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Crosby's return right around the corner?

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Crosby's return right around the corner?

From Comcast SportsNet
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Sidney Crosby's head is clear. The superstar's return, however, remains murky. The Pittsburgh Penguins captain participated in his first full practice since concussion-like symptoms resurfaced in December and there is growing optimism he'll be back before the playoffs begin next month. The ever-cautious Crosby insists there still is no timetable on when he'll be cleared to play in a game, but he looked crisp while spending more than an hour on the Consol Energy Center ice. "It's a good step," Crosby said. "Hopefully, I can keep the momentum and get out there soon." Though the headaches and motion issues that have bothered him intermittently since a loss to Boston on Dec. 5 have subsided, Crosby has been through this drill too often over the last 14 months to get too excited. The 24-year-old former MVP was spectacular in his return from a 10-month layoff in November, scoring twice in his season debut against the New York Islanders and collecting 12 points in eight games before he woke up with an all-too familiar feeling on Dec. 6. During that initial comeback he was cleared for contact in early October and had to wait about six weeks before getting the OK to suit up for a game. It may not take that long this time. "I'm going to give myself days, for sure, of contact," Crosby said. "If you look at our schedule, we have two more practices, I think, this week. No sooner than Sunday I would say but I'm not going to sit here and put a date on it. It would be total guesswork." Coach Dan Bylsma echoed Crosby's sentiments, but made sure Crosby got bounced around during a lively practice session. "It was man-on-man type stuff, some puck battles," Bylsma said. "We had him get through today, we'll see where we progress on day three, four, five and six." Crosby called the lineup "a dangerous place to be" and felt he "was getting a lot of bumps out there." It was a welcome feeling after three anxious months in which Crosby crisscrossed the country visiting specialists in hopes of getting a better handle on his health. Tests conducted out in California in late January discovered a previously undiagnosed soft tissue injury in his neck that mimics a concussion. He took a shot as part of the treatment and claims the results have been largely positive. "It's nice to be symptom free, but it's not as fulfilling until you get out there," Crosby said. "I just want to make sure that I take the right steps here and get back out there soon." The Penguins have surged over the last two months even with Crosby watching from a suite well above the ice. Pittsburgh has a six-game winning streak going into Wednesday's game against Toronto behind the play of MVP-candidate Evgeni Malkin and wingers Chris Kunitz and James Neal. Kunitz has typically teamed with Crosby since arriving in Pittsburgh in 2009, but Crosby doesn't expect Bylsma to break up arguably the league's hottest line whenever he's cleared to play. "They have a perfect mix of guys there to create every shift," Crosby said. Crosby has been pushing himself during non-contact drills in recent weeks and enjoyed getting knocked around on Tuesday. Yet he knows nothing can replicate game action. All he can do is get prepared. After that, it's up to chance. Either way, he's feeling better both on and off the ice. Considering what he's gone through the last 14 months, that's good news. "It's just one of those things where you get used to having things for so long you forget what normal is," he said. "I feel like normal has been a lot more regularly."

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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.”