White Sox

Bulls have slight edge in Game 6

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Bulls have slight edge in Game 6

It's no longer a stretch to think the Bulls can win Game 6 and go on to win this series even with Taj Gibson less than 100 percent and no Joakim Noah. Coach Tom Thibodeau wants to keep up guessing with Noah by calling him a game time decision, and Noah has indicated he's hopeful to return, but my sources say we won't be seeing Noah on the court again in this series.

Gibson said at Thursday's shoot around that he is definitely going to play. Now the question is whether his conviction is stronger than his sprained right ankle. Playing through pain and being productive through pain are two different things.

Still, there are five key factors in my mind that will determine who will win this Game 6. When I tally up the advantages, the Bulls come out ahead, but only slightly.

1. Luol Deng

Luol Deng has seen the light. Deng played with much more energy and aggressiveness in Game 5, freeing himself a bit from the shadow that has been Andre Iguodala's defense. Iguodala has been stuck to Deng like glue for much of this series. The two had been tied with 41 total points through the first four games, so the matchup has been a wash. But Game 5 changed things and Deng outscored Iguodala 19-11 by hitting four 3-pointers and shooting 10-19 from the field. Maybe Iguodala's sore anchilles tendon is slowing him down, or Deng has finally found a second gear. Whatever the reason, I'll trust that Deng, facing elimination again, can muster the same type of performance on Thursday.

Advantage: Bulls

2. Center court

Despite Coach Tom Thibodeau's 'game time decision' declaration on Joakim Noah, I don't expect to see the Bulls big man back on the court for Thursday's game, or the rest of the series for that matter. The Bulls will have to go without him again, which wasn't a problem in Game 5 given the play by Omar Asik and Taj Gibson. The problem is Gibson may be slowed down by that bum ankle and the Sixers' Spencer Hawes seems to be angry over the physical play from Tuesday night--Hawes got a gash across his face courtesy of Gibson and seems pretty miffed about it. He may be looking for revenge and wanting to redeem himself after scoring just 11 points in Game 5 after three straight 20-point performances. Only because of Asik's inconsistency and Gibson's compromised ankle will I give the edge to Philadelphia here.

Advantage: Sixers

3. Rip Hamilton

The fact that Rip Hamilton has played in more playoff games and has had more playoff success than anyone on the court in this series should give the Bulls a significant advantage, but instead, Rip looks completely lost and has been sitting on the bench during critical points in the game. He's averaging 11.8 points in just under 27 minutes while shooting 40 percent. The Bulls need more from him if they're going to win this series and be competitive in the second round. But it's not all Hamilton's fault, Philadelphia is playing great defense on him. Credit Jrue Holliday for sticking with Rip while he's running and cutting like crazy. There are also a timing issue between Rip and CJ Watson--Watson seems to deliver the ball a bit too late for the quick Hamilton. It's maddening how the Bulls haven't been able to figure this out and correct it. Instead, Thibodeau chooses to sit Hamilton for long stretches. To me this is the "X factor" of the series. I'll go out on a limb and say Hamilton will find a way to be more productive to help this team win. I'm putting faith in Thibodeau that he will use Rip the right way as well. I'm taking a deep breath on this one.

Advantage: Bulls

4. Charity Stripe

The trips to the free throw line have been a huge advantage for the Sixers. Philadelphia has a whopping 134-90 edge in free-throw attempts, good for a 45-point advantage. The disparity is no fluke. You can blame the referees all you want, and they deserve some flak, but the bottom line is the Sixers haven earned it. They've been more active and aggressive and the referees are rewarding them for it. Not only are the Sixers getting more free throws, but they are making more, shooting 75 percent from the line compared to 62 percent for Chicago. Free points will always give you an advantage over your opponent. I don't know if we can expect a fairly officiated game on Thursday, and if Marc Davis is on the crew, then I will definitely say no. Either way, trips to the line have been a major issue in this series and I don't think it's a trend that's going to change.

