White Sox

Election Day: Vote Bulls on CSN

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Election Day: Vote Bulls on CSN

There have been a handful of surprises through the first week of the NBA season.

James Harden's offensive explosion in a leading role for the Rockets. The Lakers' 1-3 start combined with Steve Nash's injury. Portland point guard Damian Lillard's early bid for Rookie of the Year honors.

But of the many storylines, there may not be one more surprising than the 2-0 start by the Orlando Magic.

The Bulls (2-1) will try and put a stop to Orlando's hot start to the season when the two teams square off tonight at the United Center at 7 p.m. Coverage begins at 6:30 with Bulls Pregame Live on Comcast Sportsnet Chicago.

Orlando was the headline of a wild NBA offseason, but for all the wrong reasons. All-Star Center Dwight Howard had demanded a trade and essentially brought about the firing of head coach Stan Van Gundy and general manager Otis Smith. Howard was eventually traded to the Lakers, but the best piece the Magic received in return was Arron Afflalo from Denver, as part of a four-team trade. And maybe just as significant, the Magic lost power forward and 2011-'12 Most Improved Player Ryan Anderson to free agency.

The Magic were expected to be awful on offense, as Afflalo was the leading scorer from a year ago at 15.2 points per game, with Jameer Nelson (11.9) and Redick (11.6) close behind. They were supposed to struggle defensively, too, after losing Howard, a five-time All Defensive First Team member and three-time Defensive Player of the Year.

But through two games, the Magic have been stellar, averaging 108.5 points and allowing just 91.5 per game.

It's a miniscule sample size, but home wins over Denver and Phoenix, the latter without Nelson, have given the Magic plenty of momentum heading on the road to face the Bulls, who will be looking to rebound from an ugly home loss to the Hornets on Saturday.

The Bulls have been equally as good on defense, allowing just 87.3 points per game. Their focal point will be to stop Glen Davis, who has averaged 25 points through two games. The compact big man has the front court reins following Howard's departure, and has been the go-to scorer for the surprising Magic.

Carlos Boozer will have his hands full, but he should improve on his four-point effort against New Orleans against the pesky yet undersized Davis. Boozer was off to a hot start, posting 18 and 19 points in the Bulls first two wins, and Phoenix's Luis Scola, a similar player in build and skill-set to Boozer, posted 24 points in the loss Sunday. The Bulls are still looking for a consistent scoring option, and Boozer finding his rhythm again should help a Chicago team averaging 96.7 points per game (18th in NBA).

The Magic may be without Nelson, who's currently battling multiple injuries, which will make Orlando's wings vital to their offense. If Nelson can't go, the Magic will start E'Twaun Moore, who played with the Bulls in the Las Vegas Summer League. In Nelson's absence, Redick and Afflalo have been impressive offensively, meaning Luol Deng, Richard Hamilton and Jimmy Butler's defense could go a long way toward the Bulls picking up win No. 3. Hedo Turkoglu broke his hand Sunday and will likely miss a month.

The Bulls have made an effort to get out and run off missed shots, as Bulls Insider Aggrey Sam noted yesterday. That will be a difficult task tonight, as the Magic have allowed just 8.5 transition points per game, the best mark in the NBA. With a generally small lineup, the Magic have gotten back in transition, and their scoring makes it tough on opponents to get fast breaks started. Marco Belinelli finding his shooting stroke against New Orleans (13 points) would add another dimension to the Bulls' break, as will Nate Robinson's continued efficiency (15 assists to 7 turnovers).

New general manager Rob Hennigan took over a gutted roster that contained just one player originally selected in the NBA Lottery, J.J. Redick (No. 11 overall, 2006). That's an unfathomably low number, considering even the lowly Bobcats have six former Lottery picks, but the results have been positive thus far.

But the road is a different story. The Bulls are looking to rebound from an ugly loss and the Magic haven't played away from Orlando this year. With a solid defensive showing, the Bulls will be able to cool the Magic offense and help initiate transition offense.

Carlos Rodon's first win in 10 months showed he could still be the ace of the future for White Sox

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USA TODAY

Carlos Rodon's first win in 10 months showed he could still be the ace of the future for White Sox

As encouraging as the reports are on many of the White Sox’s minor-league pitching prospects, Carlos Rodon’s effort against the Athletics on Sunday at Guaranteed Rate Field could prove just as significant to the rebuild on the South Side.

Looking much like the ace the Sox envisioned prior to Rodon’s rough 2017 season that ended with shoulder surgery, the left-hander put together his most successful effort of ’18 during a 10-3 drubbing of the Athletics before a sun-drenched crowd of 21,908.

