Cubs

Bulls look to extend home winning streak vs. Philly

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Bulls look to extend home winning streak vs. Philly

Monday, March 28, 2011
Posted: 3:48 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

Joakim Noah hit the nail on the head

"We feel like were never out of it," said the charismatic center, who recorded his first double-double (12 points, 11 rebounds) since March 9 in Saturday's win at Milwaukee. "Were fighters. Were a team of fighters and I think weve showed that since the beginning of the year. Even when we were going through adversitywed go down a lot, come backwe were always fighting.

"Were a team with a lot of character and were playing with a lot of swag right now."

From early in the season, the Bulls--their double-overtime win at Phoenix in November, for example--have played with a fierce determination that should have enlightened observers that this team would be a factor, if not a serious contender, this time of the year. Even in most of the team's disappointing losses, such as their last defeat, an overtime setback at Indiana, it wasn't a question of effort. And with a groundswell of support on the road--Saturday's game had so many Bulls faithful in attendance, you could substitute "United" for "Bradley" in the Bucks' home arena--that inner confidence the players have continues to grow.

"You get it from the crowd," explained Ronnie Brewer. "The crowd builds the energy. you go on the roadwe have a large following in any arena we got toyou get a defensive stop here, defensive stop there and you get an 'and-one' play from 'D-Rose' or him distributing the ball, you cant help but want to play hard and get back into the game."

Added Noah: "Its unbelievable. The love weve been getting on the road latelyI dont know what it isbut it really makes you feel like the peoples champ team.

A lot of that sentiment among fans, as well as the Bulls' fortitude, comes from their on-court leader, Derrick Rose. Unintentionally vying to be the youngest MVP in NBA history--his "I haven't done anything yet" remark postgame in Milwaukee, while showing the proper perspective, could very well be inaccurate in a month's time--the All-Star point guard's inspired play goes well beyond the nightly highlights upon which fans outside of Chicago base his popularity.

"Hes playing his best basketball since hes been here, hes playing with a lot of swag and we feed off that. When your star player is playing at that level, it just makes you want to go to bed early, eat right and do all the right things to get right for this final stretch. Its all about affecting winning and he does it in so many different ways," said Noah. "The way hes contesting shots now, with his passing ability. He understands the plays and knows exactly what he wants out of them. Hes an unbelievable scorer and its unbelievable at the end of the game, how composed he is out there."

Chimed in Brewer: "Sometimes you get bad habits because youre watching him instead of playing the game. So if he misses a shot, sometimes leak out and get back, and Thibs is on your back, but its amazing to watch some of the moves he makes, some of the shots that he makes. Even some of the passes that he makes to guys; hes not even looking them in the eye and finds them crosscourt right on a dime. Hes a blessing to play with and Im just glad hes on my team."

"A lot of people say hes a scoring guard, but you dont find many guys in the league who can have 17 assists and drop 30 points. Hes able to mix it up and take over a game whenever he wants to," he continued. "Theres not a point in the league who has the same athleticismand if there is, you can say a Russell Westbrook, but he doesnt do the things Derrick Rose doesand thats why I think hes one of the best point guards in this league."

Rose takes joy in creating opportunities for his teammates, perhaps more than scoring a boatload of points. His "just win" mentality has allowed him to embrace shouldering more of the scoring load as his career has progressed, but his background as a team-first player and pass-first point guard--his reputation as an elite high school prospect was forged as a result of his playmaking, not scoring--makes the times when he can pile up assist totals more gratifying.

"It makes me feel good. If anything, Im happy for my teammates. They were knocking down shots, making the right cuts and I was just trying to get them the ball," he told CSNChicago.com. "When youve got that going, everybodys playing hard and weve got confidence right now."

Coupled with his fierce competitiveness, that spells trouble for Bulls opponents, especially point guards, as the Chicago native prepares for a potentially deep postseason run.

"Theres no off time right now," Rose told CSNChicago.com. "If Im playing against you, Im definitely going to come at you."

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

The curious ripple effects of the Cubs' trade for Martin Maldonado

The curious ripple effects of the Cubs' trade for Martin Maldonado

While the Cubs put the finishing touches on a lackluster loss to the Reds Monday night at Wrigley Field, the game quickly took a backseat as reports of a trade filtered through Baseball Twitter.

In came a veteran catcher — Martin Maldonado — from the Kansas City Royals in exchange for Mike Montgomery, who will live on in Cubs history books forever as the guy who threw the curveball that notched the final out in the 2016 World Series to break a 108-year championship drought.

There are many layers to this move, including the corresponding aspect of Cubs All-Star catcher Willson Contreras hitting the 10-day injured list with a strain in the arch of his right foot. Contreras had an MRI Monday afternoon/evening, which revealed the issue. 

Contreras felt like he could play through it and passionately pleaded his case, but the Cubs want to exercise an abundance of caution with one of their most important players.

"Our medical staff feels like if he were to try to play on it, that he'd be risking exacerbating the injury and turning it into something long-term," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. "So we have to get ahead of it, take it out of Willy's hands and take him off his feet. 

"We don't expect it to be longer than 10 days — that's what we hope for, anyways."

But even before the severity of Contreras' injury was known, Epstein said the team was already in talks with the Royals front office.

"We've been having discussions with Kansas City and they had an opening in their rotation after trading [Homer] Bailey and they'd been talking to a couple teams about Maldonado and we knew that," Epstein said. "We'd actually been working on a version of the deal beforehand and it was something we wanted to quickly finalize once it became clear that Willson was gonna miss some time."

That's interesting.

