White Sox

Open for business: What we learned about the Cubs in May

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Open for business: What we learned about the Cubs in May

Kerry Wood wrote the perfect ending, walking off the mound at Wrigley Field for the final time and embracing his son. Whoever cuts the highlight film for the 2013 Cubs Convention already has the feel-good moment for the diehard fans.

That it took almost three months for the new Mr. Cub and Theo Epsteins front office to agree on a one-year, 3 million contract was probably a sign.

The deal was announced last January at the convention, inside a Hilton Chicago ballroom, roughly 90 minutes after the team president said you cant make baseball decisions based on public relations.

Woods retirement may wind up being what chairman Tom Ricketts likes to call an inflection point. (So could his fathers Super PAC.)

Everythings supposed to be cold and clinical now, and this month confirmed what we already knew: No one is untouchable.

Epstein said as much this week, when reporters surrounded him during batting practice at Wrigley Field. The losing streak had reached 12 games, shattering the idea that the Cubs could contend this year.

More than two months from the July 31 deadline, people were talking about Ryan Dempsters no-trade rights, and Epstein was planning to meet again with his Opening Day starter.

Every option has to be on the table, Epstein said.

Heres the disclaimer: The Cubs would have to be absolutely blown away to deal a Matt Garza or a Starlin Castro. Youd have to get multiple impact players in return to even consider it, and those deals are increasingly difficult to engineer.

When the Cubs open a four-game series against the San Francisco Giants on Friday night at AT&T Park, they will again be trying to find out who is and who isnt a foundation piece. Thats the lens through which you can view the rest of this season.

Carlos Marmol and Rafael Dolis lost the closers job in May, and the Cubs are planning to go by committee in the ninth inning with James Russell, Shawn Camp and Casey Coleman.

As Epstein predicted, Bryan LaHair cooled off and didnt produce at a Babe Ruthian level. But no other first baseman in the National League has more home runs (10), and only Joey Votto has a higher on-base percentage than LaHairs .396.

Trying to jumpstart the lineup, manager Dale Sveum removed Castro from the No. 3 hole, opening another debate on how high the All-Star shortstops ceiling will be.

Its easy to forget, but remember that Castro is around the same age as the college players who will be taken in next weeks amateur draft. The 22-year-old already has two .300 seasons on his big-league resume, and appears to be on his way to a third.

Castro has walked five times in 205 at-bats. Can he learn to grind out at-bats and become patient at the plate?

A lot of people do, Sveum said. You understand (that) it takes time. Some guys are built to do it. Some guys take 2,000-3,000 major-league at-bats until it all starts gradually coming together. A lot of times you just get tired of it. You get tired of rolling over. You get tired of swinging at bad pitches.

Thats the maturity level that comes with major-league at-bats.

Castro is up to 1,437 plate appearances now, and hes playing for his third manager in three years. You can wonder how the losing environment will effect him.

But the Cubs didnt really explode or lash out during that 12-game losing streak. Insiders say the clubhouse is more quiet and emotionally level without Carlos Zambrano and Marlon Byrd.

Nobodys wondering whos in charge or who might get fired. Sveum and his experienced group of coaches have essentially seen it all before. They will be judged subjectively in 2012, far beyond the won-loss record (18-32).

Theyve done a really nice job of being prepared and being even-keeled during these moments, general manager Jed Hoyer said. I know sometimes people want to see throwing helmets and broken coolers and things like that.

(But) at some point were going to win seven out of eight (and) you got to stay in the middle and not (have) players feel like youre running hot and cold on them.

It wont be easy maintaining equilibrium. Alfonso Soriano smiled when a reporter asked what happened to the clubhouse wall after Wednesdays walk-off win over the San Diego Padres.

Part of it had been smashed, leaving a dent and cracks in the space between the lockers of Soriano and Dempster (who got a no-decision that afternoon).

Oh, I dont know, Soriano said. For sure, thats not me.

Those moments of frustration have been kept behind closed doors. Soriano essentially shrugged: Thats part of the game, too.

This is a business. Once the draft ends next week, the Cubs will shift gears and focus on the trade deadline. They will block out all the noise about Anthony Rizzo (and his sore right wrist heard around the Twitter world).

I understand fans have a right to be upset anytime were not playing winning baseball, Epstein said. I just think if we start making decisions based on it or scrap plans because of it (and) try to put Band-Aids on situations were doing the fans a disservice in the long run.

Ill always operate with the belief that the only way to make fans happy in the long run is to get to a point where were playing baseball in October on a regular basis. And nothing is going to get in the way of that.

Sometimes when you rip the scab off, theres some pain, until we grow some new skin and were born anew. Were going places. Its just (that) this is a tough road.

White Sox' Luis Robert not feeling pressure of Rookie of the Year hype

White Sox' Luis Robert not feeling pressure of Rookie of the Year hype

Of all the White Sox players this season, the spotlight has shined brightest on Luis Robert, but he says that’s not the reason for his recent five-game slump. In fact, Robert doesn’t even see himself as a new face of the franchise, despite all the hype surrounding his MLB debut and hot start to the season.

“I honestly don’t feel that way,” Robert said via team interpreter Billy Russo. “I just think that I’m the new guy.”

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It’s clear the pressure didn’t affect Robert earlier in the year as he notched at least one hit in his first six games, and racked up 14 hits through 10 games. As the impressive performances at the plate mounted, so did the buzz around the young centerfielder. But Robert insists he doesn’t think about it, even though he’s slashing a lowly .158/.200/.211 over his last five games, and out of the lineup for the first time in his career on Monday.

“I know everyone’s trying to talk about me, about my option for Rookie of the Year and that kind of stuff,” Robert said via Russo. “But for me I just feel like another guy for this team. I don’t feel that pressure, that attention. I know that it’s there, but I don’t think about that.”

So is this mini-slump due to an adjustment in the way pitchers are approaching Robert at the plate? Again, Robert says no.

“Pitchers have been attacking me the same way since the season started. I didn’t have good results the last few days, but I just have to keep working. There’s nothing different that they have done against me. It’s just a matter of results.”

Robert has shown a remarkable ability to adjust to a pitcher’s approach mid-game. Now it’s time to see how he adjusts to a little major league adversity.


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2020 NHL Draft: Winner of No. 1 pick revealed at Phase 2 of NHL Draft Lottery

2020 NHL Draft: Winner of No. 1 pick revealed at Phase 2 of NHL Draft Lottery

After the No. 1 pick went to a placeholder team — that would be eliminated in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers in the NHL's 24-team postseason under the Return to Play program — in Phase 1 of the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery in June, the top pick for the 2020 NHL Draft was awarded to an actual team in Phase 2 of the lottery on Monday. 

The New York Rangers won the No. 1 overall pick for the 2020 NHL Draft on Monday during Phase 2 of the lottery.

The Edmonton Oilers, Florida Panthers, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, Pittsburgh Penguins, Toronto Maple Leafs and Winnipeg Jets were also in the running and all had a 12.5% chance of winning the No. 1 overall pick along with the Rangers in Phase 2 of the Draft Lottery.

The No. 1 pick of this year's draft is expected to be forward Alexis Lafrenière, who registered 35 goals and 77 assists for a league-leading 112 points in 52 games this season with the Rimouski Océanic of the QMJHL, where he also served as the team captain. 

No team has held the No. 1 pick finishing better than 26th in the standings since the 1995 NHL Draft, and no team made the top pick after playing in a postseason series since the Minnesota North Stars in the 1983 NHL Draft.

The 2020 NHL Draft is scheduled for Oct. 9 and 10. It was originally scheduled for June 26-27 in Montreal but postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which paused the NHL on March 12.

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