Bulls

Cubs, Samardzija jumping into uncharted waters

733398.png

Cubs, Samardzija jumping into uncharted waters

ST. LOUIS In their first meeting, Jeff Samardzija sold himself as a starter to Theo Epstein with a detailed plan of attack on how hed get ready for this season.

Samardzija moved to his place in Arizona last November, because it can be so boring and monotonous out there: Youre either playing golf or working out.

The Cubs certainly noticed the commitment, and saw someone whos 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds, with enough raw athleticism to play Sundays in the NFL.

Here comes the next phase for Samardzija, who threw 88 innings last season exclusively as a reliever. Remember that manager Dale Sveum wants his team to play with an edge, whether its Matt Garza screaming into his glove or Ryan Dempster trying to mask his temper.

We want them to want to fight Dale to come out of the game, pitching coach Chris Bosio said Saturday. Thats our mindset from jump street. You got to be that guy. You got to want to stay out there in the toughest of tough situations. Finish what you start. Thats the goal.

The Cubs projected that Samardzija is built to (eventually) throw 200 innings, a target hed almost certainly like to reach this year. But hes never thrown more than 142 innings in a season before. It doesnt sound like theres a number out there where hed automatically or arbitrarily be shut down.

We have a plan that were going to follow, Bosio said. Its already been talked about with Dale and (general manager Jed Hoyer) and Theo.

It depends on how hard the innings are, how efficient he is. That really dictates how far a starter goes in the game. If hes efficient, hes going to pitch deeper and the same thing will be for Jeff and the rest of the guys. If hes efficient, hell pitch more innings. That pretty much answers itself.

But there will be a push-pull dynamic here. Sveum caught himself after Fridays 9-5 win over the Cardinals.

Five days earlier, Samardzija had thrown 110 pitches and almost put together a complete game against the Nationals. This time he needed 103 pitches to finish five innings and qualify for the win.

Its uncharted waters, Sveum said. But I think we have to be careful and I have to be careful of using those kind of things as excuses, too, just because its the first time hes done this and done that.

Hes pitched enough in the big leagues to understand all this.

Samardzija thanked the offense but pointed out that its obviously not the start you want to have just five and dive. The Cubs will have to monitor his workload, and will have off-days to play with this season, but they are also trying to create an identity.

Bosio is a big guy who pitched 11 seasons in the big leagues and can look players in the eyes. Hes old school, but still calls people dude. He expects his pitchers to throw inside and doesnt want anyone searching the dugout after the fifth inning.

Dont even look in, Bosio said. I just dont want that. Period. Im not going to be happy if youre looking in for help.

In one year, the talk has shifted from the Cubs being forced to carry Samardzija in the bullpen because he was out of minor-league options, to maybe being a top-of-the-rotation starter.

While Samardzija was being interviewed in the dugout during Saturdays FOX broadcast, Garza was throwing sunflower seeds at his face. On the air, Samardzija said something like: You have to have composure when you're dealing with idiots.

This group has some personality, and has kept the Cubs in pretty much every game so far this season.

We got some guys that like to get after it, Bosio said. Theyre loose, but at the same time, theres that internal burn that we want. We like competitive guys. Were a competitive staff. We were as players. We are as coaches.

These guys have taken the ball and ran with it in spring training. Now we have to get better as individuals and push each other. Thats what good teams do.

While Epstein generally believes that the postseason is a crapshoot, the Cubs president has found certain elements that show up more in the playoffs, and can help slightly tilt the odds in your favor.

One is having a strong top of the rotation, and Epstein believes that Samardzija has the raw components to be one of those pieces. The art is in developing that consistency.

If Samardzija gets to that level, and runs with Garza, maybe the Cubs arent that far from contention in the National League Central.

Samardzija is 27 years old, but his right arm doesnt have as much wear and tear as a typical major-league pitcher that age. There will be physical hurdles if hes as good as the Cubs think he could be.

But Samardzija has cleared one mentally. When he found out he made the rotation near the end of camp, he reflected on how far hes come from Notre Dame.

I went through college and I just played. It was natural. I really didnt have too many setbacks, Samardzija said. I havent had too many things that I really had to earn. I had to earn this and that feels good. To put that work in and see it pay off is pretty nice.

Kris Dunn to miss 4 to 6 weeks with MCL sprain

Kris Dunn to miss 4 to 6 weeks with MCL sprain

The hits keep coming for the Bulls, and after the latest one it might be time to fire up the 2019 mock drafts.

Fred Hoiberg revealed Tuesday before practice that point guard Kris Dunn suffered a moderate sprain of his left MCL in Monday’s loss to the Mavericks and will miss the next 4 to 6 weeks.

“To have him out of the lineup for an extended period, it’s extremely difficult,” Hoiberg said. “When you have a guy who is out there and really made strides over the course of last season and the summer he had and the way he played during training camp, it’s difficult to miss him.”

It’s yet another freak injury for Dunn, who suffered the injury midway through the second quarter while landing after a layup over DeAndre Jordan. Last year Dunn suffered a dislocated finger in the preseason and then suffered a concussion that cost him 11 games. A toe injury then ended his season as the tanking Bulls shut him down for the final 14 games.

