Wings' home win streak ends at 23

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Wings' home win streak ends at 23

From Comcast SportsNet
DETROIT (AP) -- The Detroit Red Wings took advantage of the shootout to win three times during their NHL-record, 23-game home winning streak. Detroit's good fortune in the one-on-one duels ran out and its run ended against the Vancouver Canucks. Alex Burrows scored the only goal in a shootout, which was made possible when Daniel Sedin scored his second goal of the game with 15.4 seconds left in regulation, to lift Vancouver to a 4-3 win over the Red Wings to snap their streak that lasted three-plus months. "It's disappointing it had to end like this," Detroit's Justin Abdelkader said. Detroit hadn't lost at Joe Louis Arena since Nov. 3 against Calgary, breaking the previous single-season mark of 20 shared by the 1929-30 Boston Bruins and 1975-76 Philadelphia Flyers. "It's nice that we're the team that ended the streak," said Burrows, who lifted a backhander over Jimmy Howard when he went low. "It's remarkable to win that many games in a row on home ice." The Red Wings extended their run at home with three wins in shootouts -- a way to break ties that wasn't possible before the 2005-06 season -- but their coach said that didn't diminish the feat. "I don't care what era, it was just a real good run for the Red Wings that set us up in a good situation playoff-wise," Mike Babcock said. The NHL-leading Red Wings hold a one-point lead over Vancouver in the Western Conference. The Canucks have won a league-high 21 games on the road this season. A sold-out crowd stood during the shootout, which started with Roberto Luongo stopping Jiri Hudler's shot and Howard going low to smother David Booth's attempt. Henrik Zetterberg missed the net on Detroit's second attempt and Alexander Edler was denied on the ensuing opportunity. Todd Bertuzzi, who signed a two-year extension with the Red Wings earlier in the day, couldn't put his team ahead and Burrows took advantage of a chance to end the game -- and the streak. "It was an intense game with a playoff atmosphere," Luongo said. Luongo made 33 saves and Howard had 40. Detroit was 16 seconds from getting the win in regulation, but the Canucks pulled Luongo to have an extra skater in the Red Wings' end for a faceoff. On the next sequence, Sedin took a slap shot from the slot that Howard never saw after his teammates failed to clear the puck when it was behind the net. "We wanted to prove we could beat them on the road," Sedin said. "It was a good pass and a good screen in front of the goalie." Abdelkader scored with 6:14 left in the third period to give Detroit a 3-2 lead -- 20 seconds after Vancouver's Cody Hodgson tied the game. Newly acquired defenseman Kyle Quincey scored to put Detroit ahead 6:05 into the third period and Darren Helm had a goal 11:16 into the game to give the Red Wings a 1-0 lead. The Canucks refused to let the Red Wings get comfortable with the lead all night. Sedin tied it at 1 at 13:34 of the second and Hodgson tied it again, getting credit for a goal that went in off the right skate of Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall. Detroit led 1-0 after the first period despite being outplayed. Vancouver outshot the Red Wings 17-5 in the first, but defenseman Kevin Bieksa had the puck poked away by Helm and his fluttering wrist shot got past Luongo at 11:16. Detroit didn't do much with three power plays in the first, going scoreless and getting only one shot combined with an extra skater. "We got skated into the ground in the first period," Babcock said. "They played better for longer than us and they won the game." The Red Wings looked out of sync, missing playmaking center Pavel Datsyuk for a second game. Datsyuk, the team's leading scorer, is expected to be out for two weeks after having right knee surgery Tuesday. "The best player in the world, any time he goes out, you're going to miss him," Abdelkader said. "It's a big void." Sedin tied the game at 1 at 13:34 of the second. Detroit outshot the Canucks 15-8 in the second period, but had nothing to show for it. The Red Wings created more chances in the third period, especially when Abdelkader swiped at a puck in the crease that Luongo didn't cover, but they couldn't find a way to win again in the Motor City. "For us to come in here and play well and show that we can beat them means a lot," Burrows said. "But there's a lot of work ahead and if we face them in the playoffs, it will start 0-0." NOTES: Bertuzzi, a former Canucks forward, signed a two-year deal worth just more than 4 million. ... Vancouver tied the series at 2 in the final scheduled game against Detroit. ... Quincey played in the first game of his second stint with the Red Wings, who drafted him in 2003. They acquired Quincey for a first-round pick and prospect Sebastien Piche from Tampa Bay on Tuesday in a three-team trade with Colorado.

