Cubs

Plenty has changed since Hawks hit rock-bottom in Nashville

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Plenty has changed since Hawks hit rock-bottom in Nashville

The Blackhawks probably want to forget about the last time they played the Nashville Predators.

It wasnt their worst loss, score-wise, as they dropped a 3-2 decision in Nashville on Feb. 14. But it was how they lost that hurt the most: giving up a late goal in a game they had played pretty well, running their winless streak to nine. The Blackhawks locker room was so stunned, so quiet that night, you couldve heard a pin think about dropping.

It was a brutal loss, said coach Joel Quenneville. It was excruciating. It was one of those losses where you sit there and think, OK, hopefully this is the end of it. Eventually things had to change. And they did.

Yes, things definitely have changed for both teams. The Predators made several moves at the trade deadline. While the Blackhawks made a move themselves acquiring defenseman Johnny Oduya their biggest change came in how they played.

The Blackhawks had their rock-bottom moment that night in Nashville. And whether it was learning from that night or just waking up out of their winless-streak doldrums, the Blackhawks have been a much better team since.

That whole time we were trying to hammer home how we had to play on both sides of the puck, take a checking mentality, Quenneville said. The byproduct was what happened the next two games (against New York and Columbus).

And its gone beyond those next two games. The Blackhawks are 13-4-1 since that game, and after trailing the Predators plenty in the Western Conference theyre now right on their tails -- just two points back after Nashville's 3-1 victory over Winnipeg Saturday night.

Its a rivalry thats come into play the last couple of years, Patrick Kane said. You look at the standings; if we can take some points from them and put points on the board for ourselves, its huge.

The Predators, meanwhile, have had more mixed results. Theyre 10-6-2 since that Feb. 14 game, including 6-5-1 since the day after the trade deadline.

As for the Blackhawks, theyve kept up that style of play through health and injury. Theyve grown plenty in their time without Jonathan Toews and have found success in his absence. And they know theyll need to play their current brand of hockey to have any success against the Predators on Sunday.

Theyre structured, they dont take too many chances and they play a good team game, Viktor Stalberg said. The way we used to play earlier in the year frustrated us a bit. But the way weve played lately, were finding ways to win those tight games. Thats going to fit us better playing them.

The Blackhawks have changed since that Feb. 14 game in Nashville. They ended their brutal losing streak two days later and quelled the foolish coach-and-several-players-must-go talk. Theyve learned from that brutal loss, and theyve got the Predators in their sights again.

Brandon Morrow and the state of the Cubs bullpen ahead of the trade deadline

Brandon Morrow and the state of the Cubs bullpen ahead of the trade deadline

Brandon Morrow is getting an extended All-Star Break.

For the second time in the last month, the Cubs closer is heading to the disabled list to get another break, this time with inflammation in his right biceps.

That leaves the Cubs without their best relief pitcher — a guy with a 1.47 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 22 saves in 24 chances — for the next week as the team hits the ground running in the second half with 12 games in 11 days against the Cardinals and Diamondbacks.

"It's been bothering him a bit, but we thought it was manageable," Joe Maddon said before the Cubs kicked off play Thursday evening. "But now it's not [manageable], so just have to take a little bit of a break. 

"We don't anticipate him being gone for a long time, but it seems to be prudent to go this course right now."

Maddon pointed to a bit lower velocity Morrow had in San Diego Sunday and believes now is "the right time to back off for the latter part of the season."

The Cubs do have Carl Edwards Jr. back from the paternity list and the 26-year-old flamethrower already got a "break" of his own earlier this season when he missed about 5 weeks with a shoulder issue.

The word "break" is key here because that's how Maddon and the Cubs characterize these little stints on the disabled list.

After all, they are "breaks," even if they're not built into a season like the All-Star Break.

The Cubs want both Morrow and Edwards to be healthy and dynamic in late September and throughout the postseason in October. They've been uber-cautious about the two pitchers throughout their respective Cubs careers and a stint on the disabled list serves to save bullets and wear and tear on their right arms in the dog days of the season.

After all, Morrow has already appeared in 35 games this season, which he's only done once since 2008 — last year, when he pitched in 45 games. Morrow has a long history of arm issues, so the Cubs have given him plenty of slack as they try to keep him healthy for the most important stretch of the season.

But that's also why the Cubs are looking to add some reinforcements to the bullpen before the trade deadline. They were linked to Brad Hand before the lefty was traded to the Cleveland Indians Thursday and they've also been linked to Orioles closer Zach Britton.

If Britton's healthy, he could serve as a perfect fit for the Cubs as a rental with closing experience and a guy from the left side to help fill both needs in the Chicago bullpen.

The Cubs currently have Justin Wilson, Randy Rosario and Brian Duensing as left-handed options in the bullpen, but all are at varying levels of confidence at the moment.

Wilson still has some issues with control, but otherwise has been very good of late. Rosario is a rookie and his outlying numbers indicate his 1.95 ERA is a bit of a mirage. Duensing just recently returned from the DL himself and currently boasts a 6.59 ERA and 1.83 WHIP on the season.

Then there's Mike Montgomery, who right now has a stranglehold on a spot in the Cubs rotation while Yu Darvish gets healthy. There is currently no update on Darvish, which means Montgomery won't be moving back to the bullpen anytime soon.

With less than 2 weeks left until the trade deadline, Maddon would be all for adding another arm or two to his pitching staff.

"Sure. All of the pitching, they're definitely going to want to look at it," Maddon said. "Our numbers are among the best in the NL both overall and as a bullpen and then even into the starters.

"But you're always looking to make it better. That's what GMs do. We'll see how it all plays out. We're hoping the [Morrow] thing is a shorter situation, which we believe it will be."

Cubs reportedly a 'main player' in trade talks for Orioles' Zach Britton

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USA TODAY

Cubs reportedly a 'main player' in trade talks for Orioles' Zach Britton

According to Bruce Levine of 670 The Score, the Cubs are a “main player” in a possible trade for Orioles closer Zach Britton before the July 31 non-waiver deadline.

The Cubs will face competition from some familiar names as far as a bidding war for Britton goes. 

After sending Cubs closer Brandon Morrow back to the 10-day disabled list with right biceps inflammation on Thursday, the team could be searching for another reliever.

The 30-year-old is a ninth-inning veteran who tallied a career-high 47 saves with a 0.54 ERA in 2016, the year he finished fourth in American League Cy Young Award voting. He’s also been selected to two All-Star Games in his eight-year career.

But the closer’s 2018 season has had its ups and downs. He’s spent time getting reacquainted to pitching after having surgery for a ruptured right Achilles tendon that kept Britton out until June. He’s only pitched in 15 games while posting a 3.68 ERA in 14 2/3 innings. Britton hasn’t allowed a run in his last seven appearances.

Should the Cubs actually be concerned with his recent health issues?  According to MLB.com, the Orioles reliever has “been showing a dramatic increase in velocity.” It seems it took him some time to get back to his previous form.

If he can even be close to the same player he was two years ago, Britton would be more than useful to the Cubs bullpen.