Cubs

Shorthanded Fire fall to Timbers

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Shorthanded Fire fall to Timbers

PORTLAND -- Eric Brunner's goal in the 19th minute broke a three-match scoring drought and the Portland Timbers went on to defeat the Chicago Fire 2-1 on Sunday.An own goal in the 52nd minute proved to be the winner for the Timbers (3-5-3), who had played to scoreless draws in their last two matches."Maybe it wasn't pretty at times, but it was the three points that we needed," Timbers striker Kris Boyd said.Jalil Anibaba scored the lone goal for the Fire (4-3-3), stopping a three-game unbeaten streak. The loss also snapped a two-game winning streak on the road for Chicago.The Timbers were coming off a 0-0 draw at Houston on Tuesday. That followed a scoreless result at home against the Columbus Crew on May 5 and a 2-0 shutout by Montreal the week before.The victory pulled Portland ahead of the struggling Los Angeles Galaxy for last place in the Western Conference.Brunner picked up the loose ball after Boyd's flailing bicycle kick off a header from Hanyer Mosquera, firing it past Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson in the early going. It was the first goal by a Timbers player in the team's last 446 minutes of play.Going into the match, the Timbers were scoreless in 321 minutes - the longest drought in the MLS this season. Portland's last score was an own goal against Sporting KC on April 21. The last Timbers player to score was Kris Boyd on April 14 in a 3-1 loss at the Los Angeles Galaxy."You set the tone when you score the first goal, and that's what we wanted to do," Brunner said.Chicago's Pavel Pardo was unguarded when he fired a shot at Timbers goalkeeper Troy Perkins, who leaped and grabbed it out of the air for a spectacular save in the 37th minute.But Perkins couldn't get to Anibaba's rip into the corner two minutes later to tie it at 1. That ended Perkins' streak of 377 minutes without allowing a goal.The match got chippy as the first half wound down, with Chicago's Patrick Nyarko and Portland's Mike Chabala getting into a shoving match that resulted in yellow cards for both players.The Timbers went ahead on the own goal that came off the knee of Fire midfielder Logan Pause after Sal Zizzo's corner kick deflected off Boyd."It's a huge win," Perkins said. "It puts us real close to being in the middle of the pack. A couple of more results go our way and we're right in there."The Fire continued to deal with injuries on their back line, with Arne Friedrich down with a right hamstring injury and Cory Gibbs out for an extended period after a meniscus tear in his right knee.Portland was without captain Jack Jewsbury because of a pelvic strain. Midfielder Diego Chara wore the captain's armband against the Fire.Timbers defenseman Futty Danso was serving a one-game suspension imposed by Major League Soccer for striking Dynamo forward Calen Carr across the head Tuesday.

Wrigley Field's outfield demands a lot, but the Cubs are answering the call

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USA TODAY

Wrigley Field's outfield demands a lot, but the Cubs are answering the call

There’s no one reason that you could point to that explains why the Cubs have gone 27-12 since their horrid first road trip. You could point to Javy Baéz’s continuous star turn, or the rotation exceeding even the loftiest expectations so far. You could point to Kris Bryant’s healthy shoulder, or Brandon Kintzler’s sinker -- like plenty of people have -- and you’d be right. What’s gone under-discussed, at least in the eyes of some, is just how good the Cubs’ outfield defense has been.

“Who doesn’t love defense?” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said earlier in the week. “This group here, when everyone’s on the field and the really good defenders are out there, it’s as tight as I’ve had. The difference being I think is that the outfield defense has gotten better in the last couple years here.”

The numbers back it up. MLB keeps a statistic called Outs Above Average (OAA) that tries to convey just how good an outfielder is vs. replacement level. For the Cubs, Albert Almora is doing much of the heavy lifting, as the center fielder is worth 4 OOA -- good for 4th best in baseball -- on his own. Jason Heyward is holding is own with 2 OOA so far, and Kyle Schwarber continues to struggle (-2 OOA). As a team, here’s how many Outs Above Average the Cubs have been worth since they started keeping track in 2016:

2016: 22 (2nd)
2017: - 7 (20th)
2018: 0 (14th)
2019, so far: 4 (6th)

“I think we’ve got a lot of great athletes on our team,” Almora said. “We’re playmakers and I think we have a great coaching staff that puts us in the right spots.”

Another useful metric that Statcast keeps track of is called Directional OOA. Basically, MLB designates six directions (front right/middle/left and back right/middle/left) and gauges which direction certain teams and fielders are best at running. Almora, at least this year, has been strongest running in and left:

That was on display yet again on Friday, when Almora broke in and left to rob Derek Dietrich in the second inning:

When asked, Almora admitted that he was surprised to learn that, instead thinking that he was better in and to the right. He’s not wrong, either: in each of the previous three seasons, Almora’s finished with the most OOA coming in and to the right.

“I think most [routes] are pretty instinctual to me,” he said. “I kind of sell out when it’s a little runner. Sometimes I dive and don’t get to it because in my mind I’m programmed to where, if it’s hit to me, I’ve got to catch it.”

Heyward, on the other hand, has been stronger to his right his year:

“I just think it’s about your position” Heyward added. “You can say someone is really good at one thing, but if they don’t get as many plays to this way, or that way, you don’t really know.

One interesting wrinkle about the Cubs’ outfield is that neither Schwarber, Almora or Heyward have been worth an Out Above Average going straight backwards, and generally haven’t been great going backwards in any direction. One explanation? Between an unforgiving brick wall and the outward-jetting net that sits on top of it, robbing homers basically isn’t possible at Wrigley. Knowing that drastically changes the read on fly balls.

“You know you’re not going to go back as hard,” Heyward said. “If someone hits the ball over your head, most likely it’s going to be a double if it’s off the wall. There’s definitely differences between here and and the next place.”

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Bulls Talk Podcast: Previewing the 2019 NBA Draft with Jordan Cornette

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Previewing the 2019 NBA Draft with Jordan Cornette

On this edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, Mark Schanowski is joined by ESPN college basketball analyst Jordan Cornette to discuss the upcoming 2019 NBA Draft and what options the Bulls will have when they go on the clock at No. 7.

0:45        What’s coming up for Jordan
2:20        Impact of Bulls dropping to seven in the draft
3:45        On Cam Reddish and his pro potential, should Bulls take him?
5:50        Should Bulls take a risk at 7 and go with highest potential? Jarrett Culver discussion
7:55        On Kevin Porter Jr and Nassir Little, too risky to take at 7? Jordan explains why Luguentz Dort is his sleeper
10:35     On mid first round and potential for risk among teams
13:20     Bulls 2nd round pick options, why PG probably won’t be an option at 7
15:00     Jordan’s pick for the Bulls at 7
16:50     On free agency, Bulls need at PG
19:08     Jordan on a potential Derrick Rose return
21:14     Do either the Bucks or Raptors have a chance vs Golden State?