Cubs keep tearing it down to build it back up

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Cubs keep tearing it down to build it back up

LOS ANGELES Two weeks ago, Jeff Baker and Reed Johnson dressed up as Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer for the Superheroes-themed road trip from St. Louis to Pittsburgh.

No one knows if the Cubs executives are powerful enough to actually build a World Series winner here. But theres no denying that their fingerprints are now all over the organization.

Baker certainly recognized Hoyers outfit blue polo shirt with white horizontal stripes and khaki pants when he found out he was traded to the Detroit Tigers on Sunday for two players to be named later.

The costumes got us, Baker said with a smile in a corner of the tight visiting clubhouse at Dodger Stadium.

This followed the deadline dealing for prospects that saw Johnson and Paul Maholm shipped to the Atlanta Braves, and Ryan Dempster and Geovany Soto traded to the Texas Rangers.

Once the Tigers claimed the veteran utility guy on waivers, it accelerated the process of promoting third baseman Josh Vitters and outfielder Brett Jackson from Triple-A Iowa, where Tony Campana will now play.

Theyre doing it the right way, Baker said. You kind of got to tear it down to build it back up.

Its that tough blend. Its a major market (and) it generates a lot of revenue. You just hope that the fans are going to be patient with em and some of these guys that are coming up and getting an opportunity here are going to be able to blossom.

Hoyer laughed off the costumes, which featured Johnson wearing a wig to replicate the general managers head of hair.

No ones going to do that again, Hoyer said.

But it did show how Baker and Johnson had the perfect outlook for playing inside the Wrigley Field fishbowl. Growing up, Baker lived all around the world as the son of a former U.S. Army colonel and West Point professor, and he easily moved throughout the clubhouse.

Baker and Johnson showed younger players how its done and helped build the team chemistry for a distraction-free zone. There will now be a leadership void.

Theres a reason that two contenders went out and traded for those guys, Hoyer said. Theyre both leaders. Theyre both great in the clubhouse and they both fill a really nice role on a contending team and well miss their presence in a lot of ways.

But given where we are in the standings and what were trying to do, its important to let those young guys play.

Baker was acquired from the Colorado Rockies in July 2009, or just as the cracks in the foundation were really beginning to show.

Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Marmol and Jeff Samardzija are now the only players left who experienced what it was like in 2008, when the Cubs won 97 games. So Baker wasnt really surprised to be saying his goodbyes.

When you see the direction theyre going here now, you knew that it was a possibility, Baker said. We made moves with Maholm, Reed, Demp and everybody. To be honest, I dont blame em. They got to go young, see what they got for the future.

At the same time, for me, I just made 21 games up in the standings, so Im definitely excited about that.

While Epstein and Hoyer are running things behind the scenes, theres no doubt who will be front and center for the next decade. Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro are now the faces of the franchise.

Its going to be Rizzs team, Castros team, Baker said. For those two, the leadership qualities are going to have to step up, and hopefully they can take it and run with it.

Five Things from Blackhawks-Rangers: Duels and denied goals

Five Things from Blackhawks-Rangers: Duels and denied goals

There are a lot of similarities between the Blackhawks and the New York Rangers. Both have a nice record to start this season and both are getting through recent injuries as best they can.

And thanks to their goaltending, they had a pretty fun little battle on Friday night.

Antti Raanta edged Scott Darling as the Rangers took a 1-0 overtime victory over the Blackhawks on Friday. It was surprising that Raanta got the start, only because he had started for the Rangers on Thursday against Winnipeg. But he’s been hot, he’s good at the United Center in his career and obviously it was the right decision.

The Blackhawks are back at it on Sunday against another team going through its injury issues, the Dallas Stars. Before then, however, let’s look at the Five Things to take from the Blackhawks’ overtime loss to the Rangers.

1. A familiar goalie duel. Two seasons ago Scott Darling and Antti Raanta were fighting for the Blackhawks’ backup goaltending spot. So it seemed fitting that they face each other on Friday night. They didn’t disappoint. Each goaltender had his share of stellar stops, many coming in the second period as each team looked for an edge. Raanta got the victory, running his record at the United Center to 15-0-3. The two had a quick, good-natured talk at the end of the game. “It was all friendly,” Darling said. “We were just saying, ‘good job’ and we’re happy for one another.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

2. Kane alright. Patrick Kane got the concussion protocol call in the second period a few moments after he was hit into the glass by Nick Holden. After Kane was called for high-sticking he was sent to the locker room, returning as the Blackhawks went on their first power play of the night at 17:28 of the second period.

