Cubs

Bulls boosted by Rip's return

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Bulls boosted by Rip's return

DEERFIELD -- Derrick Rose may still be struggling to stay healthy, but the Bulls have received a big boost from the return of Rip Hamilton.

In Tuesday's 98-86 win over the Knicks in Chicago, Hamilton poured in 20 points, his most since scoring 22 on Jan. 23 against the Nets. He also added five assists, four rebounds and a three-pointer in his fourth game back from a shoulder injury that forced him to miss almost a month of play.

The 13-year NBA veteran has missed 38 games this season due to injury and his return provides the Bulls with another scoring threat.

"I think it's critical for our team," head coach Tom Thibodeau said. "It gives us another guy that has a catch-and-shoot game like Kyle Korver has. But Rip also is very good in transition. He runs the floor extremely well.

"He's probably underrated in terms of all the things that he can do. He can post up some. He puts it on the floor very effectively. He competes defensively. He adds a lot and, obviously, he's been around a long time so he's been in a lot of tight situations, big games. He's unfazed by things. He's got great poise. So I think it's a big asset. Hopefully he can be healthy."

Now that Hamilton has returned, Thibodeau and the Bulls would have a complete rotation for the first time in a long while if Rose is able to return Thursday night. If he's not, the reigning NBA Coach of the Year isn't about to make any excuses.

"Obviously, you always prefer to be full strength," he said. "But we're fortunate. Our bench guys have been great all season. So whoever is out there, we expect them to get the job done."

Kris Bryant is better than ever

Kris Bryant is better than ever

If the season ended today, these would be all the categories Kris Bryant would set new career highs in:

Batting average
Slugging percentage
OPS
OPS+
Strikeout percentage
wRC+
wOBA
ISO

On top of that, he's on pace for a career high in runs scored and doubles and on track to approach career bests in homers, walks and WAR. 

Even if you don't know what some of those stats mean, the conclusion is clear: Kris Bryant is better than ever.

Yes, that includes his 2016 MVP campaign.

Consider this:

In '16, Bryant hit .292/.385/.554, good for a .939 OPS with 39 homers, 102 RBI and 121 runs scored.

In '19, he's hitting .299/.408/.565, good for a .973 OPS and on pace for 34 homers, 79 RBI and 125 runs scored.

The season isn't ending today, but there's actually a strong chance Bryant even improves on those numbers given the way he's been trending.

Since receiving a day off on June 12, he's slashing .369/.458/.660 (1.119 OPS) with 16 extra-base hits (including 7 homers) and 24 runs scored in 28 games. He's also reached base safely in 36 of his last 38 contests.

That includes a solo homer off Sonny Gray to kick off the scoring in Wednesday's Cubs victory.

"KB's been playing really well," Joe Maddon said. "Shoot, for a month-and-a-half now he's been kinda toasty. That ball was properly struck off Gray. Then he continued with base hits, good at-bats, his baserunning again is spectacular, a good play in left field. He's playing pretty much at the top of his game right now."

As Maddon alluded to, Bryant does so many different things to help the Cubs win, from his exceptional baserunning (like going first to third on an infield hit Wednesday) to playing solid defense all over the field. 

In the three-game series against the Reds, Bryant started at three different positions — right field (Monday), third base (Tuesday) and left field (Wednesday).

"It's not an easy thing to do," Jason Heyward said. "When you move around the field, it's not easy to keep the defense. It's gonna take time for anyone to settle in. He takes a lot of pride in offense, obviously, but he takes a lot of pride in being a winning baseball player — he runs hard, hustles and a lot of those things he does don't always show up in the box score. 

"The year he won MVP, obviously he had home runs, he had the numbers, but he hustles, he runs down the line. He wants to make good plays on defense and just gives us another opportunity to move people around and give somebody the day off — like [Kyle Schwarber Wednesday]."

Bryant can also hit just about anywhere in the Cubs lineup and he's been particularly..."toasty," to borrow Maddon's phrase...since he moved to the three-spot in the order just before the All-Star Break.

In those nine games where Bryant has hit between Javy Baez and Anthony Rizzo, he's posting a .424/.537/.909 line (1.446 OPS) with 4 doubles, 4 homers and 11 runs scored while walking more than he's striking out (8 to 5). 

Even with all Bryant has accomplished this season, he still might not finish any higher than third in National League MVP voting this year, as Cody Bellinger and Christian Yelich are playing out of their minds.

Still, the Cubs will certainly take what Bryant's given them this season — a deserving All-Star after missing more than 60 games a year ago with a shoulder injury.

The Cubs offense still has some work to do to become more consistent, but a healthy and thriving Bryant has been a large step in the right direction.

"It's huge," Heyward said. "Anytime you don't have an MVP in the lineup and have him missing that kind of time is huge. Let alone, it's Kris Bryant. For him to bounce back — All-Star season, all those things is awesome, but just him being healthy, being out there and competing with us, it goes a long way."

White Sox Talk Podcast: Interview with Hall of Famer Harold Baines

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NBC Sports Chicago

White Sox Talk Podcast: Interview with Hall of Famer Harold Baines

Chuck Garfien sits down with new Hall of Famer Harold Baines.

First, Chuck, Ryan McGuffey and Chris Kamka share their memories of watching Baines play with the White Sox (1:40). Then, Baines explains why he's always been so soft-spoken (8:45), how he was able to play 22 seasons in the majors (13:00), why he's never spoken to GM Larry Himes for trading him to Texas (15:30), the apology he received from President George W. Bush (16:30), what he thinks about the critics who don't think he should be in the Hall of Fame (18:25), a replay of Baines emotional interview with Chuck about his dad (20:50) and more.

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below: