What we learned about the Cubs in April

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What we learned about the Cubs in April

PHILADELPHIA Cubs executives joked about leading the league in press conferences during the offseason. They talked a very good game, viewing things through different lenses and laying out the parallel tracks.

Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod will be judged on what happens across the next five to 10 years. Theyve made it clear that they will prioritize the future over any short-term gain.

The Cubs closed out April at 8-15 with Mondays 6-4 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies in front of another sellout crowd at Citizens Bank Park.

It tied together a few emerging themes. The Cubs took away from their bullpen over the winter, and Rafael Dolis gave up the pivotal two-out, two-run double to Placido Polanco in the eighth inning.

This season is all about identifying core players for the future, and the rookie reliever will learn on the job.

Bryan LaHair who had just drilled a two-run shot that tied the game in the eighth looks like a piece to the puzzle. He has reached base safely in 19 straight games, grinding out at-bats the way Epstein believes will become a fundamental part of the organizations identity.

LaHair has hit five of the teams nine home runs, a power outage you could have predicted maybe not to this degree after the front office passed on the big bats on the market. The last time the Cubs finished a month at nine or less was August 1981.

Ive said that from Day 1: Were going to play hard and were not going to give in or give up, LaHair said. Thats just the type of team we are now. Hopefully, it turns around.

Overseeing it all is Dale Sveum, the first-year manager hired to grow into the job and become the next Terry Francona.

Sveum has begun to establish a work culture. He projects calm and doesnt overreact, writing things off as a few hiccups here and there, nothing out of the ordinary.

Obviously, you want better results, Sveum said. The pitchings been OK. The starting pitchings been probably well above average on most days. Its just a matter of us being able to score runs and hit the ball out of the ballpark and create some opportunities to get leads.

The defense has been OK, nothing spectacular, but guys are making strides there.

The efforts been tremendous, the way we ran balls out. Our preparation (for) a game has been as good as Ive seen.

The rotation (4.20 ERA) has essentially kept the Cubs competitive on most nights. Chris Volstad (6.11 ERA) gave up four runs in the first inning on Monday, but kept the Phillies (11-12) scoreless over the next five.

Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija have looked like two frontline starters you can build around.

We have five guys who are going to give everything they got, Garza said. We know what we got to do and we know how we got to win and its all starting pitching.

The starters almost have to be perfect. The Cubs scored more than four runs only six times in April. It was a cruel month for Geovany Soto, whos hitting .127 with one RBI, and Ian Stewart, though his .169 average is somewhat offset by his plus defense.

Starlin Castro (.333) looks like he will develop into a No. 3 hitter, though he has shown lapses in concentration at shortstop (seven errors).

It stinks when youre not winning, especially when you know how hard guys work, utility man Jeff Baker said. The only thing you can do is show up tomorrow and keep grinding and hopefully it will turn.

The Cubs have repeatedly said that they will not bring up Anthony Rizzo and Brett Jackson just to provide a spark.

Rizzo whos hitting .384 with seven homers and 23 RBI in 22 games and Jackson (28 strikeouts in 89 at-bats) will develop at their own pace at Triple-A Iowa. Their promotions will have almost nothing to do with whats going on with the big-league club.

Trading Marlon Byrd to the Red Sox (and paying most of his salary) for a young pitcher with upside (Michael Bowden) pointed in the direction the Cubs are heading.

The clubhouse makeover is far from over, and the rumors will go into overdrive as the July 31 trade deadline approaches.

Will the fans tune this team out? Business operations knew the optimism generated by the Epstein hire would help at the box office.

Through 13 home games, the Cubs are drawing an average of 37,121, though that reflects tickets sold and not the actual number of bodies at Wrigley Field.

Garza says its going to be a lot of fun this summer. Check back in another month.

Its not the best start we ever had as a team, but you got to hang in there, Soto said. You got to be here for each other as a group in good times and in bad times. You got to pull together.

