White Sox

Thunder have the Mavs where they want'em

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Thunder have the Mavs where they want'em

From Comcast SportsNet
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Dirk Nowitzki was hoping for the same kind of friendly bounce that allowed Kevin Durant to put the Oklahoma City Thunder ahead in their first-round playoff series. When Nowitzki didn't get it, the Dallas Mavericks could only settle for another frustratingly close loss and an uphill climb to survive in their first postseason since winning the NBA title. Russell Westbrook scored 29 points, Durant added 26 in an off-shooting performance and Oklahoma City clawed out a 102-99 victory over Dallas on Monday night to take a 2-0 series lead. The Mavs led in the final minute of both games in Oklahoma City but couldn't even manage a split as the Thunder gutted out two wins by a total of four points. "That's what the playoffs are about," Westbrook said. "Toughness." Durant hit two free throws with 50.4 seconds left to give Oklahoma City a 98-97 lead, and James Harden hit four more foul shots to close it out for the Thunder. Jason Terry missed two 3-point attempts from the left wing in the final 5 seconds that could have tied it and set up overtime. "We come away from these two games disappointed but not dismayed. You tip your hat to the fact that they have made some big time plays," Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. "Now, we've got to go home and do the same." Game 3 is Thursday night in Dallas. "We're just a couple bounces away from being up 2-0," said Nowitzki, who led Dallas with 31 points but missed both his shots in the final 75 seconds. "It's tough and it's frustrating, but we're going to keep coming. We're not going to lay down. If they beat us, we're going to make them earn it." Durant put the Thunder ahead to stay after salvaging two key points with Oklahoma City inbounding the ball with only 2.6 seconds left on the shot clock. He grabbed the inbounds pass from Harden while headed toward the sideline, and Terry was called for a foul for bumping him. Durant hit both foul shots, and Nowitzki missed his chance to answer with a fade-away 12-foot jumper from the left side. He compared it to Durant's foul-line jumper -- on which he later admitted he couldn't even see the rim -- that hit the front rim and backboard before falling in with 1.5 seconds left to win Game 1. "I've made it 100 times. It bounced, hit every part of the rim and bounced off," Nowitzki said. "That's kind of the way our season's been going. "They get that bounce last game and we don't get it, so that's frustrating." After that, the Mavs were fighting from behind. Shawn Marion fouled Harden on the rebound, and the league's top scoring reserve -- only eight days removed from a concussion suffered as the result of Metta World Peace's elbow to the head -- also converted both free throws. He hit two more with 15.6 seconds left after Terry got the Mavs within one with a driving layup. "We've just got to continue to take that punch from them and do a great job of sticking together," Durant said. "Games like this in the playoffs, they're going to get chippy and we know that. So, we've just got to play through it. This one nearly came to blows, literally. The tension escalated quickly after Serge Ibaka tried to block Nowitzki's jumper midway through the first quarter and smacked him in the left eye on his follow-through, without getting called for a foul. Nowitzki hit another jumper along the baseline on Dallas' next possession before he got shoved in the back by Kendrick Perkins while jockeying for rebounding position on a made 3-pointer by Durant. Perkins followed Nowitzki for a few steps before Nowitzki bumped him away, and Perkins responded by taking a swing at Nowitzki's head with his open hand. Official Zach Zarba stepped in front of Perkins and backed him away, and both were assessed technical fouls. "He tried to bully me and I bullied back a little bit and talked about some stuff, and moved on," Nowitzki said. The Thunder erupted a few minutes later, scoring the final nine points of the first quarter -- all within an 82-second span -- and then carrying over the momentum to build a 46-30 lead with 5:55 left before halftime. When Nowitzki and Perkins finally got back on the court together, the Mavericks' All-Star exacted some revenge while getting his team back in the game. He went on a personal 10-2 run, with all of the points coming while he was matched up against Perkins, to get the deficit down to 50-47. "It's playoff basketball. It's physical. We don't like the cheap shots when they give them, and they don't like them if we give them. That's the nature of competition," Carlisle said. "I love hard-played, clean, competitive playoff series. You throw the ball up and may the best team win. "The dirty (expletive) has got to stop. We don't want anybody getting hurt out there, either way." Notes: After going back and forth responding to each other's comments on how Oklahoma City's defense on Nowitzki was officiated in Game 1, Brooks insisted any dispute with Carlisle wasn't personal. Years ago, the two roomed together while playing in the Continental Basketball Association. "He was a good roommate. He didn't snore," Brooks said. "That's all it takes. Buy me a meal every now and then and not snore, you're a perfect roommate." He later playfully retorted: "If you want it to be personal, I was a better player. How many years did I play in the league? How many years did he play? I played over a decade. He played three." ... Marion hadn't made a playoff 3-pointer since 2007 before making two in Game 1. He had another in Game 2. ... Ibaka, who tied his regular season best with 22 points in the first game, got into foul trouble and scored only two.

Rick Renteria wants you to be ready for the White Sox to win in 2020: 'People, have expectations'

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USA TODAY

Rick Renteria wants you to be ready for the White Sox to win in 2020: 'People, have expectations'

SAN DIEGO — Rick Renteria isn’t shy about what he wants for his White Sox.

No, he’s not out there on Twitter, demanding the front office adds Gerrit Cole, Anthony Rendon, Nicholas Castellanos and Dallas Keuchel. But every chance he gets, he talks about where he expects his team to be in 2020.