But Dunn was expected to play a significant role in Year 2 of the Bulls’ rebuild. As well as leading the team in assists and being the most sure-handed closer, Dunn’s defensive prowess was going to help a Bulls team that finished 29th in efficiency and lost David Nwaba, perhaps their second best defender, in the offseason.

Even prior to Dunn’s injury the Bulls had been addressing the position behind him, claiming Tyler Ulis off waivers on Oct. 14 and signing Shaq Harrison on Sunday. They opted to keep Ryan Arcidiacono on the final roster and will now rely on some combination of those three behind Cam Payne, who tied a career high with 17 points on Saturday against the Pistons.

That’s why Dunn’s injury could affect the team more than Lauri Markkanen’s or Denzel Valentine’s. The Bulls were able to cover up Markkanen’s absence with Bobby Portis and free agent acquisition Jabari Parker, while they invested a first-round pick in wing Chandler Hutchison and guaranteed Antonio Blakeney’s contract over the summer.

There’s quantity on the Bulls’ depth chart behind Dunn, but quality is another story.

“Cam had his best game of maybe his career a couple games ago against Detroit,” Hoiberg said. “He has some things he can build on. The biggest thing at that position is you have to get us organized at both ends of the floor. That’s where Kris had taken a big step in the right direction with that. Arcidiacono is one of the better communicators and hardest-playing guys on our team. We’ve got guys who have some starting experience. It’s big shoes to fill. But I’m confident our guys will give great effort.”

It could mean more ball-handling responsibilities for Zach LaVine, who has been a terror in pick-and-roll sets three games into the season. Though he’s only averaged 2.7 assists, the Bulls offense has been humming, with his 32.3 points per game leading the way. Using LaVine as a primary ball handler could allow Hoiberg to run a point guard-less offense and mix and match the other backcourt position.

They’ll have to do it on the fly. The group of point guards the Bulls will face in the next 11 days include Kemba Walker (Charlotte) twice, Trae Young (Atlanta), Steph Curry (Golden State), Jamal Murray (Denver), Darren Collison (Indiana) and James Harden (Houston). It could get a lot worse for the Bulls before it gets any better, and with Markkanen, Valentine and now Dunn on the mend. 

For those looking into such things three games into the season, the Bulls are currently tied with the Thunder, Cavaliers and Lakers for the worst record in the league. The NBA changed its Lottery rules for this upcoming season, with the three worst teams in the league all sharing the same odds at receiving the top pick in the draft.

No-brainer: The Cubs should absolutely bring back Jesse Chavez in 2019 bullpen

No-brainer: The Cubs should absolutely bring back Jesse Chavez in 2019 bullpen

Should the Cubs bring Jesse Chavez back for the 2019 bullpen?

This question shouldn't have anywhere near the polarizing effect the Daniel Murphy query had earlier this week, and for good reason.

It's hard to find any real downside for the Cubs working Chavez back into the fold next season. 

Sure, he's 35 and he'll turn 36 in August, but Chavez just had far and away the best season of his 11-year career and all signs point to it being legit.

He won't have a 1.15 ERA forever, of course, but he clearly found something with his mechanics that helped lead to the remarkable consistency he showed in a Cubs uniform (4 saves, 4 holds, 1.15 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, 42 Ks in 39 IP). 

The Cubs will be looking to add some reinforcements to their bullpen this winter and Chavez fits the bill in many areas.

When asked about how to address the bullpen this winter, Theo Epstein said his front office will be "looking for guys who can throw strikes and execute a gameplan and take the ball and pitch in big spots."

The Cubs have publicly placed an emphasis on "strike-throwers" out of the bullpen over the last two winters now and that is right up Chavez's alley.

He threw 68.5 percent first-pitch strikes while with the Cubs, which would've ranked near the top of the league in 2018, right up there with aces like Miles Mikolas, Clayton Kershaw, Aaron Nola and Justin Verlander. Among all relievers, Chavez ranked 5th in baseball in first-pitch strike percentage in the second half.

Expanding further (since the first pitch isn't the only one that matters): Chavez threw the fourth-most strikes in baseball among all MLB relievers after the All-Star Break. Since the day Chavez put on a Cubs uniform, Philadelphia's Tommy Hunter (70.5 percent) was the only reliever in baseball (minimum 30 innings) to throw a higher percentage of pitches for strikes than Chavez (69.8 percent).

If you want strikes, there's no better reliever on the market right now than Chavez.

He also shouldn't be all that expensive at age 35, even despite the breakout and high level of importance placed upon relievers these days. A similar deal to the one Brian Duensing got last winter - $7 million over 2 years - seems appropriate and would be a steal if Chavez can continue to find even a modicum of the success he had since putting on a Cubs uniform.

Speaking of the Cubs uniform, Chavez reportedly doesn't want to wear another logo in 2019, saying this after the NL Wild-Card Game:

That was an emotional time, but Chavez repeatedly raved about the Cubs clubhouse and culture throughout his time in Chicago and really appreciated the way his teammates made him feel comfortable from Day 1.

When the Cubs first acquired Chavez in that under-the-radar trade, they touted his versatility which has become a valuable asset, especially in today's game where relievers are often asked to pitch multiple innings. If necessary, he could also represent depth for the starting rotation, having made 70 starts over his MLB career. 

Unless there's a surprising market that develops for Chavez, bringing him back to the North Side of Chicago on a 1- or 2-year deal is a no-brainer.