Defense saves Sox, costs Tigers

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Defense saves Sox, costs Tigers

The AL Central-favorite Tigers' greatest weakness was on display to the sellout crowd of 38,676 at U.S. Cellular Field Friday, with Miguel Cabrera and Delmon Young doing nothing to dispel the notion that they're both defensive liabilities.

Young botched a pair of balls hit his direction, the second of which led to the White Sox adding an insurance run in the eighth. And Cabrera whiffed on a barehanded attempt at a grounder in the second that nearly cost the Tigers an early run.

Meanwhile, the Sox saved their fourth win of the season thanks to a pair of outstanding defensive plays -- one from an unexpected source, and the other from someone who should've won a Gold Glove by now.

In the top of the seventh, Detroit had runners on second and third with two out and Andy Dirks up at the plate. Dirks laced a line drive into left off Addison Reed, but Dayan Viciedo got a good read on the ball and made a spectacular diving catch, saving a pair of runs from scoring that would've put the Tigers up by a run.

"My first reaction was to definitely make sure I caught the ball," Viciedo said. "Fortunately for me, Alejandro De Aza told me to move over for that play, and fortunately, I was in the right position. So I just had to make sure that I caught the ball."

While the catch may have been surprising given Viciedo's previous defensive struggles in left, one of his teammates wasn't shocked.

"He's very athletic, so what he did out there doesn't surprise me," said Alexei Ramirez through a translator. "He can do great things out on the field."

Despite Viciedo's play, Robin Ventura still went ahead and used Brent Lillibridge as a defensive replacement the following inning. Although the latter party joked he was a little confused by the move.

"After that play, I was like 'you guys really need me to go out there, because I think we're good,'" laughed Lillibridge.

An inning later, Cabrera stepped in with runners at the corners and one out against Matt Thornton. But Cabrera's ground ball up the middle was stopped on a diving effort by Alexei Ramirez, who shoveled the ball to Gordon Beckham, who made a quick pivot to turn a run-and-lead-saving double play.

"A good day for the Cubans today," smiled Jake Peavy. "We're liking the Cubans on our side of town. These guys were awesome today. The plays that Alexei and Dayan made saved the game, ultimately."

While it bears repeating that Ramirez should've been awarded a Gold Glove by now, Viciedo's a long ways off from that point. Switching positions twice certainly hasn't helped, but both changes were necessary for his own career and the White Sox.

"You gotta tip your hat to Dayan Viciedo. The kid's worked his rear end off," Peavy said. "He's been moved all around the field and he's never complained about it one time. It's not like he's going to win a Gold Glove this year, but the effort you see him give, the way he goes about his business, the way he works in between starts, I think that's indicative of our team and indicative of our staff in the way we're going to go about things."

Viciedo's comfort level has slowly been rising in left, which also could explain his solid offensive performance to start the season.

"During spring training when he was struggling offensively, it carried out in the field and compounded things," Lillibridge said. "He wanted to do well in spring training to prove he should be out there every day. Once he started swinging at the end of spring training, which is obviously a perfect time to do it, it just came back. Confidence kind of leads into everything. It's hard not to take it on the field one way or another"

While Viciedo may be a work in progress defensively, a diving catch like he made can only help the 23-year-old's confidence. And he certainly seemed confident after the game, speaking about his long-term defensive outlook.

"I definitely feel I will be good defensively," Viciedo said. "Its a matter of continuing to practice every day. The more I get accustomed to it, the more comfortable Ill be."

Cubs Talk Podcast: Breaking down the World Series hangover

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Breaking down the World Series hangover

Do the Cubs have a World Series hangover?

On the latest edition of the Cubs Talk Podcast, NBC Sports Bay Area Giants Insider Alex Pavlovic joins CSN's Patrick Mooney to talk about the World Series hangover, how last year's playoff loss lingered in San Francisco, Johnny Cueto's quirks, the legend of Madison Bumgarner and Jeff Samardzija's ups and downs.

Plus Kelly Crull, Jeff Nelson and Tony Andracki break down the Cubs’ defensive struggles this year compared to an historic 2016 and how Ian Happ fits into the Cubs’ lineup in both the short and long term.

Listen to the latest episode below:

What does Caleb Swanigan's departure for NBA mean for Purdue and the 2018 Big Ten title race?