Making his fourth start of the season, Rodon matched a career-high by going eight innings. He yielded two runs on seven hits with no walks and three strikeouts. Rodon earned his first win of the season to help the Sox salvage a split of the four-game series.

“I felt good today—a lot of strikes,” Rodon said. “It was good to go eight and just be ahead of guys.”

Helping matters for Rodon was an offensive explosion by the Sox, led by Yoan Moncada’s career-high six RBIs. After falling behind 2-0, the Sox plated five runs in each of the fifth and sixth innings as Moncada cleared the bases with a double off the base of the wall in the fifth and launched his 10th home run of the season to drive in three more an inning later.

“Today was a great day,” Moncada said via a team interpreter. “I just went out to play the game the way that I play. Just to have fun. It was a very good game for me.”

Daniel Palka and Yolmer Sanchez also homered as the Sox won for just the second time in their last 11 games.

Rodon was the happy recipient of the run support to win his first game since Aug. 21, 2017, against the Twins. On Sunday, he threw 99 pitches, 69 for strikes and was consistently in the mid-90s with his fastball.

“I’m looking to do that every time out,” Rodon said. “Just show up and establish the strike zone with the fastball and be aggressive.”

The 25-year-old’s second-inning strikeout of Khris Davis was the 400th of Rodon’s career. It is a career that is continuing after a surgery that was a setback, but one that did not derail Rodon’s confidence that he would again pitch effectively.

“There are up-and-down days when you go through shoulder surgery or any surgery for any player,” Rodon said. “You've just got to work through it and try to make your way back. I'm here now and it’s looking up and I’m trying to get better.”

So is it reasonable to view Rodon as the future ace after all?

“You certainly can’t discount that,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He has to go out there and continue to get his feet underneath him and get through the rest of the season healthy and climbing.”

In other Sox pitching news, Renteria said starter Dylan Covey, who was removed in the fifth inning of Saturday’s game due to a hip flexor injury, “felt better” Sunday and the team will continue to monitor the right-hander’s progress.

Meanwhile, veteran Miguel Gonzalez made a rehab start for Triple-A Charlotte as he continues to recover from inflammation in his right rotator cuff. Gonzalez went three innings and allowed one hit with a walk and a strikeout. Outfielder Eloy Jimenez belted his first homer for the Knights in the game.

A series to forget: Facts and figures from Cubs' rough weekend in Cincinnati

A series to forget: Facts and figures from Cubs' rough weekend in Cincinnati

The Cubs and their fans may want to invent and use one of those Men In Black neuralyzers because the four-game series in Cincinnati was one to forget.

The Reds finished off a four-game sweep of the Cubs on Sunday with an 8-6 win. The way the Reds won the finale will be especially painful for the Cubs considering they led 6-1 after six innings. Mike Montgomery appeared to tire in the seventh inning and Pedro Strop got rocked out of the bullpen to lead to a seven-run seventh for the hosts.

The Reds have now won seven in a row and 10 of 12, but still sit 13 games under .500. Bizarrely, the Reds also swept the Dodgers, the Cubs’ next opponent, in a four-game series in May. Duane Underwood will start for the Cubs Monday against the Dodgers and make his major league debut.

Here are some other wild facts and figures from the series:

  • The last time the Reds swept the Cubs in a four-game series was back in 1983. That was the first week of the season and three weeks before the infamous Lee Elia rant.
  • One positive for the Cubs from the game was Montgomery’s start. Through six innings he allowed one run on three hits and two walks. However, he gave up a single, a double and a single in the seventh before Strop relieved him. Montgomery had gone six innings and allowed one run in each of his last four outings.
  • Strop was definitely a negative. On his first pitch, Strop gave up a home run to pinch-hitter Jesse Winker, the second home run for a Reds pinch-hitter in the game. Then Strop allowed a single, a walk, a single and a double before getting an out. Strop’s final line: 2/3 inning pitched, four runs, one strikeout, three walks, four hits.
  • The Cubs led in three of the four games this series, including two leads after five innings.
  • The Cubs were 5-for-23 (.217) with runners in scoring position in the series. On the season the Cubs are hitting .233 with RISP, which is 22nd in the majors and fourth-worst in the National League (but ahead of the division-rival Brewers and Cardinals).
  • The Reds outscored the Cubs 31-13 and scored at least six runs in every game. The Reds are now 6-3 against the Cubs this year after going a combined 17-40 against the Cubs from 2015-2017.