Bulls

Cubs drop fifth straight series

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Cubs drop fifth straight series

CHICAGO (AP) Johnny Cueto threw 6 1-3 strong innings to lead the Cincinnati Reds to a 4-3 win over the Chicago Cubs on Sunday.

Cueto (2-0) allowed one earned run, scattering five hits. He struck out seven and lowered his ERA to 1.78 for the season.

Two runners were on base with one out when Cueto exited in the seventh. With two outs and the bases loaded, Aroldis Chapman struck out Ian Stewart looking with a fastball that registered 99 miles per hour on the stadium scoreboard, preserving the lead.

Chapman also worked a scoreless eighth, though he did walk his first two batters this season. In 10 1-3 scoreless innings, Chapman has 18 strikeouts while allowing just three hits. Former Cub Sean Marshall pitched the ninth, picking up his third save in three opportunities.

The Reds capitalized on Chicago mistakes to break a 2-2 tie in the sixth. Cubs starter Randy Wells and reliever Scott Maine combined to walk two batters and hit one more, while Geovany Soto made two throwing errors on sacrifice bunt attempts.

All told, the Reds sent eight batters to the plate in the sixth, scoring two unearned runs without the benefit of a hit.

Wells was making his first start of the season in place of Ryan Dempster, who was put on the 15-day disabled list Saturday with a right quad strain. Wells struggled with his command, walking five batters in five innings and throwing just 52 of his 93 pitches for strikes.

Wells managed to keep the damage to a minimum, limiting the Reds to two runs and leaving with a no-decision. Rodrigo Lopez (0-1) took the loss in relief.

Cincinnati left 13 runners on base, while Chicago stranded 12. The teams combined to leave the bases full five times.

Joey Votto doubled twice, walked twice, scored a run and drove in another to pace the Reds' offense. The slugging first baseman went his 14th straight game without a home run.

Ryan Hanigan singled and walked twice for the Reds.

Castro singled, tripled and scored two runs for the Cubs, extending his hitting streak to 10 games, the sixth streak at least that long in his young career. He has reached base in 55 of his last 56 games.

The Reds improved to 7-0 this season when they've scored more than three runs. Cincinnati is 0-9 when scoring less than four runs.

NOTES:

Wells was recalled before the game from Triple-A Iowa, taking the roster spot of Marlon Byrd. The Cubs' starting center fielder was traded to Boston on Saturday for reliever Michael Bowden and a player to be named later. . Cubs manager Dale Sveum said he plans to "mix and match" to fill the void in center field created by Byrd's departure, using a combination Campana, Reed Johnson and Joe Mather at the position. Campana started on Sunday. . Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips missed the game because of the lingering left hamstring injury that has caused him to miss six of Cincinnati's last 12 games.

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Season in Review: Otto Porter shoots the lights out in small sample size

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USA TODAY

Season in Review: Otto Porter shoots the lights out in small sample size

Over the next month we'll be recapping each of the Bulls' individual 2018-19 regular seasons.

Previous reviews: Lauri Markkanen | Shaq Harrison | Ryan Arcidiacono

Midseason expectations: Otto Porter Jr. arrived in Chicago the same night the Bulls posted a 126.3 offensive rating in a 125-120 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans. Maybe that was foreshadowing for how the offense would look two days later when Porter made his Bulls debut. That was the expectation, at least, that Porter would infuse life into a stagnant Bulls offense, space the floor and give the Bulls some versatility on the defensive end. Given the Bulls were 12-42 when Porter arrived, the expectation was that he’d gain some chemistry with Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen heading into the 2019-2020 season when he’d have an entire offseason to figure out a defined role.

What went right: How about 49 percent from beyond the arc? Again, it was a small sample size, but Porter connected on 39 of his 80 3-point attempts in 15 games with the Bulls. Perhaps a change of scenery and leaving that nightmare of a John Wall-less Wizards offense, was exactly what he needed. Past his lights-out shooting, Porter showed a knack for distributing that he rarely showed in Washington.

