A look into the future: Rizzo has Castros back


A look into the future: Rizzo has Castros back

ATLANTA It looked like another showdown, Dale Sveum getting in Starlin Castros face with the television cameras rolling.

The Cubs manager and the All-Star shortstop exchanged words in the dugout, before Anthony Rizzo walked into the picture on Monday night at Turner Field.

At first glance, Castro looked almost casual, in no hurry to throw from deep in the hole over to first base. Dan Uggla sprinted down the line for an infield single, and that second-inning snapshot seemed like perfect material for the message boards and talk radio.

But the Cubs immediately addressed it and moved on, watching Jeff Samardzija finish with a career-high 11 strikeouts and win his first game since May 29. Rizzo also smoked a first-pitch fastball from Tommy Hanson and showed some leadership in a 4-1 victory over the Atlanta Braves. This didnt spiral out of control.

It was one of those things where I apologized to Castro afterward, Sveum said. Rizzo came to his rescue right away and said, Skip, that was my fault. I just told him to give me time. And obviously on that ball you cant take your time.

The last time the Cubs were in Atlanta, Carlos Zambrano cleaned out his locker, told people he was thinking about retiring and headed back to the teams downtown hotel. This was the point of no return.

Jim Hendry the general manager who already knew he was fired had no patience left for Zambrano. Hendry even felt compelled to call Atlanta general manager Frank Wren and apologize for Zambrano, who had thrown at Chipper Jones. It all went down on a night where the Braves were trying to honor legendary manager Bobby Cox.

In trying to create a distraction-free zone, Cubs executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer didnt have room for Zambrano, who took his talents to South Beach to be reunited with old friend Ozzie Guillen and the Miami Marlins reality show.

The guy Zambrano was traded for Chris Volstad will get a spot start on Tuesday night and there are reminders all around of how much things have changed.

The Cubs (30-49) have won four in a row, and six of their last seven, and even if it all cant be traced back to the Rizzo bounce, the 22-year-old first baseman has so far lived up to the hype.

Rizzo has five RBI in the six games since his promotion from Triple-A Iowa, and each one has put the Cubs in the lead. Hes supposed to be a glue guy in the lineup as well as the clubhouse. You saw it during that moment in the dugout.

I took full blame for it its my fault, said Rizzo, who was on a defensive shift for that at-bat. I told him before that to give me a little time, and thats just me not knowing Ugglas speed. I thought I had time to get there. I busted there right away, but he just beat the throw.

One week in, Rizzo is still learning his teammates, but he understands the importance of the chemistry between him and a potential franchise shortstop.

I want Castro to feel comfortable with any play, Rizzo said. Any throw he wants to make, Ill be there to catch it. If I miss that pick, its my fault.

Samardzija who was on the mound when Castro forgot how many outs there were last month in San Francisco took it all in stride and limited the Braves to one run in seven innings.

Samardzija (6-7) hopes July will be more like May (2.48 ERA) than June (10.41 ERA). He likes the idea of Castro and Rizzo playing behind him for years to come.

Things happen, Samardzija said. Ive been frustrated with myself before for letting things get to me those last few starts. As a pitcher, you got to put things out of your mind.

Were a young team. Were going to make mistakes. But I feel we have the resilience to bounce back and correct them. You learn from them.

You learn whats wrong and what you need to fix. Castro brings a lot to this team. When those plays start becoming routine for him, hes going to be an amazing player.

Sveum sat back in the same office where Mike Quade seethed one night last August, watching reporters punch the Zambrano retirement news into their BlackBerrys, right in front of his face.

With the bald head, five oclock shadow and tattoos all over his body, Sveums supposed to be a billboard for no-nonsense, the face of this culture of accountability. He knows what the next decade could look like, and how essential it will be for Castro and Rizzo to be on the same page.

Hopefully, Im around when theyre here in 10 years, Sveum joked, but its nice to know you have two corner guys that are going to be pretty good for a long period of time.

Kris Dunn to miss 4 to 6 weeks with MCL sprain

Kris Dunn to miss 4 to 6 weeks with MCL sprain

The hits keep coming for the Bulls, and after the latest one it might be time to fire up the 2019 mock drafts.

Fred Hoiberg revealed Tuesday before practice that point guard Kris Dunn suffered a moderate sprain of his left MCL in Monday’s loss to the Mavericks and will miss the next 4 to 6 weeks.

“To have him out of the lineup for an extended period, it’s extremely difficult,” Hoiberg said. “When you have a guy who is out there and really made strides over the course of last season and the summer he had and the way he played during training camp, it’s difficult to miss him.”

It’s yet another freak injury for Dunn, who suffered the injury midway through the second quarter while landing after a layup over DeAndre Jordan. Last year Dunn suffered a dislocated finger in the preseason and then suffered a concussion that cost him 11 games. A toe injury then ended his season as the tanking Bulls shut him down for the final 14 games.

But Dunn was expected to play a significant role in Year 2 of the Bulls’ rebuild. As well as leading the team in assists and being the most sure-handed closer, Dunn’s defensive prowess was going to help a Bulls team that finished 29th in efficiency and lost David Nwaba, perhaps their second best defender, in the offseason.