3. The Rangers’ successful challenge. Just when you thought the Blackhawks were taking a 1-0 lead the third period (Marian Hossa), the Rangers challenged for offside. They won, nullifying Hossa’s attempt at his 15th goal of the season. Hossa was disappointed, and is frustrated at how some of the rule changes are taking away goals when the league is trying to increase scoring. Coach Joel Quenneville, when asked if he’d like the rule changed if he could, laughed. “Right now? Sure.”

4. A better all-around game. We may be harping on the Blackhawks’ injury situation but when you’re missing three key guys (Jonathan Toews, Brent Seabrook and Corey Crawford) it’s going to alter your game. But the Blackhawks played a strong all-around game against the Rangers and had some good scoring chances. All things considered, and against a very good Rangers team, Quenneville liked what he saw. “We know they’re a dangerous team off the rush, a lot of guys can make plays, a ton of speed. You have to respect that in ways and they check well in their own end,” Quenneville said. “I thought we did some good things. I think on the rush game we did a good job of taking away that danger.”

5. When will the Blackhawks return to health? Yeah, we’re looking ahead a little bit on this one, and we may have a clearer picture by Saturday morning. If Toews and Seabrook are skating and come out of the session well, there’s a chance they could play on Sunday. The Blackhawks have done alright despite the injuries. But you have to wonder when they start feeling a bit depleted.

Rangers win riveting goaltending duel over Blackhawks in overtime

Rangers win riveting goaltending duel over Blackhawks in overtime

When Scott Darling and Antti Raanta vied for the Blackhawks’ backup goaltending job two seasons ago, there was definitely a strong competition. But it was still one built on respect.

“We had no bad blood in that situation,” Darling said on Friday. “We’ve remained friends. He’s having a great season and I’m happy for him.”

On this night, Raanta may have been just a bit happier.

Raanta stopped all 26 shots he saw against his former team, notching his first shutout of this season, and Nick Holden gave the New York Rangers a 1-0 overtime victory over the Blackhawks on Friday night. The Blackhawks are 1-2-1 in their last four games but remain atop the Western Conference with 38 points.

The Blackhawks were missing Jonathan Toews, Brent Seabrook and Corey Crawford in this one. Nevertheless, it was a tight game, one in which both goaltenders were stellar. Darling stopped 36 of 37 shots – Holden’s overtime winner was the first goaltender allowed to New York in two games against them.

Considering the players missing, the Blackhawks will take the point.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

“With or without Toews, you’re always thinking when it’s in the third period and it’s close and getting inside 10 minutes, let’s get it to overtime,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We’ve seen a ton of overtimes in the league. You gotta get the one point. We’ve had some success trying to get the extra one. Tonight, not, but that’s got to be the mindset.”

The Blackhawks were close to taking the 1-0 lead six minutes into the third period, when Marian Hossa thought he scored his 15th goal of the season. But the Rangers challenged for offside. Upon further review, the goal was nullified.

“Well, obviously that’s a tough one,” Hossa said. “I mean, I didn’t notice it was close to offside but obviously with today’s technology, with this new rule, it’s a game of inches. It’s slowing the game down, I think. You’re getting confused, what exactly the coaches are looking for. They created this new rule and we just have to deal with it. But sometimes it’s more frustrating because the league wants to increase the scoring and right now, I think more goals are disallowed because of this.”

Hartman, who had the pass to Hossa, was also disappointed but agreed with the review’s ruling.

“You get your excitement up a little bit and you try not to get too ahead of yourself when you know they are reviewing it. You just try to see it as both ways, if they do call it a goal, if they call it back,” Hartman said. “Obviously it was the right call. It was just a tough one.”

The Blackhawks will take the point out of this one. Despite the players they were without they played a solid game. They had good, quality scoring chances. Their current backup was just slightly bested by their previous one.

“Both [goalies] were great, both [teams] had excellent looks at the net,” Quenneville said. “We missed some good opportunities on 2-on-1s and they had some good looks around Darling as well. Both guys got their teams to overtime, got a point. It’s a good point if you want to look at it like that. I didn’t mind the way we played but Darls was excellent.”