Cubs, Samardzija need to find another gear


Cubs, Samardzija need to find another gear

NEW YORK Jeff Samardzija wasnt shy in telling his bosses and the media that he belongs in the Cubs rotation.

Samardzija is physically gifted did you know he played football at Notre Dame? but as much as anything he has confidence and a competitive streak going for him.

At times, Samardzija has backed up his words and looked like someone youd want to take the ball in October. Youve also watched the ups and downs as he transitions out of the bullpen.

There are times where it all seems to happen in the same game. Samardzija wrapped up the first half of this experiment with Saturdays 3-1 loss to the New York Mets at Citi Field.

Samardzija (6-8, 4.71) and the Cubs (32-52) will need to find another gear. The offense looks like it could use the All-Star break, particularly Alfonso Soriano, who hasnt homered in more than a week and is 3-for-19 on this road trip. By throwing seven more innings, Samardzija is at 101.1 for the season, after accounting for 88 last year. He insists that he feels great.

Im just starting to hit my stride, Samardzija said. I really look forward to hitting the second half strong. Its going to a big thing for me, proving to these guys (that) as the season goes along, I stay strong.

I put in all the hard work in the offseason for this exact reason. Those innings get up and your body (and) your arms got to be strong to carry you through the season.

Coming out of the break, the Cubs have arranged their rotation Ryan Dempster, Paul Maholm, Matt Garza, Travis Wood so that Samardzija wont start again until July 18 at Wrigley Field against the Miami Marlins.

With the heat rising to 94 degrees, Samardzija watched Jordany Valdespin hammer a 95 mph fastball over the right-center field fence. Ike Davis later reached down and drove an 0-2 splitter that slammed off the Pepsi Max sign on the second deck in right field for a two-run homer.

Ten days earlier, the Mets (46-39) had rocked Samardzija at Wrigley Field, jumping him for nine runs in a 17-1 blowout. This time, they got nothing after the third inning.

Hes handled himself pretty good, catcher Steve Clevenger said. Hes got great stuff. I think he can definitely be a frontrunner in a rotation. Its just about getting innings (and) getting used to it.

The Cubs had nothing to lose in stretching out Samardzija, who dominated in May (2.48 ERA) and seemed out of it in June (10.41 ERA). This quality start followed seven innings of one-run ball against the Atlanta Braves.

We knew there was going to be some growing pains, manager Dale Sveum said. He went through them and keeps understanding how to do it three times through the lineup (and) settle back down after something bad happens and regroup.

This one ended with Anthony Rizzo (2-for-4) stranded on second base after a leadoff double, once Clevenger was called out on a questionable check swing at Bobby Parnells 101 mph fastball.

As the Cubs try to envision their rotation of the future, and the media searches for ways to measure the Rizzo bounce, its become clear this lineup needs more juice. Sveum indicated that interim hitting coach James Rowson, who replaced Rudy Jaramillo last month, will be in the mix to return in 2013.

No question about it, Sveum said. With anything like that, its labeled interim, but hes definitely going to be highly considered.

Theres no doubt that Samardzija is a big part of the plans for next season and beyond. Stay tuned to see if he can handle it.

To bounce back (is) really key for me, Samardzija said. The first season starting, youre going to go through those ups and downs, and its all about how you respond.

NFL Power Rankings Week 8: Jags, Eagles, Bears all see stock fall

USA Today

NFL Power Rankings Week 8: Jags, Eagles, Bears all see stock fall

Take a look over the NFC landscape and try to find me a team that can compete with the Rams. 

Packers? Held back by Rodgers' knee and Rodgers' coach. Saints? Might not even win their own division. Washington? Does Alex Smith really scare anyone in the playoffs? 

The Rams have one of the easier paths to the Championship Round/Super Bowl that we've seen in some time. Will it likely stay that way? Probably not. But there's a difference between parity and mediocrity and right now the NFC is toeing the line HARD. 

Outside the NFC's "elite", how did your team do this week? 

You can take a look here and see where they landed. 

Shaquille Harrison could improve the efficiency of Bulls bottom five defense

Shaquille Harrison could improve the efficiency of Bulls bottom five defense

The Phoenix Suns released guard Shaquille Harrison last week, and although it is not a move that will send shockwaves through the league, the Bulls picking up Harrison could be the exact type of move to help solve what ails them.

At 6-foot, 4-inches and with a long wingspan, Harrison would step in and likely be at least the second-best perimeter defender on the team behind Kris Dunn. And he is the type of player, when combined with a talent like Wendell Carter Jr. and/or Dunn, could help form the type of lineup that could have a transformative effect on the overall team defense.

Last season Harrison had a defensive rating of 109, this despite the fact that the Sun—as a team—had a defensive rating of 113.51, over four points worse than when Harrison was on the floor.

His best skill is his ability to “get skinny” around a screener, meaning that on defense, Harrison is adept at angling his body to get around players trying to screen him off his man:

The Bulls need more players who show Harrison’s effort level when navigating screens on defense, not just because it will make life easier on their rim protectors, but because they also need to make sure they continue adding players who lead by example on that end of the floor. A team as young as the Bulls needs to collect young talent who pride themselves on defense, and Harrison fits the part.

When it comes to offense, Harrison doesn’t have the most impressive profile, but his play on that end of the floor is similar to former Bull David Nwaba. Harrison is not even an average 3-point shooter  (23.1 percent from 3-point range), but he makes up for it in other ways.

His rebounding is an area of strength, and fitting in with his preference to bring physicality to his matchup, he is adept at getting to the free throw line.

Last year Harrison’s 30.6 percent free throw attempt rate would’ve been a top-five mark on the Bulls. But his low usage rate (18 percent) will likely be lower in Chicago, so the free throw numbers may fall. But with so many score-first players on the roster, Harrison will still be able to crash the glass against the many guards who forget to box out their man.

Offensive rebounding will be less of a focus for a Bulls team that wants to preach getting back on transition defense, but Harrison gives Fred Hoiberg a special player that can do both. Harrison will run back on defense to help create the “shell” that the best teams create to cut off easy forays to the rim, and then when his team gets the ball back and is on the fastbreak, he brings value as the “trailer” (trailing man on a fastbreak) even without shooting ability:

This signing could end up being a big one for the Bulls, however small it may seem now.

Around the league, more and more teams are starting to invest resources in multiple ball-handler offenses that negate the differences between point guard and shooting guard, making versatile back court defenders a must.

This will be evident when the Bulls take on the Dallas Mavericks in game No. 3 of the regular season, as Rick Carlisle's Mavericks feature Dennis Smith Jr. and Luka Doncic in an explosive offense that doesn't have a defined "lead" guard.

The Bulls will continue to attempt to curtail offense with a high-scoring back court duo when they take on the Charlotte Hornets in a back-to-back on October 26 and 27. If Harrison is worked into the rotation by then, expect to see Harrison and Dunn on the floor together to match up with Doncic and Smith respectively, but have the flexibility to switch defensive assignments on the fly. If Chicago's perimeter defense starts to offer significantly more resistance, it will allow quicker improvement from Carter and the rest of the Bulls bigs on the interior.

With Zach LaVine currently in the top-five in the NBA in points per game, Dunn returning and Lauri Markkanen getting healthy, the Bulls front office is slowly approaching the point where their team has enough players who are considered possible focal points of an offense.

To become a championship contender, you need to have that one player who is unequivocally a superstar capable of a heavy workload, and only time will tell if the Bulls already have that player or need to acquire him. But the other important factor in building a championship roster is having the elite-level role players who do the little things that make life easier for their teammates in all phases of the game, and Shaq Harrison is excellent prospect who fits that exact mold.