Bulls

Cubs arent worrying about Marmol yet

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Cubs arent worrying about Marmol yet

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. Carlos Marmol was frustrated enough to flip over a garbage can in the clubhouse.

Its only spring training, but everythings magnified when youre making big money and coming off a down year. Thats the nature of the job. Closers usually get noticed only when they mess up.

Marmol apologized for the outburst on Monday and sat quietly at his locker. In his last two appearances combined, the Cubs closer has allowed seven runs on six hits, walked two batters and hit two more.

Concerned? manager Dale Sveum said Tuesday. No, breaking balls like his arent going to do a lot down here in Arizona. Youre always going to struggle with it and youre going to try and throw it harder and make it spin more. Its actually a counter-effect. But I think all along we just want to get his fastball command (back). Thats his biggest thing.

The Cubs have told Marmol to abandon his cutter and say that has helped his velocity tick back toward 94 mph. Twelve months after being rewarded with a three-year, 20 million contract, he appeared to be in better shape after losing around 10 pounds.

The people that have been around him know that hes been working as hard as he ever has, Sveum said. Its just a confidence thing.

Marmols mechanics are difficult to keep in line because he has such a violent, unique delivery, but the Cubs have stressed a few minor adjustments that he will have to internalize once the game speeds up.

Even if Marmol was pitching lights out, would it really matter? You cant draw conclusions yet, even after a season in which he led the majors with 10 blown saves and briefly lost the closers job.

Dont try to crank the breaking ball, Sveum said. Its not going to work in Arizona. Theres no air here. Nobodys breaking balls really break here. Thats why you see a lot of 15-14 games. Its a lot of fastballs and a lot of breaking balls that dont break that much. You just got to be careful of getting frustrated with that.

So theres no closer controversy yet. But Sveum says there could be as many as four if not five spots available in the bullpen (depending, in part, on whether or not Jeff Samardzija makes the rotation), making it a huge question mark.

One or two bad innings cant break a five-year window. Between 2007 and 2011, no reliever in baseball notched more strikeouts than Marmols 540 Jonathan Papelbon was second at 400 or had a lower batting average against (.164).

Marmol just has to remember what it takes. His manager isnt looking at other options.

Closers are meant to be closers because they can handle those last three outs, Sveum said. Its not that easy to find people. They might have the stuff, but they dont have the makeup to get those last three outs.

Lauri Markkanen celebrates 21st birthday with a spot on the NBA's All-Rookie First Team

Lauri Markkanen celebrates 21st birthday with a spot on the NBA's All-Rookie First Team

Lauri Markkanen’s celebration for his 21st birthday coincided with another major honor, being selected to the All-Rookie First team.

Markkanen received 76 of 100 possible first-team votes to join Utah’s Donovan Mitchell, Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons, Boston’s Jayson Tatum and the Los Angeles Lakers’ Kyle Kuzma on the first team. Mitchell and Simmons were unanimous selections and Tatum was one vote short of joining Mitchell and Simmons.

Markkanen, acquired on draft night in the package of players for Jimmy Butler, showed he was far more advanced than many expected. His 15.2 points per game ranked third among rookies and his 7.5 rebounds were first.

Markkanen was a constant in a topsy-turvy season for the Bulls, scoring 30-plus twice and hitting the 25-point plateau another three times. As a perfect fit in Fred Hoiberg’s offensive system, Markkanen had eight games where he hit four triples or more, including a game in New York where he drilled eight 3-pointers against the Knicks.

Only 15 rookies have hit more than 140 triples in NBA history, with Markkanen accomplishing the feat in 68 games—he was joined by Mitchell and Kuzma from this year’s star-studded class.

As the season progressed and Markkanen took hold of the power forward position, the Bulls began maneuvering personnel around him, trading disgruntled forward Nikola Mirotic and making a concerted effort to put Bobby Portis at center to pair Portis with Markkanen as a spread-shooting duo.

As the most impressive rookie the Bulls have employed since Derrick Rose, he’s also the first rookie since Taj Gibson in 2010 to make All-Rookie First Team.

Bears backfield ranked fourth-best in NFL

Bears backfield ranked fourth-best in NFL

The Chicago Bears have a really good problem in their backfield. Both Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen will demand touches in 2018 and are each starting-quality running backs. Howard is the more traditional first and second-down back while Cohen offers top-tier playmaking ability.

The duo is so talented that they were recently ranked the fourth-best backfield in the NFL.

The Chicago Bears' Jordan Howard has emerged as one of the NFL's top rushers. He finished his rookie season with 1,313 yards, second-most in the NFL. Last season, he rushed for 1,122 yards and 4.1 yards per carry even though Chicago had the league's least threatening passing attack (175.7 yards per game).

Howard isn't the only standout back on the roster, though. Tarik Cohen is a supremely talented runner and receiver and a perfect complement to Howard. Last season, he amassed 370 rushing yards, 53 receptions and 353 receiving yards.

The Bears' backfield was behind only the Rams, Saints and Chiefs.

Howard set Chicago's rookie rushing record with 1,313 yards in 2016 and became the first Bears running back to start his career with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. He should be the Bears' primary back, but coach Matt Nagy expressed genuine excitement over Cohen's skill set which suggests he plans on getting him the ball quite a bit this season.

Regardless of how the touches play out, the Bears will present opposing defenses with one of the most challenging ground games in the NFL.