How Cubs have transformed their defensive identity

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How Cubs have transformed their defensive identity

ST. LOUIS – The San Francisco Giants used a pitching-and-defense formula to win World Series titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014. The St. Louis Cardinals have their own Way to reinforce fundamentals and teach generations of prospects how to play the game. It’s been a good seven weeks, but the Cubs want to be known as that type of franchise on an annual basis. 

While looking at the metrics – and using the eye test more than 25 percent through the schedule – it becomes clear that the 2016 Cubs are built on a much stronger defensive foundation than last season’s 97-win team.

“Rock solid,” manager Joe Maddon said.

Here’s how the Cubs lead the majors in defensive efficiency and have the best record in baseball (31-14): Just look back at a pivot point during Wednesday’s 9-8 win over the Cardinals at Busch Stadium. Third baseman Tommy La Stella bailed out Jake Arrieta with two outs and the bases loaded in the fifth inning, making a diving stop to his right and the throw to second base.

Another lasting image from this road trip will be ex-Cardinal Jason Heyward crashing into AT&T Park’s right-center field wall to make a highlight-reel catch, walking off the field with a bruised right side and returning to the lineup four nights later in St. Louis. 

The Cubs gave Heyward the biggest contact in franchise history, investing eight years and $184 million in a three-time Gold Glove winner who’s not a middle-of-the-order hitter.

Instead of Starlin Castro pressing to prove he could still play shortstop and taking some of his offensive frustrations onto the field, the Cubs are now getting a full season of Addison Russell.

Instead of Russell making his big-league debut and trying to learn a new position on the fly, the Cubs have second baseman Ben Zobrist, who will turn 35 on Thursday and is still playing at an All-Star level.

There’s so much talent that Maddon can call Javier Baez one of the National League’s best defensive infielders and still not find an everyday spot in the lineup for him.

“This guy’s literally been a human highlight reel in single games, making four or five plays,” pitching coach Chris Bosio said. “But that’s the kind of ability that these guys have as young players. That’s the exciting (part). And it’s kind of the dangerous thing for the rest of the league: ‘Goddamn, these guys are so young.’”

When Baez (age 23) bumps All-Star third baseman Kris Bryant (age 24) to left field, the Cubs can align three defenders with the athleticism to play center, including Dexter Fowler and Heyward, who got paid because of his youth (26) and the data crunch that has rated him as one of the most valuable players in the game.

“Whether it’s WAR or runs saved or whatever the other stats are, I have no idea what they are,” Heyward said. “(It’s) paying attention to who’s hitting and where they hit the ball, who’s pitching and how they’re attacking guys. Play the count. Play the scoreboard. Play the game.

“That stuff does matter. It does win games. It does cut down innings. It does set up your pitchers.”

That’s the cascading effect for a rotation trying to stay fresh for a deep playoff run and a bullpen in danger of getting overexposed. There’s the emotional lift when double-play balls aren’t wasted and the momentum shift when Heyward makes a diving catch or throws out a runner at home plate.

What looks like an extra-base hit suddenly disappears, a high-anxiety moment becoming a low-stress situation. It helps explain why the Cubs began Wednesday with the lowest rotation ERA (2.51) in the majors and 31 quality starts through 44 games.

“Strikeouts are cool and everything,” said Arrieta, who threw almost 250 innings last year, combining his Cy Young Award season with three playoff starts. “But when you got guys like we have in the field, use ‘em. If I can get one- and two-pitch outs, that’s what I’m going to try and do. I want to put up as many zeroes as possible.

“Get the strikeouts when you need ‘em. Guys in scoring position with less than two outs – I’ll get ‘em then. But if I got guys like that behind me, I’m going to use ‘em. Let them put it in play.”

