Bulls

Ian Stewart feels like things are about to change

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Ian Stewart feels like things are about to change

ST. LOUIS Even if the Cubs say the numbers are deceiving, theyre still next to Ian Stewarts name and up on the video board for everyone to see.

Stewart who entered Monday hitting .193 tries to catalog all the line-drive outs and hard-hit balls. Its probably the only thing keeping me sane, he said.

Stewart is a thoughtful player who speaks in a low, quiet voice, and he was only joking.

It cant hurt your state of mind when Theo Epsteins front office makes you a priority at the winter meetings and swings a four-player trade with the Colorado Rockies and tells you youre the everyday third baseman.

Or when the Cubs send you to an offseason minicamp in Arizona with hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo, and manager Dale Sveum repeatedly gives you strong votes of confidence.

In a year thats all about evaluation and identifying core pieces for the future, the Cubs are going to give Stewart a very long runway.

This is the profile of someone theyd take a chance on only 27 years old, a former first-round pick, a left-handed bat and a plus defender.

Defensively, hes been as good as anybody in baseball at that position, Sveum said. Offensively, his numbers arent even close to what they could be. Hes probably hitting into as much tough luck as anybody in the game.

Im not saying he couldnt be better, but hes squared up a lot of balls right at people to where he could easily be .260, .270.

I think he feels pretty good about whats going on. Obviously, hed like to have better numbers and all that, but I think hes in a heck of a lot better place than he was last year at this time.

Stewart spent long stretches of last season at Triple-A Colorado Springs, and dealt with wrist, knee and hamstring injuries. The previous two seasons combined, he generated 43 homers and 131 RBI for the Rockies.

Entering Monday, three of Stewarts four home runs have come in his last nine starts. His .621 OPS ranked 10th out of the 11 qualified third basemen in the National League.

It is a slow start when you just look at the numbers right on paper, Stewart said. (But) my teammates (know) Ive been hitting some hard balls, a lot of at-em balls you could say.

Its kind of clich, but I feel like if I keep getting my work in with Rudy and Dale and just keep being aggressive, those are going to turn into base hits and extra-base hits. If I can get hot, thats just going to help the team even more.

When building out the roster, dont discount how much the Cubs want to stuff their lineup with left-handed bats. From signing David DeJesus to elevating Bryan LaHair to waiting on top prospects Anthony Rizzo and Brett Jackson, its clear which way theyre leaning.

Its invaluable, Sveum said. It just wears the pitcher out. There are no quick outs with left-handed hitters up to the plate.

(Theyre usually) the guys that end up working the counts, just because pitchers dont have (the) ability to get quick outs with the slider (or) the cutter off the end of the bat or a quick groundball. Theyre just more patient.

On Sunday, Stewart launched one ball off the second deck in right field at Miller Park. Maybe his luck is about to turn. Either way, the Cubs are going to be patient enough to find out.

As long as I feel good up there and Im hitting the ball hard, then theyll come around, Stewart said. They usually come in bunches. Hopefully, thats pretty soon.

Three observations: Bulls come up short against Bucks — again

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USA Today

Three observations: Bulls come up short against Bucks — again

For the second time in less than a week, the Bulls played the Bucks close, but came up just short — this time falling 115-101 at the United Center. Three observations from a soul-crushing loss:

Daniel Gafford: Free man

If I dumped all the expletives I have written in my notebook about Daniel Gafford from this game, you’d never read another article under this byline.

So, while I catch my breath, here are the hits:

 

 

 

Gafford ended the game a -4 in 20 minutes, but it’s hard to overstate the impact he had on a particularly electric Bulls bench in this one. He was every bit the gumptious, brick-bodied big that Jim Boylen billed him as, and so much more. Every second without the ball in his hands on offense, his feet were moving — setting screens and leveraging rebounding position. In the air, every shot, pass or lob within five feet of him seemed to find his hands, and then — rather violently — the bottom of the net.

