Cubs

LeBron shows his clutch side in Game 2 win

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LeBron shows his clutch side in Game 2 win

From Comcast SportsNet
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- LeBron James has seen his share of great starts turn into faulty finishes. So with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh providing the help he needed, he wasn't letting another one get away Thursday night. James scored 32 points, got a disputed big stop on Kevin Durant and the Miami Heat held off a furious fourth-quarter rally behind their three All-Stars to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 100-96, tying the NBA Finals at one game apiece. "We had played too well in the first 36 minutes to try to let this one slip away from us," James said. "We just wanted to make one more, two more plays than they made and come out with a victory and we were able to do that." Wade rebounded from a poor opener to add 24 points and Bosh had 16 points and 15 rebounds in his return to the starting lineup for the Heat, who snapped a four-game finals losing streak with their first victory since Game 3 against Dallas last year. "It's been so long since we've had them all together," Heat forward Shane Battier said. "They played like the All-Stars that they are and that's the effort that we need." Now they go home to host Game 3 on Sunday and the next two after that, knowing they don't have to hear the noisy Thunder fans again -- not to mention all their critics -- if they win all three. Miami blew a 13-point lead in Game 1 and seemed headed toward a repeat of the second game of the finals last year, when it blew a 15-point edge on its home floor. Not this time. "This is a good team and we didn't want to be down 2-0," Bosh said. "We know in order to accomplish our goal, we have to win on the road. We're a good road team. We've done it before. They posed a great challenge because they haven't lost up until today. But we felt that we let one get away and we felt that we could play a much, much better game in Game 2." Durant scored 32 points for the Thunder, but missed a short jumper with 9.9 seconds left after appearing to be bumped by James. The basket would have tied a game the Thunder trailed the entire way. Oklahoma City's explosive point guard Russell Westbrook finished with 27 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, but shot 10 of 26 from the field. James Harden tried to keep the Thunder in it early and finished with 21 points, but this time the Thunder couldn't come back from a double-digit deficit after spotting Miami a 17-point advantage during their worst first half of the season. "That was the game. We can't start off down 18-2," Durant said. "We can't go down that much, especially at home. We've got to correct it." It was the first home loss in 10 postseason games for the Thunder, who had overcome a 13-point deficit in Game 1. James had what was his career high, 30 points, in the opener, but afterward said Wade needed to be Wade -- All-Star, Olympic gold medalist and finals MVP. In Game 1, Wade was 7 of 19. He wasn't sharp in the last round and continues to hear reports that something is physically wrong with him. He was all but asked Wednesday if his explosiveness was a thing of the past, what must have been insulting to a player who, though 30, still believes he's not far from the top of the game. Wade bounced back in a big way, not quite at the level he was as the 2006 finals MVP, but certainly good enough with the help around him now for the Heat to win another one. "Just know that I'm always going to keep coming back until I don't play this game no more," Wade said. "I know my abilities, I know what I'm capable of and it was good." He spun into the lane and found Bosh for a dunk that seemed to have the Heat safe at 98-91 inside the final minute, but a 3-pointer by Durant cut it to 98-96 with 37 seconds left. After James missed a 3-pointer, the Thunder got the ball into Durant, who appeared to be knocked off balance by James as he missed the baseline shot attempt. Durant said only that he missed the shot, saying he would have to watch the tape to see if he was fouled. James then sank the insurance free throws -- finishing a 12-for-12 night at the line -- as fans booed loudly over the no-call. Bosh started after coming off the bench in every game since returning late last round from his nine-game absence with a strained lower abdominal muscle. The Big Three joined Battier and Mario Chalmers in the lineup, the first time Miami had gone with that first five all season. It sent the Heat on their way to a terrific start, and Battier matched his surprising 17-point performance in Game 1 by going 5 of 7 from 3-point range, providing all the help the superstar trio needed. James had his fifth straight 30-point game, breaking Wade's franchise playoff record, and added eight rebounds. He defended Durant early in Game 1 and helped put the league's scoring champion in early foul trouble, just one of the problems the Thunder had early. Another loud, blue and white crowd tried to inspire them to rally, but the team could just simply never get close enough to until the final minutes. For most of the first three quarters, the home team would get the deficit to around 10, and James would get himself into the post or drive powerfully into the lane to score or set up a teammate. Durant nailed a 3-pointer and drove into the lane to throw down a dunk over Battier that cut it to 82-74 with 8:22 remaining. His 3-pointer from the wing trimmed it to 90-86, and the Thunder got it all the way to 94-91 when Westbrook dunked Durant's miss with 1:48 to go. James answered by banking in a jumper for his first basket of the final period, as the Big Three combined for all but one of Miami's seven field goals in the fourth quarter. The Thunder missed 11 of their first 12 shots, and when James capped a run of 13 straight Miami points with a basket, it was 18-2 with 4:51 remaining in the period. Coach Scott Brooks had talked to his team about its poor starts -- this was three straight games with a double-digit deficit -- and told the Thunder during a first-quarter timeout that the Heat were playing harder than they were. The Heat kept it up, pushing it to 25-8 on Wade's jumper with 2:39 left. "We kept missing good shots," forward Serge Ibaka said. "We can do better." .Notes: The Heat used their 25th different lineup in their 86 games this season, including seventh of the postseason. The most frequently used lineup in the regular season, with James, Wade, Bosh, Chalmers and center Joel Anthony, has not opened a game in the postseason after going 27-10 during the regular season. ... Reserve James Jones checked in for the Heat in the first quarter after missing Game 1 with a migraine. ... Former Oklahoma star running back Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings was at the game. ... A powerful storm knocked out cable in many South Florida homes, keeping Heat fans from seeing the entire game.

