This Cubs losing streak goes to 11

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This Cubs losing streak goes to 11

PITTSBURGH Rafael Dolis lifted his head to the sky and all his body language seemed to say: What else could go wrong?

Fireworks went off at PNC Park, lighting up the Pittsburgh skyline on Saturday night. With the bases loaded, Dolis had hit Matt Hagues left side with a pitch, forcing in the game-winning run.

A sellout crowd of 38,132 watched the Pirates hang around for a 3-2 victory. That ninth inning was another snapshot of frustration for the Cubs, whove now lost 11 games in a row.

This is the 11th losing streak of 11 or more games in franchise history, and this group is feeling that weight.

Paul Maholm who went five innings and walked five batters couldnt stop it against his old team. Giving up two runs is too much with this lineup. This probably isnt what he envisioned when he signed with the Cubs last winter.

Were going through a skid, Maholm said. Theres nobody in here pointing fingers at each other. We got to go win the game. We cant expect it to be given to us. We got to go out there and play hard like we have been and come up with hits, come up with big pitches and get it done. Thats our focus.

These are strange days for the Cubs (15-31). In the ninth, they watched Dolis walk Josh Harrison while he was trying to lay down a sacrifice bunt. And Dolis struck out emerging star Andrew McCutchen before it all unraveled.

The frustration level is building. You saw it when Starlin Castro screamed and threw his bat and helmet to the ground. With runners on the corners, Castro had whiffed on an 85 mph curveball to end the threat.

Moments earlier in the seventh inning, Blake Lalli had been thrown out by several steps at home plate. The night before, Castro had struck out in a similar situation against Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan to end the game.

Think Castro has been pressing, trying to do too much?

You could say that about everybody right now, manager Dale Sveum said.

The Cubs hadnt scored a run in 20 innings until the fourth, when Alfonso Soriano deposited Kevin Correias 90 mph fastball into the center-field seats.

In the fifth, Castro snapped the teams 0-for-26 streak with runners in scoring position, lifting a ball into the right-field corner and racing for a game-tying, two-out triple.

Thats the problem we try too hard because we want the big hit, Soriano said. We forget that we have to be more relaxed and let it happen. This game is not too easy, but sometimes we make it harder.

Sometimes, you have to let it go and play one at-bat, every pitch, not try to do too much. And I think now everybodys trying to do too much because were struggling offensively.

Even if Theo Epstein is essentially writing this off as a year for trial and error, and the manager and his coaching staff were hired to rebuild everything, this is still a results-oriented business.

Its only Memorial Day weekend, not the heat of September, and this is a last-place team, not a playoff contender. But the clubhouse knows that everyone is watching. There are veterans who could be moved by the trade deadline, and younger players who may never get a better opportunity to show they belong in the big leagues.

The Cubs havent experienced a losing streak like this since 1997, when they lost their first 14 games of the season. Theyll have to somehow keep it together.

The atmosphere in the clubhouse is great, Sveum said. Nobodys really hanging their head or pouting or anything like that. I think theyre doing a great job of keeping their head up and going about their business.

The preparation and the work ethic are outstanding. Theres nothing you can gripe about there. Were just not getting it done in the nine innings. We have to go out there and perform.

Five things to watch during Bulls’ training camp

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USA Today Sports Images

Five things to watch during Bulls’ training camp

All the new guys: Last October, the Bulls entered camp with essentially the same roster that lost to Cleveland in the second round of the 2015 playoffs, save for then-rookie Bobby Portis. This time, there’s no Derrick Rose, no Joakim Noah, no Pau Gasol, no Mike Dunleavy, and no E’Twaun Moore.

That’s four starters (essentially) whose performances or presence has been counted on in some way, even through some of the uncertainty that surrounded a few of these guys.

Conceivably, the Bulls can have around five new players in the actual rotation who weren’t thought of this time last year, although last year’s product left a lot to be desired.

The adjustment time and chemistry building starts Tuesday.

Who starts at power forward: All other positions in the first five are set, especially with the new faces. But the pivotal decision for Fred Hoiberg, if it hasn’t been made already, is who will start alongside Robin Lopez at center. It could be Nikola Mirotic, or Taj Gibson or even Bobby Portis, depending on Hoiberg’s sensibilities.

Smart money says it’ll probably be Mirotic considering he’s the best perimeter shooter of the three and actually a decent defensive rebounder. Gibson being a great screener, finisher and defender makes him intriguing as an option, but offensive space will be limited if he’s out there with Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo. As for Portis, is he ready to take a step toward consistency in year 2?

The point guard: Rajon Rondo’s basketball intelligence is genius level, where he can master a gameplan and probably even devise one of his own that rivals his coaches. The man can counter a play before the opposing defense initiates an adjustment. That said, how will he and Hoiberg mesh this season? He clashed with Doc Rivers, had knock-down battles with Rick Carlisle in Dallas and George Karl didn’t have it in him to fight anybody in Sacramento, let alone Rondo.

Rondo likes playing the game at his speed, with his own feel and rhythm. Hoiberg will have to tailor his style for the new personnel he has, and luckily for him, isn’t a “my way or the highway” type of fellow that’s sure to rub Rondo the wrong way. Will Rondo embrace Hoiberg’s system and become an extension of the coach, or will Hoiberg give Rondo enough rope to explore Rondo’s intelligence to find a middle ground?

Will that even be enough?

The backup point guard: Just as intriguing as the starting power forward battle will be who backs up Rondo at point guard, although it’s likely that player won’t have to fill the traditional role of doing anything aside from walking the ball up and letting either Butler or Wade initiate the offense.

It’s likely Hoiberg will change his substitution patterns to have either Wade or Butler anchor second units in the second quarter, as a way to maximize the time he has with both while not having them invade each other’s space in the halfcourt. So who plays backup point could be more about who fits best next to the best player on the floor as opposed to who the best player is.

It seems to open the door for rookie Denzel Valentine since he can play three positions (although defense will be a task), along with Jerian Grant, Isaiah Canaan and Spencer Dinwiddie.

Grant was a first-rounder in 2015 who wants to show he’s worth that status, while Dinwiddie was projected as a lottery pick three years ago before tearing his ACL at Colorado.

It’s certainly not the most stressful decision Hoiberg will have to make, but a curious one.

Developing an identity: Does it happen in training camp? Who knows, but tones are often set as to what type of squad a team will be. Last season, Hoiberg believed he was building on a solid foundation after Tom Thibodeau’s defense first mentality, but signs of things crumbling began to show very early in the preseason.

This season, with so many new pieces, moving parts and overall uncertainty, there’s question as to what kind of team the Bulls will be. It’s intriguing, to say the least. But what will the Bulls hang their hats on come late October?

ESPN to broadcast Notre Dame-Syracuse, NC State kickoff still TBD

ESPN to broadcast Notre Dame-Syracuse, NC State kickoff still TBD

ESPN selected Notre Dame's road game at North Carolina State for a six-day option, meaning we won't know what time that contest will kick off until after Oct. 1's games. 

The other two ACC games selected as part of the six-day option are Virginia Tech at North Carolina and Florida State at Miami. Both FSU (No. 12) and Miami (No. 14) are ranked in the latest AP top 25, while Virginia Tech and North Carolina both received votes in the poll. Notre Dame and NC State did not receive any votes in this week's AP poll. 

Notre Dame's game against Syracuse at MetLife Stadium this Saturday will be broadcast by ESPN, the ACC also announced, and will kick off at noon E.T.