Consider that Porter had 40 assists in 15 games with the Bulls, half of the 80 assists he had with the Wizards in 41 games. He had a career-high eight assists for the Bulls in a March game against the Pistons, three more than his high in Washington last season. Porter is never going to initiate offense but playing well in pick-and-roll action and keeping the ball moving around the perimeter only adds to his value.

What went wrong: Pegged as two-way player when he arrived in Chicago, Porter didn’t do all that much on the defensive end. The Bulls were 1.1 points per 100 possessions better defensively when Porter sat than when he played. It’s a small sample size, and the Bulls defense was a mess regardless of who was or wasn’t on the floor, but it’s hard to pick out any real significant defensive plays that Porter made in his 15 games.

The Stat: 111.5

We’ll disclaim here that it was just a 17-game sample size, but that’s still more than 20 percent of the season. In the 17 games between Porter’s acquisition and when he was shut down for the remainder of the season, the Bulls’ 111.5 offensive rating was ninth best in the NBA, better than teams such as the Warriors, Hawks, Sixers and Nuggets.

What’s more, their turnover percentage (13.3%, 13th), effective field goal percentage (53.0%, 11th) and offensive rebound percentage (26.1%, 15th) were all top half of the league. It was their best stretch of the season, and it was no coincidence that it came while Porter was in the lineup and healthy. Small-ish sample size? Yes. Still promising? Yes.

2019-20 Expectations: A lot. No, the Bulls didn’t give Porter that massive contract. But it’s going to stick with him as long as the Bulls are paying him. Expectations are clear: Continue to be an elite 3-point shooter and move the ball – whether it be around the perimeter or in pick-and-roll action – once the defense shifts.

Speaking of defense, Porter will be tasked with changing the narrative in Chicago. The Bulls need to improve their defense if they’re going to have any change of competing for a playoff spot and much of that responsibility will fall on Porter. He’ll routinely be guarding the opponent’s best wing and will need to hide Zach LaVine at times. It’s a tall order, but it comes with the territory while making $27 million per year.

Why fixing penalty kill is crucial for Blackhawks in 2019-20

Why fixing penalty kill is crucial for Blackhawks in 2019-20

Just how important is special teams in the NHL?

Of the 16 teams that qualified for the postseason, 14 clubs had at least one special teams unit that was ranked in the top half of the league and 12 teams had at least one unit ranked in the top 10.

The Blackhawks finished the season with the 15th-ranked power play and 31st-ranked penalty kill. The Blackhawks' 72.7 percent kill rate is the lowest the league has seen in 30 years.

“The penalty kill is something that clearly has to be better," GM Stan Bowman said. "That was a big disappointment this year, no question about that. So we have to devote some resources to that. Some of it might be players, if we get some players that have that kind of experience or have a history. Part of it is tactically can we find ways to be better. We have a lot of time now to study it and put a lot of our focus on that.”

Jeremy Colliton did not rule out getting external help to improve the PK.

“We’re going to look at everything, for sure," he said. "We’re going to look at obviously tactically and we’re going to look at the personnel and how we’re using guys and try to put them in the best situation we can. And maybe that’s new, different guys who weren’t getting the opportunity. Or maybe that’s someone from outside.”

The Blackhawks did manage to fix their power play issues this past season. When Colliton became head coach on Nov. 6, the Blackhawks power play was near the bottom of the league. By December, the man advantage was dead last, cashing in on fewer than 12 percent of their power plays.

Colliton made Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Alex DeBrincat, Dylan Strome and Erik Gustafsson his top power play unit and from Dec. 20 till the end of February they were the league's best unit, converting on 35.2 percent of their power plays.  

Gustafsson’s addition to the power play was a major factor in the unit's improvement.

"A big part of our power play progression and transformation from being at the bottom to being in the top group," Bowman said of Gustafsson. "I was really pleased with that and we're going to need him next year for sure.”

If the Blackhawks penalty kill can make strides like the power play did, Colliton’s crew will likely be playing at this time next season.

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