Home run ball continues to sting Cubs' starting pitching

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AP

Home run ball continues to sting Cubs' starting pitching

Cubs' starting pitchers have been on a roll recently, anchoring the team during its 30-day stretch without a day off. Over each of their last six starts (entering Wednesday), Jon Lester, Cole Hamels, Kyle Hendricks and José Quintana have been flat-out dominant.

Mike Montgomery has been stellar lately as well, allowing two runs or less in five of his last six starts. One common trend, though, is that Cubs' starting pitchers have been susceptible to the long ball as of late.

Hamels has allowed five home runs total in his last three starts, including two Wednesday night. The veteran left-hander surrendered a three-run blast in the first inning as well as a two-run shot in the sixth inning.

Lester has not allowed a home run since Aug. 27 against the Mets, but Hendricks has allowed one in two of his last three starts. Quintana allowed two solo homers in Sunday's 2-1 loss to the Reds, while Montgomery has given up one in each of his last two starts.

Home runs by the oppposition haven't hurt the Cubs much recently, as they are 18-11 in their last 29 games. The pitching staff has been excellent down the stretch, outside of Wednesday's 9-0 loss.

Even then, though, the offense scored zero runs on one hit, so the three home runs that the pitching staff allowed ultimately did not matter.

Come October, though, it could be something to look out for, when one swing of the bat could change a game or series instantly.

Is latest bullpen implosion a sign White Sox need to go shopping for relief help this offseason?

Is latest bullpen implosion a sign White Sox need to go shopping for relief help this offseason?

The White Sox bullpen imploded Wednesday night in Cleveland. It sent Indians fans home happy. It sent White Sox fans scrambling for their computers.

I'd like to see the Google data. How many people in Chicagoland — the ones not flooding the streets of Northbrook to celebrate Jason Kipnis' walk-off grand slam — frantically searched "free agent relievers 2019"?

The results are pretty enticing, to be honest. Craig Kimbrel's going to be on the market. So is Cody Allen. So are Jeurys Familia and Kelvin Herrera and Zach Britton. And some guy named Andrew Miller.

It seems like a good idea, right? Ink one of those guys, two of 'em, even, and the bullpen troubles are gone. No clinging to a pillow and crossing your fingers when Rick Renteria comes out of the dugout in the late innings. No more outcomes like Wednesday's, when a trio of White Sox relievers entered the bottom of the ninth with a 1-0 lead only to load the bases and surrender a walk-off salami.

