White Sox

Noah's return finally makes Bulls whole

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Noah's return finally makes Bulls whole

Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2011
12:17 a.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com
TORONTOLadies and gentlemen, with no further adieu30 missed games was more than enoughJoakim Noah is back. After having surgery on his right thumb in December, the center will return to the Bulls lineup Wednesday evening at the Air Canada Centre, ironically the last place he played.

Noah was brief with the media after the conclusion of the teams shootaround Wednesday morning.

Its tough. Last year I missed some games with plantar fasciitis, as well. Very different situation. I think that were playing very good basketball, were a very competitive ballclub and Im very happy to be back, said Noah, who added that his only goal for Wednesdays game was to get a win.

Its just been a tough time. I had to be very patient. Thirty games is a long time, but Im very excited to be a part of it because our ballclub is very competitive and we feel like when were playing at our best, we can compete against anybody, he continued. But we obviously have a lot of work to do and I know I have a lot of work to do. I havent played a game in a long time.

I dont have many expectations. I dont really worry about the expectations. My only expectation is to go out there and give it all Ive got.

Noah has been diligently working to get himself back into shape and during his layoff, could often be seen working out before games and practices with either Bulls assistant coach Rick Brunson or going one-on-one with veteran reserve forward Brian Scalabrine. Still, there will be a difference between conditioning, taking contact and even full practices, and actual games.

Hell be back and hes going to start. Quality big man and he adds a lot in a number of different areas, in terms of how well he passes the ball, how well he rebounds the ball and his energy, so those are where his strengths are and again, I think it adds another quality big to what we have up front, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, who told reporters that Noah would likely play in six to eight-minute intervals Wednesday. I just want him to go as hard as he can, right from the start, for as long as he can. Itll be similar to what Carlos Boozer went through. Hes been out for a long time. Hes been out for much longer than Carlos was.

Until he gets out there, we wont quite know, but I think his rebounding, his passing, his energy, those are all things I want him to bring, and then if we have to get him out a little bit earlier, well do that and gradually get him back to his starters minutes," continued the coach, who said Noah would start the game matched up with versatile Raptors big man Andrea Bargnani, a player capable of stretching the defense.

For Carlos, it was quicker," Thibodeau continued. "But Carlos was out a shorter amount of time. But Im not anticipating it being very long. Jos got a great motor, so I think hell adapt very quickly. He did a great job with doing all the conditioning he could possibly do when he was out.

Even with all of the anticipation about Noahs return, however, his teammates arent counting on him to be at top form immediately. Noahs intangibles will make an impact, even in limited doses, but with the Bulls finally whole, chemistry will be something that has to build again.

Were not trying to look at it like that. It could be hard because Jo missed 30 games. Just getting back to playing with him, it could take a little minute. Like tonight, were going to see how it goes tonight, said All-Star point guard Derrick Rose, who has consistently expressed his optimism that the Bulls will get back to being more of a fast-break team. Hes a guy thats going to help us, though, with a lot of energy, rebounding, tipping the ball, doing extra stuff on the court. Its going to help us, but were going to see how it goes tonight.

Thibodeau talked about his big-man rotation, with veteran Kurt Thomas and rookie Omer Asik now having to split minutes at backup center.

Thats a hard read right now, until we see Jo out there and I can see how many minutes he can handle. I think we also have to keep in mind where were going for the playoffs and adding to the rotation right now would be difficult, but Im not ruling it out either, said Thibodeau. Whoever does play, I like the depth that we have up front and a big part of it will be the matchups.

Without saying it, Thibodeau implied thats more of a good problem to have than a drastic concern. With a full roster and in the thick of the chase for a No. 1 playoff seed in the East, the supposedly under-the-radar Bulls could be flying even higher very soon.

Perhaps Noah summed it up best: The potential is definitely there, but its all about putting the pieces together and playing our best basketball at the right time. I think its going to take a little time. Im just really excited about being able to get back on the court.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

In Astros' dominance, White Sox fans might catch a glimpse of their team's future

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USA TODAY

In Astros' dominance, White Sox fans might catch a glimpse of their team's future

It might end up an ugly week for the White Sox in Houston. But try to find some beauty in what this Astros team looks like. Because it's what the White Sox hope to look like, eventually.

While White Sox fans were likely staring with a frown at Brad Peacock mowing down their team's lineup and at a couple home runs absolutely blasted out of Minute Maid Park in the first of this four-game series Monday night, know that the inverse of that feeling is what the White Sox front office is hoping to deliver in the coming seasons.

The Astros, along with the Cubs on the North Side of Chicago, are the template for what the White Sox are trying to do with their ongoing rebuilding process. Houston experienced some hideous seasons on the way to becoming a perennial contender and a World Series champion in 2017, losing a combined 416 games in four seasons from 2011 to 2014. In 2015, the Astros made their first postseason appearance in a decade. Two years later, they were the world champs, and they remain an annual title contender and are currently the best team in baseball two years after that.

The first part of that should sound familiar, as the White Sox have lost a combined 195 games in the two seasons since this rebuild officially began. Things are better now than they were during last year's 100-loss campaign, but it's expected to be another season of more losses than wins and another season without a playoff berth on the South Side, which would be the franchise's 11th straight to end without a trip to the postseason.

