Next stop South Side: Cubs dont look ready for prime time


Next stop South Side: Cubs dont look ready for prime time

The Cubs got their advertisements for Wrigley Field, two games on national television, even if the grass looked torched after those concerts last weekend.

Theo Epstein didnt get an at-bat or throw a single pitch, but his presence hung over this marquee series. It finally ended Sunday night, with fans chanting Youk! for Kevin Youkilis and one keeping the home-run ball David Ortiz had deposited in the bleachers, a souvenir from Big Papi.

The Boston Red Sox will take a sloppy 7-4 victory, which pulled them back to .500, but still left them in last place in the American League East.

This followed the invasion from Detroit Tigers fans wearing orange and raising the decibels to levels you hadnt really heard at Clark and Addison all season (excluding concerts).

But this wont be for tourists. When the attention shifts to the South Side on Monday night, the city will get an up-close look at the Cubs and White Sox, two teams trending in opposite directions.

Obviously, theyre doing a nice job over there, manager Dale Sveum said. Were worried about day in and day out with us, and winning ballgames every single day, no matter who were playing.

But we all know that there will be a different atmosphere when we play the White Sox, especially after getting swept here. Hopefully, we come out and (show) were capable of competing with first-place teams.

The Cubs (22-44) couldnt hang with the Tigers or Red Sox and lost both series during this homestand. Paul Maholm made a quality start on Sunday night before three relievers gave up four runs in the final three innings.

Every guy in the locker rooms busting it, Maholm said. Theyre prepared. Theyre doing everything they can. Were just not coming up with the hit. Were not coming up with the big pitch. Its on us. We got to go out there and do it.

The White Sox (35-31) got a huge emotional lift the last time they played the Cubs, when conventional wisdom had it being a no-drama crosstown without Ozzie Guillen and Carlos Zambrano.

Then word began to leak out that Kerry Wood was going to retire, Jeff Samardzijas 85 mph splitter smashed into Paul Konerkos face, Gordon Beckham barreled over David DeJesus and Sveum exploded.

The White Sox woke up on May 18 with an 18-21 record, 4 12 games back in the American League Central, and already the talk was starting that general manager Kenny Williams could go into selling mode.

On Monday of that week, the Cubs had beaten the defending World Series champs in St. Louis to move to 15-20, five games back in the division. That wouldnt lead you to start printing playoff tickets, but it also didnt foreshadow a team that could break the franchise record for losses.

There isnt a direct cause-and-effect here. But its hard to ignore the big bounce the White Sox got off that series, part of a stretch that saw them win 13 of 14 games and surge into first place.

And you watched the Cubs bottom out with a 12-game losing streak, part of a stretch in which they would lose 20 of 24.

U.S. Cellular Field is where Lou Piniella cursed out Milton Bradley, and Zambrano had to be separated from Derrek Lee. Strange things seem to happen on the South Side, and its on Matt Garza to channel all that adrenaline on Monday night.

Its going to be loud and rowdy, outfielder Reed Johnson said. Thats the atmosphere you want, especially now when youre struggling as a team. (You) know theres going to be a packed house and it makes it a little easier to play that way. Its a little easier to concentrate.

Were playing good baseball. It just seems like we cant do those little things to finish off a ballgame.

Contenders are already starting to circle the Cubs. The New York Yankees were among the teams that had top talent evaluators in the seats behind home plate on Sunday night, and this is shaping up to be a sellers market.

Ryan Dempster says his focus is on his next start against the White Sox on Wednesday night, but the groundwork is already being laid behind the scenes.

Alfonso Soriano will get three more games to rest his knees and showcase himself as a designated hitter, where hes hitting .386 with six homers, 17 RBI and a 1.224 OPS in 57 career at-bats.

Because after watching the Cubs drop to 3-15 against left-handed starters, the defense commit two errors and another bullpen breakdown, Sveum knows he needs some reinforcements.

The thing thats going on all year long is basically we get into close ballgames and something breaks down, Sveum said. We cant score if its close, or we just cant make a pitch when its close to hold em or shut em down or get the game into extra innings.

We got to be better at those things, somebody stepping up and getting a big hit when it counts not when were four or five runs down.

Jabari Parker unafraid of history, expectations that come with Chicago's homegrown stars: "There's no fear"


Jabari Parker unafraid of history, expectations that come with Chicago's homegrown stars: "There's no fear"

The Chicago sunlight followed Jabari Parker as he walked through the East Atrium doors of the United Center, facing Michael Jordan’s statue before meeting with the media, introduced as a Chicago Bull for the first time.

For his sake, the brighter days are ahead instead of to his back as he’ll challenge the perception of being the hometown kid who can’t outrun his own shadow.

Parker re-enters Chicago as the No. 2 pick in the draft that the Milwaukee Bucks allowed to walk without compensation despite holding the cards through restricted free agency, damaged goods on the floor but not giving the Bulls a discount to don that white, red and black jersey he’s always dreamed of wearing.

“There were other teams but as soon as I heard Chicago, I just jumped on it,” Parker said.

It took a two-year, $40 million deal (2019-20 team option) to get Parker home, along with the selling point that he’ll start at small forward—a position that’s tough to envision him playing with on the defensive end considering three of the game’s top six scorers occupy that space.
It was a dream come true for his father, Sonny Parker, and high school coach, Simeon Academy’s Robert Smith, who both couldn’t hide their joy following the first question-and-answer session with the media.

“This is where he wanted to be,” Sonny Parker said. “His family’s happy, the support is there. All I know is the United Center will sell out every game. He can’t wait.”