“We left the season last year, the last series of the year, talking about this year, what we were going to expect and what we wanted to do and the things that we want to accomplish,” the skipper said Tuesday at the Winter Meetings. “Obviously winning more games and being a part of a relevant season is important to us, so we're going to ask a lot of these guys.

“It's time. We talked about it being time. Guys are going to have to step it up. We've made tremendous strides, made growth, but we still have to continue to add pieces to put us over the top to give us an opportunity to be relevant.”

Don’t misconstrue those words as Renteria poking his front office. Rick Hahn & Co. know very well they’ve got more work to do in the wake of giving the richest contract in team history to free-agent catcher Yasmani Grandal.

But a generally silent first two days at the Winter Meetings — there is a rumor suggesting the White Sox are trying to trade for Texas Rangers outfielder Nomar Mazara — have not lived up to the sky-high expectations of fans, who anticipated hearing the South Siders tied to the biggest names on the free-agent market.

Because the White Sox have been so quiet, it’s hard to figure out what new toys Renteria will have to play with in 2020. It’s hard to figure out if the White Sox will even be ready to leap into contender status by the time March rolls around.

That doesn’t seem to matter to Renteria, though, who was talking about the 2020 postseason while still wrapping up an 89-loss season in 2019. He’s instructing the fan base to start thinking the same way.

“People, have expectations,” he instructed. “Have them on me. Have them on our team. Have them on everyone.

“What scares me is if people don't have expectations. That scares me because then it means you're not striving to be better. We want to be better. We want our guys to improve.”

The idea that all the young White Sox who broke out in 2019 still have a good deal of growing and improving to do is what makes the future so bright on the South Side. And it’s what drew Grandal to sign with the team. It’s what Hahn says should make the White Sox a destination for all free agents.

Renteria agrees.

“There's no one, I don't think, that we've talked to, even toward the end of last year and even people that we've spoken to in terms of possibly coming here that don't see where we're at right now,” Renteria said. “I think there is an optimism and an excitement about the South Side right now that is legit. I don't think it's made up. It's not. It's real.”

As Hahn has alluded to for some time now, any skeptical fans out there likely won’t believe the White Sox have arrived as contenders until they see it, be it through the huge splashes of offseason additions or the fusion of the young core into a true force to be reckoned with. Rumors of reclamation-project outfielders and stopgap solutions in the starting rotation aren’t exactly bringing folks to Renteria’s level of excitement.

But any stretches of offseason inactivity shouldn’t make anyone forget about Yoan Moncada or Lucas Giolito or Tim Anderson or Eloy Jimenez or Luis Robert or Nick Madrigal. Or, you know, Grandal.

That’s what’s real. That’s what’s got Renteria so excited.

Playoffs? A Jim Mora style reaction to that question wouldn’t be unwarranted. But Renteria is asking you to dream bigger.

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Cubs still trying to break through on extension talks with current players

Cubs still trying to break through on extension talks with current players

SAN DIEGO — While the rest of the baseball world is occupying their time with free agent signings and trades, the Cubs have been waiting for their number to be called.

They've been trying to nail down extensions with key players that are only a couple years away from free agency, though nothing appears imminent on that front. 

Kris Bryant, Javy Baez, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber are all free agents after the 2021 season, leaving the Cubs two years to work out a deal or trade the player before losing them for nothing but a compensation pick. Willson Contreras is a free agent after 2022. Theo Epstein's front office reached a four-year, $55.5 million deal with Kyle Hendricks in spring training, extending his team control through the 2023 season.

The Cubs won't comment specifically on the current extension talks, but they'd ideally hope to wrap anything before spring training this year, so the players can focus solely on baseball by then.

"We always take the position of not commenting on extensions, but are we having those discussions? Yes," Jed Hoyer said Tuesday. "People focus so much on trades and free agent signings at these meetings, but all the agents are under the same roofs, also, and allows us to have those kinds of discussions. I'm not gonna specify who or what, but yeah certainly those conversations are ongoing."

Bryant has long been thought of as the toughest of the group to lock up long-term given that his agent, Scott Boras, typically advises clients to hit the open market and maximize their value. Boras reiterated Tuesday afternoon at the Winter Meetings he and Bryant are still open to extension talks with the Cubs.

Baez and Rizzo loom as the two most likely to extend their Wrigley Field stays, with the two emerging as the faces of the franchise in their own ways.

As the Cubs try to navigate an offseason where they're "serving two masters" (trying to compete in 2020-21 while also enhancing the long-term future of the franchise), a potential extension would check both boxes in a major way. If Hoyer and Theo Epstein knew Baez would be locking down shortstop and the middle of the lineup for the next six seasons, they could breathe a bit easier thinking about the big picture and long-term health of the franchise. 

At the same time, they can't operate as if anything is a certainty. Bryant could decide he likes the Cubs' offer and make Chicago his baseball home forever. Baez could conclude the opposite. 

It's what makes this particular offseason so tricky for the Cubs.

"We have to be able to have parallel tracks in our mind," Hoyer said. "We have to be able to do multiple things at once. It doesn't make it more difficult. We have a lot of really good players. We've had them for a long time. When we talk to these players about contracts, there's no player that we talk to that we haven't had a conversation with at some point before about a contract. 

"We've talked about these players for five years in some way, shape or form. When we sit down with these players, we're not covering a ton of new ground. We've already been over a lot of it. I think we're able to have parallel tracks."