Cubs

Heat's Miller is perfect in return

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Heat's Miller is perfect in return

From Comcast SportsNet
MIAMI (AP) -- Every part of Mike Miller's game was on display. A perfect night from 3-point range. Diving for loose balls. Coming up limping and in obvious pain after he dove for those loose balls. As a season debut goes, it certainly was memorable. "Fun!" Miller tweeted afterward. That's one way to describe his night. Miller was 6 for 6 from the field, all those shots coming from beyond the arc, and scored 18 points in 15 minutes. Still not fully recovered from offseason surgery to repair a hernia problem, Miller helped spark a huge second-half comeback by the Miami Heat, as they rallied from down 17 points late in the first half to run away from the San Antonio Spurs 120-98 on Tuesday night. "Every once in a while you get going when you're a shooter," Miller said. "I just happened to do that. First game back, it felt good." His teammates were more succinct. "You couldn't even script that any better," said Heat forward LeBron James, who led Miami with 33 points. Miller was able to leave the arena without any visible limps or icepacks, which these days represents a major victory for the veteran swingman. Since signing with the Heat in the summer of 2010, Miller has missed more than half the team's regular-season games and undergone four surgeries. His run of bad luck started after snapping his thumb when it got tangled in James' practice jersey during a training-camp workout last season, and he also dealt with shoulder and ankle problems over the remainder of the year. This season, it was the hernia issue that popped up shortly before training camp, and he sat out Miami's first 12 games even though he regularly pleaded with Heat coach Erik Spoelstra that he was ready to return. On Tuesday, Spoelstra was convinced -- to a point, anyway. He planned to play Miller for no more than six minutes. Making six 3-pointers led to a change in that plan. "I've played with this guy for four years, so this is old hat for me," Heat forward Shane Battier said. "I've seen him do this time and time again. He's one of the special shooters in the league. ... He gives us a lot more options. In a game like tonight when we needed a spark, he can give you that spark." He can also give coaches angst. Undeterred by his near-constant state of injury since joining the Heat, it took Miller -- who got a huge roar from the sellout crowd after checking into a game for the first time this season -- about two minutes before his first dive to the court on Tuesday night. By the second or third, he was limping away with some sort of lower-leg problem. "That's who he is," Spoelstra said. "At this point, I can't cringe any more than I already do. You can't tell him to play to a different personality than what he is. That's what he's always been. You go back to his days at Florida, he played with reckless abandon. That's why you love that guy, for the hustle, the effort plays. He's relentless." It was the 22nd time in Miller's career that he hit at least six 3-pointers, and the first time he took at least six without missing any. He was 5 for 5 from 3-point range on Feb. 17, 2010, for Washington against Minnesota. The six 3-pointers matched his most in a Heat uniform. Chris Bosh scored 30 points and the Heat used a historic third-quarter turnaround to erase the big deficit. Miami outscored San Antonio 39-12 in the third quarter -- matching the second-largest differential for any quarter in Heat history, and matching the second-worst differential for a period in Spurs history, according to STATS LLC. Even after a night like that, the most popular topic in the Heat locker room was Miller's return. "The fans, from Day 1, have been amazing to me," Miller said. "Last year when I came back, it was the same thing." He said he and the Heat have worked out an arrangement. If they don't ask him about any injuries, he won't tell them. "I'm not going to do another X-ray," Miller said. "Anything that comes in an X-ray is bad news. So they know my stance right now and I'm going to continue to play."

Cubs looking to catch lightning in a bottle with low-cost, high-upside reliever acquisitions

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USA TODAY

Cubs looking to catch lightning in a bottle with low-cost, high-upside reliever acquisitions

The Cubs bullpen is going to look a whole lot different this season.

Gone are the reliable Steve Cishek (signed with White Sox) and Brandon Kintzler (reportedly signed with Marlins). Pedro Strop remains a free agent, though a recent report said the race to sign him is down to the Marlins and Rangers.

Assuming Strop doesn’t return, the Cubs will have lost three of their four most frequently used relievers from 2019. Replacing the trio will be no small task, considering a bulk of their appearances came in late-inning, high-leverage spots.

Cishek and Kintzler didn’t sign back-breaking deals (one-year, $6 million; reported one-year, $3.25 million), but the luxury tax has been a factor in the Cubs offseason. They aren’t in a position to commit big money to top-of-the-market arms and have instead been stockpiling low-cost relievers with upside.

