Cubs

Culture changed: Fire name Klopas manager

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Culture changed: Fire name Klopas manager

On Aug. 16, the Fire played to a 1-1 draw with D.C. United, setting an MLS record for most ties in a season with 15. The Men in Red were spinning their wheels in last place.

And yet, the attitude of the team remained positive. Despite the frustrating draws, despite the rough losses, the Fire never quit on the season -- and two months later, they nearly snuck into the playoffs.

That positive attitude started with Frank Klopas, who was officially named manager of the Chicago Fire Thursday afternoon at Toyota Park.

"When Frank took over, there was an immediate culture shift in so many ways," said team owner Andrew Hauptman. "The biggest way had to do with the fact that his belief in the players was real and authentic. He genuinely looked at the team that we had and believed that the results should be better."

But the results weren't better, at least in the first two months. So maybe defender Dan Gargan was a little surprised to see such an upbeat bunch of players when he was dealt from Toronto to Chicago in late July.

Like the Fire, Toronto had a roster that saw quite a bit of turnover and was near the bottom of the MLS table. But whereas Gargan described the culture in Toronto as a "cesspool," in Chicago it was completely different.

"Really, happiness," said Gargan of his first impressions of the squad. "Guys were excited to train and to be around one another.

"It was a breath of fresh air. Guys genuinely enjoyed being here."

How could players genuinely enjoy playing on a last-place team? Trust from the coaching staff is a good start, Gargan added.

"I always believed in the players," said Klopas. "I think the one thing that I did when I came in was to make sure they understood that. Having defined roles right from the beginning, then you can hold guys more accountable to do certain things -- I think it's very important that they totally understand, 100 percent when they step on the field, what their roles and responsibilities are."

Those defined roles were something the team didn't have under de los Cobos. On a team full of newcomers, that was a significant issue, one that wasn't a quick fix. It took a few months for roles to be defined and a new culture to be in place, but once those wrinkles were ironed out, the Fire took off.

"He came in with a real positive attitude and he included everyone. That's the difference between him and Carlos," Patrick Nyarko told CSNChicago in October. "He included everyone in game planning and building players' confidence, especially guys that have not played that much. He built their confidence to make them part of the team."

Make no mistake, 2011 was a transitional year for the Fire. They transitioned from de los Cobos to Klopas. They brought in numerous new players, from Dominic Oduro to Pavel Pardo to Sebastian Grazzini. They transitioned from a frustrating team to one with hope.

But the final transition for the team was the easiest. All they had to do was remove the word "interim" from Klopas' title.

Yu Darvish and Cubs pull off dramatic comeback win over Dodgers

Yu Darvish and Cubs pull off dramatic comeback win over Dodgers

There were some added stakes to Saturday night’s Cubs-Dodgers matchup. Darvish made his first start at Dodger Stadium since his infamous Game 7 loss in the 2017 World Series, looking for a great effort in front of a fan base that had their up-and-downs in terms of their relationship with him. He (maybe) took a small jab at the Dodgers before the game had even started, telling the Los Angeles Times that he wasn't worried about being booed because “the Dodgers don't have many fans here in the first three innings, so maybe it will be on the quieter side.”

Well Dodgers faithful certainly got the message and made sure to let Darvish hear it.

However, Darvish got the last laugh on Saturday night. He pitched a stellar seven innings. Over those seven innings, Darvish gave up 1 ER on 2 hits and also notched 10 strikeouts.

Darvish has been hitting his stride as of late, maintaining a 2.96 ERA over his last four starts.

All of that being said, it would be remiss of me not to mention the contributions of Darvish’s teammates. His great outing helped keep the Cubs in the game, but the gutsy performances of Anthony Rizzo and Pedro Strop are what won the contest.

Dodgers All-Star relief pitcher Kenley Jansen had a 10-game scoreless streak coming into Saturday night, but one swing of Rizzo’s bat was all that was needed to restore balance to the everlasting battle of pitcher versus hitter. After Jansen hit Kris Bryant with a pitch to put him on base, Rizzo activated “clutch mode”, mashing a 400-foot bomb out to right field.

