Tom Thibodeau has been loath to look ahead all season, but now that they've dispatched the lowly Cavaliers and finished their regular season on a triumphant note Thursday night -- with All-Stars Derrick Rose and Luol Deng sitting, as well as reserve sharpshooter Kyle Korver, the "Bench Mob" was in full effect, as John Lucas III scored 25 points and fan favorite Brian Scalabrine hitting the last shot of the game, fittingly -- his Bulls, owners of home-court advantage throughout the postseason for the second consecutive season, can finally focus on the playoffs. A bonus for the opening-round series against the eighth-seeded 76ers, in terms of subplots, were the comments of second-year Philadelphia swingman Evan Turner, a Chicago native, about the Sixers preferring to face the Heat instead of the second-seeded Heat and while the Bulls deny needing any extra motivation, it can't hurt that they can, at least privately, use the respect factor as added impetus to fuel their fire.Though the Sixers have matched up with the Bulls well in the past, the genesis of Turner's opinion, whether Philadelphia admits it or not, stems from the fact that Rose -- a rival of Turner's, going back to their high school days, when the former No. 2 overall draft pick played for St. Joseph in suburban Westchester and the reigning league MVP was at Simeon -- hasn't been 100 percent for the majority of the regular season. Without Rose in the lineup due to a variety of injuries, the Bulls have gone 18-9 this season. Aswell as they've performed without the All-Star point guard, it's a fact that they won't be able to achieve their dream of winning a championship without him playing at, if not an MVP level, close to it.However, after seeing him regain some of his explosiveness in Wednesday's road win at Indiana -- although shots didn't fall for him in a pedestrian 10-point outing, Rose attacked the basket more than he did in the team's previous contest, last Saturday's victory over the Mavericks -- it appears that the 23-year-old is on his way back to his previous form, which is bad news for the Sixers. Let's be honest: Turner and his teammates might have a better chance at stealing a game or two against a Bulls team still working Rose back into the mix, but the Bulls could probably handle Philadelphia, albeit in a more competitive fashion, even without their superstar in a seven-game series.The Sixers, after looking like they'd run away with the Atlantic Division in the first half of the season, had a dramatic freefall after the All-Star break withtalk of locker-room dissension with former Bulls head coach Doug Collins losing the team and their lack of a go-to scorer exposed, leading them to limp into a playoff berth in the season's final week, instead of clinching it much earlier. While their formula of staunch defense, balanced offense and generally mistake-free basketball can keep them in games, the Bulls have a similar style, more talent andtoo much size inside. WithRose's health improving, not to mention the motivation Turner provided, the first-round series shouldn't even be close.Moving forward, Rose's ability to get back to a superstar level is what the Bulls' title chances hinge on, but a deep supporting cast -- including two backup point guards who have proved fully capable of leading the team in spurts, Lucas and second-stringer C.J. Watson -- should allow the Englewood product to ease his way back into becoming a dominant force again, at least in the postseason's early stages. Also featuring a versatile first-time All-Star in Deng, a unique center who matches up well with any potential Eastern Conference foe in Noah, an experienced veteran of playoff battles who's now finding his stride in shooting guard Rip Hamilton and a solid, if much-maligned power forward in Carlos Boozer, the Bulls have the necessary secondary options in the now-intact starting lineup to take pressure off Rose, as well as a deep bench with multiple weapons, such as Korver and other starting-caliber players like Taj Gibson and Ronnie Brewer, not to mention defensive specialist Omer Asik.But while that will be enough to get by the Sixers, with a potential second-round matchup against Boston looming, Rose will need to be at his best, especially against a veteran team with championship experience and a fellow All-Star point guard in Rajon Rondo. The Bulls can compete with the Celtics or any other upper-echelon team even if he wasn't in the lineup, but their odds of winning a series greatly decrease if he isn't affecting the games the way he's capable of doing, chiefly getting to the rim, putting constant pressure on the opposing defense, drawing fouls and when the Bulls suffer through one of their periodic offensive droughts, shouldering the offensive load.The same goes for a potential Eastern Conference Finals rematch with Miami -- if the Heat somehow succumb to the Knicks in the first round or fall to the underrated Pacers in an expected second-round series or even if Boston loses to Atlanta, which owns home-court advantage in the first round, the Bulls could continue to advance without Rose playing at an elite level, but it wouldn't be easy -- and certainly, if they were to make it to the NBA Finals, in the championship round against whoever comes out of the West. But long story short, as much as Philadelphia would rather take on the Bulls than the Heat, the Bulls probably feel the same way about preferring the Sixers to the seventh-seeded Knicks, as Rose would have to get in gear much earlier against high-octane New York.The first round will be like riding on training wheels for Rose, as he attempts to find his rhythm. Though knowing him, he doesn't view it that way and with Turner giving him some ammunition, Rose will look to once again humble him, as he did when the pair matched up in high school and Turner impudently talked trash to not only Rose, but spectators and the assembled media. Thus, while the Bulls will need the dynamic floor general to eventually dominate the action in order to achieve their ultimate goal of adding another championship banner to the United Center rafters, he'll have at least a series to figure things out.
