Bulls

Cubs-Sox: Samardzija wants the spotlight

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Cubs-Sox: Samardzija wants the spotlight

Toward the end of last season, Jeff Samardzija punctuated a conversation about his future by saying something like this: It would be a shame if I won all those games somewhere else.

Samardzija wasnt bragging or making threats. No one knew who exactly would be running the Cubs or picking up the option year on his contract.

Its just that Samardzija was finally starting to see results and felt like he was on the verge of another breakthrough. He knew the organization had invested a lot of capital in him, and not just the 10 million.

A Chicago guy who grew up in Indiana and starred at Notre Dame wasnt satisfied with being a pretty good reliever, or leaving with unfinished business.

After Theo Epstein took over at Clark and Addison, Samardzija met with the Cubs president and laid out a daily plan for how he would train in Arizona and transform himself into a frontline starter.

The entire city will see how far Samardzija has come on Friday at Wrigley Field, when he takes the ball against the White Sox for the start of a three-game crosstown series.

These are some of my favorite games of the year, Samardzija said. All of Chicago is watching. The place is packed. Its rowdy. Its the atmosphere you want to pitch in.

Samardzija loves the bright lights. Thats one reason why former general manager Jim Hendry and current scouting director Tim Wilken took him in the fifth round of the 2006 draft and gave him a big contract to give up his NFL ambitions.

Thats another reason why the Epstein administration thinks Samardzija and Matt Garza could be difference-makers if the Cubs one day get back to October.

During the offseason, Samardzija purposely moved to his place in Arizona, a distraction-free zone where he joked there is nothing to do except work out and play golf.

Samardzija has the long hair, the dude personality and the Notre Dame pedigree, but that image doesnt quite fit someone who grew up in a strong middle-class family that wasnt afraid of hard work.

I only got in there because I could play ball, not because I could pay tuition, he said with a laugh.

Samardzija has a great sense of humor, and hes clearly comfortable in his own skin. He gets it in a way other professional athletes around the city might not.

Samardzija mentioned how hes looking forward to pitching at Comiskey next month. In his mind, thats what it is.

Its still the Sears Tower, he said. Were stuck in our ways around here.

Samardzija was asked to name his favorite call from White Sox broadcaster Hawk Harrelson.

There are a lot of good ones, Samardzija said. I always liked the ones where he just didnt talk for about an inning-and-a-half. And then all of a sudden hed be like The 2-2two outs Where are the other 15 pitches?

That was when DJ (Darrin Jackson) was there, too. I loved watching those guys. Theyre entertaining. Theyre fun to watch. Theyre fun to listen to. You could always get a good nap in during the Sox game.

Samardzija is a good talker, but he has the numbers to back it up now (4-1, 2.89 ERA, 45 strikeouts in 43.2 innings). After all those growing pains and trips back down to Triple-A Iowa, it wouldnt have felt quite right to put them up in another uniform.

Id rather win games here for the Cubs than anywhere else, Samardzija said. Its where I want to be. I only said that because I had some confidence that I was going to be here and that things were going to go the way I thought they were going to go.

So now its up to me to do what I can this year and next year and really prove to them that I belong here for a long time.

With revamped roster, Bulls begin quest for playoffs on road vs. Hornets

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USA Today

With revamped roster, Bulls begin quest for playoffs on road vs. Hornets

CHARLOTTE, N.C. --- On April 28, 2017, the Celtics ended the Bulls’ lone season of what Rajon Rondo brilliantly called “The Three Alphas,” closing out the first-round playoff series in six games.

As the Bulls begin their 54th season in franchise history Wednesday in Charlotte, N.C., only Denzel Valentine and Cristiano Felicio remain from that roster.

When John Paxson first succeeded Jerry Krause in April 2003, he took two years to similarly flip the roster, keeping only Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry.

This makeover was Paxson’s doing, beginning with the June 2017 trade of Jimmy Butler to the Timberwolves. His last complete overhaul produced 10 playoff appearances in 11 seasons, albeit with only five series victories in that span.

Wednesday night begins the quest for sustained success.

“We have revamped this roster in a big way and a way in that we can look at this team and we see real talent,” Paxson said back on the team’s media day in late September. “We see a versatile roster. We see depth on this roster. We see some leadership on this roster which we haven’t had.

“And because of that our goals this year are really simple. First and foremost, we want to compete at a high, high level. And when you compete at a high level, you have an ability to be a playoff-caliber team. And we set that as a goal. (Coach) Jim (Boylen) talks about it. He’s not afraid of it. And our guys through their work have shown us that they want to make that commitment. So we feel good about that.”

