling and maintaining that."

His season ERA is only 3.74, which looks good until you consider his WHIP is 1.62 and he's walked 40 batters in 45.2 innings with only 41 strikeouts in the process. He now leads baseball in walks per 9 innings.

Chatwood said earlier this month in St. Louis that he's figured out what has led to the startling lack of control and while he didn't elaborate on the mechanical issue, he was working hard at correcting the problem in bullpens.

He's also used the term "fighting myself" at least a dozen times this month alone and it's become a common refrain for his explanation of what's going on. 

"He's got a busy delivery when he throws the baseball," Maddon said. "He's kinda busy what he does with his hands. It's not like he can just change it easily because that's how his arm works, how his body works.

"Sometimes, like you see him the other day, everything's on time and how good it can be and when it's out of sorts a bit, then all of the sudden it becomes shotgun. Ah man, you can see the movement [on his pitches] from the side, how good it is. 

"We gotta harness it somehow. I spoke to him briefly on the bench; I reassured him it's gonna be fine, it's gonna be really good by the end of the year. We gotta figure it out and he knows that. But man, that's good stuff. We just gotta get it in the zone."

Chatwood also admitted part of the problem is mental in that he's trying to force pitches rather than trusting his stuff. He's also gotten into the bad habit of drifting down the mound, though he's not sure when or where he picked up that hitch in his delivery.

Chatwood and Cubs pitching coach Jim Hickey are working on slowing his delivery down to get his arm in the same spot on a more consistent basis.

When the Cubs signed Chatwood over the winter, it was easy to see why.

He just turned 28 in December, his peripherals and a move from hitter-friendly Coors Field foretold a potential leap in performance and his stuff is nasty. Plus, he signed a three-year deal at a relative bargain of $38 million.

Once the Cubs signed Yu Darvish in spring training, you could make the case that Chatwood could be among the best No. 5 starters in baseball.

Nine starts later, the honeymoon period is well over with Chatwood, as he threw only 30 of his 74 pitches for strikes Tuesday night and sent catcher Willson Contreras sailing all around home plate for pitches way out of the zone.

Still, it's clear to see there is some intriguing talent there and the season there is roughly 70 percent of the season remaining before the Cubs make what they hope is another run at the World Series.

"I have a lot of faith," Maddon said. "I know we're gonna reap the rewards, the benefits as he figures this thing out."