Advantage: Sixers
5. Mentality

The Bulls stopped the Sixers momentum with a victory in Game 5, but it did more than prolong the series--it cast doubt. The Bulls got in their opponent's head. Philadelphia is a young squad that isn't quite seasoned in handling big time pressure. Instead of being relaxed on their home court, the Sixers may treat Game 6 like it's a Game 7, making the rims at the Wells Fargo Center just a little bit smaller. Even their coach Doug Collins is thinking in a "don't lose way" instead of a going to "close it out way", saying after the loss Tuesday night, "I just don't want to come back to Chicago for a Game 7." Collins even told his team the cautionary tale of Rip Hamilton's '03 Pistons coming back from a 3-1 deficit to beat Orlando in the first round. Sounds like they're a team that is more concerned about losing than they are confident about knocking off the top seed. Don't get me wrong, the Bulls have plenty of pressure on them, having to win on the road just to get a chance to play one more game. A loss would be not only embarrassing for the Bulls but render the entire 2012 campaign a complete failure. But the Bulls are always up for a challenge and they proved that in Game 5. They don't want to go out like this and they will fight to stay alive. I like the Bulls resolve much more than what I've seen from Philadelphia so far.

Advantage: Bulls

White Sox intrasquad takeaways: Luis Robert keeps hitting baseballs hard

White Sox intrasquad takeaways: Luis Robert keeps hitting baseballs hard

The White Sox played the White Sox Thursday at Guaranteed Rate Field and the White Sox won 2-0.

Yes, the intrasquad portion of this wacky 2020 baseball season is upon us.

It would be foolish to put too much stock in one scrimmage, but considering the White Sox are just two weeks away from their first regular season game, these intrasquad games do hold some value, especially in determining the readiness of individual players who have been scattered all over the country for months trying to stay prepared for some sort of baseball season.

“Guys are getting their work done under tough circumstances,” White Sox bench coach Joe McEwing said. “I think they are understanding that it’s a sprint. It’s a sprint to Opening Day, it’s a sprint to the season.”

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Making matters worse, manager Rick Renteria missed Thursday’s activities because he had to return to California for a family funeral. Renteria is not expected to be gone long, but he will have to clear MLB's COVID-19 protocol upon his return. With testing results taking a day or two to come back, Renteria could miss a few days.

In the meantime, McEwing led the team Thursday. I’ll spare you the play-by-play, but here are some notable events from the game:

- I don’t know the exact number of Luis Robert at-bats I’ve seen in person, but it’s probably only around 15 to 20. That’s an incredibly small sample size, but in each game I’ve seen him play – going back to spring training in 2018 -- Robert always hits the ball hard. Thursday was no different as he just missed a home run to right-center in the first inning and then hammered a ball off Steve Cishek in the third inning. That ball looked destined for left field, but third baseman Yermín Mercedes made a really nice snag to record the out.

It will be interesting to see how quickly Robert adapts to Major League pitching once the games start because he certainly looks good in camp. My personal expectations continue to be sky high.

- It’s no secret that Eloy Jiménez needs to improve as a left fielder, but he sure looked comfortable going back on a line drive hit by Luis Basabe Thursday. Off the bat, it looked like the ball would easily fly over Jiménez’s head, but he tracked it well and made the catch over his left shoulder.

“Outstanding play on a ball to his left, going left into the gap off the bat of Basabe,” McEwing said. “Hard hit ball.”

- Tim Anderson looked smooth fielding a ball up the middle, but McEwing’s comments about his defense were even more interesting. Anderson spent the hiatus doing exercises to open up his hips in an effort to be able to bend more.

“They did specific exercises to open up his hips to put his body in a better position,” McEwing said. “And you can see it going to his backhand, like today, going up the middle, he was low the whole time. And in. Being able to throw from different angles while carrying something on it with his legs still underneath him. He looks amazing.”

McEwing has worked closely with Anderson on his defense for years, and while Anderson won the American League batting title last season, they’d both like to see his defense take off in 2020.

“He’s grown into a man – not just on the field, but off the field,” McEwing said. “I couldn’t be prouder of him. It’s like, OK, you can leave the nest now. You’re on your own.”

- There wasn’t a whole lot of offense in Thursday’s scrimmage, but Edwin Encarnación finally delivered in the fourth inning with a solo home run to center field off of Aaron Bummer. Encarnación continues to be praised by coaches and teammates and figures to be a big piece of the puzzle during this 60-game sprint.

RELATED: Encarnación thrills White Sox with homer celebration: 'Do the parrot!'

- One odd site to see Thursday? A Nick Madrigal strikeout. Granted, it was looking, and I believe balls/strikes were being called by the catcher. Madrigal only struck out 16 times in 532 plate appearances across High-A, Double-A and Triple-A last season.