There’s plenty to feel good about during a preseason. That’s when each team’s regular-season record is unblemished. The tests start for real against the Hornets, followed by Friday’s visit to Memphis.

Four of the Bulls’ first five games are on the road but all are against teams that didn’t qualify for the playoffs last season. Saturday’s home opener is against the defending NBA champion Raptors, who defeated the Pelicans in overtime Tuesday night in their first game since Kawhi Leonard left for the Clippers.

Plenty has to go right for the Bulls to make the jump from 22 victories to the playoffs. Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen need to step towards stardom. Tomas Satoransky and Thad Young need to continue being the low-maintenance complementary pieces they've shown to be during their careers. Otto Porter Jr. and Wendell Carter Jr. need to stay healthy. Coby White and Kris Dunn need to contribute off the bench.

Still, the bottom portion of the Eastern Conference playoff picture is wide open. The Bulls know this. It’s why Boylen indeed gave voice to the goal on that same September media day.

“Our goals for the season are to make the playoffs,” Boylen said then. “And every day to prepare like we’re a playoff team. Every day to work like we’re a playoff-bound team. I’m excited for that. I think that’s the only way to do it. There’s no way that we were going to stand up here and say, ‘Hey, I hope we can win 10 more games or we hope we can be better.’ We want to get to the mountain top.’’

The games count for real starting Wednesday. It’s time to start climbing.

Source: Cubs set to hire David Ross as new manager

Source: Cubs set to hire David Ross as new manager

According to David Kaplan, the Cubs have made their decision on a new manager. And to no surprise, they've landed on David Ross.

Ross was widely speculated as the heir apparent to Joe Maddon and that's exactly how the situation has played out. The team also interviewed current bench coach Mark Loretta, first-base coach Will Venable and former Cubs player and Yankees manager Joe Girardi.

Ross retired after the 2016 season and has spent the last three seasons working in a special assistant role in Theo Epstein's front office while also serving as an MLB analyst/broadcaster for ESPN. He has not coached or managed at any level. 

During his two years as a player with the Cubs, Ross was an integral part of changing the culture inside the clubhouse and is revered as a legendary leader to all the young players that came up and helped end the 108-year championship drought. Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant affectionately dubbed him "Grandpa Rossy" and he rode that popularity on the shoulders of his teammates in a Rudy-esque celebration after Game 7 and then a stint on "Dancing with the Stars." Every time he is shown on the video board at Wrigley Field, it elicits a deafening cheer from Cubs fans.

Even three years since he last donned the uniform, Ross' impact remains and the Cubs have been searching for the type of clubhouse leadership he provided. Earlier this season, Javy Baez brought up Ross unprompted, mentioning advice from his former teammate that he still thinks about on a daily basis.

The question was never really if and more about when Ross was going to get a chance to manage the Cubs in the future. Just last fall, he was brought up as a potential option to replace Brandon Hyde as Maddon's bench coach, but Ross still wanted to spend time with family in retirement and wasn't yet ready to commit to the grind of a long season. 

Still, Epstein mentioned at the GM Meetings last November that he and the front office were pushing Ross to be around the team more in 2019. GM Jed Hoyer followed that up at the Winter Meetings in December talking about how much of an impact Ross has on these players and the level of trust that's already inherent within this group.

Apparently, Ross is now willing and able to put in the 7-to-8 month time commitment to step in as the Cubs' new manager. When it was officially announced Maddon would not be returning, Ross was on ESPN's Baseball Tonight and expressed interest in the job and Epstein confirmed the next day Ross was on the team's list of managerial candidates.

Epstein mentioned he would prefer hiring a manager with big-league experience and the main theme of his end-of-season press conference was all about change, not hanging their hats on 2016 and climbing out of the "winner's trap." But they still opted for Ross as the organization's new field general.

"I always have greater comfort level hiring for roles in which the person has done the role before, especially with manager," Epstein said on the final day of September. "I think there are ways for that to be overcome. There’s a lot of different ways to get experience in this game. Beliefs, skills, personal attributes, those can outweigh a lack of experience, but experience certainly helps.

“David Ross has a lot of great things going for him, I would say. His connection to the players on this team, and especially his connection to the 2016 team, are not necessarily assets that distinguish him. Those are not necessarily things that are gonna be important to us.

“I think Rossy is a really attractive candidate, and he’s gonna be evaluated on the merits, what he can bring to the table as a major league manager given his skills, given his experiences, given his world-view, given what he knows about winning, all those things.”

We now know how that evaluation process has played out.

The question now becomes — how would the Cubs players handle Ross as a manager, moving from friend and teammate to boss? 

We'll find out in the coming months.