Though small, Saturday night’s homer gives Rizzo a three-game hitting streak, perhaps forecasting that things are trending  upwards for the first baseman as the Cubs look to close out the series against the Dodgers with a win on Sunday night. And not to be left out of the fun, Pedro Strop came in to face the Justin Turner, MVP hopeful Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy and Matt Beaty to nail down the save.

Never afraid of high-pressure moments, Stop came through big time.

Strop got a ground out from Turner, struck out Bellinger and Beaty in his 15-pitch save effort. This was a much-needed win for the Cubs, who have well-documented struggles on the road. As they look to split the four-game set with the Dodgers on Sunday night, the Cubs can be pleased with their fight this week.

Saturday’s win over the Dodgers was the Cubs first win of the season after trailing through six innings, as they were 0-23 in such situations prior to the victory. Amid a season that has been fraught with injury and general roster construction concerns, it was wonderful to see the Cubs pull out a tough win lead by the much-maligned Darvish and the never-quit attitude of his teammates.

For on-the-rise White Sox, learning to win also means learning to lose

For on-the-rise White Sox, learning to win also means learning to lose

The White Sox lost Saturday night.

That’s baseball, of course, they’re not all going to be winners. And this rebuilding franchise has seen plenty of losses. But the feelings have been so good of late — whether because of Eloy Jimenez’s 400-foot homers or Lucas Giolito’s Cy Young caliber season to this point or a variety of other positive signs that make the White Sox future so bright — that losing Saturday to the first-place New York Yankees seemed rather sour.

Obviously there will be plenty more losses for this White Sox team before the book closes on the 2019 campaign. Back under .500, these South Siders aren’t expected to reach elite status before all the pieces arrive, and it would be no shock if they’re removed from the playoff race in the American League by the time crunch time rolls around in September.

But don’t tell these White Sox that an 8-4 defeat is a return to reality or a reminder that this team is still a work in progress. Even if, for a lot of players, development is still occurring at the major league level, the “learning experiences” that have been such a large part of the conversation surrounding this team in recent seasons and their daily goal of winning baseball games aren’t mutually exclusive.

“The Yankees are sitting in first place and they lost two games in a row,” catcher James McCann said Saturday night, providing a reminder of how the first two games of this weekend series went. “Just because you're expected to win and expected to be World Series contenders doesn't mean you're not going to lose ballgames. It's how you bounce back.

“And it doesn't mean you're going to win tomorrow, either. It's just, how do you handle a defeat? How do you handle a bad at-bat? How do you handle a bad outing, whatever it may be? But it doesn't mean that we step back and say, ‘Oh, we're back under .500, we're supposed to lose.’

“We expect to win when we show up to the ballpark. You can take learning experiences whether you win or lose. Do I think a game like tonight reminds us we're supposed to be in a rebuilding mode? No. We still expect to win, and we're going to show up tomorrow with that mentality.”

Maybe that’s a description of the much-discussed “learning to win” young teams supposedly need to do on the road to contender status. Maybe that can’t happen until a team figures out how to bounce back from a defeat — until it learns how to lose and how to act in the wake of a loss.

For all McCann’s certainty about the team’s expectations on a daily basis, his explanation was peppered with questions. He said he’s seen the answer to “how do you bounce back?” from this club, and his three-run homer in the eighth inning Saturday night was fairly convincing evidence that the White Sox didn’t use up all their fight just getting back to .500.

So while the White Sox know they won’t win every game — that no team will — they need to know how they handle defeat. Losing, it turns out, might end up being more instructive about when this team is ready to win.

“I think we've done a pretty good job (bouncing back),” McCann said. “You look at the road trip in Houston and Minnesota where we took two out of four from a good Houston team and then played really not very good baseball for three days in Minnesota only to come home and have an extremely good homestand.

“It's the big picture. It's not the very next day. It's not, ‘We've got to bounce back and win.’ It's not a must-win situation in the middle of June. But it's how do you handle yourself? How does a game like tonight, do you show up flat tomorrow and let it snowball into a three-, four-game spiral? Or do you fight?

“And that's what this team's been really good at doing is fighting and not giving in.”

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