“It’s become such an unbelievably important and difficult part of our job,” general manager Jed Hoyer said at Cubs Convention of assembling a bullpen. “It wasn’t that long ago that we’d go into a season and our goal would be ‘Hey, can we get a thousand innings out of our starting pitching staff?’ You think about your five starters, if you could get some combination of close to a thousand innings, that was always a goal, out of roughly 1,400 innings.

“And now, that’s gone away. You realize to get through a season, it's not a matter of going up on a whiteboard and writing up your eight relievers. It's a matter of [needing] 15, 20, 25 good relievers over the course of the summer to really get through it.

"You've got to take a lot of chances. There's no more volatile aspect of the game than the bullpen, and that's league wide. You’ve got to constantly take chances on guys and realize that sometimes, what appears to be a guy that’s struggling may just be simply a bad seven innings or bad 10 innings.”

Volatility was a main theme of the Cubs bullpen in 2019. Strop is one of the best relievers in team history, but early season hamstring injuries impacted his performance — a 4.97 ERA and 1.27 WHIP were the worst figures of his Cubs career. Strop finished the season strong (2.00 ERA in September), though he was largely a low-leverage option by season’s end.

Meanwhile, the additions of Kyle Ryan and Rowan Wick last offseason didn’t make waves among the fanbase. The former signed a major league deal after a solid 2018 season with Triple-A Iowa, and the Cubs acquired the latter in a low-key November trade. Both emerged as key contributors in 2019.

“Rowan Wick was a good example,” Hoyer said. “When we traded for him and we got him into the pitch lab and we improved his curveball, I think that had an enormous impact on his year last year. Brad Wieck, we traded for and immediately made some adjustments. Our pro scouting staff does a good job with that.”

Ryan and Wick are two of only three locks for the Opening Day bullpen, along with closer Craig Kimbrel. Wieck, acquired at the trade deadline for Carl Edwards Jr., is potentially another. That leaves five, maybe four spots up for grabs in what will be an open competition in spring training. Incumbent options include:

-Adbert Alzolay
-Tyler Chatwood
-Alec Mills
-Colin Rea
-Wieck
-Dillon Maples
-Duane Underwood Jr.
-James Norwood
-Brandon Morrow (reportedly re-signed on a minor-league deal)

Morrow and Chatwood are the most tenured options of the group, though the former has battled injuries throughout his career and hasn’t pitched since July 2018. If he’s healthy (and pitches well in spring training) Morrow will likely claim a bullpen job.

Chatwood is a candidate for the final rotation spot, along with Alzolay, Mills and (potentially) Rea. Mills and Underwood are out of minor-league options. New reliever candidates include:

-Dan Winkler — signed to one-year, split deal
-CD Pelham — claimed off waivers from Rangers
-Trevor Megill — Rule 5 pick (Padres)
-Ryan Tepera — signed to one-year, split deal
-Casey Sadler — acquired from Dodgers
-Travis Lakins — acquired from Red Sox
-Jeremy Jeffress — reportedly signed to a one-year, big-league deal

Winkler, 29, spent the previous five seasons bouncing between the major and minor leagues with the Braves. Last season, he posted a 4.98 ERA in 27 MLB appearances and a 2.93 ERA in the minors (30 appearances). He made 69 big-league appearances in 2018, sporting a 3.43 ERA in 60 1/3 innings while tallying 69 strikeouts.

Winkler isn’t a flamethrower — his four-seam fastball averaged 92.1 mph last season — but it ranked in MLB’s 93rd percentile, meaning he generates swings and misses. Sadler ranked in the 90th percentile and posted a 2.14 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in 33 games. The 29-year-old struck out 31 batters in 46 1/3 innings between the Dodgers and Rays, though he sported a whopping 12.3 K/9 in Triple-A (38 2/3 innings).

Pelham, 24, was recently outrighted off the 40-man roster and sent to Iowa. He didn’t pitch in the big leagues in 2019 and struggled with command in Triple-A (18.3 walk rate) but throws hard. Megill, 26, throws a mid-to-upper 90s fastball and sported a 12.7 K/9 in Triple-A last season.

Worth noting: Pelham (6-foot-6, 235 pounds) and Megill (6-foot-8, 235 pounds) are big dudes.

Tepera holds a career 3.64 ERA and 1.16 WHIP and made 73 and 68 appearances in 2017 and 2018, respectively. The 32-year-old missed a chunk of 2019 with a right elbow impingement, finishing with a 4.98 ERA in 23 games.

