Cubs

Simeon's upcoming road trip will focus on more than basketball

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Simeon's upcoming road trip will focus on more than basketball

The Simeon Wolverines will board a plane on Wednesday afternoon heading south to Dallas, Texas to play Prestonwood High School on Thursday evening. That contest will be the school's first since opening the season last Saturday night at the Chicago Elite Classic.

During the teams extended layoff, head coach Robert Smith took that time to get his team into a better offensive and defensive rhythm during practice, and to get his superstar, Jabari Parker, into better playing shape after his nearly five-month layoff from the game because of a foot injury.

MORE: Parker to announce college decision next week

After Saturdays game, we took a couple of days and just went kind of light in practice, then we went hard two days, explained coach Smith. Were just trying to get them in a good rhythm offensively and defensively and get them into a flow. I didnt think we were in a great rhythm in the first game and it kind of threw us for a loop.

After the game in Texas, Simeon then travels to Memphis, Tenn. for a game on Saturday in the Penny Hardaway Classic before returning home and facing off against Carver on Monday. Smith doesnt feel the travel will affect his team negatively and says the trip will be about much more than just basketball.

Going out of town to play isnt an issue. These kids play AAU basketball, so theyre out of town all the time, says Smith. And actually, on this trip, we have to go to the JFK Museum in Dallas for a history project. So its not just about the games. Well implement school stuff in there with it, too.

One of the coaches is a teacher so hell have the kids for two hours in the morning everyday and theyll take all of their schoolwork with them and get it done. Well have laptops and things like that for them to use, so well still have school even though were on the road.

As for Parker, who is set to announce next week where hell attend college after graduation from high school, hes been taking advantage of the Wolverines' layoff and has been working hard to get himself back into game shape. Coach Smith has approached playing his star with caution and will continue to closely monitor Jabari to make sure hes not overworking himself so as not to risk re-injury.

Were just trying to get him back into rhythm first before we get him into actual contact. Against Milton, he made a couple of plays where we wondered if he should really be out there or not because we didnt want him to get hurt again, said the coach. So we just want to get him back into rhythm, and get his timing and his stroke down.

WATCH: DRIVE Simeon basketball

Last week, Parker spent nearly all of the teams practice time on the sidelines doing those very things; from working out with a weighted rope, to finishing plays at the rim with a weighted ball. But this week, he resumed full practices including a full-court scrimmage on Sunday and he says both he and the team are looking forward to the Dallas and Memphis trip.

Were looking forward to the competition and getting acclimated with each other, said Parker. I think we can build as a team when were on the road and playing a team in their home town because that creates a bond. So Im just looking forward to us being a family.

The Cubs are in a way better spot than they were a year ago

The Cubs are in a way better spot than they were a year ago

ST. LOUIS — It's night and day watching the 2018 Cubs compared to the 2017 version.

Even with the injury to Javy Baez Sunday night, the Cubs are in a way better spot now than they were a year ago.

On June 17 of last season, the Cubs sat at 33-34 with a run differential of just +6.

They looked flat more often than not. "Hangover" was the word thrown around most and it was true — the Cubs really did have a World Series hangover.

They admit that freely and it's also totally understandable. Not only did they win one of the most mentally and physically draining World Series in history, but they also ended a 108-year championship drought and the weight of that accomplishment was simply staggering. 

The 2018 iteration of the Cubs are completely different. 

They began play Sunday night with a chance to sweep their division rivals in St. Louis and sitting in first place in the National League Central, percentage points up on the Milwaukee Brewers. A +100 run differential paced the NL and sat behind only the Houston Astros (+157) and Boston Red Sox (+102) in the AL.

Through 67 games, the Cubs sat at 40-27, 13 games above .500 compared to a game below .500 at the same point last summer.

What's been the main difference?

"Energy," Joe Maddon said simply. "Coming off the World Series, it was really hard to get us kickstarted. It was just different. I thought the fatigue generated from the previous two years, playing that deeply into the year. A lot of young guys on the team last year.

"We just could not get it kickstarted. This year, came out of camp with a fresher attitude. Not like we've been killing it to this point; we've been doing a lot better, but I didn't even realize that's the difference between last year and this year.

"If anything, I would just pinpoint it on energy."

Of course the physical component is easy to see. The Cubs played past Halloweeen in 2016 and then had so many demands for street namings and talk shows and TV appearances and Disney World and on and on. That would leave anybody exhausted with such a shortened offseason.

There's also the mental component. The Cubs came into 2018 with a chip on their shoulder after running into a wall in the NLCS last fall against the Los Angeles Dodgers. They have a renewed focus and intensity.

But there's still plenty of room for more. The Cubs aren't happy with the best record and run differential in the NL. They know they still haven't fully hit their stride yet, even amidst a 24-12 stretch over the last five weeks.

"I think we've been pretty consistent," Jon Lester said. "We've had some ups and downs on both sides of the ball as far as pitching and hitting. But the biggest thing is our bullpen and our defense has been pretty solid all year.

"That's kept us in those games. When we do lose — you're gonna have the anomalies every once in a while and get blown out — we're in every single game. It's all we can do. Keep grinding it out.

"Our offense will be fine. Our defense and the back end of our bullpen has done an unbelievable job of keeping us in these games. And if we contribute as a starting five, even better. 

"You have the games where our guys get feeling sexy about themselves and score some runs. That's where the snowball effect and we get on that little bit of a run. I feel like we've been on a few runs, it just hasn't been an extended period of time. I don't have any concerns as far as inside this clubhouse."

Lester hit the nail on the head. The Cubs sit at this point with only 1 win from Yu Darvish, Tyler Chatwood struggling with command and low power numbers from several guys including Kris Bryant.

Throw in the fact that Joe Maddon's Cubs teams always seem to get into a groove in August and September when they're fresher and "friskier" than the rest of the league and this team is currently in very good shape for the remainder of the year. 

If they can get 3 wins away from the World Series after going 33-34, the sky should be the limit for a 2018 squad that's in a much better position 67 games in.

Cubs optimistic Javy Baez avoided serious injury on hit-by-pitch

Cubs optimistic Javy Baez avoided serious injury on hit-by-pitch

ST. LOUIS — Cubs nation can breathe a sigh of relief for now.

The team announced Javy Baez has a left elbow contusion after taking a 90 mph fastball off it in the third inning of Sunday night's game. Baez will still undergo X-rays to be sure there is nothing more sinister at play, but for now, it looks as if he has avoided serious injury.

Still, this is not what the Cubs wanted to see.

The Cubs entered play Sunday night having gone 24-12 since getting swept out of St. Louis in the first weekend of May. They were feeling good about themselves, starting to get their mojo back and playing more like the team everybody expected.

And then Baez took a fastball off the left elbow.

After a couple minute delay, Baez was led off the field and Addison Russell came in off the bench to replace him at first base.

The 25-year-old was in the midst of a breakout season for the Cubs, sitting 5th in the National League with 46 RBI and on pace for a near 30-30 seaosn (33 homers, 29 stolen bases). 

He had slowed a bit (.175 average, .502 OPS in June) but still gives the Cubs so much energy and versatility on a daily basis with his ability to move around the infield and lineup.

If the Cubs are going to be without Baez for any length of time, it could be a huge blow to a team that was just hitting its stride.