- Drew Anderson, a non-roster invitee, pitched two perfect innings and was the one who punched out Madrigal to start the game. In fact, he struck out three of the six batters he faced, including James McCann and Andrew Vaughn. Anderson is a former 21st round draft pick of the Philadelphia Phillies and only made nine major league appearances over the last three seasons before getting an opportunity with the White Sox.

Stay tuned, as the White Sox are also scheduled to play intrasquad games on Friday and Saturday. 

 

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Edwin Encarnación thrills White Sox with homer celebration: 'Do the parrot!'

Edwin Encarnación thrills White Sox with homer celebration: 'Do the parrot!'

To be honest, it wasn't terribly surprising to see Edwin Encarnación blast a home run out to center field during Thursday's intrasquad game at Guaranteed Rate Field.

After all, that's the reason the 37-year-old slugger is here. He's smashed at least 30 homers in each of the last eight seasons, including two spent as a member of the division-rival Cleveland Indians. Rick Hahn inked Encarnación to provide some big-time pop to the middle of a White Sox lineup looking to swing its way out of rebuilding mode and into contention mode in 2020.

But for all the homers he's hit, Encarnación is still drumming up plenty of excitement every time he sends one out. Mostly because of the parrot.

Click to download the MyTeams App for the latest White Sox news and analysis.

Encarnación's signature home run celebration involves miming that he has a parrot on his arm while he rounds the bases. It's hilarious and a great deal of baseball fun.

So when he teed off on an Aaron Bummer pitch Thursday, there's just one thing his teammates wanted to see. They started screaming at him from the dugout, "Parrot! Parrot! Do the parrot!"

He obliged, sticking that arm out as he rounded second base, even moving it up and down on the way to third, much to the delight of everyone in that third-base dugout. There wasn't a crowd in the stands, but the crowd in the dugout went wild.

"The parrot made an appearance on the South Side!" White Sox bench coach Joe McEwing said joyously after the intrasquad showdown wrapped.

Coincidentally, Encarnación chatted with the media just one day earlier and was asked about the health of his imaginary feathered friend.

"I think the parrot is still alive, it's still on my elbow," he said through team interpreter Billy Russo. "Hopefully when the season starts, you're going to see it very often."

Well, the season hasn't even started yet, and we've already got a parrot sighting.

Bird or no bird, Encarnación's presence in the middle of the White Sox lineup is extremely important. While the roster around him and fellow veteran slugger Jose Abreu is full of youthful potential and thrilling promise, Encarnacion, one of a slew of veteran additions made by Hahn's front office during the winter, brings reliability to the proceedings. There are plenty of reasons to anticipate big things from Eloy Jiménez, Luis Robert, Yoán Moncada, Tim Anderson and the rest of the team's young hitters. The White Sox know what they're getting from Encarnación.

After ranking 25th out of 30 teams in both home runs and slugging percentage last season, the White Sox needed some heft. In Encarnación, they've got it.

"It gives us depth. It lengthens an extremely good lineup. It was a good lineup before. It makes it extremely longer," McEwing said. "And the professionalism, Eddie, you can’t put a number on it. You can’t put a measure on it, what he means to this ballclub, not just in the clubhouse but on the field.

"When he steps in the box, it’s a presence, that model of consistency in what he has done throughout his career and what he’s capable of doing. It means so much to every individual in that locker room, and every time we step on the field, it’s a different presence."

RELATED: White Sox pitchers up for any role in short season: 'We want to win'

As for the pitcher who gave the home run up Thursday, don't fret about any damaging effects for Bummer. He's equally thrilled by what this lineup looks like with Encarnación in it.

"I'm just glad he's on our side now," he said of the former division rival. "I'm glad he's on our side, and I'm glad that he got one (off me) when it didn't count.

"It's just kind of fun to watch. ... You see the lineup we're putting out there. I walked in, it was Abreu, Encarnación, Eloy. It's not going to stop. I think the depth of that lineup has gotten a whole lot longer, and I'm glad that they're all on our side."

It's a stark contrast inside the stadium, the difference between the mostly silent moments without fans in the stands and the incredibly entertaining moments when the players start talking and you can hear everything they say. It seems the latter could make for some added fun for TV viewers when the regular-season games are broadcast.

Thursday, there was no missing those screams: "Do the parrot!"

It's a good bet we haven't seen the last of Encarnación's avian acquaintance this year.


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