Lakins, 25, is a former sixth-round pick who posted a 3.86 ERA in 23 1/3 last season and holds a 4.45 ERA in parts of five minor-league seasons. His curveball ranked 66th in spin rate league-wide among pitchers who threw at least 50 last season.

Jeffress reportedly agreed to a one-year deal Tuesday worth close to $1 million. He’s coming off a rough 2019 with the Brewers in which he sported a 5.02 ERA, dealing with a shoulder injury out of the gate. The 32-year-old also hurt his hip in August and was released on Sept. 1.

Jeffress is a season removed from posting a 1.29 ERA and 15 saves in 73 appearances. He’s another example of the budget-driven moves the Cubs have made this winter, and while struggled in 2019, his career 3.16 ERA makes him a prime bounce back candidate.

There’s a lot of positives in the group, and the Cubs will use their pitch lab to make any necessary adjustments. They also realize not every guy will be as successful as Ryan or Wick, and some options won’t pan out. Their goal is to unearth as many contributors as they can.

"That's the kind of shot we have to take, and that's the kind of shot every team has to take on capturing that lightning in a bottle,” Hoyer said. “Buying really high on relievers and signing them after they have a breakout year is really expensive and really difficult and doesn't have a great success rate. We try to find those guys that we can catch lightning in a bottle, and that's been a big part of our strategy."

IHSA Preps Girls Basketball AP Poll

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AP

IHSA Preps Girls Basketball AP Poll

Here are the rankings of Illinois high school girls basketball teams in each class, according to an Associated Press panel of sportswriters with rank, team, first-place votes, record and total points.


Class 4A

No. Team W-L Pts Prv
1. Evanston Township (5) 19-2 68 3
2. Benet (2) 21-2 61 1
3. Edwardsville 18-1 58 2
4. Maine West 20-3 45 4
5. Marist 21-3 37 6
6. (tie) Lincoln Way West 21-2 37 5
7. Whitney Young 18-6 25 7
8. Libertyville 18-4 22 8
9.  Homewood-Flossmoor 18-5 12 9
10. Hersey 20-6 6 NR

Others receiving votes: Joliet West 4. O'Fallon 3. York 3. Fremd 2. Maine South 1. Bolingbrook 1

Class 3A

No. Team W-L Pts Prv
1. Morton (9) 25-0 90 1
2. Montini 22-4 70 3
3. Simeon 22-2 68 4
4. Richwoods 21-5 60 5
5. Bethalto Civic Memorial 22-3 46 2
6. Geneseo 20-3 39 T7
7. Peoria Central 19-3 35 6
8. (tie) Kankakee 22-4 32 T7
9.  Decatur MacArthur 21-2 17 9
10. Rock Island 19-7 14 NR

Others receiving votes: Kenwood 8. Riverside-Brookfield 6. Washington 3. Grayslake Central 3. Fenwick 1. Mattoon 1. Burlington Central 1. Rich South 1.

Class 2A

No. Team W-L Pts Prv
1. Paris  (9) 25-0 99 1
2. Knoxville 26-1 83 2
3. (tie) Quincy Notre Dame 19-2 73 4
4. Carterville 21-2 49 3
5.  Riverdale 18-3 48 7
6. Chicago Marshall (1) 12-8 41 6
7. Harrisburg 23-3 27 5
8. Carlinville 20-3 26 10
9. Pleasant Plains 17-3 24 NR
10. Illini West (Carthage) 20-4 23 NR

Others receiving votes: Teutopolis 13. Petersburg PORTA 10. Normal University 8. Marshall 7. Lisle 6. Hamilton County 3. Rock Falls 3. Stillman Valley 2. Eureka 2. Nashville 1. Pana 1. Eldorado 1.

Class 1A

No. Team W-L Pts Prv
1. Lewistown (5) 24-1 86 2
2. Amboy (4) 22-1 83 1
3.  Lanark Eastland 23-3 62 4
4.  Jacksonville Routt 20-2 61 5
5. Princeville 24-3 45 T8
6. Hope Academy 17-2 43 7
7.  Brimfield 21-3 40 3
8. Aquin 20-6 33 6
9.  (tie) Altamont 20-3 18 10
10. Aurora Christian 21-3 13 NR

Others receiving votes: Shiloh 4. Colfax Ridgeview 3. Father McGivney Catholic 2. Illini Central 1. Galena 1.