Cubs

Kings dominating on the road

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Kings dominating on the road

NEW YORK Winning on the road: its a necessity for any team that strives to win a championship. And any time a team can steal a victory on the road, it goes far.

But what the Los Angeles Kings are doing sets a whole new standard in thievery. The No. 8 seed has now won 10 consecutive road playoff games on their remarkable run, as the Kings continue to treat opposing buildings like their home ice.

When the Kings beat the Devils 2-1 in overtime on Saturday night, they took a 2-0 lead in the Stanley Cup finals series and extended their astounding road victory run. The Kings are the fourth team to collect 10 postseason road victories in the same year the Devils did it in 1995 and 2000, and Calgary did it in 2004. The 95 Devils won the Cup, and it certainly looks like the Kings are headed for the same.

OK, maybe were getting a tad ahead of ourselves with that. But considering how the Kings have efficiently whipped through these playoffs, maybe it isnt. Los Angeles swept through the Western Conference in fabulous fashion, wrapping up series against Vancouver, St. Louis and Phoenix in five, four and five games, respectively.

So even though they havent reached that ultimate goal just yet, they have to stop and admire that 10-game road winning streak a little, right?

Its nuts. But you cant think about it right now, said defenseman Matt Greene, whose Kings have started each playoff series up 2-0. You try to take one game at a time, just worry about the game youre suiting up for.

Sounds pretty close to what Kings coach Darryl Sutter said after Game 1. The Kings won nine in a row at the time but Sutter stressed the Cup finals were a new series, and it was just one road victory. Still, its nevertheless impressive. And the Kings realize that, considering where they started in the playoffs, winning on the road was a must.

Its a big accomplishment for us, but we definitely had to do it, starting as an eighth seed, starting on the road every series, Dustin Penner said. Weve been the beneficiaries of timely goals and good bounces, and weve had to work for them. In every game weve won on the road, more times than not, we couldve lost them, too.

Bounces, breaks and other lucky occurrences have their place in a successful teams playoff history. But winning on the road requires focus, dedication to defense and a simple game, as well. The Kings have had all of it, from timely goals to stifling defense to the brilliant goaltending of Jonathan Quick.

The Kings are on the cusp of history. Theyve already set a heck of a road standard along the way.

'He belongs here': What to expect from top prospect Adbert Alzolay's first major league start

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USA Today

'He belongs here': What to expect from top prospect Adbert Alzolay's first major league start

A big part of the Cubs’ MO during the Epstein Era has been the team’s reliance on veteran pitchers. Whether it’s Jon Lester’s cutter, Cole Hamels’ changeup, or Jose Quintana’s sinker, it’s been a while since other teams have had to step into the box against a Cubs starter without much of a scouting report. On the surface, uncertainty from a starting pitcher may sound like a bad thing, but it’s that same apprehension that makes Cubs’ prospect Adbert Alzolay’s first major league start so exciting. 

“There’s energy when you know the guy’s good,” Joe Maddon said before Tuesday’s game. “There’s absolutely energy to be derived. But there’s also curiosity. Let’s see if this is real or not. I think he answered that call.” 

The good news for Alzolay and the Cubs is that much of the usual baggage that comes with one’s first major league start is already out of the way. All of the milestones that can get into a young pitchers head -- first strikeout, first hit, first home run allowed, etc -- took place during Alzolay’s four-inning relief appearance back against the Mets on June 20th. 

“I want to believe that that would help,” Maddon added. “It was probably one of the best ways you could break in someone like that. We had just the ability to do it because of the way our pitching was set up, and I think going into tonight’s game, there’s less unknown for him.”

It also helps that Alzolay will have fellow Venezuelan countryman Willson Contreras behind the plate calling his first game. There’s even a sense of novelty from Contreras’ end too. 

“[Catching someone’s debut] is really fun for me,” he said on Tuesday. “It’s a big challenge for me today. I’m looking forward to it. I’m really proud of Alzolay, and I know where he comes from - I know him from Venezuela. It’s going to be fun.”

Tuesday's plan for Alzolay doesn’t involve a specific innings limit. Maddon plans to let the rookie go as long as he can before he “gets extended, or comes out of his delivery,” as the manager put it. On the mound, he’s a flyball pitcher with good control that works quickly. Expect to see a healthy dosage of 4-seamers that sit in the mid-90’s alongside a curveball and changeup that have both seen improvements this year. 

Against the Mets, it was his changeup was the most effective strikeout pitch he had going, with three of his five K’s coming that way. It’s typically not considered his best offspeed offering, but as Theo Epstein put it on Monday afternoon, “[Alzolay] was probably too amped and throwing right through the break,” of his curveball that day.  

It’s obviously good news for the Cubs if he continues to flash three plus pitches, long the barometer of a major league starter versus a bullpen guy. Even if he doesn’t quite have the feel for all three yet, it’s his beyond-the-years demeanor that has those within the organization raving. 

“The confidence he showed during his first time on the mound, as a young pitcher, that’s a lot,” Contreras said. “That’s who he can be, and the command that he has of his pitches is good, especially when he’s able to go to his third pitch.” 

Akiem Hicks reveals what makes him so good against the run

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USA TODAY

Akiem Hicks reveals what makes him so good against the run

Akiem Hicks finally earned the recognition he deserved in 2018 with his first trip to the Pro Bowl, and playing on the NFL’s No. 1 defense provided the national attention he should have received in his first two years with the Bears.

He’s a solid interior pass rusher, but where he dominates is in run defense, leading the NFL in run stops last season according to Pro Football Focus.

When Hicks beats an offensive lineman at the line of scrimmage to make a big tackle in the backfield, it’s a work of art, and he revealed the secret to those flashy plays on NFL Game Pass.

He broke down the film of a play against the Green Bay Packers where he beats center Corey Linsley because he knew right guard Jordan McCray was going to pull to the left.

“I read it before the snap happens. I know that McCray is going to pull just based off his stance,” Hicks said. “I know his stance for every play that he’s going to do. I’m going to be at least 75 percent right.”

Hicks looks at how much weight an offensive lineman is putting on his hand, how far apart his legs are and how much bend is in his hips.

“If you do your due-diligence as a defensive lineman and prepare like a professional during the week, you’re going to know,” Hicks said.

Any little deviation from a normal stance is an indicator to Hicks of what the play is going to be, and that pre-snap knowledge keeps him a step ahead of the blocker in front of him.

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