So the Cubs' interest in Maldonado is not solely based on Contreras' injury, which means they value the veteran catcher as more than just a short-term, couple-week insurance policy to pair with Victor Caratini. 

On the one hand, that leaves the Cubs free to trade Caratini over the next couple weeks if a deal developed.

But the move for Maldonado also shores up a major area of depth for the Cubs, which is exactly what Epstein talked about before Monday's game, referencing the change in MLB rules that eliminated the August waiver wire deadline. Now, every team has to make their moves ahead of the July 31 deadline and that's it.

"Teams need to keep depth in mind a little bit more, that you have to anticipate where you might be vulnerable to an injury and try to build that depth up in advance — preemptively, really — knowing that there's no escape valve in August," Epstein said. "So you gotta really do all your work this month as much as possible and really take a hard look at your organizational depth."

Well, despite fantastic seasons from Contreras and Caratini, the Cubs actually have very little in the way of catching depth beyond those two. Taylor Davis is the only other backstop on the 40-man roster and he has almost no big-league experience. When Caratini was on the IL earlier this year with a hand injury, Davis rarely played in the month-plus he was on the roster.

Even if Contreras' injury is as minor as it appears, it underscores the point that the Cubs' depth is very fragile at the most physically demanding position on the field. What would the team do if Contreras or Caratini suffered an injury in August or September?

Now, they can add Maldonado into the mix — a veteran catcher who draves rave remarks for his defense and game-calling. 

The right-handed-hitting catcher is due to turn 33 next month and is in his ninth big-league season. He hasn't done much with the bat in his career (.289 on-base percentage, .351 slugging) and that hasn't changed this year (.647 OPS), but his work behind the plate was enticing to the Cubs and their veteran-laden pitching staff.

"He's an established catcher in the league who does a lot of great things behind the plate," Epstein said. "He can really receive, he can really throw. He's caught playoff games. He's handled some of the best pitchers in the game; he's a favorite for pitchers to throw to.

"He's very calm back there, very prepared, calls a great game, really soft hands, lot of experience, lot of savvy and someone who we think can step in and share the job with Vic and get up to speed really quickly in what we hope is a brief absence from Willson."

The Cubs haven't yet shared a plan for how they plan to manage the roster crunch for all three catchers when Contreras returns from injury in a week or two, but that might be because they don't yet have a plan. That's more of a "cross that bridge when it comes" type of situation.

When everybody is healthy — if everybody is ever healthy all at the same time — the Cubs could carry three catchers and utilize Contreras' ability to play the outfield and Caratini's first/third base versatility. They could also option Caratini to the minors for a couple weeks and bring him back up when rosters expand in September or if another injury strikes.

Either way, the Cubs front office, coaching staff and pitching staff can rest easier knowing they have another experienced backstop on the roster. 

The other aspect to all this, obviously, is in the Cubs bullpen and starting depth. Montgomery is out, which means there is an easy open spot on the roster for Alec Mills, who is making a spot start Tuesday while Cole Hamels continues to rehab his oblique injury.

In the longer term, this could be a good thing for the Cubs bullpen, as Montgomery was miscast and rarely used as a short-inning reliever. The 30-year-old southpaw last threw on July 2 and has only made five appearances in the last month. 

Montgomery was slowed by injury in spring training and then again in the first couple weeks of the season, but he had been building up his workload of late - throwing at least 2.1 innings in each of his last three outings. Still, the Cubs opted to go with Mills Tuesday against the Reds instead of Montgomery and they also had Tyler Chatwood and Adbert Alzolay in the rotation at various points earlier this season.

Montgomery hasn't started once in 2019, but he made 28 starts in a Cubs uniform, including 19 last year while filling in for the injured Yu Darvish.

The Cubs clearly feel good enough with their rotation depth as is (Mills, Chatwood, Alzolay) and Hamels' return looks to be right around the corner, so the writing was on the wall that Montgomery wouldn't get many chances to start in the short or long term in Chicago.

It's also good for Montgomery, a guy who got the last out in the World Series and did everything asked of him in his three-plus years in Chicago, bouncing between the rotation and bullpen. 

Now he gets an opportunity to start, which he's been vocal about wanting to do, and he'll be thrown right into the fire — the Royals have him penciled in to start Friday...in Cleveland.

How's that for full circle?

After short stint in the majors, White Sox send Zack Collins to Triple-A

After short stint in the majors, White Sox send Zack Collins to Triple-A

When general manager Rick Hahn has talked about bringing up key prospects, he says he wants those players to be able to come up to the majors and stay there. That won't be the case with Zack Collins.

The White Sox sent the catcher down to Triple-A Charlotte following Monday's 5-2 loss to the Royals. No corresponding move will be made until Tuesday, but it is expected Welington Castillo will return from his rehab stint and rejoin the White Sox.

Collins was called up on June 18, but only played in nine games with seven starts in his 28 days on the big league roster. Collins drew a pinch-hit walk in his first plate appearance at the Cubs on June 19. He then homered two days later in his first start in Texas.

After that, Collins struggled. He goes back to Charlotte after hitting .077 (2-for-26) with five walks, the one home run and 14 strikeouts in 31 plate appearances.

It's unclear if Collins had a chance to stick on the roster or if the plan was for him to go back to Triple-A once Castillo was ready to return. Collins certainly didn't do himself any favors at the plate, but he also didn't see regular playing time.

Collins, a first-round pick in 2016, was seen working out at first base in fielding practice before games, but he stuck to catcher and DH. He could have played some first base or DH when Castillo returned. However, the White Sox claimed A.J. Reed off waivers and he debuted after the all-star break. Reed has taken the at-bats at DH, leaving Collins without regular at-bats.

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