“Normally guys get drafted here. He signed to come here. He had a couple offers from other teams but he wanted to come here.”

The biggest examples of Chicagoans who arrived with outsized expectations for this franchise had varying results, but Derrick Rose and Eddy Curry both came away with scars of sorts that had many wondering why any hometown product would willingly choose to play for the Bulls.

The risk seems to far outweigh the reward; the emotional toll doesn’t seem worth the fare. And with the roster makeup not being ideal for Parker, no one could blame him for going to a better situation—or at least one more tailored to his skills rather than his heart.
“I think every situation is different. Derrick was excelling,” Bulls executive vice-president John Paxson said to NBCSportsChicago.com. “MVP of the league in his hometown before the injury. Eddy was just a young kid who didn’t have the savvy Derrick had. I think every situation is different. Jabari is such a grounded, solid person that he’s gonna be just fine.”

“You don’t have to spend a whole lot of time with him to figure out he’s got it together. He knows who he is. Comfortable in his own skin. A quiet guy. Hopefully he’ll thrive here. The goal is it works great for him and works great for us.”

It seemed like he was bred to be a pro—and not just any pro, but the type Chicago demands of its own when a covenant to play 82 nights a year has been reached. If the constant prodding from his father didn’t break his façade, or older brother Darryl doing everything he could to coax emotion from the most gifted of the Parker clan couldn’t do it, two ACL surgeries on his left knee may pale in comparison.

The numbers from Parker’s recent stint with the Bucks don’t bear it out, but Smith sees a player who’s back on track to being what his talent has always dictated he should become.

“Even watching him work out lately, it’s like whoa,” Smith said. “But of course, everything with Chicago period you have to be cautious. With his family and the support system he has, this thing is about winning basketball games and giving back to the community.”

“He’s had that (target) on his back since he stepped on the court at Simeon, coming behind Derrick and being one of the top five players as a freshman and No. 1 player as a junior. I don’t think it’s a huge problem, it can help him a little bit. If he has those moments if something doesn’t go right, he has someone to help him.”

Parker is more known for his restarts than his unique skill set in his young career, but even at 23 years old speaks with a sage of someone 20 years his senior, unwilling to tab this portion of his journey as a fresh start.

After all, it would be easy to envision his career beginning from the moment he left Simeon as a phenom followed by his one season at Duke—having two games where he totaled just 24 minutes with just two points to start the Bucks’ first-round series against the Boston Celtics isn’t typical of a star’s story if he sees himself that way.

“I don’t. I don’t want to forget all the hard work I had,” Parker said. “To forget I hurt myself and came back is to discredit my success. That in of itself is something outside the norm. I want to always remember the setbacks and failures I’ve had in my career so far. I want to use that as a sense of motivation.”

Bringing up his awkward pro beginnings in Milwaukee, where Giannis Antetokounmpo’s ascension to an unexpected strata mirrored thoughts he might’ve had of himself before his injuries, didn’t cause him to growl.

“I’ve never got jealous a day in my life. That’s why it wasn’t hard because I wasn’t jealous,” Parker said to NBCSportsChicago.com. “My journey is my journey. I gotta be proud of that and be patient. I took that and I move forward.”

The mention of his defense didn’t make him defensive, either, as he definitively pointed out the truth as he saw it, that today’s game is far more offensive-minded than the bruise-fests of the previous decades. Telling by his words in subsequent interviews, the best defense is a great offense and when he’s right, there aren’t many who can get a bucket as easily and with as much diversity as himself.

The only time Parker broke serve was at the notion he’d be following in the footsteps of Rose’s perceived failures, the setbacks Rose suffered when his knees began to fail after reaching inspiring heights players like Parker wanted to emulate.

At the podium for all to see, he corrected a question formed around Rose’s “rise and fall”, a sound byte copied and pasted by a couple Chicago-bred NBA players on social media in support of Parker’s words and feelings.

“Derrick had no lows. He didn’t. He still maintained. Derrick’s a legend, no matter what…no rise and falls. Injuries are part of life. Derrick is one of the best icons in Chicago. He accomplished his duty already.”

And later, he wanted to set the record straight again, drawing a line from how the media has presented Rose compared to how the people of Chicago see him, and vice-versa.

“We didn’t turn on Derrick, the media (did),” Parker told NBCSportsChicago.com. “We’re hometown. I speak for everybody, we love our hometown.”

The love of Chicago meant more than the prospect of not being able to live up to a glorious prep past, even though he should be well aware wanderlust can turn to villainy in a heartbeat—or the wrong step.

“There’s no pressure for me,” Parker said to NBCSportsChicago.com. “I’m just happy I get to play with some young guys, and I don’t harp on the negative. Anybody and everybody is gonna have an opinion. I value more my dreams than their opinions.”

And the dreamer steps forward, with a confident gait, eyes wide open and a city hoping it doesn’t repeat the same mistakes of its past.

“There’s no fear,” Parker said. “I haven’t faced any other pressure than bouncing back. I’m back on my feet and moving on.”

“When you struggle more, you succeed more.”

Sports Talk Live Podcast: With Jabari Parker in the mix, are the Bulls playoff contenders?


Sports Talk Live Podcast: With Jabari Parker in the mix, are the Bulls playoff contenders?

David Haugh, Patrick Finley and KC Johnson join Kap on the panel. Jabari Parker is officially a Chicago Bull. So does that make the Bulls a playoff team? And who will play defense for Fred Hoiberg’s young team? Vincent Goodwill and Mark Schanowski drop by to discuss.

Plus with Manny Machado now a Dodger, are the Cubs no longer the best team in the NL?

Listen to the full episode here or via the embedded player below: