Bulls' offense still a 'work in progress'

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Bulls' offense still a 'work in progress'

With their star player sidelined until at least halfway through the season and seven newcomers on board, there were bound to be some growing pains offensively for the Bulls.

And while Tom Thibodeaus group has averaged 89.3 points through six preseason games, improvement can be seen from a team still learning each other and their tendencies.

The Bulls raced out to a 51-40 lead last night in an eventual 94-89 win over the Thunder. And while things began well for Chicago, a sluggish end to the third quarter carried into the fourth quarter, allowing Oklahoma City back into the game.

Indecision and passed-up shots plagued the Bulls offense, which shot less than 38 percent from the field after halftime.

Youve got to know you job; know your job and do your job and youll be fine, Thibodeau said. When youre taking your shots and youre making the right plays, youre gonna live with yourselves. Its the indecision that gets you into trouble.

The Bulls played at a noticeably faster pace against the Thunder in the first half, something Thibodeau said his team may do this year to play to the teams strengths. But both the primary and secondary breaks he plans on using require control and spacing, something he noticed was lost in the second half.

We have to stay disciplined, we have to have the ability to run late to try and get some easy scores, Thibodeau said. When we do that well be efficient offensively. But when we break things off and we make things up, its hard to read and react off that. So we just have to stay more disciplined.

Often times were initiating, also, when we havent gotten to our spots yet. So usually with offense, if it doesnt start right its not gonna end right; so we have to make sure were starting it right.

Part of that, veteran shooting guard Richard Hamilton said, is the offensive unit still learning both Thibodeaus schemes and their new teammates.

Were playing well in spurts, Hamilton said of the teams offense. I think guys are still learning each other. With our seven new players, guys are still trying to learn their roles and things like that. So I think were getting a little bit better each and every day. I think were nowhere near where we want to be. I think its still a lot of room for improvement.

Hamilton even includes himself in that group. After arriving in Chicago as a free agent last summer, there was no acclimating to his new teammates or the playbook during the lockout-shortened offseason. Had Hamilton still been in Detroit, where he spent nine seasons, it wouldnt have been an issue. But even he is seeing the positive effects of a full offseason.

If I was in Detroit I wouldnt mind it because I know the offense in-and-out, I know whats expected and things like that, he said. But coming into a situation where you have no clue on the coaching staff, your teammates, anything like that, and just going out there and playing games. Thats not an easy task.

Hamilton said he is not worried about any inconsistencies in the Bulls offense through six games, noting that while it may not be completely in order by Opening Night on Halloween, the team will continue to work on its chemistry and discipline until its where it needs to be.

I think its still a work in progress. The goal for any NBA team is to be playing your best basketball late, and trying to get all the kinks out early, Hamilton said, just try to learn and get better as games go by. I think thats the key.

Seven-run ninth inning dooms White Sox in loss to Royals

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Seven-run ninth inning dooms White Sox in loss to Royals

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — What an implosion.

For a second consecutive game, the White Sox bullpen gave away a contest well in hand.

But Saturday’s version was far more unbelievable than Friday’s.

Trailing by six runs, the Kansas City Royals rallied to score seven times in the bottom of the ninth off David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle to send the White Sox to a stunning 8-7 loss at Kauffman Stadium. Brett Eibner’s bases-loaded RBI single off Kahnle delivered another crushing blow to the White Sox, who have lost 13 of their last 17.

Cheslor Cuthbert singled to start an improbable rally and Eibner doubled to deep right when Adam Eaton lost the ball in the sun. Robertson walked Omar Infante and Alcides Escobar consecutively to force in a run. Whit Merrifield’s grounder then hit off Robertson’s glove and a potential double play turned into a two-run single and made it 7-4. Lorenzo Cain just beat out a double play ball to score another run before Eric Hosmer doubled off Robertson to get Kansas City within a run. Drew Butera, who entered in the ninth inning after Salvador Perez exited with a knee injury, doubled off Kahnle to score the tying run.

The White Sox entered the ninth inning without a care in the world. They had bounced back definitively from Friday’s stunner, when the bullpen surrendered a four-run lead over the final three innings.

An opposite-field approach against Yordano Ventura took hold with two outs in the fourth inning. Brett Lawrie, Alex Avila and Avisail Garcia all had opposite-field singles with the last one putting the White Sox ahead 1-0. Tyler Saladino fell behind in the count, but crushed a hanging 0-2 slider from Ventura out to left for a three-run homer and a four-run lead.

The White Sox offense continued to add on against Ventura. Avila doubled with one out in the fourth inning and Garcia pulverized a 2-1 changeup for a two-run shot. Garcia’s homer, his fifth, traveled 428 feet with an exit velocity of 113 mph. It gave the White Sox a 6-1 advantage.

They tacked on another run in the fifth when Austin Jackson singled, advanced on a wild pitch and scored on a throwing error by Omar Infante. Jackson went 3-for-5.

Carlos Rodon didn’t handle the run support very well at first.

He labored in the second inning as the Royals brought the tying run to the plate. But Rodon got Alcides Escobar to ground out with the bases loaded to end the threat.

Rodon gave up a leadoff double in the third inning and Friday’s hero, Eric Hosmer, singled to make it a 4-1 game. The Royals got no closer however as Rodon struck out Perez and got Paulo Orlando to line out with a man on third.

