What the Epstein-Hoyer-McLeod connection means for the Cubs

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What the Epstein-Hoyer-McLeod connection means for the Cubs

Dave Roberts wasnt surprised to see how the dominoes fell across the country last October, reshaping front offices from Boston to San Diego.

Roberts played with Jason McLeod at Rancho Buena Vista High School in San Diego before earning his degree from UCLA.

Roberts is still reminded almost daily of The Steal in the ninth inning of Game 4 in the 2004 ALCS. That began an epic comeback against Mariano Rivera and the Yankees. That Red Sox team made Theo Epstein a legend throughout New England.

Roberts transitioned his career by going to work for Jed Hoyers baseball operations department in 2010, first as a special assistant and then as the Padres first-base coach.

So Roberts knows the three Cubs executives who took on the biggest challenge left in sports.

Those guys have a great relationship, a great chemistry, Roberts said Tuesday. They have a trust. In this game, when youve got those components, then ultimately theyre going to cross paths again. It was a pretty good system (that worked) for them before. So you would expect something similar here in Chicago.

Sitting in front of his locker inside the cramped visiting clubhouse at Wrigley Field, Roberts looked up from the USA Today sports section. Inside, it had a picture of Epstein, who had to meet the press and answer for a 12-game losing streak.

The Cubs (17-32) won again on Tuesday, this time 5-3 over the Padres. Jeff Samardzija went seven innings and earned the win on his bobblehead day. Epsteins front office can use him to a build a rotation. Heres hoping the marketing department features him in the next ad campaign.

Yeah, you dont want to pitch bad and go outside and see your bobblehead smashed all over the pavement, Samardzija said. I wanted to just keep the game close and hopefully people will go put them in their room or something now, instead of in the trash.

The development of Samardzija (5-3, 3.09 ERA) has been one of the better story lines this season. Power arms will be a focus as McLeod runs pre-draft meetings this week in Chicago.

The Astros once picked McLeod the great-grand nephew of Hall of Famer Carl Hubbell in the 44th round of the 1991 draft.

He was a big right-handed pitcher with a good arm, Roberts recalled. He was always a student of the game. He kind of took his career as far as it was going to take him as a player, and then got on the coaching side of things. Hes always been a great listener and continued to hone his evaluation skills.

To this day, he is one of the best evaluators in the game.

McLeod earned that reputation by delivering Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Daniel Bard and Clay Buchholz to the Red Sox and watching that 2007 World Series run.

A new labor deal, which severely limits spending in the amateur draft, will make that job even more difficult. Its much harder to overwhelm two-sport athletes with big contracts, the way the Cubs once did with Samardzija.

McLeod is on the clock. So are the scouts who had to carry video cameras to every game and store all the data medical, family, statistical, anecdotal in the new Bloomberg computer system.

He sees a lot of things that many people dont see, Roberts said, a lot of different intangibles in players, the stuff that people dont really look for. Its just amazing all the information that you can kind of come up with and have at your disposal (to) sift through and make a selection.

McLeod and Hoyer felt like they left the Padres (17-34) in a better place, even though they lasted only two seasons. Last winter, the industry viewed San Diego as a top-three system. Privately, some have suggested that Epstein wouldnt have taken the Cubs job without them.

With Jason and his crew, Roberts said, were going to enjoy the fruits in the years to come in this system. (It) was a loss for us, but he put some things in place that were going to continue to build on.

(The Cubs have) a plan (and) with the resources that they have, it should ultimately work out pretty well.

The entire focus is on June 4, when the Cubs will make the sixth overall pick. Heres a sign of how all-in they are for the draft and how much they respect the managers evaluation skills Dale Sveum has watched video of certain hitters they might select.

It will take years before we know if Epstein, Hoyer and McLeod were right or wrong.

They have short memories in Boston, where Epsteins legacy took a hit with bad contracts, fried chicken and beer in the clubhouse, and an epic September collapse. But you cant forget those two World Series banners at Fenway Park. Red Sox Nation got everything it ever wanted.

Things like that just dont happen overnight, Roberts said. With this fan base loving the Cubs unconditionally, its even better when youve got a regime coming in with a plan in place thats shown its worked (before). I definitely expect these guys to kind of right the ship.

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Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks battle Bruins tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks battle Bruins tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Boston Bruins tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Blackhawks.

Five Things to Watch:

1. Scott Darling gets the nod.

Joel Quenneville is giving a struggling Corey Crawford a breather tonight, electing to go with Darling in the final game of the father's road trip. Darling is 11-4-2 with a 2.34 goals against average, .924 save percentage and one shutout in 20 games this season. His numbers aren't as great on the road, where he is 4-2-1 with a 2.83 GAA and .901 save percentage compared to a 7-2-1 record with a 1.98 GAA and .928 save percentage at home, but he fared well against Boston last season. The Lemont native stopped 42 of 46 shots, good for a .913 save percentage, in a 6-4 win at the United Center last April.

2. The Panarin-Anisimov-Kane line.

The Blackhawks' trio of Artem Anisimov, Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin had a rare zero points in Tuesday's 6-4 win over Colorado, but don't expect to see that again. In fact, it could be the opposite. In their last meeting against the Bruins, a 6-4 win on April 3 during the 2015-16 season, they combined for 11 points (five goals, six assists), highlighted by a Kane hat trick that put him at 100 points on the season for the first time in his career. 

3. How the rookies build off a monsterous game.

In arguably the most well-rounded victory of the season Tuesday in Colorado, the Blackhawks had three rookies that had multi-point efforts. Vinnie Hinostroza had two goals, including the game winner. Tanner Kero had two goals and one assist, while Nick Schmaltz also had a goal and an assist. It was the top-six that was doing the heavy lifting earlier in the season, now the bottom-six is slowly starting to contribute on a consistent basis. The Blackhawks will be in great shape if they can confidently roll four lines that have the potential to find the back of the net on any given shift.

4. Patrice Bergeron vs. Jonathan Toews.

Two of the best two-way centers in the league will go head-to-head, and it's always a fun matchup to watch. Bergeron leads the league with 597 faceoff wins, and is ranked fifth with a 58.4 percentage at the dot while Toews ranks eighth in wins with 473 — despite missing nine games with a back injury — and sits at sixth with a 57.5 percentage. Both of the perennial Selke Trophy candidates have struggled offensively this season, with Bergeron recording only 21 points in 45 games and Toews with 22 points in 38 contests. Bergeron has been heating up as of late, though, scoring three goals and six assists in his last eight games. Bergeron also leads the league in possession numbers, with the Bruins controlling 61.9 percent of the even-strength shot attempts when he's on the ice.

5. Brad Marchand.

In September, Marchand inked an eight-year, $49 million deal and it's already paying dividends for the Bruins. He has 14 points (seven goals, seven assists) in his last eight games, and 45 points total, which is by far the most on his team and tied for sixth in the NHL. He's 16 points away from tying his career high of 61 set last season, with a little less than half the year to go. He's also had great success against the Blackhawks. In his last six games against Chicago, dating back to the 2013-14 campaign, he has registered at least a point in all of them, scoring four goals and adding five assists. To make life more difficult, he's a player that enjoys getting under people's skin, so expect him to be a big factor tonight.

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