Even prior to Dunn’s injury the Bulls had been addressing the position behind him, claiming Tyler Ulis off waivers on Oct. 14 and signing Shaq Harrison on Sunday. They opted to keep Ryan Arcidiacono on the final roster and will now rely on some combination of those three behind Cam Payne, who tied a career high with 17 points on Saturday against the Pistons.

That’s why Dunn’s injury could affect the team more than Lauri Markkanen’s or Denzel Valentine’s. The Bulls were able to cover up Markkanen’s absence with Bobby Portis and free agent acquisition Jabari Parker, while they invested a first-round pick in wing Chandler Hutchison and guaranteed Antonio Blakeney’s contract over the summer.

There’s quantity on the Bulls’ depth chart behind Dunn, but quality is another story.

“Cam had his best game of maybe his career a couple games ago against Detroit,” Hoiberg said. “He has some things he can build on. The biggest thing at that position is you have to get us organized at both ends of the floor. That’s where Kris had taken a big step in the right direction with that. Arcidiacono is one of the better communicators and hardest-playing guys on our team. We’ve got guys who have some starting experience. It’s big shoes to fill. But I’m confident our guys will give great effort.”

It could mean more ball-handling responsibilities for Zach LaVine, who has been a terror in pick-and-roll sets three games into the season. Though he’s only averaged 2.7 assists, the Bulls offense has been humming, with his 32.3 points per game leading the way. Using LaVine as a primary ball handler could allow Hoiberg to run a point guard-less offense and mix and match the other backcourt position.

They’ll have to do it on the fly. The group of point guards the Bulls will face in the next 11 days include Kemba Walker (Charlotte) twice, Trae Young (Atlanta), Steph Curry (Golden State), Jamal Murray (Denver), Darren Collison (Indiana) and James Harden (Houston). It could get a lot worse for the Bulls before it gets any better, and with Markkanen, Valentine and now Dunn on the mend. 

For those looking into such things three games into the season, the Bulls are currently tied with the Thunder, Cavaliers and Lakers for the worst record in the league. The NBA changed its Lottery rules for this upcoming season, with the three worst teams in the league all sharing the same odds at receiving the top pick in the draft.

No-brainer: The Cubs should absolutely bring back Jesse Chavez in 2019 bullpen

No-brainer: The Cubs should absolutely bring back Jesse Chavez in 2019 bullpen

Should the Cubs bring Jesse Chavez back for the 2019 bullpen?

This question shouldn't have anywhere near the polarizing effect the Daniel Murphy query had earlier this week, and for good reason.

It's hard to find any real downside for the Cubs working Chavez back into the fold next season. 

Sure, he's 35 and he'll turn 36 in August, but Chavez just had far and away the best season of his 11-year career and all signs point to it being legit.

He won't have a 1.15 ERA forever, of course, but he clearly found something with his mechanics that helped lead to the remarkable consistency he showed in a Cubs uniform (4 saves, 4 holds, 1.15 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, 42 Ks in 39 IP). 

The Cubs will be looking to add some reinforcements to their bullpen this winter and Chavez fits the bill in many areas.

When asked about how to address the bullpen this winter, Theo Epstein said his front office will be "looking for guys who can throw strikes and execute a gameplan and take the ball and pitch in big spots."

The Cubs have publicly placed an emphasis on "strike-throwers" out of the bullpen over the last two winters now and that is right up Chavez's alley.

He threw 68.5 percent first-pitch strikes while with the Cubs, which would've ranked near the top of the league in 2018, right up there with aces like Miles Mikolas, Clayton Kershaw, Aaron Nola and Justin Verlander. Among all relievers, Chavez ranked 5th in baseball in first-pitch strike percentage in the second half.

Expanding further (since the first pitch isn't the only one that matters): Chavez threw the fourth-most strikes in baseball among all MLB relievers after the All-Star Break. Since the day Chavez put on a Cubs uniform, Philadelphia's Tommy Hunter (70.5 percent) was the only reliever in baseball (minimum 30 innings) to throw a higher percentage of pitches for strikes than Chavez (69.8 percent).

If you want strikes, there's no better reliever on the market right now than Chavez.

He also shouldn't be all that expensive at age 35, even despite the breakout and high level of importance placed upon relievers these days. A similar deal to the one Brian Duensing got last winter - $7 million over 2 years - seems appropriate and would be a steal if Chavez can continue to find even a modicum of the success he had since putting on a Cubs uniform.

Speaking of the Cubs uniform, Chavez reportedly doesn't want to wear another logo in 2019, saying this after the NL Wild-Card Game:

That was an emotional time, but Chavez repeatedly raved about the Cubs clubhouse and culture throughout his time in Chicago and really appreciated the way his teammates made him feel comfortable from Day 1.

When the Cubs first acquired Chavez in that under-the-radar trade, they touted his versatility which has become a valuable asset, especially in today's game where relievers are often asked to pitch multiple innings. If necessary, he could also represent depth for the starting rotation, having made 70 starts over his MLB career. 

Unless there's a surprising market that develops for Chavez, bringing him back to the North Side of Chicago on a 1- or 2-year deal is a no-brainer.