Cubs

Boden: Inconsistency plagues NHLs Dept. of Player Safety

736428.png

Boden: Inconsistency plagues NHLs Dept. of Player Safety

A bad call. And its a bad call because of the inconsistencies that have suddenly plagued the NHLs Department of Player Safety.

Blackhawks fans (and Im guessing the Blackhawks themselves) could live with this three-game suspension to Andrew Shaw if Shea Weber had gotten, say, five or more for grabbing Henrik Zetterbergs head and smashing it into the glass.

They couldve lived with it if Ottawas Matt Carkner had gotten more than three for racing across the ice to repeatedly pummel the Rangers Brian Boyle in the head while Boyle covered up and took it like a turtle disappearing into its shell.

They probably couldve lived with it a little better if Daniel Sedin had gotten something -- at least a fine -- for the elbow that forced Duncan Keiths head into the glass before Keith got his five games. All of us would understand this a little more.

I wont even start to get into the Pittsburgh-Philadelphia mess the department has on its hands. And theres much more beyond these instances in this first week of the post-season thats been full of Shanahan-igans. But part of the reason he has this mess is he took his foot off the brake he was applying to trying to remove or limit head shots from the NHL.

I loved what Brendan Shanahan was doing with the first five months of the season in order to crack down on dangerous hits. Concussions were starting to make more news than the great game he played and all of us enjoy, and that wasnt a good thing. So he was taking such positive, no-nonsense steps in doing his best job to eliminate that. Steve Konroyd and I praised him often during our coverage. This opinion now isnt simply because its suddenly hitting home. Hawks fans can deal with that. Its the perception hes ignoring or minimizing certain things that seem so obvious (Weber), and then continuing to put the hammer down on other hits. Its like a traffic cop suddenly writing tickets for going five miles an hour over the speed limit, and letting someone going fifty over the limit drive away with a warning.

On top of that, he put an unnecessary extra day into the process. Were only left to assume that was to make sure Mike Smith was OK. If hes concussed, symptoms dont always show up right away. Smith said he was 100 percent after the game. The team didnt practice Sunday. He was held out yesterday but head coach Dave Tippett indicated he was fine. Smith went through his normal morning skate routine this morning, but was made unavailable to reporters with the leagues blessing, while Tippett later suddenly called him a game-time decision as the Blackhawks continued to wait to hear about Shaws availability.

Make no mistake, Smith will be in the net tonight after winning Best Actor in a Drama. But playing that card (and maybe the Hawks wouldve done the same if the tables were turned), leaves many wondering how much Shanahan got played by the uncertain Smith status the Coyotes sold Shanahan -- apparently to the hilt. Successfully.

Shaw deserved a penalty because goalies are protected that way by the rulebook. The game misconduct he got was a tough break. Jonathan Toews said yesterday that should be it -- the Hawks lost him for half the game while Smith stayed in. But Shanahan thought what Shaw did was worse than an additional fine. Was worse than one additional game. Or two games. So Toews must now make sure his team doesnt get knocked off the tracks by all this, and do the things it needs to do to win, despite the anger and frustration they probably feel right now. Just execute, and play the best possible way they know to beat the Coyotes, without a guy whos made huge contributions for them in getting to this point. Or tell Corey Crawford to play a puck behind the net and hope a Coyotes player bumps into him.

Phoenix won this one. But the series is still tied, and needs to be won now that this over-dramatization by one team, and the league office, is over.

Cubs ride unconventional pitching performances to 8-6 win over the Reds

Cubs ride unconventional pitching performances to 8-6 win over the Reds

Before Thursday’s game against the Phillies, Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon was asked if, given the current state of their bullpen, Tyler Chatwood could see some innings as the closer. 

“I think he’s amenable to it...” Maddon responded. “... the big thing with him is throwing strikes. If he does that -- his stuff is that electric -- we’ll use him any time. As he gets well from [throwing 4 innings on Wednesday night] it’ll probably a solid two days, maybe three, before he’s ready to go again. We’ll see - we’ll see that night needs. I’m not afraid of it by any means.

“I would say that the first time he got a chance with us, it would be because the other guys aren’t available that night.”

48 hours later, with the Cubs white knuckling a two-run lead, it was Chatwood coming out of the ‘pen in the top of the 9th. Two singles, a double-play, and a Yasiel Puig flyout later, Chatwood had closed out one of the Cubs’ more unconventional wins of the season, a 8-6 nail-biter that featured a little bit of everything.  

“It was a little bit [surprising],” Chatwood said. “But I kept myself ready. I was able to get loose in the pen and luckily I got that double play right there, and we won. So it’s good.” 

