Cubs

Fans must put trust in Rose

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Fans must put trust in Rose

In Rose we have to trust

I'm trying to find a silver lining. If Derrick Rose believes God does things for a reason, then what is the lesson here? Only Rose can answer that, but I have a few ideas of my own. Surely you can make all kinds of connections between Rose's injury-plagued season and the shortened NBA schedule, managing his minutes properly, and just the sheer nature of his game. But this isn't about blame, it's about getting it right for the future, and that responsibility will fall largely on Rose who needs to take this devastating setback to learn how to come back stronger, better.

It will take patience and it will take trust.

Dr. Michael Terry at the Northwestern University Department of Orthopedic Surgery told Comcast Sportsnet that once Rose's rehab is complete, it will still take him a while to fully trust his knee again. Trust it will do what he wants it to do or expects it do, and we will have to trust Rose: trust him to manage his health, listen to his body, and be smart in securing the longevity of his career.

There is nothing wrong, in and of itself, of being competitive and wanting to go all out, giving the game everything you've got and always wanting to win. This way of thinking is in the blood that courses through Derrick Rose's veins, and coach Tom Thibodeau's too,for that matter. But managing that drive is equally as important.

I'm not suggesting that Rose has to completely change his game or change the way he plays. I'm saying he needs to manage his intensity better.

On a much different level and much smaller scale, I can relate.

Pre-marriage and motherhood, I raced Ironman triathlons. For those of you who don't know what that is, it's an endurance race of 140.6 miles broken down like this: 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and a 26.2 mile run. It was a hobby, but I was obsessed with it. I over-trained and under-recovered until one day I snapped my right Achilles tendon. Different injury than an ACL tear, but the recovery time on a torn Achilles is actually longer. You can't even start running for at least 9 months.

In my stubborn, overly competitive spirit, I was determined to get back to racing as soon as possible. I willed my way through rehab and within 16 months I was racing Ironman Wisconsin. I barely finished the race, so I hopped in Ironman Florida two months later and had a better showing. Both were stupid ideas.

I rushed my recovery and raced on a weak right leg that was not prepared to handle the stress I was putting it under. The entire left side of my body paid a price because of compensation. Needless to say, that was my last Ironman race. Since then, I have had one injury after the other to my left foot, left ankle, left knee, left IT band and left hip.

I implore Rose to not rush his recovery for the sake of getting back onto the court as quickly as possible. Any weaknesses can trigger a whole host of problems. He may be able to come back mid-way through next season, or he may miss the entire campaign. This is one time Rose has to set aside will and determination and defer to smarts, common sense and trust.

He will have to trust in the expert advisors who will guide his rehab and strengthen his body.

He will have to trust what his body is telling him.

He will have to trust whether or not he should tape his ankles or wear the special ankle braces Adidas made for him.

He will have to trust that his coach will manage his minutes properly and if not, speak up.

He will have to trust that backing off in games does not mean he's dogging it.

He will have to trust himself to know when to dial it down and when to ramp it up.

The future of his career depends on all of this. How he handles his rehab and recovery will tell us if he's learned anything from this and if he's serious about preserving his career.

All we can do is trust.

The Craig Kimbrel Conundrum: Closer a major question mark for 2020 Cubs

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USA TODAY

The Craig Kimbrel Conundrum: Closer a major question mark for 2020 Cubs

The last time Cubs fans saw Craig Kimbrel on the mound, he was staring bewildered at the left-field bleachers after serving up homers to the Cardinals on back-to-back pitches. It was a moment that became the dagger for the 2019 Cubs, even if it didn't officially eliminate them from postseason contention.

That Sept. 21 outing marked Kimbrel's third blown save and fourth loss of the season and the Yadier Molina and Paul DeJong homers were the eighth and ninth longballs the Cubs closer gave up in just 23 outings and 20.2 innings.

Nobody associated with the Cubs saw things playing out quite like this when they signed him in early June. Even Kimbrel's doubters who believed his struggles at the end of his Red Sox tenure were a harbinger of things to come couldn't have anticipated a 6.53 ERA and 1.60 WHIP from a guy who had a career line of a 1.91 ERA and 0.92 WHIP coming into 2019.

So where do the Cubs go from here?

Kimbrel is still owed $16 million for 2020 and 2021 and is the only truly established pitcher the Cubs currently have in their bullpen for next season with Steve Cishek, Brandon Kintzler, Pedro Strop and others ticketed for free agency.

The Cubs opted to shut down Kimbrel for the final week of 2019 to get healthy after dealing with knee and elbow issues but neither injury will require surgery this winter, Theo Epstein said.

"He's really determined to have a great offseason and looking forward to a full and legitimate spring training," Epstein said. "He feels awful about the way this year went, recognized that he was in an unusual position, but I think you'll see a really determined individual who will benefit from the full spring training."

