Changing sides of rivalry still surreal for Liriano


Changing sides of rivalry still surreal for Liriano

MINNEAPOLIS -- New pitcher Francisco Liriano was still in on shock on Monday, a little less than 48 hours after the White Sox acquired him in a trade.

As he addressed the media from the visiting dugout at Target Field, Liriano, who will start here against the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday night, couldnt get over the surprising nature of a trade that sent him from one side of an American League Central rivalry to the other.

Liriano said he was about to fall asleep on Saturday night in preparation for a Sunday start against the Cleveland Indians when the phone rang to inform him he had been traded. Liriano stayed in Minneapolis on Sunday and merely moved his belongings down the hall at Target Field to meet his new teammates.

Everything feels weird, Liriano said. Its just surprising. I was ready to go to bed and got the phone call around 10:30 (p.m.). I was in shock, I wasnt expecting it to get traded, the night before the game and get traded to the same division was weird, too. But things happen.

Lirianos new catcher understands what his pitcher is experiencing.

A.J. Pierzynskis move to the White Sox came more than a full season after he was traded by the Twins to the San Francisco Giants. Pierzynski had an offseason to adapt to the idea but admits it still felt funny at first.

When I first walked into SoxFest after I had signed, I remember looking at my wife and saying This is weird looking at all the White Sox stuff, Pierzynski said. But once I got to know the guys and the organization it was a pretty easy transition after that.

Pierzynski said he plans to speak with Liriano after Mondays game to start a plan for Tuesday, when Liriano faces the only major league team for whom he has ever pitched just to ease him in.

Im sure well talk probably tonight after the game, what he likes to do and how he likes to pitch, Pierzynski said. Hes been an All-Star, hes thrown a no-hitter, hes been good against us so well focus on the positives and go from there. He can be a factor in this race.

Liriano said he doesnt plan to change anything he has done on the mound. After a difficult start in April, one he attributed Sunday to putting too much pressure on himself, Liriano believes he is better than his 3-10 record and 5.31 ERA indicate. Liriano has struck out a 9.81 batters per nine innings this season, his highest since 2006, which would indicate his stuff isnt an issue.

He estimates he knows seven of his new teammates well, including Orlando Hudson, Philip Humber and Jesse Crain, all of whom played with him in Minnesota. Now he needs to focus on contributions and familiarizing himself with a new club even though the transition will be strange.

I havent done my game plan yet, Liriano said. It feels so weird. I faced the White Sox so many times. So weird. Nothing I can do about it, just do my job and try to fit in.

Bears Talk Podcast: What's next for Bears at QB after Brian Hoyer suffers broken arm?


Bears Talk Podcast: What's next for Bears at QB after Brian Hoyer suffers broken arm?

Lance Briggs, Alex Brown and Jim Miller break down where the Bears go at QB following Brian Hoyer’s injury and evaluate the defense’s gutsy performance on Thursday night against the Packers despite numerous injuries. Plus, a look at the big picture and who can help the Bears down the road.

Check out the latest edition of the Bears Talk Podcast here:

Anthony Rizzo/Javier Baez antics show how this Cubs team doesn’t feel the same weight of history

Anthony Rizzo/Javier Baez antics show how this Cubs team doesn’t feel the same weight of history

LOS ANGELES – Within minutes of the last out on Thursday night at Dodger Stadium, ESPN’s @SportsCenter account sent out a photo of Moises Alou at the Wrigley Field wall to more than 30 million Twitter followers: “The last time the Cubs were up 3-2 in an NLCS was Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS vs. the Marlins. Most remember it as ‘the Bartman Game.’”

As Kerry Wood once said: “Irrelevant, dude.”
Look, the Cubs still need to find a way to beat either Clayton Kershaw or Rich Hill this weekend, with Kenley Jansen resting and waiting for the multiple-inning saves. The obligatory description for Kershaw is “the best pitcher on the planet.” Hill’s lefty curveball – and “the perceptual velocity” of his fastball – freezes hitters. Jansen has a mystical cutter reminiscent of the great Mariano Rivera. The top-heavy part of this Los Angeles playoff pitching staff has held the Cubs to zero runs in 16.1 innings.

But until proven otherwise, forget about this idea of a Cubs team weighed down by the history of a franchise that hasn’t played in the World Series since 1945.

Just look at Javier Baez getting in Anthony Rizzo’s airspace during Game 5, the human-highlight-film second baseman standing right next to the All-Star first baseman as he caught a Kike Hernandez pop-up for the second out of the third inning.

It didn’t matter that this was a 1-0 game and MVP-ballot players Justin Turner and Corey Seager were coming up. This is what the 2016 Cubs do. Rizzo caught the ball, quickly flipped it underhand and it bounced off Baez’s chest – in front of a sellout crowd of 54,449 and a national Fox Sports 1 audience.

“We always mess around,” Rizzo said at his locker inside a tight clubhouse jammed with media after an 8-4 win. “So I’m screaming: ‘Javy! Javy! I got it! I got it, Javy, I got it!’

“And usually he’ll yell at me: ‘Don’t miss it!’ Or I’ll yell at him: ‘Don’t miss it!’

“We do that a lot. If it’s a pop-up to him, I’ll go right behind him. It’s just little ways of slowing the game down and having fun, too.”

Rizzo is a Gold Glove-caliber first baseman for a team that led the majors in defensive efficiency this year. As a super-utility guy, Baez got credit for 11 defensive runs saved in 383 innings at second base, or one less than co-leaders Dustin Pedroia and Ian Kinsler, who each did it in almost 1,300 innings.

“Sometimes when I call (Rizzo) off to get a fly ball, he starts talking to me,” Baez said. “I tell him: ‘Hey, you can do whatever you want. Just don’t move my head. You can touch me if you want. Just don’t move my head.’

“And I told him to be ready for it, because I was going to do the same thing. You just got to be focused on the fly ball. No matter what’s happening around you, you just got to catch it.”

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

This isn’t about Bartman. It’s about a group of young, confident players who are growing up together and absolutely expect to be in this position. It’s manager Joe Maddon designing “Embrace The Target” T-shirts and telling them to show up to the ballpark whenever they want and then blow off batting practice.

“For sure, we’re relaxed,” said Baez, who’s gone viral during these playoffs, the rest of the country witnessing his amazing instincts and flashy personality. “I’m relaxed when I play defense.”

The thing is, Rizzo and Baez could be playing next to each other for the next five years, the same way Kris Bryant and Addison Russell will be anchoring the left side of the infield.

This is how Rizzo introduced Russell to The Show when a natural shortstop tried to learn second base on the fly last year and track pop-ups in front of 40,000 people: “Hey, watch out for that skateboard behind you! Don’t trip!”

“Oh yeah, we yell at each other all the time,” Rizzo said. “It’s just one of those things where you got to stay loose.”