Cubs

This time, Cubs think Rizzo can live up to the hype

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This time, Cubs think Rizzo can live up to the hype

The 38,516 fans had filed out of Wrigley Field. The players had showered and left the clubhouse, about to enjoy a wide-open night in Chicago before the off-day.

After Wednesdays 8-6 win over the San Diego Padres capped by Darwin Barneys first walk-off homer on any level the Cubs shifted to their No. 1 priority.

Baseball czar Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer watched Max Fried, a high school lefty from California, throw from the mound. Chairman Tom Ricketts and president of business operations Crane Kenney hung around the batting cage.

Manager Dale Sveum tossed batting practice to Carlos Correa, a shortstop from Puerto Rico. Executives, scouts, coaches Randy Bush, Tim Wilken, Oneri Fleita, Shiraz Rehman, Chris Bosio, Dave McKay all took in the scene.

The Cubs (18-32) could have as many as 40 prospects come through the North Side before the June 4 draft. Its all part of being thorough, one of the buzzwords in Epsteins front office.

Keep that in mind the next time someone asks about top prospect Anthony Rizzo, whose right wrist is said to be feeling better, which should allow him to go back to crushing the Pacific Coast League.

Scouting guru Jason McLeod drafted Rizzo for the Boston Red Sox, and was involved in the Adrian Gonzalez and Andrew Cashner trades with the Padres. The Cubs executives who promoted Rizzo last season felt like they cut corners, and it wont happen again.

Its dj vu, McLeod said. We went through the exact same thing last year and couldnt be happier with him. (Its) not the numbers hes putting up. Its the development that we talked about. He has been working on some things mechanically, his approach (and) his day-to-day routine.

Because he went through (that) last year with the anticipation in San Diego, and the struggles once he got up, its made him a better player mentally, because hes much stronger coming out of that.

I think hes in his finishing stages now, and it shouldnt be too long before hes up here.

To reset, the Padres were sinking below .500 last June, and werent getting enough production out of first baseman Brad Hawpe. So Hoyer promoted Rizzo, who had hit .365 with 16 homers and 63 RBIs in 52 games at Triple-A Tucson.

That line mirrors what Rizzo has done so far at Triple-A Iowa .354 average with 17 homers and 46 RBIs in 48 games. What he did last season in San Diego hitting .141 with 46 strikeouts in 128 at-bats has been seared into everyones thinking.

Padres manager Bud Black understood when a reporter mentioned how Cubs fans have become obsessed with Rizzo.

Thats just like our fans were it hasnt changed, Black said. Hes putting up tremendous Triple-A numbers that get people excited, which they should, because hes a great, talented young player.

When he came to us, I think the hype (got to him). Initially, he tried to live up to it, meaning he tried too hard. He was probably a little bit amped, overly excited, and when you take that into the batters box, youre not yourself.

Theres a big difference between Triple-A pitching and major-league pitching. Theres a learning curve and Anthony in a small sample size of at-bats with us hadnt quite gotten there yet.

Hes still a guy that can continue to grow as a player, as I suspect he will. The thing about Anthony is hes a bright kid. He has the ability to make adjustments.

Hoyer has said that no minor-league player should be viewed as the savior for a major-league offense. The Cubs had no intention of doing anything just for show during a 12-game losing streak, and they responded by scoring 24 runs during this three-game sweep of the Padres (17-35).

Late June looks like a more realistic timeframe for Rizzo. Hoyer made a point to say that Rizzo was only 21 years old last season, and skipped college after the Red Sox took him in the sixth round of the 2007 draft.

Padres first-base coach Dave Roberts who played high school ball with McLeod in San Diego and won a World Series ring with the 2004 Red Sox says Rizzo has what it takes.

Hes going to be a nice player, Roberts said. I think that last year we were forced to kind of bring him up here and he might not have been ready. You know, he probably wasnt. But I think in that situation, our hand was forced.

Will a nice player be enough for desperate fans? Are there still holes in the swing? Will the hype be overwhelming?

The Cubs certainly feel like theyve done their homework on Rizzo, who overcame Hodgkins lymphoma while in the Red Sox system and has been described as mature beyond his years. He had to go through the screening process the Cubs are using now.

You see a lot of ability and talent, but you really dont know the character, Sveum said. You give somebody a lot of money, sometimes you just dont know the background, so everything you do that way is risky when youre building.

You really need character people. But its a lot of things: Can you handle playing in a city like (Chicago)? Can you handle playing in the playoffs? Can you handle the pressure of these kind of things? So youre always looking for that.

Pretty soon, the Cubs are going to have to find out with Rizzo.

Why Cubs, rest of baseball sweat as MLB battles coronavirus testing issues

Why Cubs, rest of baseball sweat as MLB battles coronavirus testing issues

It was never going to be perfect.

But Major League Baseball’s coronavirus testing system needs to be good enough.

That may not seem like an especially high bar to set.

But so far it has been a difficult one for baseball to clear.

In fact, the latest example of baseball's biggest challenge in pulling off a 60-game season played out at Wrigley Field on Monday. That's when the team that by all indications has done the best job of establishing and following safe practices had its manager and five other “Tier 1” members of the organization sit out activities “out of an abundance of caution” because their latest COVID-19 tests, from Saturday, remained “pending.”

Tier 1, by the way, comprises the 80-something members of the organization with the highest access, including players and coaches.