But a couple points.

First, the White Sox don't need a lockdown bullpen right this second. In a point that will come up again and again this offseason, the team is still in rebuilding mode. Spending big bucks might not be prudent at this juncture because the White Sox have not yet transitioned from rebuilding mode to contention mode. Spending big on high-priced free agents is something teams do when they're in win-now mode. And while a big acquisition can certainly carry a team into win-now mode — just look at what the Cubs did when they signed Jon Lester ahead of the 2015 season — it could also be jumping the gun when there's still a year or two of development that needs to happen for the team's young players to grow into the contending group of the future.

Plus, spending big on bullpens isn't exactly a magic bullet. The Indians and the Colorado Rockies both spent huge sums on their bullpens this past offseason, and while both teams could end up in the postseason, they rank near the bottom of the game in bullpen ERA: Cleveland's 24th out of 30, and Colorado's 26th.

Contending teams often make a habit of trading for bullpen pieces, a strategy that makes a lot more sense considering those deals usually come midseason, when a team is clearly established as a contender. But those deals have their downsides, too. The White Sox have shown how valuable stockpiling prospects in trades can be. The Cubs got their ring but probably would like to have Gleyber Torres right now after shipping him to the New York Yankees in 2016. The Indians are division champs again, but will there be a day when they'll wish they hadn't sent Francisco Mejia to the San Diego Padres in this summer's trade for Brad Hand?

But that, of course, is more of a "cross that bridge when you come to it" situation. The White Sox aren't at that bridge quite yet, as good a point as any that spending on a 30-plus closer two years ahead of when the playoff pushes could come is a risky proposition.

Second, the White Sox are still trying to figure out what they've got when it comes to the bullpen.

Last year and in the first half of this season, the White Sox relief corps was primarily an audition ground for midseason trades. That strategy worked well for Rick Hahn's front office in both seasons. Last year, a big trade with the Yankees sent two relievers out of town and returned a package that includes Blake Rutherford, the No. 7 prospect in the farm system. The White Sox dealt five relief arms last summer. This season, a trade that sent Joakim Soria to the Milwaukee Brewers brought back minor league pitcher Kodi Medeiros, an arm currently ranked as the system's No. 19 prospect. Soria was one of three bullpen arms traded.

In the second half of this season, however, young arms have reached the South Side that have the potential to make up a future bullpen that's mostly homegrown. The ERAs aren't pretty — especially after Wednesday's four-run ninth — but if ever there was a time to play the "small sample size" card, it's now. Ian Hamilton, Ryan Burr, Caleb Frare, Jose Ruiz and Aaron Bummer all put up big numbers in the minors this season. Jace Fry has been at the major league level almost all season. They're getting their opportunities now, and unless the White Sox produce their own episode of "Extreme Makeover: Bullpen Edition" this winter, they'll get their opportunities next year, too. A homegrown bullpen on a contending team is a hard thing to pull off, of course, but these guys — and the heretofore unmentioned Zack Burdi, many's pick for the closer of the future — have the opportunity to do just that.

As is the case with everything surrounding this rebuilding team, there is the luxury of time. The young group of arms does not need to be championship ready right now or in 2019. These guys will take time to develop just like the Yoan Moncadas and the Lucas Giolitos and the Tim Andersons and the Reynaldo Lopezes. Growing pains are to be expected. Until they're given the chance to either succeed or fail, the White Sox won't know what they have, which makes charting a long-term course in one offseason difficult.

Obviously the White Sox don't want to lose games like they lost Wednesday night's battle in The Cleve. But is it a sign that the checkbook needs to come out this winter? The bullpen of the future might not need to be bought at all. It might need to simply be given the opportunity to grow.

There will always be a free-agent market. There will always be a trade market. And shopping at those markets are always more exciting than playing the waiting game. But that's what rebuilding is all about.