Rodon needed 68 pitches to complete three innings. He retired the side in order on 12 pitches in the fourth, which gave him enough gas to complete the fifth inning despite allowing two hits. Rodon retired Hosmer on a comebacker and got Perez to ground out, both with two runners in scoring position.

Zach Putnam took over in the sixth and recorded seven outs on 27 pitches. Zach Duke got the final two outs of the eighth and gave way to Robertson.

Salvador Perez left the game in the ninth inning after he and Cuthbert collided midway between home and third on Eaton’s foul pop up with one out in the ninth. Perez removed the shin guard on his left knee and had to be helped off the field only six days after Mike Moustakas and Alex Gordon severely injured each other on a pop up in Chicago. Moustakas is out for the season with a torn ACL while Gordon is on the disabled list with a broken bone in his hand.

Rebuilding Phillies are no match for win-now Cubs at Wrigley

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Rebuilding Phillies are no match for win-now Cubs at Wrigley

Pete Mackanin interviewed for the manager’s job that went to Dale Sveum in November 2011, when the Cubs technically had Carlos Zambrano on their roster and Alfonso Soriano’s megadeal still had three seasons remaining. The blueprints for a renovated Wrigley Field were just that. Saturday afternoons like this didn’t seem at all close – with no guarantees The Plan would ever work.

On a sunny, 75-degree day that started to feel like summer for the crowd of 41,555 at Clark and Addison, the Cubs handled the Philadelphia Phillies, improving their best-in-baseball record to 33-14 with a 4-1 win over a young team now in the rebuilding cycle.   

Mackanin – a Brother Rice High School graduate who grew up on the South Side and has managed in Venezuela, Australia, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico – knows what his Phillies (26-23) are up against here on Memorial Day weekend.  

“Very formidable team,” Mackanin said. “These guys have a lot of everything. They got good pitching and defense. They got dangerous hitters up and down the lineup. It’s always tough to come in here and play.”

Kyle Hendricks – who’s developed rapidly since Ryan Dempster decided to waive his no-trade rights and agree to a deal with the Texas Rangers minutes before the July 31 deadline in 2012 – nearly threw a complete-game shutout.

Dexter Fowler – the final item in late February for a spending spree that approached almost $290 million – drilled his 16th career leadoff home run for what’s become a grinding offense. Fowler lifted Jerad Eickhoff’s fifth pitch of the game – a 92-mph fastball – and it bounced into and out of the left-center field bleachers.   

Mackanin became the interim guy when Ryne Sandberg abruptly resigned last summer, managing the Phillies during their surprising three-game sweep and a Cole Hamels no-hitter in late July. Since then, the Cubs are 79-33 and haven’t lost a Jake Arrieta regular-season start.  

“A lot of it has to do with the entirety of this place,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “Our young guys are different because they don’t act like young guys. Their comportment is not like a young man in a baseball sense, where they get it. Their work ethic is so good, how they interact, how they attack the day. They don’t take anything for granted. They’ve had a good day – they don’t get haughty and proud of it. They just go back out the next day and play.

“These veteran guys that have been involved in championships know that’s what it takes. You get the combination of Wrigley Field, the fan base, this facility and a youth-driven good team, that should bring out the best in all these guys.” 

The Cubs scored four runs off Eickhoff (2-7, 4.07 ERA), a 25-year-old right-hander the Phillies received from Texas in the Hamels trade last July. On Sunday afternoon, the Cubs will face Vince Velasquez (5-1, 2.75 ERA), an electric talent acquired from the Houston Astros in the offseason Ken Giles trade.

The Phillies have the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, a multibillion-dollar TV deal with Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia, an interesting mix of athletic position players (Odubel Herrera, Freddy Galvis, Maikel Franco) and a well-regarded, sensible team president in Andy MacPhail, who helped build the Cubs team that came so close to reaching the 2003 World Series.    

But the full-scale rebuild takes years to complete. It will be interesting to see how fast the Phillies can become a playoff-caliber team – and maybe someday break the window that now appears to be wide open for the Cubs.       

“It’s wonderful to come to the ballpark every day to be attached to all of this,” Maddon said. “It’s just the place you want to be, man. You want to be there as a professional right now in Major League Baseball.”

Report: White Sox have interest in San Diego pitcher James Shields

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Report: White Sox have interest in San Diego pitcher James Shields

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The White Sox reportedly have spoken to the San Diego Padres about acquiring starting pitcher James Shields.

The San Diego Union-Tribune confirmed an internet report Saturday that the White Sox have interest in the 34-year-old right-hander. Shields is 2-6 with a 3.06 ERA in 10 starts for the Padres this season.

A member of the Kansas City Royals from 2013-14, Shields is in the second season of a four-year, $75-million deal he signed with San Diego before last season. He is owed at least $44 million over the next two seasons. The contract includes a $16 million team option for 2019 with a $2 million buyout. He’s earning $21 million this season and in 2017 and 2018. Shields can opt out of the deal at the end of the 2016 season.

White Sox general manager Rick Hahn has made it no secret he hopes to add to a club that won 23 of its first 33 games in hopes of contending. Though the Sox had lost 12 of their past 16, they entered Saturday with a half-game lead over the Cleveland Indians and a game over the Royals.

The team’s interest in Shields was first reported Saturday on Twitter by @barstoolWSD.