The results had been analyzed. But as pitching coach Tommy Hottovy explained, they appeared to be in a batch of samples that included at least one positive test, the batch involving multiple teams. So they were retested. Five of those retested samples, including manager David Ross’, were negative, the team said late Monday, with the sixth considered “compromised” and another test done.

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The sixth did not belong to a player.

Give the Cubs another gold star for getting through yet another round of tests — and yet another glitch in that process — without having a player test positive.

But give MLB another kick in the ass. The testing issues don’t seem to be as bad as they were throughout the league that first holiday weekend of processing. But it hasn’t fixed this thing yet, either.

Whether it’s a lab-capacity issue, a quality issue or a shipping issue, it’s not even close to good enough.

Not for 30 teams barely a week from leaving their individual training-site bubbles to start playing each other for two months. Not when more than one-third of those teams play in locales considered hot spots for the pandemic. Not in the world’s most infected country.

“We do feel comfortable in this bubble that we’ve kind of created here,” said Hottovy, who was hit hard by the virus for a month before camp started. “When the season starts though and we start traveling and we start putting ourselves in some different circumstances, we just don’t know what to expect with that.

“We’re still taking this day-to-day for sure.”

Players across baseball, including Cubs star Kris Bryant, said they were upset and surprised at how unprepared MLB’s testing system appeared to be when camps opened. Two weeks of testing later, and just enough issues persist to make the league’s entire 2020 undertaking look more tenuous than ever.

The season starts July 23. That’s not much time to get it “good enough” — never mind to get it right. But, again, we're not asking for perfection.

The league protocols require testing thousands of players and other team personnel every other day through the end of the season.

Imagine sitting a manager and three or four players from a single team on a game day because of “pending” or “compromised” test results. Imagine that happening two or three times a week to various teams. Or worse — imagine a given team doesn’t exercise “an abundance of caution” and puts the players or staff in question on the field or in the dugout and clubhouse anyway.

“The only concern that I have right now is how long the test will take to get the results back,” Cubs catcher Willson Contreras said on Thursday. “Other than that, I don’t think I am at risk inside of the ballpark because the Cubs have been doing the best they can to keep us safe in here."

“I don’t have any concerns about my teammates, because I trust them. I know we all are doing our best to keep [each other] safe, and that way we can have a season this year.”

Contreras expressed tolerance with the system so far and was reluctant to point a finger at MLB or anyone else.

“But how can that get better?” he said. “I have no answer for that.”

It doesn’t matter whose fault it is as much as it matters that an answer is found quickly.

Players, staff and their families already have taken on the daily stress and anxiety of this health risk and the every-other-day process of holding your breath until the next result comes in.

“You get that test day coming up when you might get results, and it’s a little bit of that unknown, a little bit of anxiety of, ‘Have I done everything right?’ “ Ross said. “You start running back the day since you’ve been tested and what you’ve done, where you’ve gone, who you’ve been in contact with, just in case something bad may come back on your test. It’s real.”

Thirteen players, including Giants star Buster Posey, already have declined to play this season, all but one without a pre-existing condition that would qualify as “high risk” under the agreement between players and management.

Angels superstar Mike Trout heads a list of several more who have talked openly about opting out at some point, depending on how things look as we get closer to games.

That includes Cubs starter Yu Darvish, who said Sunday, “I still have concerns” and that he has not ruled out heading home if he doesn’t feel it’s safe anymore for him or his family to keep playing.

Maybe Trout, Darvish, Posey and the rest of those players have the right idea.

In fact, maybe we’d all be better off if baseball rededicated its testing capacity to a general public that suddenly is facing shortages again in a growing number of hot spots.

But if baseball is going to stick to its plan and try to pull off this season, then it needs to get this right. Right now.

Nobody’s expecting anything great at this point. Maybe not even especially good. But good enough? In the next week or so?

Would that be too much to ask?

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Blackhawks' Andrew Shaw announces he plans to return for 2020-21 season

Blackhawks' Andrew Shaw announces he plans to return for 2020-21 season

Andrew Shaw issued a statement on Instagram late Monday night, announcing he will not join the Blackhawks for the 2019-20 restart as he continues to work his way back from a concussion.

But the 28-year-old winger also revealed he plans on returning for the 2020-21 season and looks forward to coming back "better and stronger than ever!" 

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Here's the full statement, which has been lightly edited for clarity:

I just wanted to let all Blackhawks fans and hockey fans know that I am doing well and getting better every day! I feel healthy and am close to fully being healed from not just my last concussion but from others I have had over the years.

I've learned a lot about concussions and head injuries over the past few years thanks to the Blackhawks medical staff of Dr. Mike Terry, Mike Gapski, Jeff Thomas and Patrick Becker. They have helped me in more ways than I can thank them. I love them dearly for doing so because I am the type of person who would play through anything for my teammates.

With all that being said, along with my family who has shown me so much support, we have come to the difficult decision that these extra five months until next season would be great for my health and recovery. I look forward to being back next season, better and stronger than ever! There's nothing I would love more than to be back out on the ice with the boys battling for Lord Stanley.

I'll be cheering my teammates on and supporting the Blackhawks through this run! Love you boys and miss you like crazy!

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Go Blackhawks Go! Hey fans!

A post shared by Andrew Shaw (@shawz65) on

Shaw, who has two years left on his contract after this season, has a history of head injuries and last appeared in a game on Nov. 30. The NHL's tentative plan is to start next season on Dec. 1.