Signing Fowler in late February created insurance against injuries (Kyle Schwarber) and allowed Heyward to move back to his more natural position in right field. Playing next to Heyward has also helped Fowler put up a 4.6 Ultimate Zone Rating, a major improvement from last year (-1.7) and his 2014 season with the Houston Astros (-21.8).

“Defensively, I think it’s just an adjustment of depth,” Maddon said. “He’s getting rave reviews, not because he’s any different. Not because his routes are different. Not because his angles are better. Nothing (like that). It’s just because he’s deeper. That’s it. That’s what it really comes down to.

“A lot of the metrics that are involved in defense and zone ratings and things (like that) would be the ball that gets over his head and turns into an extra-base hit. So he was considered not as good basically because he played so shallow. So just by playing deeper – without changing any part of your skill set – you’re considered better. It’s pretty incredible.”

Fowler waited out the free-agent market so long primarily because of the draft-pick compensation attached to the qualifying offer he declined. But he also didn’t have a great defensive reputation after spending years roaming Coors Field for the Colorado Rockies. The geeks should also get credit for that subtle positioning shift.

“It’s something that came to light when I was in Tampa Bay,” Maddon said. “I was always of the opinion I liked a shallow outfielder in center just to take away a lot of cheap stuff. And I thought if a guy made a bad pitch, it’s almost like he’s earned the right for the ball to be hit over the outfielder’s head.

“But as it turned out, just going through the numbers, apparently you save more runs by being a little bit softer on defense in center field by getting deeper.”

The Cubs now have strength up the middle and so many options for a manager who loves versatile players and believes in run prevention.

“‘Zo’ and ‘KB’ and Javy permit us to do so many different things right now,” Maddon said, “because wherever you put them, I don’t feel like we’re losing anything at all.

“I really don’t like to start a game with a team on the field where I thought the defense was substandard. That really bothers me a lot. And we don’t do that. We start a game with people’s names in different positions. But you still feel like you have an above-average defense.” 

Cubs narrowly hang on for win over Cardinals

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Cubs narrowly hang on for win over Cardinals

ST. LOUIS (AP) Jake Arrieta remained unbeaten on the season despite allowing as many as four runs for the first time in nearly a year and the Chicago Cubs beat the St. Louis Cardinals 9-8 on Wednesday.

Arrieta (9-0) joined the White Sox's Chris Sale as the only nine-game winners in the majors.

Arrieta allowed four runs in a regular-season game for the first time since June 16, 2015.

Arrieta became the first Cub to win his first nine decisions since Kenny Holtzman in 1967 and it is the best start to a season for the franchise since Jim McCormick went 16-0 in 1886.

Kris Bryant hit a three-run homer and Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist each drove in two for the Cubs.

Rutgers looking at bringing football game to Yankee Stadium

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Rutgers looking at bringing football game to Yankee Stadium

Northwestern isn't the only Big Ten team looking to bring football to an iconic baseball stadium.

Last week, it was Northwestern athletics director Jim Phillips talking about his desire to get the Wildcats back on the gridiron at Wrigley Field, and now Rutgers athletics director Pat Hobbs is talking about getting the Scarlet Knights football squad back in action at Yankee Stadium.

Hobbs and new head football coach Chris Ash threw out the ceremonial first pitch ahead of Tuesday's Yankees game, and Hobbs talked about bringing Rutgers football back to the Bronx.

"(The Yankees) want to work more closely with us," Hobbs said, his quotes published by NJ.com. "We want to look at maybe bringing a game here and announcing that sometime down the road. I guess the Yankees see Rutgers is starting to move forward and is a good story, so they want to be part of it, too."

Rutgers has played thrice previously at Yankee Stadium: one regular-season game against Army (which was a home game for the Black Knights) and two appearances in the Pinstripe Bowl.

Should Rutgers play a game there in the future, it would likely mean losing a home game in New Jersey.

Hobbs said he hopes to announce something soon, but we'll see if the Knights play a home game in the Bronx sometime in the next couple of seasons.

Until then, enjoy Hobbs and Ash throwing out that first pitch.