Cubs

Heisman winner could go pro after Alamo Bowl

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Heisman winner could go pro after Alamo Bowl

From Comcast SportsNet
SAN ANTONIO (AP) -- Since winning the Heisman Trophy, Robert Griffin III is often shadowed by a bodyguard of sorts to dissuade autograph seekers, and this week tucked his dreadlocks under a hat in hopes of strolling through Sea World incognito. "I got a lot of double-takes," the Baylor quarterback said. "If you can get a double-take, you can walk far enough away to where they'll be discouraged to approach you. But it was cool. I didn't mind." Now it's a question of whether RG3 is about to give college football its last look at him altogether. The nation's most electrifying player leads No. 15 Baylor (9-3) into the Alamo Bowl against Washington (7-5) on Thursday night while keeping his decision about leaving for the NFL private for now. Griffin, who says he can't "go to Wendy's and get a cheeseburger without signing 1,000 autographs" since winning college football's top award, reiterated in San Antonio that he's undecided about forgoing his senior year. He said his parents are looking at his draft prospects but denies having any substantial talks with them. Baylor can hardly feel jilted if this is Griffin's last game. The fourth-year junior, who also won the Davey O'Brien Award and is the AP Player of the Year, has raised the program's profile to unseen heights. He rescued the Bears from their perennial status as the Big 12's punch line and has Baylor on a five-game winning streak, its longest in 20 years. A win against Washington would match the school record of 10 wins when Mike Singletary was a senior in 1980, and merely playing in back-to-back bowls is a first for Baylor in two decades. Simply put, it's been a magical season the school doesn't want to see end. Washington won't exactly say the same. The Huskies stumbled into a second consecutive bowl game dropping four of their last six and losing badly to all four ranked teams they played this season. That included Stanford and Andrew Luck, the Heisman runner-up to Griffin, who coasted in a 65-21 win that began Washington's second-half slide. Yet tailback Chris Polk and other seniors still vividly remember going 0-12 just four years ago under Tyrone Willingham. According to the school, Washington is the first BCS program to go from winless to back-to-back bowl appearances in three years since Central Florida in 2004. "I would have never imagined this," offensive lineman Senio Kelemte said. "It was pretty hard for all of us, the 0-12 season. I'm pretty sure a lot of guys didn't really want to play football anymore or wanted to transfer or just ... just football wasn't fun." The Huskies have a shot at an eight-win season for the first time since 2001, but it might be a long night against Baylor. The Huskies will put one of the nation's worst defenses against the Bears, whose offense was the second-best in the country. Baylor averaged more than 570 yards of offense a game behind Griffin, who threw for nearly for 3,998 yards with a Big 12-leading 36 touchdowns and only six interceptions. That made him the nation's most efficient passer. Baylor averaged 43 points a game. Washington's let opponents score an average of 33. "We've had a huge challenge this whole year playing against good offenses," Washington defensive coordinator Nick Holt said. "This is good offense and the only difference this time is that we're playing against the best player in the country and a Heisman Trophy winner who has a great supporting cast." Anything else? "And, oh yeah," Holt added. "They run an up-tempo, no huddle offense and can score really quickly." Griffin is the first Heisman winner to play in a bowl game before New Year's Day since Ty Detmer led BYU to the Holiday Bowl in 1990. Two years later, Baylor won its last postseason game in the Sun Bowl. Ending that drought may be the last thing left for Griffin for do. "We know why we're here and we came to win our 10th game," Griffin said. "Washington just happens to be in the way."

Willson Contreras, Jon Lester carry Cubs to eventful win in the first game of the series with Atlanta

Willson Contreras, Jon Lester carry Cubs to eventful win in the first game of the series with Atlanta

The Cubs and Braves got through roughly one inning of Stranger Things Night at Wrigley Field before Willson Contreras made the evening his own. 

The catcher went 2-4 with three RBI, and provided the most notable moment from the game: a 2nd inning solo homer that caused both benches to clear. Contreras had taken issue with a few of the called strikes earlier in the at-bat, and said something to home plate umpire John Tumpane about it. Contreras continued to make his feelings known as he left the box, drawing the ire of Braves catcher Tyler Flowers.

“To be honest, those pitches weren’t even close to the strike zone,” he said. “[Flowers] got mad because I was talking to the umpire about that, and he jumped into the conversation. 

Contreras then proceeded to shout in the direction of Atlanta’s dugout while rounding first base, and the two catchers exchanged more words as he crossed home plate. The benches quickly emptied, and after a few moments of posturing, returned to their dugouts. 

“It was a lot of emotions together,” he said after the game. “I was having a conversation with the umpire, and it ended up with [Flowers], so that’s all I can say. I just basically told him to do his job and I’ll do mine. I don’t know why he got pissed off because that’s all I said - you do your job and i’ll do mine.”

“I was kind of amused by the whole thing,” Joe Maddon added. “I don’t really know Mr. Flowers - we had a nice conversation, walked away, and it was over. It really wasn’t worth more than what happened.

