Cubs

Bulls wary of firepower of Del Negro's Clippers

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Bulls wary of firepower of Del Negro's Clippers

LOS ANGELES How lucky is Vinny Del Negro? The Clippers' head coach, fired by the Bulls after the 2009-10 season, was hired by the other L.A. team, which happened to have a No. 1 overall draft pick in Blake Griffin the second top selection hes coached and then, prior to the beginning of last season, the organization acquired All-Star point guard Chris Paul, changing the fortunes of the long-troubled franchise.

But as talented as last seasons team was they advanced to the second round of the Western Conference playoffs, beating the Memphis Grizzlies in an upset of sorts, before losing to the San Antonio Spurs this years squad could be even better. While the drama surrounding the star-studded Lakers and their coaching situation has captivated fans, the Clippers might be the best team in the City of Angels, as well as the possibly the leagues deepest team.

Theyre explosive. When your leading scorer is coming off the bench, it says a lot," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau explained. "Jamal Crawfords playing great for them, but obviously their depths a huge asset. Six guys average in double figures, well-balanced. Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan put a lot of pressure on you inside, and theyre skilled. Caron Butler, tremendous. Matt Barnes, energy. Ryan Hollins, energy off the bench. So, weve got to be ready for the challenge."

"Chris Paul, Eric Bledsoe, Crawford, those guys are going to put a lot of pressure on your defense because of their ability to break you down off the dribble and then, their ability to finish inside, but its well-balanced. Theyre moving the ball, theyre playing with great pace, so you have to get back, get your defense set, try to keep the ball out of the paint, challenge shots and then youve got to finish your defense. Youve got to rebound. Theyre tough on the offensive boards, as well."

"Chris Pauls been a great player in this league for a long time and theyve got guys that are still out. Grant Hill and Chauncey Billups. Theyre deep now theyre going to be deeper down the road, but Chris Paul, Bledsoe, even a guy like Willie Green. Willie Green has played great for them," continued the coach, whose team faces the Clippers at the Staples Center in a Saturday-night matchup. "Theres nothing that they dont have and defensively, the length up front, shot-blocking. You cant allow them to turn you over. They turn you over, theyre going to score easily in transition. Live-ball turnovers are a problem."

Were going to use everybody. Thats why you have a team. Well see how the game unfolds. But I feel good about our team. We just have to be ready to play. Youre on the road, so you have to be ready from the start. You have to set a tone. We know how good they are, we know how explosive they are. Their easy baskets theyre shooting as a team almost 50 percent, very unusual and theyre putting up over 100 points a game, so you cant let your guard down at all against them. Otherwise, they could get a 10-0 spurt against you in a minute, so youve got to make sure youre tied together in every aspect of your defense.

Indeed, with an elite playmaker like Paul, an athletic marvel like Griffin, an instant-offense scorer like Crawford, a former Bull, and an imposing, much-improved true center like Jordan, not to mention their incredible depth, the Clippers, who won an early-season showdown with the defending-champion Heat, do pose some matchup problems for the Bulls. While the teams by-committee approach has been successful, without the game-changing talents of the injured Derrick Rose, it will be an uphill battle.

Speaking of Rose, the superstar point guard is currently in Los Angeles, where he typically spends his offseasons as he continues his ongoing rehabilitation process. Thibodeau said the team has been contact with him since arriving in town Thursday and noted that Rose may attend Saturdays game.

The main focus for him is his rehab. We felt it was best for him to be here, in one place, doing his rehab. As I mentioned the other day, he started cutting and stuff, so hes doing fine, everythings going according to plan. He just has to keep doing what hes doing, he explained. I dont want him to be concerned with where we are with the team or anything like that. Hes doing fine and I want our guys here to be focused on improvement, and our next opponent.

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.”

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