Cubs

New-look Bulls display same old resiliency in overtime win

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New-look Bulls display same old resiliency in overtime win

PHOENIXBy no means was the Bulls overtime victory over the Suns a clean performance. The visitors to the U.S. Airways Center did a lot of good things Wednesday night, but there were also a lot of negatives.

First off, their inability to completely shut the door on teams is glaring, as the Bulls allowed a rebuilding -- and honestly -- underwhelming Phoenix team to fight back from an 18-point deficit in the third quarter to make it a ballgame in the final stanza and send the contest into an extra session.

Then, there was the fact that the Bulls, known as a blue-collar, defensive-minded, physical team that tends to dominate the glass, let the Suns outwork them inside.

We did a lot of good things to build the lead, to get it to 18 and in the fourth quarter, the initial part of the defense was good, but the thing that got us was Tucker crushing us with the second shot, so not finishing our defense is what got us and their ball pressure, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau explained. Sometimes, I think, on the road, youre not going to get calls, so you have to be strong and you have to go to your pressure releases, you go to your cutting game and once we started going to the cutting game, we got some easy buckets and we also started getting to the free-throw line, so those are things that we have to do better.

On the road, you have to look at why. Was it a result of dribble penetration? Are we getting to bodies? And if youre not getting calls, youve got to make it so you do whatever is necessary to get the ball, he continued. When a teams rebounding like that, you have to look at the makeup of their team and we talked about it before the game. When you have guys like Dudley and Morris and Beasley and Scola and Gortat and Tucker, those guys, theyre big and theyre physical and theyre tough, so when the balls up on the board, youve got to get in that fight. Youre not going to out-rebound a team like that with just one or two guys. It has to be gang-rebounding, our guards have got to get in there, everybodys got to mix it up.

Added Joakim Noah, who pointed the finger at himself: We did a lot of switching, so we have to do a better job of rebounding as a group. I feel like we havent been rebounding as well as we can. I think I personally have to do a better job rebounding, as a center. I know I can rebound better.

Indeed, the Suns won the battle of the boards, 51-46, but that doesnt tell the whole story.

While that and the 31 fourth-quarter points the Bulls gave up were certainly significant, so was their resiliency to pull out a contest that Phoenix clearly had the momentum in going into overtime.

A lot of guys stepped up and played well for us. Carlos was tremendous throughout the game. Joakim, Luol was the usual. Rip played really hard. Kirk and Nate did a great job at the pointso, a lot of guys stepping up. Youve got to play tough on the road. The lesson that we have to learn is we have to play tough with the lead. We got a little loose were throwing lobs, were not strong with the ball so those are things weve got to clean up, but we did a lot of good things to build that lead and then we hung tough in the end, and we found a way to win, Thibodeau said. We solidified our defense, we recognized the way the game was being called and I think you also have to adjust. If the game is being called that way, then youve got to make the adjustment. There was physical play inside and we should enjoy that. Its a good part of the game.

It comes back to we want to keep improving every day. Its a good bounce-back after a tough loss at home, come out, get the next one and now we have to move on to the next game, L.A., the coach, his raspy voice almost hoarse afterwards, went on to say. They showed a lot of toughness. In the end, youve just got to find a way to win. Whatevers necessary, thats what you have to do and I think we did that tonight.

Hamilton told CSNChicago.com: We stayed focused. That was the thing about it. We didnt get down on ourselves when they made a run, but we just said, Okay, weve got to get back to what we started the game with, and thats defending, sharing the ball, making the easy play.

Chimed in Deng: We just stuck with it. They made their run, we kind of lost our composure a little bit, but we executed when it mattered, especially in overtime.

Theyre playing well, theyve got their fans, their guys are scoring. We didnt take them light. We came here to get the win, he continued. We lost three home games. I just felt like it was good for us to get on the road, the team to be together. Its good that we got the win, just try to get the next win now.

Weve got a lot of vets on this team. We did a great job of being calm and letting it come to us.

This is the regular season and for a Thibodeau-coached squad, every game counts. But on the annual Circus Trip, with a team full of newcomers and lowered expectations due to the absence of superstar Derrick Rose, even beating a Phoenix team with thats clearly rebuilding is major step in the sense that this seasons edition of the Bulls are putting together a foundation for down the line.

It feels good to win. They made a hard-fought run. We were up a lot and we just found a way to get the win. Its a good feeling right now to get this win and start the Circus Trip on the right track, Noah observed. Basketball is a game of momentum and they had their crowd into it. They were charged emotionally, they were into it and I think that for us, it was just staying focused and just getting ready for the next plays. It was all about the next play and we got the win.

Added Boozer: "It just was a grind-out game, man. Im going to be honest: On the road, its tough to get wins, so tonight, I thought we did a good job of getting going early. Give them credit: They fought back, put in some guys that played hard.

They took out some of the skilled guys and put all hard workers, he continued. You know how the road is, man. Youve got to come together. Every team plays good at home, so getting a road win is not given to you in the NBA. Its tough to get road wins, I dont care who you play and it was great for our team camaraderie.

"Everybody played great, stepped up. We had guys that made big plays at the end of the game, big free throws. I thought Joakim was amazing, especially in the fourth quarter and overtime. Luol was great, Rip hit some big shots, Kirk made some big free throws, Nate made some big plays. It was fun for us to play a game like this. We hadnt gone to overtime yet. It was fun for us to win a game like this.

