Ian Stewart feels like things are about to change

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Ian Stewart feels like things are about to change

ST. LOUIS Even if the Cubs say the numbers are deceiving, theyre still next to Ian Stewarts name and up on the video board for everyone to see.

Stewart who entered Monday hitting .193 tries to catalog all the line-drive outs and hard-hit balls. Its probably the only thing keeping me sane, he said.

Stewart is a thoughtful player who speaks in a low, quiet voice, and he was only joking.

It cant hurt your state of mind when Theo Epsteins front office makes you a priority at the winter meetings and swings a four-player trade with the Colorado Rockies and tells you youre the everyday third baseman.

Or when the Cubs send you to an offseason minicamp in Arizona with hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo, and manager Dale Sveum repeatedly gives you strong votes of confidence.

In a year thats all about evaluation and identifying core pieces for the future, the Cubs are going to give Stewart a very long runway.

This is the profile of someone theyd take a chance on only 27 years old, a former first-round pick, a left-handed bat and a plus defender.

Defensively, hes been as good as anybody in baseball at that position, Sveum said. Offensively, his numbers arent even close to what they could be. Hes probably hitting into as much tough luck as anybody in the game.

Im not saying he couldnt be better, but hes squared up a lot of balls right at people to where he could easily be .260, .270.

I think he feels pretty good about whats going on. Obviously, hed like to have better numbers and all that, but I think hes in a heck of a lot better place than he was last year at this time.

Stewart spent long stretches of last season at Triple-A Colorado Springs, and dealt with wrist, knee and hamstring injuries. The previous two seasons combined, he generated 43 homers and 131 RBI for the Rockies.

Entering Monday, three of Stewarts four home runs have come in his last nine starts. His .621 OPS ranked 10th out of the 11 qualified third basemen in the National League.

It is a slow start when you just look at the numbers right on paper, Stewart said. (But) my teammates (know) Ive been hitting some hard balls, a lot of at-em balls you could say.

Its kind of clich, but I feel like if I keep getting my work in with Rudy and Dale and just keep being aggressive, those are going to turn into base hits and extra-base hits. If I can get hot, thats just going to help the team even more.

When building out the roster, dont discount how much the Cubs want to stuff their lineup with left-handed bats. From signing David DeJesus to elevating Bryan LaHair to waiting on top prospects Anthony Rizzo and Brett Jackson, its clear which way theyre leaning.

Its invaluable, Sveum said. It just wears the pitcher out. There are no quick outs with left-handed hitters up to the plate.

(Theyre usually) the guys that end up working the counts, just because pitchers dont have (the) ability to get quick outs with the slider (or) the cutter off the end of the bat or a quick groundball. Theyre just more patient.

On Sunday, Stewart launched one ball off the second deck in right field at Miller Park. Maybe his luck is about to turn. Either way, the Cubs are going to be patient enough to find out.

As long as I feel good up there and Im hitting the ball hard, then theyll come around, Stewart said. They usually come in bunches. Hopefully, thats pretty soon.

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Jimmy Butler records triple-double as Bulls beat Cavaliers again without LeBron James

Jimmy Butler records triple-double as Bulls beat Cavaliers again without LeBron James

Winning a game against a LeBron James led team has proven to be an easier task than most for the Chicago Bulls in the last couple regular seasons.

And winning without James has proven to be a herculean task for the Cleveland Cavaliers since his return in 2014.

So putting those two events together seemed to produce an inevitable result at Quicken Loans Arena, with James out due to illness, as the Bulls pulled away from the Cavaliers 117-99 Saturday night.

The win marks the fourth straight for the Bulls, pulling them over .500 for the first time in nearly two months and they lead the season series 3-0 over the NBA Champions.

Of course, if James were healthy perhaps the Cavaliers would look more cohesive but without him, only Kyrie Irving was in double figures amongst the starters for most of the night. Irving was unguardable with 34 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.

After the lead rose to 20, Irving went to work to get the Cavaliers back in it by scoring eight in the quarter and cutting the lead in half with 2:30 left. But without James, the Bulls were able to hold off the Cavaliers with baskets from 
Cristiano Felicio and Nikola Mirotic, who had his second straight big game with 14 points and 10 boards.

A third-quarter flurry from the Bulls gave them some breathing room after a back-and-forth 24 minutes. The Cavs threatened to blow the game open with a 65-59 lead to start the third but the Bulls quickly turned the tables, getting stops and leaking out for fast breaks.

Dwyane Wade corralled weak-side rebounds and popped it ahead to Butler and Bobby Portis for layups. 

Butler then hit two triples in succession to give the Bulls a 76-67 lead.

He struggled from the field but hit four triples on his way to 16 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, and Wade was one rebound short—one Felicio rebound attempt with seconds remaining, from getting a triple-double with 20 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds in 34 minutes

But the 3-point shooting has been a welcome addition since the trade of Doug McDermott, their best 3-point shooter.

Denzel Valentine followed up his sterling showing Friday night with another competent and confident performance, hitting three triples to score 11 and at least competing on the defensive end.

Cameron Payne made his debut as a Bull and hit two triples in the first half, both passes off the ball as he hasn't had enough time to grasp the offense, only going through a morning walkthrough with the coaching staff after the team arrived in Cleveland.

All in all, the Bulls had their ninth game with 10 or more triples, hitting 15.