Cubs

Cubs rotation picture coming into focus

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Cubs rotation picture coming into focus

MESA, Ariz. You cant do instant analysis here, not when some regulars are showered and out the door before the game ends.

But if you listen closely and observe, you can slowly see the picture coming into focus. The Cubs have two spots open in their rotation, and thats the biggest roster story still to be written this spring.

Staring down at the clubhouse carpet, Travis Wood was definitely feeling a sense of urgency after getting one out in Wednesdays 10-2 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers in front of 11,682 fans at HoHoKam Stadium.

Its typical to say its early, working out all the kinks, but its time to go, Wood said. I had two outings so far and neither one went as planned. So now its just time to get after it.

Wood is the promising 25-year-old left-hander acquired from the Cincinnati Reds in the Sean Marshall trade. He gave up six runs five earned on three hits and two walks. He didnt look particularly sharp in an intra-squad scrimmage (six runs) or a start against the White Sox.

These are absurdly small sample sizes, but its the middle of March and significant cuts will be coming after this weekends trip to Las Vegas. Major decisions will have to be made.

Randy Wells helped his cause by throwing three scoreless innings against the Brewers. He had also bailed Wood out of a bases-loaded jam against the White Sox last week by getting Paul Konerko to ground into an inning-ending double play.

You guys keep asking the same question, Wells said. For every guy, you cant really think about it. If you do, its going to eat at you and one bad outings going to get in your head. I dont think you can worry about that.

For the most part, these guys are pretty good talent evaluators. Thats why theyre in (this) position. If guys can go out and work on things and get better each day, then its going to be a tough decision on them. You cant sit here and really try to play a managerial game behind the scenes.

(When) its our turn to pitch, we pitch and see what happens.

Wells is used to having to fight for a spot in the rotation. There is a reasonable expectation of knowing what youd get as long as he stays healthy. Hes 27-30 with a 4.01 ERA in 500-plus innings in the big leagues, a very capable fifth starter whos probably been overlooked.

Deep down, the Cubs see so much upside in Chris Volstad (32-39, 4.59 ERA), whos 25 years old, 6-foot-8 and a former first-round pick. Hes already thrown six scoreless innings in the Cactus League. The South Florida native is viewed as a classic change-of-scenery guy after being traded from the Miami Marlins in the Carlos Zambrano deal.

Its also hard to ignore the glowing praise manager Dale Sveum has repeatedly used to describe Jeff Samardzijas game. At 6-foot-5, 225 pounds, the Cubs feel like his bodys designed to handle 200 innings. He has swing-and-miss stuff and team officials think he can use last season (8-4, 2.97 ERA) as a springboard.

Quietly, Rodrigo Lopez has thrown four scoreless innings and worked on the slider that made him a 15-game winner with the Baltimore Orioles. The 36-year-old right-hander wound up being good insurance last season (6-6, 4.42 ERA) and the new front office made pitching depth a priority.

Outside of Samardzija who seems likely to be ticketed for the rotation Sveum has said that he doesnt think any of the starting candidates would fit at the back end of the bullpen as the second setup man.

That power-arm void isnt going to be used against Samardzija he will be given every opportunity to earn a job in the rotation.

Needs not going to dictate the decision, Sveum said. Anybodys need is always starting pitching.

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 10th, 11th homers in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 10th, 11th homers in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

Sosa is heating up, but even a red-hot Sosa doesn't automatically equal wins for the Cubs.

Slammin' Sammy notched his first multi-homer game in 1998 in a 9-5 loss to Kevin Millwood and the Atlanta Braves. Sosa drove in 4 of the Cubs' 5 runs on a solo shot in the 4th inning and a three-run shot in the 8th. 

Sosa tallied 830 feet of homers in the game, with his first blast going 410 feet and the second shot measured at 420 feet.

The big game bumped Sosa's overall season slash line to .337/.411/.551 (.962 OPS) with 11 homers and 35 RBI.

Fun fact: Mickey Morandini hit second for the Cubs in this game and went 4-for-4, but somehow only scored one run despite hitting just in front of Sosa all game. That's because Morandini was caught stealing to end the 3rd inning, leaving Sosa to lead off the 4th inning with a solo blast.

Steve Kerr told a Michael Jordan Bulls story to give advice to Kevin Durant

Steve Kerr told a Michael Jordan Bulls story to give advice to Kevin Durant

Anyone who lived through the Michael Jordan Bulls remembers those games when he was putting up tons of points, but the Bulls were still struggling overall.

Steve Kerr referenced one of those games to give advice to Kevin Durant during Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals. The TNT broadcast caught the conversation and aired it late in the third quarter.

"When MJ was with the Bulls, we had a playoff game," Kerr began the story. "He kept trying to score and he was scoring, but we weren't getting anything going. Phil Jackson said 'Who's open?' He said, 'John Paxson.'"

Paxson famously hit the game-winning shot in Game 6 of the 1993 NBA Finals to clinch the series. Kerr, who later hit his own championship-winning shot on an assist from Jordan in 1997, was trying to get to get his teammates involved.

"I want to trust your teammates early," Kerr said. "What you're doing is you're getting to the rim and then you're trying to hit him. I want you to trust the first guy and then move. Still attack, still look to score, but trust these guys, OK?"

Watch the video above to see the interaction.

Durant scored 29 points in Game 5 to lead the Warriors, but Houston took a 3-2 series lead with a 98-94 win.