Chicago Cubs

Bulls host Boston in Eastern Conference battle

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Bulls host Boston in Eastern Conference battle

Thursday, April 7, 2011Posted: 12:22 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

In the aftermath of Tuesdays narrow escape over Phoenix, the Bulls locker room was under siege. Reporters were firing questions at players left and right regarding the closeness of the victory, allowing the Suns to come back from 22 points down, the direction of the team, recent rebounding issues and the chemistry between Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer.

While Derrick Rose showed genuine concern, Noah exclaimed We won the game! and Boozer grew frustrated by the cute nature of the queries, Luol Deng logically observed that the Bulls put themselves in this position.

Were holding ourselves and you guys the media are holding us to a standard, said Deng. Weve raised the bar.

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I think everyone out there, even the fans today, theyre happy with the win, but they know we can play better and thats because weve showed it, he continued. Once youve shown you can do it, youre held accountable to keep doing it.

Coming into this season, a chance to finish first in the East and win 60 games likely would have exceeded even the most ardent fans expectations. Now? Players, media and fans alike have grown so accustomed to the Bulls winning ways that even a close call sounds off alarms.

This isnt a traveling rock band-type of crew, like in Michael Jordans heyday, but rather a blue-collar and to paraphrase Noah, a peoples champ styled squad, triumphing based on defense, team-first principles and in Rose, the most humble superstar in the game. While theyre happy for their success and appreciative of the attention, one gets the sense that they almost yearn for the mid-season anonymity that will never return.

Thursdays opponent, the Celtics, and the other team chasing the Bulls in the Eastern Conference standings, the Heat, still resonate more with casual fans. Yet, when opposing players and coaches are asked about title contenders, Chicago is never left out of the conversation these days.

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What a sharp contrast to a year ago, when injury woes, organizational turmoil and a fight to seasons end just to qualify for the postseason were primary concerns. While injuries have been an issue this season, the Bulls have so deftly adjusted on the flyhow many people believed 38-year-old Kurt Thomas and rookie Omer Asik would be such key contributors?that at least short absences by Boozer and Noah are no longer cause for panic.

Thursdays matchup is no longer notable simply because the Celtics are in town. It could be a future playoff matchup and without looking ahead too much, the onus could be on Boston, not the Bulls, to ensure it happens down the line.

One of the lines reporters are now used to hearing from Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeaualbeit usually after a lossis, In this league, you get what you deserve. Well, if thats the case, then that bar Deng referred to could get even higher.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

If Kyle Schwarber's back, the rest of the National League will have another reason to worry about the second-half Cubs

If Kyle Schwarber's back, the rest of the National League will have another reason to worry about the second-half Cubs

Kyle Schwarber’s proper introduction to the Cubs-Sox rivalry came in the summer of 2015 when a fan on the South Side threw a half-empty “tall boy” at him in left field. A little more than a year removed from college, Schwarber didn’t understand why someone wouldn’t finish all the beer first.  

David Ross chimed in, raising his voice loud enough so Schwarber and a group of reporters could hear him inside the visiting clubhouse: “You should have shotgunned it and then went over there and found him.

“I tell you what: I’d hate to try to wrap up Kyle Schwarber. I guarantee you that whoever threw that beer doesn’t want (any) part of Kyle Schwarber. I promise you that one.”

That was the rookie orientation before Schwarber: blasted five playoff home runs that October; suffered a devastating knee injury that almost wiped out his entire 2016 season; made a dramatic return to the World Series; and experienced newfound fame and fortune that would change his life forever.

Mess with Schwarber? That aura of invincibility is gone after his detour to Triple-A Iowa before the All-Star break. But the first-place Cubs will take Thursday night’s 6-3 win over the White Sox as another sign that he is almost back, yet another reason why the defending champs look ready to continue this second-half surge. 

“I told him that if he had a couple more push-ups in there, he would have had three homers tonight, but we’ll take a triple,” winning pitcher Jon Lester said afterward. “Schwarber’s been swinging the bat great since he’s been back.”

No doubt, the Cubs caught the sell-mode White Sox at the right time during the final days leading up to the July 31 trade deadline. Even in going 3-for-4 and blasting his 16th and 17th home runs – which traveled 814 feet combined at Guaranteed Rate Field – Schwarber is still only hitting .191 with 90 strikeouts in 79 games this season.     

But the Cubs have always given Schwarber the benefit of the doubt and will point to his big personality and encouraging numbers since his Triple-A reset ended on July 6, getting on base almost 37 percent of the time and hitting safely in 10 of 13 games with five homers, three doubles and that triple.

“Retrospectively, we should not have expected that much,” manager Joe Maddon admitted. “I’m guilty of that kind of a narrative or a dialogue also, because I was really eager to watch him play a full season of Major League Baseball.

“But the guy missed the whole season and did really well in a small window of time at the end of the year. So maybe my expectations exceeded what they should have been.

“I do believe he is that good. I do believe you’re going to come back and see him play at the level we anticipated. But he might have just needed more time. And we just didn’t recognize that.

“I might have been as guilty as anybody regarding the promotion of that. But I believe in him fully. I know it’s going to happen. There’s been some really good major-league hitters that have gone through the same thing.” 

At this point, the Cubs (54-47) would love to see what kind of wrecking ball Schwarber could be for a half-season. To his credit, Schwarber has been the same throughout all the ups and downs, someone who looks and sounds like a guy you would drink tall boys with.

“I just want to worry about putting the barrel on the ball,” Schwarber said. “I’m just trying to stay within myself, be short (with my swing) and it’s paying off.”

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