Bulls

Do Cubs fans have the patience to see this through?

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Do Cubs fans have the patience to see this through?

The Cubs are off to a 6-13 start and rank near the bottom of the MLB in most of the important categories, including ERA, runs scored and errors.

Dale Sveum has this team playing hard and fighting each day, but those are the simple facts. Right now, this is not a championship-caliber team.

That's not to say they won't be next year or in 2014 or even at the end of this season. Nineteen games is hardly a large sample size.

Given the slow start and the 71-91 finish in 2011, some fans are already growing restless, however.

When Theo Epstein was hired, he made it clear from Day 1 that there would be no quick fixes. Everybody was on board right away, but this isn't the way some people pictured it. Some fans certainly wanted a quick fix, and it's hard to blame them after more than a century without a World Series title.

Everybody wondered how long Theo's honeymoon phase would last with the fans. Would the Wrigley Faithful be patient with their rock star executive?

I posed this question to CSN analyst and 12-year MLB veteran Todd Hollandsworth earlier this season.

"I don't expect them to be patient," Hollandsworth said. "When you're with your brothers and sisters that attend games, you might get a little mad at them for not sticking it out through the growing process.

"But I absolutely believe we will see that when they turn this around and the Cubs become the organization they have hopes of becoming, the fans will all come out in full force. The place will be packed each and every day and each and every night. That's just how it's going to be. But right now, you're going to lose some attendance based on the performance."

Many in the past have tried the quick fix to turn things around, throwing money at free agents like Alfonso Soriano. But that course of action didn't bring about a championship.

"They've tried to piece this thing together forever and it has not worked," Hollandsworth said. "It's been band-aid solutions. And the band-aids have been ripped off and the wound gets bigger. This is something that has needed to go all the way back to the depths of the minor-league system and be rebuilt, turned over, reinvested."

One of the things Theo has tried to do to help is establish "The Cubs Way" from the lowest of minor league levels right up to the majors. Hollandsworth went through a similar tactic with the Dodgers, the organization that made him a third-round pick in the 1991 draft.

"I grew up in a farm system with a culture and ideas that were just sound all the way from short-season A-ball all the way to the major-league club," he said. "Tommy Lasorda was running that camp. That's who we were. 'Bleeding Dodger Blue' was the saying.

"The Cubs aren't looking to 'Bleed Cubbie Blue' but I will say this -- when they players know it, they players want to see each other succeed. They feel the desire to support and pull for each other. And then you build a core team from within. You have guys that lean on each other like brothers.

"It will take some time. There will always be the small victoriees. That's what I continue to challenge fans -- to see the small victories in each game."

Wendell Carter Jr., NBA Cares host court restoration event that honors slain teenager Darius Brown

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USA TODAY

Wendell Carter Jr., NBA Cares host court restoration event that honors slain teenager Darius Brown

On Saturday NBA Cares, jr. NBA, EA Sports, Wendell Carter Jr., Complex and artist Hebru Brantley teamed up to renovate the  MetCalfePark basketball court in honor of slain teenager Darius Brown, who was fatally shot and killed on August 3, 2011. 

The court was re-designed with Brantley's FlyBoy character as the centerpiece.

The FlyBoy character represents “hope and optimism that makes people believe that no matter where they are from, no matter what their circumstances, anything is possible."

The event hosted by NBA Cares—and also a part of Complex Community Week—featured Wendell Carter Jr. conversing with the kids and helping "Slam Dunking Science Teacher "Jonathan Clark with an awesome dunking display for the kids. 

Metcalfe Park's (43rd State) new look is amazing and the FlyBoy image serves as the perfect image for the court.

As Hebru Brantley states, "FlyBoy is about taking flight and believing in yourself enough to reach your true potential."

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On a mistake-filled afternoon, Javier Baez does what he does best and saves the Cubs

On a mistake-filled afternoon, Javier Baez does what he does best and saves the Cubs

Consider the Cubs’ starting middle infield in Saturday’s 6-5 win over the San Diego Padres to be comprised of two extremes. 

On one end of the spectrum was Addison Russell, who started at second base. Russell was doubled off second base on an Albert Almora line drive in the second inning — a ball hit hard enough where, had it fell in for a hit, he wouldn’t have scored. There was no spinning Russell drifting far enough off second base to be doubled up; it was simply bad baserunning. 

Russell, too, was thrown out at home on an Almora ground ball in the fourth inning. He appeared to lose a pop fly in the sun, too, which fell in for a double in the third inning. 

Manager Joe Maddon was willing to excuse the pop-up double — “The sun ball, there’s nothing you could do about that,” he said — but sounded frustrated with Russell’s far-too-frequent baserunning gaffes. 

“He’s gotta straighten some things out,” Maddon said. “He has to. There’s no question. I’m not going to stand here — he’s got to, we’ve talked about his baserunning in the past. 

“… The baserunning, there’s some things there — we’re making too many outs on the bases and we’re missing things on the bases that we can’t to be an elite team.”

Russell’s mistakes were part of a larger sloppy showing by both teams. As Cubs reliever Brandon Kintzler put it: “No lead was safe. It was really just who was going to survive and not make so many mistakes.”

Javier Baez ensured the Cubs would survive by not merely avoiding mistakes, but by coming up with two massive plays. 

Baez’s three-run home run in the fourth inning gave the Cubs’ the lead for good, and he fell a triple short of the cycle. He’s homered in consecutive games, and Maddon senses the 26-year-old is emerging from a slump that dropped his OPS to .853 after Wednesday’s game, his lowest mark since the small-sample-size landscape of mid-April. 

But it was Baez’s masterful tag in the bottom of the ninth inning that captured most of the attention around Wrigley Field, reminding everyone in the dugouts and stands just how incredible “El Mago” can be. 

Craig Kimbrel walked Wil Myers to lead off the bottom of the ninth inning, and after budding superstar Fernando Tatis Jr. inexplicably bunted (he popped out), Myers took off to steal second base. Kimbrel sailed a fastball high and inside, and Victor Caratini’s throw was well to the left of second base. Myers appeared to have the base stolen until Baez gloved the ball and rapidly snapped a tag onto Myers’ left leg:

”We needed a play made, and he made it,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “It’s what he does.”

Baez’s home run increased the Cubs’ win expectancy by 35.7 percent; his tag on Myers upped it that mark from 83.3 percent to 96.5 percent. This is why the Cubs’ mantra, even when Baez is in a lull, is to let Javy be Javy. 

One player can’t carry a team forever — Baez had his best season as a pro in 2018, only to see the Cubs crash out of the Wild Card game, of course. But it’s hard to not think about the kind of plays Baez can conjure up when the Cubs need them the most in 2019’s playoff race. 

After all, stuff like that tag on Myers — the Cubs have come to expect that from Baez. 

“You saw a lot of plays today, they weren’t baseball plays,” Maddon said. “The game is clamoring for baseball players who know how to play this game, and he’s one. He is one. He’s got the biggest hard drive, the most RAM, he’s got everything going on every day. 

“He sees things, he’s got great vision. Technically, he’s a tremendous baseball player. He’s going to make some mistakes, like everyone else does, but what he sees and sees in advance — it’s like the best running back, it’s the best point guard you’ve ever seen. It’s all of that. As a shortstop, that’s what he is.

“… We needed him to be that guy today and he was. And again, it’s not overtly surprising.”