At one point, en route to his team-leading 16 first-half points, a fan behind me exclaimed: “Him and Giannis are going at it!” In reference to… Daniel Gafford. What a night.

Gafford ended his stellar NBA debut with 21 points, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks and approximately 2.716 million hearts stolen, on 10-of-12 shooting.

The three-guard lineup provides a spark

At the very beginning of the season, Boylen’s utilizing of a three-guard lineup (Kris Dunn-Coby White-Ryan Arcidiacono) was widely panned. Tonight, that group — with contributions from Thaddeus Young and a combination of Wendell Carter and Daniel Gafford at the center spot — proved their mettle. 

In the first half, that lineup catalyzed a 20-8 run that pulled the Bulls from down nine with 2:17 remaining in the first quarter to up two with 8:05 to go in the second. In the fourth quarter, a torrid stretch by Arcidiacono and White vaulted the Bulls from down 98-90 to up 99-98 in a matter of 66 seconds, sending the UC in a frenzy not seen in quite a while.

The Bucks pulled away from that point on, but this lineup showed something tonight — so much so that Boylen closed with White and Arcidiacono both on the floor along with Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter. (Stunningly absent was Tomas Satoransky, who logged only 18 minutes tonight after coming out of the gate aggressive, offensively.)

Arcidiacono was on every loose ball in sight. White was a blur in transition and coming off screens and dribble handoffs. Combined, they shot 7-of-11 from long distance. Maybe Boylen is on to something.

Bulls melt down the stretch

The Bucks finished the game on a 17-2 run after that aforementioned White-Arcidiacono blitz. For most of the game, the Bulls were able to hang around despite being out-shot from three and on the wrong end of a 35-14 free throw disparity, but their energy waned late in the game. Despite miraculously out-rebounding the Bucks 50-48, out-scoring them in the paint 50-46 and competing defensively throughout, the Bulls couldn’t buy a bucket down the stretch (they failed to score a field goal in the final six minutes), and it ultimately cost them.

The blame is shared in this one. Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine combined to shoot 6-of-28 from the floor (only 0-of-4 in the fourth) and were largely outplayed by the bench unit. 

In a performance reminiscent of last Thursday’s in Milwaukee, the Bulls appeared to everything necessary to win on Monday. But they didn’t. Now, with a record of 4-10, the heat is on.

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Tarik Cohen was Bears' best offensive player vs. Rams

Tarik Cohen was Bears' best offensive player vs. Rams

The Chicago Bears offense was uninspiring once again Sunday night in the team's 17-7 loss to the Los Angeles Rams. While they could've had another six points had kicker Eddy Pineiro connected on two early-game field goals, it still wouldn't have been enough to win the most important game of the season.

After 11 weeks (10 games), the Bears rank 28th in points per game with 16.9. To put their brutal season in perspective, the New York Jets, who've been atrocious this year, are averaging 16.4 points per game.

Essentially, Matt Nagy has coached Chicago's offense as effectively as Adam Gase has coached the Jets'. 

Still, it's worth acknowledging strong individual performances in the midst of an overall letdown, and in Week 11's loss to the Rams, it was running back Tarik Cohen who stood tallest among his Bears' offensive teammates.

Cohen posted Chicago's highest Pro Football Focus grade on offense with a 74.3. He logged 45 snaps, 10 more than David Montgomery, and was effective when he touched the ball. He totaled 74 yards and a touchdown on 14 touches en route to being the Bears' most effective running back against a tough Rams defensive front. Montgomery managed just 31 yards on 14 carries.

Cohen hasn't had the kind of season that was expected from his role as a do-it-all offensive weapon; he's way behind his normal pace of production as both a runner and receiver. Cohen had 99 carries for 444 yards and three touchdowns to go along with 71 catches for 725 yards and five scores in 2018. He's on pace for just 186 rushing yards and 402 receiving yards this season.

Still, Sunday night's effort was a step in the right direction for him and a sign that he may continue to get more touches as the season comes to a close.