The Cubs better hope so.

For a franchise that is going to again have to take their budget into account when building the 2020 roster, that $16 million price tag is an awful lot if Kimbrel cannot return to the elite closer he was before coming to Chicago.

But even beyond that, the Cubs absolutely need him to lock down the ninth inning. Rowan Wick impressed in 2019 and emerged as maybe the team's best reliever down the stretch, but he doesn't have much of a track record. The same goes for lefties Kyle Ryan and Brad Wieck. The Cubs have reason to feel optimistic about all three pitchers as up-and-coming relievers, but putting too much stock into a trio of guys without much experience is an easy way to run into major bullpen problems. 

Right now, those are the only four names you can confidently pencil into the 2020 bullpen, though other in-house options loom (Tyler Chatwood, Alec Mills, Danny Hultzen, Duane Underwood Jr., etc.) depending on how the Cubs configure their rotation and the rest of the roster.

There's obvious concern surrounding Kimbrel, but there's also a reasonable case to be confident 2020 will be a different story. In his entire career, he has served up homers at a rate of just 0.72 per 9 innings, so his 3.92 HR/9 this season is a clear aberration that not even the juiced ball can full explain away. 

The velocity dip (down nearly 1 mph from 2018 and 2 mph from 2017) is scary, but may also be related to the odd year Kimbrel had. 

Baseball players — and closers, in particular — are very routine-oriented and no plan can make up for a situation that saw Kimbrel facing live hitters nearly four months later than usual. He's used to throwing off a mound and ramping up in spring training in mid-February and was instead still in a free agency stalemate until early June.

When he was signed, it was viewed as a clear upgrade for the Cubs, who were plagued by early-season bullpen issues. They were only able to afford Kimbrel because Ben Zobrist took a leave of absence and left several million dollars on the table for Epstein to put towards addressing an obvious weakness on the roster.

At the time, signing a World Champion closer on a Hall of Fame trajectory was the best possible way Epstein could shore up the bullpen.

"There was some element of risk, because of the unknown of an elite closer coming in mid-season," Epstein said on the team's final road trip. "That's a risk we were prepared to take because of the opportunity that presented itself. The resources got opened up with Zo's absence and the opportunity of an elite closer sitting there for a contract that was certainly reasonable compared to what most guys of his ilk were getting over the long-term. 

"So, we were prepared to take that. We thought it was a really good fit and we were prepared to take that risk. It hasn't turned out as we had hoped. It obviously [killed] Craig that he wasn't able to help down the stretch here. The two trips to the DL and not being able to reach his accustomed level on a consistent basis, you have to think it's related to not having his normal foundation underneath him. It's something we'll certainly talk to him about and how to have a really effective offseason and get back to his normal Spring Training, so he can get back to being himself consistently."

Blackhawks not going to 'freak out' about 0-2-1 start

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USA Today

Blackhawks not going to 'freak out' about 0-2-1 start

The Blackhawks wanted to get off to a strong start this season because they know how hard it is to climb out of a hole in the Central Division. Last season was proof of that.

Well, they've picked up only one out of a possible six points through three games and are one of three teams still searching for their first victory of the season. But they're not going into panic mode just yet.

"We know there's things we have to improve upon," Jonathan Toews said. "Jeremy [Colliton] always talks about doing the right thing and over time eventually you're going to get results. I don't know if we can say we're doing things the right things that we want to and we're playing complete games right now, so even having said that, midway through the San Jose game and even against Winnipeg we were in a position to take control of the game going into the third period and we let teams back in. So I think there's a lot of ways we can play better.

"But having said that we're in those games and giving ourselves a chance to win. Obviously that's not good enough, but we're not going to freak out and say, 'we've got to start winning games.' Of course that's the goal, we wanted to get two points the other night."

The quest to pick up their first two points of the season doesn't get any easier for the Blackhawks on Monday night. The Edmonton Oilers are coming to town with a 5-0-0 record, and they're clicking on all cylinders. They have the second-best power play unit (41.2 percent), second-best penalty kill percentage (94.1), the NHL's leading point-getter in Connor McDavid (12) and leading goal scorer in James Neal (seven).

The Blackhawks know at some point they have to start stringing together some wins, but they're not living and dying by the standings right now because everything looks out of proportion. They're focused on the process and putting together a full 60-minute effort.

"It's always magnified at the start of the year," Colliton said. "Your special teams, you got [teams] with 100 percent PK, you got [teams] with 40 percent power play, and all the little things they look way bigger than they are. Would be nice for us to get a win, get some positive feelings but any three-game window among the 82, it's not going to be looked upon as closely as this one.

"So again, we've just got to focus on playing hard, playing the game the right way, do the right thing time and time again and we'll get the results." 

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