From Comcast SportsNet If canceling opening night and the rest of the NBA calendar for November failed to prove how serious David Stern is about saving his owners money, there's this: The commissioner reportedly fined Miami Heat honcho Micky Arison a cool half-million for a tweet suggesting he wasn't one of the owners willing to sacrifice games to save money. In response to someone who labeled the parties involved in the lockout "greedy ... pigs," Arison tweeted, "Honestly u r barking at the wrong owner." That's a lot more per letter than anyone has ever paid on "Wheel of Fortune." And speaking of game shows, the closest thing to a competition involving an NBA player anywhere on TV came Tuesday when New Orleans Hornets star Chris Paul showed up with his relatives in tow for an episode of "Family Feud." It was a poor substitute for watching the Dallas Mavericks raise last season's championship banner into the rafters before taking on the Chicago Bulls, one of three games originally on the schedule. On the bright side, Robin Paul demonstrated where her son gets some of his fire from. "We all are competitive," she said. "Very, very, very." The same could be said about both sides in the lockout, though at this late juncture they seem just as interested in cannibalizing their own as the other side. Stern's levy on Arison marked the third time he's lightened an owner's pocket for talking out of school about the lockout -- Charlotte's Michael Jordan and Washington's Ted Leonsis had already contributed 100,000 each to league coffers -- but the extra-heavy hit might reflect more than the commissioner's growing impatience with rule breakers. Though Arison later endorsed the league's party line about the tweet being taken out of context, it's clear that his real sin was exposing the owners' less-than-unified stance. Arison paid plenty to bring LeBron James and Chris Bosh to Miami and made plenty in return, not just for his franchise, but everywhere the Heat played last season. Even if the league's claim that 22 teams are losing money is correct, successful teams such as the Heat, Knicks, Lakers and Bulls can't be thrilled with the prospect of losing an entire season of profits to help the poorer franchises squeeze a more favorable deal from the players. But desperate as the fine made Stern look in his bid to hold ownership together, he still has a much easier task at the moment than his counterparts at the union. The 400-plus members of the players association are being tugged in different directions by executive director Billy Hunter and president Derek Fisher. They staked out different positions on the central question in the negotiations -- what percentage of basketball revenues the players will settle for -- and the campaigning behind the scenes has grown uglier by the day. Fisher has been accused of secretly negotiating a deal with Stern to get the players to agree to a 50-50 split in exchange for a cushy job with the league down the road. The rumors grew so loud he was forced to respond to the players in an email, saying, "There have been no side agreements, no side negotiations or anything close." For his part, Hunter has been adamant about the players keeping 52 percent -- a drop from the 57 percent they got in the last agreement -- which would still transfer more than 1 billion back to the owners in any new deal. He walked out of a bargaining meeting last week to dramatize his threat the players won't consider a penny less, but the players' weakening position suggests it was little more than grandstanding. At this point, most insiders and likely even the players themselves know the final deal will get made at 50-50 or not at all. Hunter's intransigence has led to speculation that he's taking a hard line to impress players and hang onto his job as much as he's worried about theirs. If the result is a bad deal -- and whenever it's finalized, it likely will favor the owners -- at the very least it gives him an alibi. There's a growing sense that the players would vote to take the deal at 50-50, since the only other option is to walk away, decertify the union, and take their fight to the courts. That would effectively wipe out the season, which has also led some players to question why the union didn't exercise that option over the summer, when some leverage might have made a difference. Instead, it's the owners doing most of the squeezing. Players will lose 350 million because of the canceled games this month, and the threat of sacrificing another round of games, likely followed by the owners putting an even worse deal on the table, should have the desired effect. Stern holds most of the cards, and all he has to do is hold the owners together for a little longer. Buying that loyalty doesn't always come cheap, but as even Arison would likely concede whenever the deal gets done, it's rarely a bad investment.
If you haven’t checked in with what James Shields is doing in a while, your opinion of the veteran pitcher’s performance might need some updating.
Shields didn’t exactly win the confidence of White Sox fans during his first two seasons on the South Side. After arriving in a midseason trade with the San Diego Padres in 2016, he posted a 6.77 ERA in 22 starts, during which he allowed 31 home runs. He followed that up with a 5.23 ERA and 27 home runs allowed in 2017.
And the 2018 season didn’t start out great, either, with a 6.17 ERA over his first five outings.
But the month of May has brought a dramatic turn in the vet’s production. In five May starts, he’s got a 3.27 ERA in five starts, all of which have seen him go at least six innings (he’s got six straight outings of at least six innings, dating back to his last start in April).
And his two most recent starts have probably been his two best ones of the season. After allowing just one run on three hits in 7.1 innings last Thursday against the Texas Rangers, he gave up just two runs on five hits Tuesday night against the Baltimore Orioles.
The White Sox, by the way, won both of those games in comeback fashion. They scored four runs in the eighth against Texas and three in the eighth against Baltimore for a pair of “Ricky’s boys don’t quit” victories made possible by Shields’ great work on the mound.
“That’s what it’s all about,” he said after Tuesday’s game. “It’s our job as starters to keep us in the game as long as we possibly can, no matter how we are hitting in a game. At the end of the game, you can always score one or two runs and possibly win a ballgame like we did tonight.”