The confrontation was just one of a few testy moments between these two teams. In the top of the 2nd inning, Braves third baseman Josh Donaldson was caught on cameras shushing the Cubs dugout: 

Two innings later, it was Javy Baez who returned serve by blowing the Braves a kiss after stealing second on Flowers: 

“It’s fun because they’re good,” Maddon said. “And we’re good - that’s the fun part. Monday night, at 7:05, to have that kind of attitude and atmosphere is outstanding. That’s what baseball needs.” 

On the mound, Jon Lester bounced back from a run of three straight underwhelming performances. June hasn’t been kind to Lester, as the lefty had allowed 14 runs over the last 23 IPs prior to Monday’s start, good for a 5.93 FIP. He threw 94 pitches against the Braves, lasting six innings while allowing two runs -- both unearned, though -- and striking out seven. He only threw 94 pitches, but his control (0 BB) was excellent. Lester spotted his strikeout pitch well all night, getting four of his six right-handed K’s on the low outside corner:

“I just tried to stay down there, and had the backdoor cutter to those guys,” Lester said. “We were able to kind of exploit that, and then when we felt that guys were reaching out there a little bit, I ran the cutter in on some guys too. I was just able to command both sides of the plate tonight, which is huge against an offense like that.” 

“Great job by Jon,” Maddon added, “Jon had great stuff. Coming off of [throwing 114 pitches], he’s been throwing a lot of pitches on regular rest, so I wanted to limit that tonight. He was lobbying to go back out, but I didn’t feel good about it based on the longevity of the season and we had a rested Kintzler.

“But Jon was really good, and really good against a tough lineup.”

What Olli Maatta and Calvin de Haan trades mean for future of Blackhawks defense

What Olli Maatta and Calvin de Haan trades mean for future of Blackhawks defense

After finishing 30th in goals against average (3.55) and 31st in penalty kill percentage (72.7) this past season, the Blackhawks are clearly making it a priority to patch up their defense this summer. And that's been evident with the acquisitions of defensive-minded defensemen Calvin de Haan and Olli Maatta.

But it raises some interesting questions about the future of the Blackhawks blue line.

With the de Haan and Maatta additions, the Blackhawks now have five defensemen under contract through at least the 2021-22 season: Brent Seabrook ($6.875 million cap hit), Duncan Keith ($5.538 million), de Haan ($4.55 million), Maatta ($4.083 million) and Connor Murphy ($3.85 million). That's $24.8 million tied up to five guys.

The money isn't the primary concern, though. It's the limited amount of roster spots available. The Blackhawks don't have to immediately figure out how it's going to work a year from now and beyond, but it makes you wonder how the cards may eventually be shuffled.

Let's run through the situations:

— Erik Gustafsson had a breakout season and is set to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. He's obviously not part of the five current players under contract after next season, putting the Blackhawks in a spot where they have to consider trading him or be comfortable with letting him walk for nothing if he isn't re-signed. (They could always trade his negotiating rights after next season and pull off a sign-and-trade as well, if it came to that).

And even if Gustafsson is re-signed, the Blackhawks would then have six players locked up for the 2020-21 season and on, and that's enough to submit a lineup.

— Henri Jokiharju, who was drafted No. 29 overall in 2017, is probably ready to take the next step and become an everyday player. Where does he fit into the long-term plans?

— Adam Boqvist, who was taken No. 8 overall in 2018, likely needs one more year in the OHL before making the jump to the NHL, which would put him on a timeline to become part of the Blackhawks next season. Does he occupy that sixth spot if another one isn't opened by then?

— Nicolas Beaudin, who was drafted No. 27 overall in 2018, is expected to start the upcoming season in Rockford after four years in the QMJHL but might be NHL-ready by the 2020-21 campaign.

— And then there's Ian Mitchell, who's returning to Denver for his junior season and will serve as the team's captain. He's said all along that he intends to sign with the Blackhawks once he's finished with college, but does the organization value him enough to create a spot for him when he's ready?

To make things a little more complicated, the Seattle expansion draft is set to occur in 2021 and the same rules will apply as Vegas in 2017.

The Blackhawks have the option to protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender or eight skaters and one goaltender. All players with no-movement clauses at the time of the expansion draft (and who decline to waive them) must be protected; Keith and Seabrook have a NMC. And all first- and second-year pros are exempt; Jokiharju would have to be protected.

As of this moment, the Blackhawks are likely to use the eight-skater option, but they will also have valuable forwards to protect. They're going to lose a good player one way or another, and it's probably going to come from the defensive group. All of this comes into play when weighing roster decisions for next season and beyond.

As stated above, the Blackhawks do not have to make an immediate decision on the future of their blue line corps. They can play out the 2019-20 season with the group as currently constructed. But the decisions the Blackhawks have to face next season could impact how Stan Bowman operates the rest of this summer and throughout the upcoming campaign.

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