Tamika Catchings scores 26 as Sky fall to Fever

Tamika Catchings scores 26 as Sky fall to Fever

ROSEMONT, Ill. (AP) -- Tamika Catchings scored 26 points a day after the death of her former Tennessee coach, Pat Summitt, and the Indiana Fever beat the Chicago Sky 95-83 on Wednesday.

Catchings hit a 3-pointer with 7:33 left in the first quarter and immediately pointed toward the sky in a tribute to Summitt, who died Tuesday.

In the fourth quarter, Catchings found Tiffany Mitchell in the corner for an open 3-pointer to push Indiana's lead to 82-68. On the Fever's next possession, Catchings spun her defender and completed a 3-point play for a 17-point lead.

Erlana Larkins added 15 points and nine rebounds for Indiana (7-9), which is ranked No. 9 in the AP power poll. Catchings was 7 of 11 from the field, including 3 of 4 behind the arc, and hit all nine of her free throws.

She scored 14 points in the first half as Indiana held a 44-38 lead. Elena Delle Donne led the way for Chicago with 12 points at the half.

Delle Donne finished with 21 points for eighth-ranked Chicago (6-9).

Wrist injury has Melky Cabrera out of White Sox lineup

Wrist injury has Melky Cabrera out of White Sox lineup

The health bug struck the White Sox again on Wednesday as Melky Cabrera is out at least three-to-four days with a mild right wrist strain.

A team which has already had its depth tested faces another challenge as one of its best hitters needed an MRI after he left Tuesday’s loss to the Minnesota Twins early. Batting in the middle of the lineup all season to break up a glut of right-handed hitters, Cabrera is hitting .294/.344/.462 this season with eight home runs and 39 RBIs.

“You don't like anytime you don't have Melky in there,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “He's a switch-hitter, middle of the lineup -- it hurts to not have him in there. We're going to have to figure out a way to make up for that.”

Switch-hitter Dioner Navarro is hitting fifth on Wednesday as the White Sox face the Twins in the second of a three-game set.

Cabrera initially injured on June 18 in Cleveland. Though he exited that game early, Cabrera returned to the lineup the next day. He hit three homers and has a 1.018 OPS in 39 plate appearances since even though he has experienced some soreness. He re-aggravated the wrist on a swing and miss Tuesday.

“It’s difficult because I want to play, but the doctors said the best for me right now is just to take a rest for a couple of days because I have inflammation there,” Cabrera said through an interpreter. “But yeah, for me, I want to play. I don’t like to be on the bench. I want to play because the team needs me and I need the team.”

The White Sox are already without Austin Jackson, who is out at least several more weeks after he had surgery to repair a meniscus tear in his knee. The club is also short three relievers as Zach Putnam is on the 15-day disabled list with neural uritis in his right elbow, Jake Petricka had potentially season-ending hip surgery and Dan Webb had reconstructive elbow surgery.

Ventura said the medical staff doesn’t believe a DL stint is warranted in Cabrera’s case.

“They're talking three or four days just to be able to get over the inflammation, things that are in there,” Ventura said. “It hurts him when he swings and misses, so it would help if he just didn't miss.”

Jim Thome to have highway named after him in Peoria

Jim Thome to have highway named after him in Peoria

Jim Thome's name is very well-known around the baseball world, and rightfully so. 

The former White Sox slugger hit 612 home runs during his 22-year major-league career, but is equally known for being an all-around good guy.

Perhaps Thome's name is most popular in his hometown of Peoria, IL. 

Some people get a street named after them in their hometown after achieving fame. Not Jim Thome. Jim Thome gets a highway named after him.

The Peoria Journal Star reported that a portion of the Route 24 roadway at the Louisville Slugger Sports Complex will be named after Thome.

Thome's portion of Route 24 will be coined 'Jim Thome Expressway.' The aforementioned section will extend from Adams Street in Bartonville to Griswold Street in Peoria.

Thome is currently serving in the White Sox front office as the Special Assistant to the Senior VP/General Manager.