The White Sox offense was indeed having trouble much of Tuesday’s game, kept off the scoreboard by Orioles starter Kevin Gausman. Particularly upsetting for White Sox Twitter was the sixth inning, when the South Siders put two runners in scoring position with nobody out and then struck out three straight times to end the inning.
But Shields went out and pitched a shut-down seventh, keeping the score at 2-0. Bruce Rondon did much the same thing in the eighth, and the offense finally sparked to life in the bottom of the inning when coincidentally presented with a similar situation to the one in the sixth. This time, though, the inning stayed alive and resulted in scoring, with Welington Castillo, Yoan Moncada and Yolmer Sanchez driving in the three runs.
“I’m out there doing my job,” Shields said. “My job is to try to keep us in the game. And we had some good starters against us that have been throwing well. If I can keep them close, we are going to get some wins and get some wins throughout the rest of the year like that. That’s the name of the game.”
Shields’ value in this rebuilding effort has been discussed often. His veteran presence is of great value in the clubhouse, particularly when it comes to mentoring young pitchers like Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, among others. Shields can act as an example of how to go about one’s business regardless of the outcomes of his starts. But when he can lead by example with strong outings, that’s even more valuable.
“I’m trying to eat as many innings as possible,” he said. “We kind of gave our bullpen — we taxed them a little bit the first month of the season. We are kind of getting back on track. Our goal as a starting staff is to go as deep as possible, and in order to do that, you’ve got to throw strikes and get ahead of hitters.
“Not too many playoff teams, a starting staff goes five and dive every single game. My whole career I’ve always wanted to go as deep as possible. I wanted to take the ball all the way to the end of the game. And we’ve done a pretty good job of it of late.”
It’s a long time between now and the trade deadline, and consistency has at times escaped even the brightest spots on this rebuilding White Sox roster. But Shields has strung together a nice bunch of starts here of late, and if that kind of performance can continue, the White Sox front office might find that it has a potential trade piece on its hands. That, too, is of value to this rebuild.
Until that possibility occurs, though, the team will take more solid outings that give these young players an opportunity to learn how to come back and learn how to win.
Tyler Chatwood looked to be turning the corner with his control issues, but alas, he and the Cubs aren't so lucky.
After walking only two batters in a solid start in Atlanta last week, Chatwood had taken a big step in the right direction. It was, after all, only the third time he'd walked fewer than 5 batters in an outing this season.
Those control woes reared their ugly heads once again Tuesday night at Wrigley Field in a 10-1 loss to the Indians. Chatwood walked 6 batters and managed to net only 8 outs, getting hammered for 4 runs in the third inning.
"Ugh, it was tough," Maddon said. "The stuff was so good, we just couldn't get a strike."
"It's definitely frustrating," Chatwood said, "because one at-bat, I'll feel really good and the next one, I feel like I'm fighting myself.
"Last time [out], I was able to stay in the rhythm. Tonight, I was kinda battling, rushing rather than staying back, so it's just keeping that feeling and maintaining that."
His season ERA is only 3.74, which looks good until you consider his WHIP is 1.62 and he's walked 40 batters in 45.2 innings with only 41 strikeouts in the process. He now leads baseball in walks per 9 innings.
Chatwood said earlier this month in St. Louis that he's figured out what has led to the startling lack of control and while he didn't elaborate on the mechanical issue, he was working hard at correcting the problem in bullpens.
He's also used the term "fighting myself" at least a dozen times this month alone and it's become a common refrain for his explanation of what's going on.
"He's got a busy delivery when he throws the baseball," Maddon said. "He's kinda busy what he does with his hands. It's not like he can just change it easily because that's how his arm works, how his body works.
"Sometimes, like you see him the other day, everything's on time and how good it can be and when it's out of sorts a bit, then all of the sudden it becomes shotgun. Ah man, you can see the movement [on his pitches] from the side, how good it is.
"We gotta harness it somehow. I spoke to him briefly on the bench; I reassured him it's gonna be fine, it's gonna be really good by the end of the year. We gotta figure it out and he knows that. But man, that's good stuff. We just gotta get it in the zone."
Chatwood also admitted part of the problem is mental in that he's trying to force pitches rather than trusting his stuff. He's also gotten into the bad habit of drifting down the mound, though he's not sure when or where he picked up that hitch in his delivery.
Chatwood and Cubs pitching coach Jim Hickey are working on slowing his delivery down to get his arm in the same spot on a more consistent basis.
When the Cubs signed Chatwood over the winter, it was easy to see why.
He just turned 28 in December, his peripherals and a move from hitter-friendly Coors Field foretold a potential leap in performance and his stuff is nasty. Plus, he signed a three-year deal at a relative bargain of $38 million.
Once the Cubs signed Yu Darvish in spring training, you could make the case that Chatwood could be among the best No. 5 starters in baseball.
Nine starts later, the honeymoon period is well over with Chatwood, as he threw only 30 of his 74 pitches for strikes Tuesday night and sent catcher Willson Contreras sailing all around home plate for pitches way out of the zone.
Still, it's clear to see there is some intriguing talent there and the season there is roughly 70 percent of the season remaining before the Cubs make what they hope is another run at the World Series.
"I have a lot of faith," Maddon said. "I know we're gonna reap the rewards, the benefits as he figures this thing out."