Time for Hawks' stars to step up

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Time for Hawks' stars to step up

There are a few things you just automatically expect in the postseason. You expect tight, close games. You expect big hits. You expect good goaltending. And you expect your top players to perform as such.

The Blackhawks have had plenty of the first two, so-so of the third and not enough of the fourth.

And if theyre going to pull this series, in which theyre currently down 3-1, out of the fire, they need a heck of a lot more of the fourth.

The Blackhawks stars havent been dazzling enough in their first four games against the Phoenix Coyotes, who have a commanding lead and could eliminate the Hawks in Game 5 on Saturday night. And as several of them talked on Friday before heading out to Arizona, they knew they had to be better.

Even if the point production, goals and assists are where I want them to be, theres always a thing or two you feel you can do more, said captain Jonathan Toews. I dont think Im the only one in the room right now; we all need to feel that responsibility. If every guy takes that responsibility its going to pay off.

Toews had as strong a start to this series as anyone couldve asked including himself after missing 22 games with a concussion. He came out with a goal and an assist in Game 1, getting the Blackhawks on the board early. But hes been quieter since, recording just one assist in the past three games.

Patrick Kane leads the top guns with four assists, including two in Game 1. Patrick Sharp has just one goal in the four games, his deflection of Brent Seabrooks shot that sent Game 2 to overtime. The Blackhawks lost Marian Hossa early in Game 3 on Raffi Torres hit. Theres no doubt they miss his presence on the ice; hes someone opponents have to account for when hes out there. But Hossa was nevertheless sputtering down the stretch. He had no points in the first two games of this series, and has just three assists in his last 10 games.

The Blackhawks have gotten much of their production lately from their role players. Bryan Bickell had two goals in Game 2, including the winner. Michael Frolik has two in as many games. Brandon Bollig, Andrew Brunette and Brendan Morrison a late add in Game 4 over Jamal Mayers, a healthy scatch have also scored.

Sharp took responsibility for his part, too, although he didnt want to dwell on the slump.

I always try to score, try to help the team win whatever way I can. If fingers are pointed at me, Ill accept it, he said. But Im not wasting time on negative energy. Ill focus on playing the best Game 5 we can.

In some cases its not for lack of trying. Sharp had 11 combined shots in Games 1 and 2 against the Coyotes. Toews had six in Game 3. Regardless, the Blackhawks need their big guns. Secondary scoring is great, and the Blackhawks will take it. But the primary scorers have to be the difference makers in this series.

Or in this case, they have to be the series extenders.

Some nights its like that. Other nights (you shoot) one or two shots and they go in, Toews said. Ive said it many times before: as a captain credit when things go well but youre going to be the guy in the middle of it when things are going south. Were in a tough position as a team, in the series, thats the way it is. I want to bring a little extra effort to help us get over the hump.

Preview: Cubs wrap up series with Pirates on CSN

Preview: Cubs wrap up series with Pirates on CSN

The Cubs wrap up their three-game series with the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday night at Wrigley Field, and you can catch all the action on CSN. Coverage from the North Side starts at 7 p.m., and be sure to stick around following the final out for reaction and analysis on Cubs Postgame Live.

Starting pitching matchup: Jason Hammel (13-7, 3.21 ERA) vs. Ryan Vogelsong (3-3, 3.02 ERA)

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Preview: Chris Sale, White Sox close out series with Tigers on CSN

Preview: Chris Sale, White Sox close out series with Tigers on CSN

The White Sox close out their series against the Detroit Tigers Wednesday, and you can catch all the action on CSN. Coverage begins with White Sox Pregame Live at 11:30 a.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on White Sox Postgame Live.

Today’s starting pitching matchup: Chris Sale (15-7, 3.14 ERA) vs. Justin Verlander (14-7, 3.33 ERA)

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White Sox bullpen falters in loss to Tigers

White Sox bullpen falters in loss to Tigers

DETROIT — The 2016 White Sox expected an improved offense when they addressed two of last season’s biggest needs with trades for Todd Frazier and Brett Lawrie.

While scoring is up a hair over the 2015 club, it hasn’t nearly been enough.

As they have for much of the season, the White Sox jumped out to an early three-run lead on Tuesday night but failed to put their opponents away. Their dormancy allowed the Detroit Tigers to rally back to send the White Sox to an 8-4 loss in front of 27,121 at Comerica Park. Frazier homered early before Detroit scored eight runs between the fifth and seventh innings. The Tigers look to complete a three-game sweep of the White Sox on Wednesday afternoon on CSN.

“That’s kind of been the story of our year,” leadoff man Adam Eaton said. “With runners in scoring position we haven’t been able to drive in and get the big hit. When we do that we win. When we get it done we win and when we don’t it bites us.”

The White Sox thought they added serious bite to an offense that finished at or near the bottom of the American League in 2015 in most of the major categories. Frazier was acquired in a three-team deal from the Cincinnati Reds and Lawrie came over from Oakland for two-minor leaguers. On top of the acquisitions of Melky Cabrera and Adam LaRoche a year earlier, Frazier and Lawrie were expected to bolster positions in which the White Sox finished last in OPS in the majors last season.

To an extent, the plan has worked. The White Sox entered Tuesday having increased their scoring average to 4.07 runs per game, up from 3.84. But even with that improvement, the White Sox started play 13th among 15 AL clubs in runs scored and 63 runs below the league average.

They also were 13th in home runs (131), slugging percentage (.402) and OPS (.717).

Part of their struggles can be attributed to injuries — Lawrie has been out since July 22 and Austin Jackson has been gone since early June. The unexpected retirement of LaRoche also left the White Sox short on left-handed power in the middle of the lineup and forced Cabrera from the second spot to fifth to provide balance. And some can be attributed to down years by several key veterans, including the performance with runners in scoring position by Jose Abreu and Frazier.

But even the White Sox thought they’d be a better run-scoring team than they have proven through 131 games.

“I think we did,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “You lose Rochie at the beginning of the year, and that changed the left-handed dynamic of what our lineup would have been like. But you still expect guys to hit a little better and score more runs than we’ve done. We haven’t held up our end of the bargain.”

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Their end of the bargain left the White Sox vulnerable on Tuesday. Frazier’s two-run homer and an RBI groundout by Eaton in the second inning had the White Sox in command. But Daniel Norris struck out Tim Anderson to strand a runner at third.

Then in the fourth, Norris got Tyler Saladino to fly out to shallow right, which prevented the runner on third from tagging. After Eaton walked, Norris got Anderson to ground into a fielder’s choice.

Even though Norris’ pitch count was sky high, the White Sox failed to knock him out of the game. That allowed the Tigers to rally back against Anthony Ranaudo, Matt Albers and Jacob Turner.

“They seem to add on,” Ventura said. “They don’t stop adding on that extra run. A guy on third with less than two outs, they’re able to get it in. That’s been an Achilles heel for us.”

It’s also been a source of frustration, Eaton said. The White Sox look around the room and feel like they have a talented group, especially now with Justin Morneau solidifying the middle. But once again, that group didn’t keep their foot on the pedal and paid the price.

“They just continue to plug away,” Eaton said. “Their offense is good enough to come back from any deficit. Hats off to them, but we’ve got to keep adding on. We got on Norris early and got his pitch count up, but we’ve got to keep knocking on the door. We didn’t keep on it enough and knock him out real early.

“Top to bottom I think we have a pretty good lineup. It is frustrating when you don’t get that big hit and vice versa for the big pitch.”