On a day when the Cubs’ cobbled together their pitching performance, it was Yu Darvish’s 7 innings -- the first time he’s gotten that deep into a game since 2017 -- that kept Chicago in punching distance. The line itself isn’t particularly flattering; six runs on 12 hits is an eyesore. His performance may not have played well on Cubs Twitter, but those inside the clubhouse could not stop talking about it. 

“That was huge. I thought he was really good today,” Albert Almora, who already surpassed his 2018 home run total (5) with a solo homer in the 2nd inning, said. “I didn’t think he was going to come back out, so I said ‘good job’ to him in the 7th. I saw him back out in the 8th and was like ‘all right, he wanted it.’” 

“It looked like he emptied the tank against Puig in the 7th with a big strikeout,” Chatwood added. “But he still went back out there and battled and pitched into the 8th. That’s huge. We didn’t have many people available today, and I think he knew that. I thought that was one of the best games he’s thrown the ball.”

Darvish managed to strand eight base runners, though, and only walked two. He’s now gone three straight games while walking three batters or less, something he’d failed to do at any point prior. 

“I knew that the bullpen was going through a little struggle, and didn’t have much rest,” Darvish said. “So my main goal was to go more than 7 innings today.” 

On a warm day, with the wind blowing straight out at 16 miles per hour, Wrigley played as small as it has all year. The Cubs (and the Reds, for that matter) went deep three times, which brings their homestand total to 11. 

“The wind was a friend to both sides today,” Maddon said. “But really, you’ve got to give Yu a ton of credit for getting deeply into the game today. He still had his good stuff in the end. The stuff was still there, but it’s 107 pitches, and it’s just deflating when all that happens.” 

Not to be outdone by the guy who started the game or the guy who finished it, recently-called up pitcher Dylan Maples was the winning pitcher of record. He and Tim Collins came in from Triple-A Iowa that morning, and Maddon wasted no time throwing Maples into the fire. After walking his first batter, Maples got Reds’ rookie Nick Senzel to strikeout on a 91mph fastball to end the 8th. 

If it hasn't seemed easy of late, that's because it hasn't been. Of the Cubs’ first 50 games, 16 have been decided by one run (9-7). Over their last 12 games, eight have been decided by two or less runs. 

“They seem to all be like that,” Maddon said with a laugh. “Especially recently. We’re seeing a lot of good pitching. 

“That’s entertainment, guys. Woah.” 

Joe Maddon on MLB's absurd home run rate: 'The wind’s being broken here. It’s really weird'

Joe Maddon on MLB's absurd home run rate: 'The wind’s being broken here. It’s really weird'

Cubs manager Joe Maddon usually isn’t one for conspiracy theories, but even he’s wondering what’s going on. MLB teams are hitting home runs at an absurd rate, including the Cubs, who are hitting them at a historic rate for the franchise’s standards.

Entering Saturday, here’s where MLB teams stand in average home run rate and total home runs in 2019 compared to recent seasons:

2017: 1.26/game, 6,105 total
2018: 1.15/game, 5,585 total
2019: 1.33/game, 2,009 total

While the MLB season is just over 30 percent finished, teams are on pace to hit a combined 6,483 long balls in 2019. This would absolutely obliterate the 2017 total, which, like the 1.33 home runs per game figure, would be an MLB record.

The Cubs are no exception to this home run wave. Including Saturday (game No. 50 of the season), the team has hit 80 home runs (and counting) in 2019. Only the 2000 Cubs (83) hit more home runs in their first 50 games in franchise history.

“We’re having home runs hit here into some firm breezes, which has not happened before,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said to reporters before Saturday’s game against the Reds. “That’s the thing that stands out to me. It’s been crazy.

“Even [Kyle] Schwarber’s home run, I know that was hit well, but dang, that wind was blowing pretty firmly across at that point.”

Schwarber absolutely crushed his home run yesterday, a 449-foot blast that needed little help getting into the bleachers. However, Maddon has a valid point regarding home runs being hit despite the wind. Entering Saturday, 54 total home runs have been hit at Wrigley Field this season, 29 of which have come with the wind blowing in.

By the eighth inning of Saturday’s game, the Cubs and Reds had hit a combined six home runs, one of which appeared to be a routine fly ball hit by Jason Heyward that wound up in the left field basket thanks to the wind. At the same time, Yasiel Puig hit one 416 feet onto Waveland Ave. that had a 109 mph exit velocity. The wind blowing out at Wrigley Field helps, but it isn’t everything.

MLB players have questioned time and time again if baseballs are “juiced,” including Cubs starting pitcher Jon Lester. And while Maddon didn’t flat out say that he thinks the baseballs are juiced, he notices a difference in how they're flying off the bat.

“I don’t know, I’m normally not into the subplot component of all of this and the conspiracy theorists, but I’m telling you right now, it’s jumping,” he said. “It’s absolutely jumping.

“Nobody is ever going to admit to it. The wind’s being broken here. It’s really weird.”

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.