Cubs

Crowded SEC race could mean BCS nightmare

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Crowded SEC race could mean BCS nightmare

From Comcast SportsNet
By Ralph D. Russo, The Associated Press
Chaos! You want BCS chaos?

If No. 3 Arkansas beats No. 1 LSU on Friday in Baton Rouge, La., now you really have some chaos.

Remember the 2008 season? Texas beat Oklahoma, Texas Tech beat Texas and Oklahoma beat Texas Tech, producing a three-way tie among highly ranked teams atop the Big 12 South standings. This would be similar, though the Southeastern Conference has a different tiebreaker system.

It can be a little confusing on paper, but heres all you need to know: If Arkansas beats LSU and Alabama takes care of Auburn on Saturday, and the Tigers, Crimson Tide and Razorbacks finish in a three-way tie for first in the SEC West, the team with the lowest rating in the BCS standings is eliminated.

Then the tie between the two highest-rated teams is broken by head-to-head result.

Its a better system than the Big 12 had at the time, which simply was to pick the team with the best BCS rating of the three. Had the Big 12 used the SEC system or something similar in 08, Texas would have played for the Big 12 title with a chance to reach the BCS title game. Instead Oklahoma moved on, pounded Missouri for the Big 12 title and lost the BCS title game to Florida 24-14.

Longhorns fans are still bitter.

Even with the SECs tiebreakers, a possible three-way tie is still going to be messy.

If Arkansas hands LSU its first loss in Tiger Stadium, it seems logical that voters in the Harris and coaches polls, which are used to rank teams in the BCS standings along with computers, would jump the Razorbacks past the Tigers.

But it would be hard to justify having Arkansas ahead of Alabama, considering the Tide beat the Razorbacks 38-14 in Tuscaloosa back in late September.

So Alabama is No. 1, Arkansas is No. 2 and LSU, which beat the Tide 9-6 on the road in overtime and has by far the most impressive nonconference wins of the three, would be No. 3?

The fact is there are no good solutions. And the reality is the team that loses the head-to-head tiebreaker and doesnt play No. 13 Georgia in the Southeastern Conference championshipand risk becoming a two-loss team and being eliminated from national title contention is probably better off.

Now that, right there, is chaos.

Behind a refined approach, Albert Almora Jr. is off to a hot start this spring

Behind a refined approach, Albert Almora Jr. is off to a hot start this spring

The Cubs have only played three spring training games, and it’s dangerous to use spring results to predict regular season successes/failures. Still, it’s okay to acknowledge Albert Almora Jr.’s hot start in camp.

In two games, Almora is 4-for-4 with a walk, double, home run, four RBIs, and four runs scored. That line is essentially equivalent to a single game in the regular season and could be turned upside down by the end of the week. But it’s a start for the 25-year-old who’s struggled immensely at the plate for the last season-and-a-half at the plate.

In his last 177 games (dating back to the second half of 2018), Almora holds a .235/.270/.347 slash line. The advanced stats paint an uglier picture: 58 wRC+, .261 wOBA and 52.2 percent groundball rate.

Last season was the most challenging of Almora’s young career. He hit .236/.271/.381 in 130 games with a 64 wRC+, .271 wOBA, -0.7 fWAR (all career worsts). On top of that, he was involved in a heartbreaking moment early in the season; an Almora foul ball struck a young girl at Minute Maid Park during a Cubs-Astros game in May.

Almora recently refused to blame his 2019 offensive woes on that incident, though it obviously played a part. He did admit he was in a bad place mentally and used this winter to decompress. Almora also used it to make some adjustments to his swing and the changes are clear as day:

Pre-2020:

2020:

As MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian notes, Almora is now more upright in the box and his stance is more closed. His leg kick is less defined, and he’s rotating his front leg far less than previous seasons. In short, he’s more direct to his swing and has more time to react in the box because he cut out a lot of his pre-swing movements.

Almora said Monday he’s far from where he wants to be, pointing out the MLB season is a 200-day marathon. It’s too early to tell whether his simplified approach leads to sustainable success.

Small sample size be damned, Almora’s made noticeable adjustments. That’s the first step in his mission to get back on track offensively.

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What to make of Blackhawks moves on NHL trade deadline day

What to make of Blackhawks moves on NHL trade deadline day

ST. LOUIS — The Blackhawks were always going to be sellers leading up to the NHL trade deadline, but the real question was to what degree? Chicago got its answer on Monday.

After a quiet morning, the Blackhawks struck two deals in the final hour: Erik Gustafsson to the Calgary Flames in exchange for a third-round pick in 2020 and, more notably, Robin Lehner to the Vegas Golden Knights for a second-round selection in 2020, goaltender Malcolm Subban and defenseman prospect Slava Demin. The Blackhawks also retained 50 percent of Lehner's salary in a complicated three-way deal that saw Toronto eat 44 percent of that for a fifth-round pick in 2020 to help Vegas become cap compliant.

And the immediate impressions on the return? Pretty underwhelming. But, at the same time, the market played a big role in that and it didn't favor the Blackhawks by any stretch.

The Carolina Hurricanes had two first-round picks and were as desperate a team as ever to acquire a goaltender at the deadline after relying on a 42-year-old Zamboni driver to get them through their last game. No doubt the Blackhawks were hoping to land at least a first-rounder for Lehner, but if the Hurricanes weren't biting on that price tag, neither was anyone else.

Six first-round picks were traded in February and not one of them was moved for a rental player. Five of those skaters had term left on their contract and the other signed a long-term extension after the trade, which helped justify it.

[MORE: Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Trade deadline recap plus Stan Bowman 1-on-1]

The reality is, the decision came down to whether the Blackhawks wanted to risk letting Lehner walk for nothing this summer or take the best offer on the table and just accept they won't get 100 cents on the dollar, especially if they weren't seeing eye to eye on a potential extension, and they chose the latter. Whether the Blackhawks should've re-signed Lehner is a separate discussion, but both sides could always revisit things on July 1 if they choose.

It's also difficult for Chicago to get excited about the return for Gustafsson after several similar-type impact defensemen were traded last week for more than that, and rightfully so. Did the Blackhawks wait too long to move him? Probably. But he wasn't going to fetch much on his own to begin with, and you have to wonder how hard the Blackhawks tried to package Gustafsson with another asset to help sweeten the deal and get the first-round pick they were looking for.

There's a large portion of the fanbase that felt Gustafsson should've been dealt in the summer when his value was highest after he turned in a breakout 60-point campaign. And that's fair. But the Blackhawks were hoping to make the playoffs this season and subtracting a key piece from their roster wasn't something that would've aligned with those goals.

In the end, the Blackhawks went into trade deadline day hoping to recoup some draft picks and prospects and continue building from within. They did that.

But the expectation in Chicago was this could've served as a prime opportunity to restock the pipeline with future assets and get fans excited about the retooling process. And while the Blackhawks didn't exactly strike out, they didn't hit a home run, either.

"The goal was to try to get some asset value in return for them and we certainly did that," GM Stan Bowman said in a conference call. "Going into a period like this at the trade deadline, you have to try to manage your assets going forward. When you have expiring assets and you talk around the league to teams and find out if there’s interest in them, then you do your best to try and get the maximum return you can. "

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