White Sox

Bulls host Thunder tonight on CSN

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Bulls host Thunder tonight on CSN

The Chicago Bulls welcome last year's Western Conference champions, the Oklahoma City Thunder, to the United Center tonight as the two teams wind down their respective preseason schedules. Tip-off is 7 p.m., and you can catch all the action live on Comcast SportsNet.
The Bulls missed out on the chance to play against 2012 All-Star Kevin Love in their 92-81 win over the Timberwolves last Friday, and they won't be able to square off against the best young tandem in the NBA, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, either, as both will sit out tonight's exhibition. Thunder coach Scott Brooks said it's just a day of rest for the pair, as Oklahoma City will travel home tomorrow to close out their preseason campaign at home against the Mavericks.
Another budding star in the Oklahoma City lineup is shooting guard James Harden. The 23-year-old reigning Sixth Man of the Year is dealing with a groin injury that has held him out of three preseason contests already, although the Thunder do not feel it will hinder him once the season starts.
Harden most recently competed on the USA National Team at the 2012 Olympics, along with Westbrook and Durant. As part of Team USA's practice routine in Las Vegas, the trio went up against the USA Select Team, which included Bulls' power forward Taj Gibson.
Chicago's improving big man enjoyed his experience and got a feel for just how good he can be as an NBA forward. But Gibson and Harden have more in common than just putting on the Red, White and Blue this past summer. Both are impending restricted free agents, and must sign contract extensions by Oct. 31 to avoid hitting the open market.
Harden, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft and Gibson, the No. 26 overall pick, are reportedly working toward signing before the deadline.
The Thunder are in a tight salary cap crunch after signing Durant (86 million), Westbrook (80 million) and forward Serge Ibaka (48 million) to long-term deals the last two seasons.
The Bulls are also dealing with some financial uncertainty. Gar Forman said earlier this offseason that extending Gibson was a priority, but Carlos Boozer's contract and Luol Deng's uncertain future fog up part of the Bulls' salary cap. Still, CSN Bulls Insider Aggrey Sam expects an extension to be completed before the Oct. 31 deadline.
Gibson will be able to make his case for a payday tonight, going up against one of the better defensive frontcourts in the NBA. Along with Ibaka, the league's leading shot blocker a year ago, Nick Collison and Kendrick Perkins will make life difficult for Gibson, Boozer and Joakim Noah in the middle. Last year the Bulls lost to the Thunder in their only matchup, with Gibson (10 points, 11 rebounds) double-doubling in the loss.
Gibson has averaged 8.4 points and 7.8 rebounds in 23.4 minutes this preseason, but is shooting just 36.2 percent from the field. He's made up for that on the defensive end, where a more aggressive Gibson has blocked 11 shots and made five steals in five games.
The Thunder have struggled defensively in the preseason, allowing 100.0 points per game and opponents to shoot almost 45 percent from the field. The Bulls have averaged 88.4 points in their five preseason games, the third lowest mark in the NBA. That average should improve against a Thunder team resting two of its five top players.
In order to do that, the Bulls will need more consistent scoring from the reserves. Nate Robinson, Gibson, Jimmy Butler and Marco Belinelli have combined to shoot 45-of-142 in the preseason (31.7 percent). While Rip Hamilton (51.1 percent) and Nazr Mohammed (51.4 percent) have played well, the Bulls will rely more on their bench this year without Rose to make up that scoring. A solid showing tonight would be a welcome sight.

White Sox Talk Podcast: Inside the White Sox draft room with Nick Hostetler

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AP

White Sox Talk Podcast: Inside the White Sox draft room with Nick Hostetler

Chuck Garfien and Ryan McGuffey speak with White Sox scouting director Hosteler inside the team's draft room at Guaranteed Rate Field.

How accurate are the mock drafts? (2:45) Can Andrew Vaughn meeting the lofty expectations? (6:40) Bobby Witt Jr's unique background (8:30), why this draft could bring a face of the franchise type player the top (11:15), and what it's like in the war room on draft day (12:30). Do they have a consensus pick yet? (13:45) Do they need to stock up on pitching? (17:35)

Is Nick Madrigal meeting expectations in Class-A? (26:40) Hostetler's sleeper pick from last season that White Sox fans should watch (30:00) and more.

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below:

White Sox Talk Podcast

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How close is Ian Happ to rejoining the Cubs?

How close is Ian Happ to rejoining the Cubs?

Is Ian Happ nearing a return to Chicago?

In a surprise move at the end of spring training, the Cubs sent the 24-year-old switch-hitter down to the minor leagues to work on his swing and try to cut down on strikeouts.

Happ's numbers in Iowa don't jump off the page at you (.240/.362/.422), but it looks like he may be turning a corner of late. He homered Monday night then went 4-for-4 with another homer, 2 doubles and 5 RBI in the second game of a doubleheader Wednesday.

That's obviously a very small sample size, however, and even including that, Happ is still struggling to make consistent contact. He has struck out 14 times in 25 at-bats over his last 8 games. 

His overall strikeout percentage on the season is 25.9 percent — a major improvement on the 36.1 percent mark he struggled through in the big leagues last year. But Happ had never struck out more than 23.6 percent of the time in a season coming up through the minor leagues, so that number is still higher than the Cubs would like to see.

"If [the mini hot streak] were sustained, you'd have to really start listening," Joe Maddon said. "I'm following him via video, watching the at-bats. I'm doing that almost daily with him. I know prior to that, he had still had some problems with strikeouts. 

"And then hit a home run the other day and that seems like that's led to this other home run. That would be primarily a call on the front office and the minor-league part [on when to call him up], but I will watch the video. The home run I saw, I liked. I thought he had much better balance on the entire swing."

Obviously the Cubs aren't going to overreact to a couple games and deem Happ ready to return to the big leagues based off a handful of at-bats.

But there's also a solid case to be made that he could help the club in Chicago right now.

Despite a hot start to the season, the Cubs' role players have really fallen off the last few weeks and much of the offensive damage has come from the big boppers (Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javy Baez, Willson Contreras) recently.

There's no indication Ben Zobrist is coming back anytime soon, as Maddon said Thursday morning he hasn't spoken to the veteran in a couple days. 

David Bote and Jason Heyward have looked better this week, but they were struggling for the first couple weeks of May. 

Daniel Descalso has really been scuffling, hitting .097 with only 1 extra-base hit in May and his defense at second base has been below average.

Then there's Mark Zagunis, who isn't doing much of anything for the Cubs — literally. He hasn't started a game since April 26 and hasn't seen even one inning in the outfield since then, either, serving exclusively as a pinch-hitter for the last month.

So if the Cubs decide soon that Happ is ready to return to the big leagues, they have a simple decision on the roster spot and right now, there might be an avenue to a decent amount of playing time either at second base or the outfield.

Happ may not be the best or most experienced defender at second base, but he's seen some time there in the minors this season (59.2 innings) and he can also play either of the corner infield spots and all three outfield positions.

But would it be prudent for the Cubs to call up Happ if they don't even have room for him to play every day? That could throw a wrench in his development, which is clearly something the organization has been committed to.

Albert Almora Jr. is still easily the best centerfielder on the roster and has been great offensively for the last month, so it's not like he's done anything to deserve falling back into a platoon with Happ in center like they shared for much of 2018.

"It's hard. You would want to [call him up only if there's ample time to play him]," Maddon said. "But if you could morph him in and there's a platoon that's worthwhile, you could do that, also.

"But part of him being [in the minors] right now on a consistent basis is to get these kind of at-bats to get this all worked out and you would not want to lose that, either. But when he were to come back, being that he could hit left-handed obviously permits us to do other things."

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