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Five positives to take from the Cubs' brutal 2012 season

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Five positives to take from the Cubs' brutal 2012 season

Optimists claim, The glass is half full. Pessimists claim, The glass is half empty.Cubs fans are left asking where the heck the glass is.With 37 percent of the 2012 baseball season in our past, fans are already wondering when the agony will stop. I cannot promise that it will, but not all is lost in the world of Cub fandom.Here are five things that Cubs faithful can take away from the rubble that has become of the 2012 season.The first glimmer of hope lies with Starlin Castro. Yes, I said it. Starlin Castro.He may seem uninterested or mentally removed at times, but the Cubs shortstop is young and wonderfully talented. He has the perfect combination for Theos master plan and the newly dubbed Cubs Way. Castro has had an up-and-down season at the plate but he has grinded his way to a respectable .308 batting average. What is most encouraging about the young shortstop is his new found confidence in the field. A handful of situational blunders aside, Castro appears to be getting to balls in the hole, taking charge on shallow pop-ups and minimizing errors on easy plays, something that plagued him in the past. More likely than not Castro is one of the few faces from the 2012 team who will remain after the massive roster overhaul is complete. Castro may not appear to be maturing much, but he is compartmentalizing his successes and failures.Players will slump at times and make errors at others, but Castro does not seem to let one affect the other which is a promising sign for such a young ball player. His ability to differentiate the good from the bad shows signs of growth and leadership. Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein could build the youngest, most talented team in the league, but without a leader the roster revamp could be all for naught. Right now Castro is learning to deal with a lot of Cubs adversity, but that may not necessarily be a bad thing. In 2014, when the pieces begin to fall in place, Castro will know what it felt like to be a part of the worst team in baseball. This is something he can use to motivate himself and his future teammates. If, for some reason, you are looking to buy a Cubs jersey, make sure it has a No. 13 on the back.I havea feeling he will be around for a while.The second thing Cubs fans can take away from the 2012 campaign is Jeff Samardzija.In the world of Cubs baseball in 2012, the Shark is one of the few things worth the price of admission.The talented righty has brought some electric stuff to the table this season. Coming off a decent 2011 season Samardzija seems to have refocused. His big fastball, active slider and devastating splitter have proved to be too much for opposing hitters.What is most impressive about the young starter is his approach to the game. Needless to say offensive production has come at a premium for the Cubs this season, but Samardzija has not let this affect his performance. He understands that he can only control certain things, and any effort to be perfect will only add to the pressure he already faces. His ability to pitch his own game is allowing him to develop into an elite pitcher in the National League. From a technical standpoint Samardzija is dominating opposing hitters by getting ahead in the count, throwing first pitch strikes 60 percentof the time, slightly better than the league average. He understands this strength and plays into it quite well by staying aggressive in his approach despite the situation.The fan favorite with the flowing locks of hair has set the bar high and will not only be expected to sustain his success, but also to be the anchor which the pitching staff is built around. Samardzija is learning the game on the fly and the true test will be once he starts facing teams for the second and third time. Professional hitters are developing a book on the youngster as we speak. If Samardzija can continue to overmatch hitters despite his opponents prepared approach, he will have a long and successful career and should figure in Theo Epsteins long term plans.Despite his recent slide from a red hot start, Bryan LaHair is another reason Cubs fans should look at 2012 as a year of developing pieces for the future. He might simply be an example of the law of averages at work. LaHair came out of the gates swinging this year, literally. He showed the rare ability to drive the ball to the opposite field and, as Cubs fans, he spoiled us. We now know what LaHair is capable of and we expect him to go 3-for-4 with a home run on a daily basis. But thats just not how this game works. Baseball is cyclical. Players get hot and they slump, but the true test of ability is how each individual works through the tough times.LaHair shows the ability to grind out long at-bats, a reassuring fact as he works through some difficulties. He ranks 12th amongst the entire MLB in pitches per plate appearance (PPA) with 4.08 per at-bat. Right now pitchers are working around LaHair and he is struggling, but that is when you find out if you are a big time major leaguer or just aseat filler in Jed and Theos long-term plan. LaHair is a year-to-year type project right now who is performing at a level much higher than his contract suggests. The Cubs need him to continue to do so because he is the only legitimate power threat in the middle of the order other than Alfonso Soriano.The fourth, and probably most important, thing Cubs fans can take away from the 2012 season thus far is adversity. The game becomes easy when you are playing well, but the true test of a player, a team and an organization is the reaction to adversity. This is when we find out who the Cubs are because character is revealed through trials and tribulations. Who is going to be there on game 162 giving the same effort that they did on Opening Day? Who is going to fight for a 13-pitch at-bat, regardless of how many games back the Cubs are in the division? Who is going to battle day in and day out?Those are the players, coaches and executives you want to build the future around. Right now the Cubs are vulnerable and we are getting the chance to see who they truly are. Former National Leauge Rookie of the Year and Cubs analyst Todd Hollandsworth has some experience with both Cubs successes and failures, and he told us, "The guys who shows up to the ball park with the intention to win at all costs every single day are the guys who will bring this organization out of a slump. That is where the hope lies. The final positive that can be taken from the first third of the 2012 campaign is more of a mantra: In Theo we trust. If anyone is capable of pulling the Cubs out of their century long funk, it is Theo Epstein and his team of executives. He has already shown the ability to pull the trigger on moves such as drafting Albert Almora and dishing out the big bucks for Cuban defector Jorge Soler. One at a time he is assembling all of the young pieces to what could be a beautiful picture three to five years down the line. Theos past successes have come in drafts, block buster trades, and free agency, meaning there is no better man for the job. We just have to give him time and our trust because honestly as Cub fans, what do wehave to lose?

