Five positives to take from the Cubs' brutal 2012 season


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?

Seven years ago today LeBron James slammed the Bulls' championship window shut


Seven years ago today LeBron James slammed the Bulls' championship window shut

The Bulls couldn't have known it at the time, but when LeBron James blocked a Derrick Rose 3-point attempt in the final seconds of Game 5 in the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals, it was the closest those Bulls would ever get to the promised land.

It happened on May 26, 2011, seven long, long, long years ago today.

The game was an ugly one and certainly a fourth quarter the Bulls would love to have back. They took a 12-point lead on a Ronnie Brewer 3-pointer with 3:53 remaining. The Heat closed the game on a 19-4 run, with James' emphatic block on Rose the lasting image of the series.

James finished with a game-high 28 points and 11 rebounds, and added six assists, three steals and two blocks in 46 minutes.

Rose went just 9-for-29, finishing the series shooting 35 percent from the field after being named league MVP over James.

It's probably unfair to say James and James alone shut the Bulls' championship window. Rose's ACL tear the following postseason realistically was the biggest culprit. But these Bulls had won 62 games, had homecourt advantage, had the MVP, the Coach of the Year and all the momentum. And still they couldn't get it done against James.

That win also sent James to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2007. He's been there every year since, though that could change as he faces the Celtics on Sunday in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

90 Days to Kickoff: Warren


90 Days to Kickoff: Warren

NBCSportsChicago.com preps reporter "Edgy" Tim O’Halloran spotlights 100 high school football teams in 100 days. The first 75 team profiles will focus on teams making strides across Chicagoland and elsewhere in the state. Starting July 30, we’ll unveil the @NBCSPrepsTop 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 24.

School: Warren Township

Head coach: Bryan McNulty

Assistant coaches: Jim Voutiritsas, Brandon Schild, Justin Van Schaik, Tayler Erbach and Mark Mika

How they fared in 2017: 7-4 (5-2 North Suburban Conference). Warren Township made the IHSA 8A playoff field. The Blue Devils defeated Bolingbrook then lost to Maine South in second round action.

2018 Regular Season Schedule

Aug. 24 vs Barrington

Aug. 31 @ Glenbard North

Sept. 7 vs Waukegan

Sept. 14 vs Libertyville

Sept. 21 @ Lake Forest

Sept. 28 @ Zion-Benton

Oct. 5 vs Lake Zurich

Oct. 12 vs Stevenson

Oct. 19 @ Mundelein

Biggest storyline: Can The Blue Devils make it back-to-back postseason appearances and challenge for the North Suburban Conference title?

Names to watch this season: DL Zack Pelland, DT Willis Singleton and RB Martin Walker

Biggest holes to fill: The Blue Devils will need to find a new pass/catch tandem to replace graduated QB Ian Schilling and a strong group in the skills department, led by WR Micah Jones (Notre Dame).  

EDGY's Early Take: The Blue Devils had a nice 2017 season. After starting seven sophomores on the varsity level a year ago, head coach Bryan McNulty has the rare combination of youth and experience this fall. The defense will be a definite strength going into the season. The offense will rely on the running game, which features four starting offensive linemen back in the fold along with senior RB Martin Walker. If the passing game can come along, this team can once again challenge in the North Suburban Conference race and also in the overall 8A picture.