Cubs optimistic Javy Baez avoided serious injury on hit-by-pitch

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AP

Cubs optimistic Javy Baez avoided serious injury on hit-by-pitch

ST. LOUIS — Cubs nation can breathe a sigh of relief for now.

The team announced Javy Baez has a left elbow contusion after taking a 90 mph fastball off it in the third inning of Sunday night's game. Baez will still undergo X-rays to be sure there is nothing more sinister at play, but for now, it looks as if he has avoided serious injury.

Still, this is not what the Cubs wanted to see.

The Cubs entered play Sunday night having gone 24-12 since getting swept out of St. Louis in the first weekend of May. They were feeling good about themselves, starting to get their mojo back and playing more like the team everybody expected.

And then Baez took a fastball off the left elbow:

After a couple minute delay, Baez was led off the field and Addison Russell came in off the bench to replace him at first base.

The 25-year-old was in the midst of a breakout season for the Cubs, sitting 5th in the National League with 46 RBI and on pace for a near 30-30 seaosn (33 homers, 29 stolen bases). 

He had slowed a bit (.175 average, .502 OPS in June) but still gives the Cubs so much energy and versatility on a daily basis with his ability to move around the infield and lineup.

If the Cubs are going to be without Baez for any length of time, it could be a huge blow to a team that was just hitting its stride.

James Shields, Joakim Soria and some other potential midseason trade candidates for the White Sox

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USA TODAY

James Shields, Joakim Soria and some other potential midseason trade candidates for the White Sox

Another day, another quality start for James Shields.

The White Sox once more didn’t win a Shields start. Despite an increasingly good-looking season stat line, Shields can’t seem to rack up many wins, with just two to his name on the season. But of course, wins are not exactly the most important barometer in this rebuilding campaign.

Speaking of the rebuild, the White Sox are getting closer to the trade deadline, it’s about a month and a half away. And Shields’ continued success could have Rick Hahn’s phone ringing as July 31 creeps closer. After six innings and three runs in Sunday’s loss to the visiting Detroit Tigers, Shields has seven quality starts in his last 10 outings,

After last season’s struggles that ended in a 5.23 ERA and 27 home runs surrendered, getting anything for Shields might’ve seemed a bit of a fantasy. But Shields has delivered, especially since the end of a rocky April.

“It’s very important to try to eat as many innings as you possibly can,” Shields said of his consistent efforts of late. “Early on in the season, we were ruining our bullpen by not going deep into games. My main focus is to go as deep as I possibly can. … Consistency’s the name of the game.”

Does it make him one of the most attractive names on the market? No, probably not. Is it going to fetch a highly ranked prospect? No, probably not. But it might fetch something, and in a season where guys believed to be afterthoughts like Dylan Covey and Daniel Palka are working their way into the conversation about the White Sox future, who wouldn’t want something added to this rebuilding effort?

And Shields isn’t the only White Sox player who could bring something back.

The bullpen was stocked with potential sign-and-flip guys over the offseason, and a few of those veteran arms have had good runs that could earn them a similar fate to the bulk of last year’s relief corps. Anthony Swarzak, Tommy Kahnle, David Robertson, Dan Jennings and Tyler Clippard were all dealt away last summer. Could Hahn employ a similar strategy this season?

The bullpen hasn’t been quite as good as it was last year, which made all of those players attractive additions for contending teams around the league. But veterans like Joakim Soria, Luis Avilan, Bruce Rondon, Xavier Cedeno — guys who hoped to rediscover some old magic — could still draw interest.

Soria owns a 3.12 ERA. Avilan’s is at 3.10. Cedeno hasn’t given up a run in his six relief appearances. Rondon has shown blow-em-away stuff at times. It’s been a nice recovery for some of these sign-and-flip veterans.

“They’ve had an opportunity to get their chances to work on different things and become really effective performers,” manager Rick Renteria said of some of his veteran relievers prior to Sunday’s game. “I think Joakim has risen his level of game back what he was pre last couple years, I think he’s reinvented himself a little bit. He has an up-down breaking ball now, he’s continuing to attack the strike zone, he’s throwing 93 miles an hour with his fastball, he’s commanding the zone. He’s doing everything he can to be as good a closer as he was in the past. His history and his experience also allow him some confidence to be put in situations to close out ballgames.”

Soria could perhaps draw the most interest because closers are often in demand in July. But last year’s trade-a-thon showed that teams are willing to trade prospects away for relief help of any kind. Many of the return pieces in those deals might not get rebuild-loving prospect followers thrilled. Casey Gillaspie and Ryan Cordell haven’t exactly put their names at the forefront of the discussion about 2020 and beyond. But remember that Blake Rutherford came over in the deal that sent Robertson and Kahnle out of town (Todd Frazier went to the New York Yankees in that trade, too). So an acquisition that could improve the rebuild can most definitely happen, even with middle relievers.

There’s no guarantee that any of these guys, be it Shields in the rotation or any of the arms out in the bullpen, will get traded or even draw significant interest. But for a team in the White Sox position, you’d have to assume they’d be open to making a deal and getting something to add to this rebuilding process.