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USA TODAY

What does Caleb Swanigan's departure for NBA mean for Purdue and the 2018 Big Ten title race?

Caleb Swanigan, unsurprisingly, is heading to the NBA.

Last season’s Big Ten Player of the Year announced Wednesday that he’ll pass up the final two seasons of his NCAA eligibility for a paying gig at the professional level, an awesome opportunity for a kid who battled obesity and homelessness to become one of the best basketball players in the country.

But Swanigan’s departure from West Lafayette means a heck of a lot to the Big Ten.

Without the league’s most dominant big man, what becomes of Purdue’s chances at winning a conference title? Similarly, with a weakened — though still strong — group of Boilermakers, what does the Big Ten race look like going into 2017-18?

First, Purdue. Matt Painter’s program is plenty healthy, and while there’s no doubt that losing Swanigan is a big deal, the Boilers got some really good news, too, Wednesday when Vincent Edwards announced he’ll be returning for his senior season. Seven-footer Isaac Haas also made the decision to return to West Lafayette, meaning the towering frontcourt hasn’t been completely decimated just because tha man called “Biggie” is gone.

Purdue will also return Carsen Edwards, who had an impressive freshman campaign, and Dakota Mathias, a terrific defender and 3-point shooter. Two more important pieces — P.J. Thompson and Ryan Cline — are back, as well. And Painter will welcome in freshman Nojel Eastern, a highly touted guard from Evanston.

So the Boilers are still in very good shape. There will be a big magnifying glass on Haas, who despite his physical attributes hasn’t always found consistent on-court success. But there have been plenty of flashes of brilliance from the big man. A big step forward in his game would go a long way in easing the blow of losing Swanigan and could keep Purdue as one of the frontrunners for a conference title.

That brings us to the Big Ten race. Ever since Miles Bridges, the conference’s reigning Freshman of the Year, announced he’d be returning to Michigan State for his sophomore season, the Spartans have been the near-unanimous favorite. Only something like Swanigan deciding to stay at Purdue could’ve changed that. And with Swanigan expectedly heading to the NBA, Michigan State remains the preseason pick to win the conference crown.

Like any good year in the Big Ten, though, there will be challengers.

But Michigan State is the popular choice to win it because of Tom Izzo’s insane 2016 recruiting class is returning completely intact: Bridges, Nick Ward, Cassius Winston and Joshua Langford are all back. And Izzo brings in one of the top 2017 recruits in forward Jaren Jackson.

But Sparty isn’t the only one with an impressive returning group. Purdue’s experienced roster has already been covered. Northwestern, a surprise contender in 2016-17, should be even better as Bryant McIntosh, Vic Law and Scottie Lindsey enter their fourth year playing together. Dererk Pardon, a shot-blocking whiz at center, is also back, as is sharp-shooter Aaron Falzon, who sat out the 2016-17 season with an injury after starting during his freshman year in 2015-16.

There will be big shoes to fill for some perennial contenders like Maryland — which must replace Melo Trimble — and Michigan, which watched eligibility run out on Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin before D.J. Wilson decided to head to the professional ranks Wednesday. But those teams have plenty of talent returning, too. The Terps will have all three of their fab freshmen — Justin Jackson, Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter — back for sophomore seasons, while the Wolverines have Moe Wagner back in the fold alongside Xavier Simpson and Duncan Robinson, among others.

And what of last year’s shocking contender, Minnesota? The Golden Gophers didn’t lose too much this offseason and will return almost every main player from last year’s 24-10 squad: Amir Coffey, Nate Mason, Reggie Lynch, Jordan Murphy, Dupree McBrayer and Eric Curry.

There are up-and-comers to think about, too, such as last year’s freshman-heavy squads at Iowa and Penn State. And could new head coaches Brad Underwood and Archie Miller make instant splashes at Illinois and Indiana, respectively?

If it sounds a little too much like the annual coach speak that “any team can win on any night” in the Big Ten, that’s because there is a good deal of truth to that oft-used phrase.

There are definitely tiers to this thing, though. Even without Swanigan, Purdue is still in one of those upper tiers. But there might be no team besides Michigan State at the very top of the heap, something underscored by Swanigan turning pro.