As encouraging as the reports are on many of the White Sox’s minor-league pitching prospects, Carlos Rodon’s effort against the Athletics on Sunday at Guaranteed Rate Field could prove just as significant to the rebuild on the South Side.
Looking much like the ace the Sox envisioned prior to Rodon’s rough 2017 season that ended with shoulder surgery, the left-hander put together his most successful effort of ’18 during a 10-3 drubbing of the Athletics before a sun-drenched crowd of 21,908.
Making his fourth start of the season, Rodon matched a career-high by going eight innings. He yielded two runs on seven hits with no walks and three strikeouts. Rodon earned his first win of the season to help the Sox salvage a split of the four-game series.
“I felt good today—a lot of strikes,” Rodon said. “It was good to go eight and just be ahead of guys.”
Helping matters for Rodon was an offensive explosion by the Sox, led by Yoan Moncada’s career-high six RBIs. After falling behind 2-0, the Sox plated five runs in each of the fifth and sixth innings as Moncada cleared the bases with a double off the base of the wall in the fifth and launched his 10th home run of the season to drive in three more an inning later.
“Today was a great day,” Moncada said via a team interpreter. “I just went out to play the game the way that I play. Just to have fun. It was a very good game for me.”
Daniel Palka and Yolmer Sanchez also homered as the Sox won for just the second time in their last 11 games.
Rodon was the happy recipient of the run support to win his first game since Aug. 21, 2017, against the Twins. On Sunday, he threw 99 pitches, 69 for strikes and was consistently in the mid-90s with his fastball.
“I’m looking to do that every time out,” Rodon said. “Just show up and establish the strike zone with the fastball and be aggressive.”
The 25-year-old’s second-inning strikeout of Khris Davis was the 400th of Rodon’s career. It is a career that is continuing after a surgery that was a setback, but one that did not derail Rodon’s confidence that he would again pitch effectively.
“There are up-and-down days when you go through shoulder surgery or any surgery for any player,” Rodon said. “You've just got to work through it and try to make your way back. I'm here now and it’s looking up and I’m trying to get better.”
So is it reasonable to view Rodon as the future ace after all?
“You certainly can’t discount that,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He has to go out there and continue to get his feet underneath him and get through the rest of the season healthy and climbing.”
In other Sox pitching news, Renteria said starter Dylan Covey, who was removed in the fifth inning of Saturday’s game due to a hip flexor injury, “felt better” Sunday and the team will continue to monitor the right-hander’s progress.
Meanwhile, veteran Miguel Gonzalez made a rehab start for Triple-A Charlotte as he continues to recover from inflammation in his right rotator cuff. Gonzalez went three innings and allowed one hit with a walk and a strikeout. Outfielder Eloy Jimenez belted his first homer for the Knights in the game.
The Cubs and their fans may want to invent and use one of those Men In Black neuralyzers because the four-game series in Cincinnati was one to forget.
The Reds finished off a four-game sweep of the Cubs on Sunday with an 8-6 win. The way the Reds won the finale will be especially painful for the Cubs considering they led 6-1 after six innings. Mike Montgomery appeared to tire in the seventh inning and Pedro Strop got rocked out of the bullpen to lead to a seven-run seventh for the hosts.
The Reds have now won seven in a row and 10 of 12, but still sit 13 games under .500. Bizarrely, the Reds also swept the Dodgers, the Cubs’ next opponent, in a four-game series in May. Duane Underwood will start for the Cubs Monday against the Dodgers and make his major league debut.
Here are some other wild facts and figures from the series:
- The last time the Reds swept the Cubs in a four-game series was back in 1983. That was the first week of the season and three weeks before the infamous Lee Elia rant.
- One positive for the Cubs from the game was Montgomery’s start. Through six innings he allowed one run on three hits and two walks. However, he gave up a single, a double and a single in the seventh before Strop relieved him. Montgomery had gone six innings and allowed one run in each of his last four outings.
- Strop was definitely a negative. On his first pitch, Strop gave up a home run to pinch-hitter Jesse Winker, the second home run for a Reds pinch-hitter in the game. Then Strop allowed a single, a walk, a single and a double before getting an out. Strop’s final line: 2/3 inning pitched, four runs, one strikeout, three walks, four hits.
- The Cubs led in three of the four games this series, including two leads after five innings.
- The Cubs were 5-for-23 (.217) with runners in scoring position in the series. On the season the Cubs are hitting .233 with RISP, which is 22nd in the majors and fourth-worst in the National League (but ahead of the division-rival Brewers and Cardinals).
- The Reds outscored the Cubs 31-13 and scored at least six runs in every game. The Reds are now 6-3 against the Cubs this year after going a combined 17-40 against the Cubs from 2015-2017.