SportsTalk Live Podcast: A sprained MCL and Trubisky's performance. vs the Pats

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: A sprained MCL and Trubisky's performance. vs the Pats

David Haugh, Jordan Cornette, Shae Peppler join David Kaplan on the panel.

0:00- Mark Schanowski joins SportsTalk Live to discuss Kris Dunn’s sprained MCL, Fred Hoiberg’s tough luck and Zach LaVine postgame criticisms of the coaching. Plus they’ll discuss another 0-3 team- LeBron’s Lakers.

20:00 – The panel discusses Mitchell Trubisky’s performance vs. the Patriots. Jordan makes the case that the media is giving the former No. 2 pick a pass.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

Sports Talk Live Podcast

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Bulls bracing for a Kemba Walker onslaught

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USA TODAY

Bulls bracing for a Kemba Walker onslaught

Through the opening week of the NBA season, Hornets' All-Star point guard Kemba Walker and former Bull Niko Mirotic share the league scoring lead, averaging 33 points per game.

Bulls' fans have seen these hot stretches from Niko before, and chances are he'll start moving down to the mid to high-teens before long. But Walker is a big-time scorer who's quietly emerged as one of the most consistently productive point guards in a league loaded with stars at that position. He's averaged over 20 points and 5 assists in each of the last three seasons, making the Eastern Conference All-Star team twice.

Last season, Walker lit up the Bulls for 47 points in an overtime loss at the United Center in November, making some of the most difficult shots you can imagine to keep his team in the game. He seems to be as this best when facing the Bulls and you can bet Fred Hoiberg and his staff will pull out all the stops to try to slow him down, especially with defensive ace Kris Dunn out 4-6 weeks after suffering a sprained left MCL in his season debut on Monday.

The Hornets made some personnel changes since last season. The one-year experiment with Dwight Howard at center is over. Howard put up solid numbers for Charlotte a year ago, but didn't make much difference in the win-loss column, so he's moved on to Washington in his NBA odyssey. Cody Zeller is now the starting center, backed up by Bismack Biyombo and former Benet Academy and University of Wisconsin star Frank Kaminsky.

Charlotte tried to improve the athleticism on their roster by selecting Malik Monk and Miles Bridges in the first rounds of the last two drafts. Monk is getting more playing time this season, averaging 13.5 points in the Hornets' first four games. Bridges is averaging just under 16 minutes a game as a backup to starting forwards Marvin Williams and Nic Batum. Just like he did at Michigan State, Bridges is providing those highlight reel putback dunks, but it remains to be seen whether he'll develop a consistent enough outside shot to be a quality starter in the NBA.

The well-traveled Jeremy Lamb is now starting in the backcourt with Walker, and the Hornets brought in long-time Spurs' point guard Tony Parker to add some much needed experience and veteran savvy off the bench. Given the current state of the Eastern Conference (post-LeBron), it's not out of the question for this group to contend for one of the final playoff spots.

Here's what the Bulls need to do for a shot at their first win of the season. This also applies to the rematch in Charlotte on Friday.

1. CORRAL KEMBA. For whatever reason, seeing that Bulls' logo turns Walker into an almost unstoppable scoring machine. Walker is adept at working off his big men, either in straight pick and rolls or cutting through the post on give-and-go plays. He's one of the league's most creative scorers, and doesn't require much room to get his shot off. The Bulls' bigs will have to provide help on Walker whenever he comes off screens to keep him from taking over the game.

2. PUT THE BALL IN ZACH'S HANDS. Whether he's playing shooting guard or point guard, Zach LaVine needs to be the primary facilitator with Dunn sidelined. LaVine scored 34 points against Dallas Monday night on just 15 shots, which led to him questioning some of the offensive sets that were run in the 2nd half. LaVine told reporters on Tuesday that he smoothed things over with his head coach, explaining his comments were the result of the frustration he was feeling after a third-straight loss to open the season. Still, LaVine is on a major hot streak, joining Bulls' all-time greats Michael Jordan and Bob Love as the only players to start the year with three straight games scoring at least 30 points. The Bulls will need to ride that hot hand for as far as LaVine can carry them.

3. DEFEND THE 3-POINT LINE. You knew I would eventually get to this, right? Dallas made 15 of 47 3-point attempts on Monday after the Pistons knocked down 18 of 40 in a two-point win last Saturday. The Hornets have all kinds of capable 3-point shooters in Walker, Lamb, Monk, Batum and Williams (they're shooting .397 as a team on 3's), so guarding the arc will be crucial for the Bulls to have a chance at their first win.

Don’t forget you can catch Wednesday's game on NBC Sports Chicago and the new MyTeams by NBC sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 pm when Kendall Gill, Will Perdue and Kelly Crull join me for Bulls Pregame Live from the United Center Atrium. Neil Funk and Stacey King have the play-by-play call at 7 pm, then stay tuned after the final buzzer for Bulls Postgame Live and the always entertaining Bulls Outsiders.