The second half of the Astros rags-to-riches story is yet to come for the White Sox, who are still waiting for young players to develop at both the major league and minor league levels, still waiting for the entire core to assemble in the big leagues. That includes, right now, waiting for certain players to recover from serious injuries. That includes watching growing pains up and down the organization. It's not unexpected for such things to happen in the middle of a rebuild. But when mired in the losing years, they become constant sources of frustration for fans.

Just like no one in Houston looks back fondly on the 100-loss seasons of 2011, 2012 and 2013, it's unlikely South Side baseball fans will look back fondly on these loss-heavy campaigns. But it's part of the process, as maddening as that might be to keep hearing.

Fortunately, there are examples of what the end of the tunnel looks like, and the White Sox are up against one of those examples this week. The Astros are dominating the competition so far this season, their young core of sluggers and a few overpowering starting pitchers fueling the best team in baseball. George Springer and Jose Altuve might have been out of the lineup Monday night, but Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman were still on display. And none of those guys were the ones to blast home runs halfway to Oklahoma off the White Sox on Rick Renteria's otherwise successful bullpen day. Peacock was traded a few times before landing in Houston, and Justin Verlander and Geritt Cole were trade acquisitions, as well. All of those guys have made the Astros a formidable force once again.

The White Sox are likely going to have to make a few outside acquisitions, too, before they can finally reach baseball's mountaintop. General manager Rick Hahn says that's the plan. But the homegrown portion of those rosters of the future could resemble what the Astros have put together in recent seasons. Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada, Nick Madrigal, Zack Collins. That's the planned core on the South Side. And Hahn has a number of young pitchers who could make up a fearsome rotation, too, in Michael Kopech, Dylan Cease, Dane Dunning, Reynaldo Lopez and Lucas Giolito. There are more names White Sox fans are familiar with who could play big roles, too.

That's a lot of talent, and while White Sox fans might remain skeptical until the wins start coming at an increased rate, the blueprint is there for those pieces to come together and create something special. The blueprint is what's across the field from the White Sox this week in Houston.

The Astros might cause some bad feelings for the White Sox and their fans over the next few nights. But if they look closely, they might catch a glimpse of the White Sox future if this rebuild goes where Hahn & Co. envision it going.

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Jake Arrieta returns to Wrigley Field a different pitcher and a beloved icon

Jake Arrieta returns to Wrigley Field a different pitcher and a beloved icon

When Jake Arrieta takes the mound at Wrigley Field on Monday night, he will have officially pitched against all 30 major league teams. That alone is impressive; the messy results from his early seasons in Baltimore didn’t exactly scream 10-year veteran. There’s something charmingly poetic about Arrieta’s first return — and last new opponent — coming from the place that saved his career.

“He’s a different cat, and I appreciate that about him,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “We talk — he’s a foodie, so we’ve talked a lot about restaurants. He was always making recommendations for me here in Chicago when he had more experience than I had here. Just in general, he likes to talk about things other than the game, which I always appreciated about him.”

Before coming to Chicago in a trade (that also included Pedro Strop), Arrieta had a 5.46 ERA in 358 innings pitched. After a slow beginning to his Cubs career, the righty was arguably the best pitcher in baseball during the 2014 and 2015 seasons. The latter season was especially impressive: 229 innings pitched, a 1.77 ERA, and a career-best K/BB% (21.6) - all on the way to a Cy Young award.

Maddon referenced two games in 2015 that still comes to mind when he thinks about Arrieta: the 2015 Wild Card game against Pittsburgh and a late-June (June 21) game in Minnesota. That afternoon against the Twins, Arrieta went all nine innings while striking out seven and only allowing four hits. More importantly, it started a run of 20 straight starts without ever allowing more than three runs in a game. Over that stretch, he allowed only 14 earned runs and had an ERA under 1.00.

“I remember the game in Minnesota, 8-0 I think it was,” Maddon said. “It was a complete game in Minnesota. I thought that this was like, this seminal moment for him. That complete game, I thought, meant a lot to him internally. I thought after that he really took off.”

Monday night won’t actually be the first time Arrieta’s returned to Chicago, though. He came through last season, his first as a member of the Phillies, but didn’t pitch. As far as reunions go, Monday’s at Wrigley figures to be overwhelmingly positive.

“Honestly, I think Jake deserves his due,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said before the game. “His first time back here at Wrigley pitching against the Cubs. He deserves his due for everything he meant to this franchise. I don't look at it as a showdown or a referendum or anything like that. He deserves a warm embrace and a huge tip of the cap for everything that he meant for all of us.

“For me, personally, helping us all get to places we wanted to go. Doing it in such an exciting way. I'm a big Jake Arrieta fan, just not tonight."

2019 hasn’t been kind to Arrieta, who’s seen his walk-rate (9.8 percent) spike to a level not seen in over half a decade. His ERA is on the wrong side of 4 (though is there a right side of 4?) and he’s allowing some of the hardest contact of his career. The numbers say Arrieta’s not the pitcher he once was, but Maddon still sees shades of the Cy Young winner and World Series Champion.

“I would say the biggest difference is purely velocity on the fastball,” he said. “I’m watching the movement on the fastball, and I’m watching the break on the breaking ball. He’s probably more apt to throw the change up out there now than he had, but he looks he looks a lot the same.”

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