Chicago Cubs

More bad news for NHL fans

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More bad news for NHL fans

From Comcast SportsNetNEW YORK (AP) -- The next round of NHL cuts could be the deepest yet.With no deal in sight and no negotiations planned, the NHL chopped another two weeks off the schedule and moved closer to canceling the entire hockey season.No drop-dead date has been announced, but it is clear the sides are running out of time to reach a deal. The NHL said Thursday that all games through Jan. 14 have been canceled. More than 50 percent of the schedule has been lost, and the rest is now in danger, too."I don't want to characterize what today's cancellations mean or don't mean," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told The Associated Press in an email Thursday. "I will stand on the announcement that was made."The players' association didn't have any comment about the latest cancellations.So far, 625 regular-season games have been called off, including nearly 100 in the announcement made Thursday -- the 96th day of the NHL's lockout. The New Year's Day Winter Classic and the All-Star game also have been lost.The NHL had previously canceled games through Dec. 30.Daly said in a radio interview Wednesday that mid-January is likely the latest the sides could go to make a deal to save some of the season. When pressed, however, he said he expects the season will be played.The NHL is already the only North American professional sports league to cancel a season because of a labor dispute, losing the 2004-05 campaign to a lockout.Daly said the sides weren't in contact Thursday. The groups have remained apart since two days of meetings with a federal mediator last week produced no progress. There haven't been negotiations since Dec. 6 in New York, when talks broke down after a few days of bargaining.Since the sides split last week, there has been limited contact -- phone calls and a brief email exchange.The NHL believes negotiations should resume only when there is something new to say."I don't think either party is refusing a meeting," Daly said Wednesday. "But unless there is an indication one side or the other is prepared to move or has a new idea to move the process forward -- and so far neither side has indicated -- I am not sure what we would do at the meeting."What is the agenda? Who is directing the conversation? We don't have anything new to say right now."Union executive director Donald Fehr said Wednesday he was glad to hear Daly's belief that there would be a season, and added he hopes Daly is right."Hopefully, we'll get back together and negotiate out the remaining issues as soon as possible," Fehr said. "(We aren't talking) because the owners have not indicated a desire to resume."We've indicated any number of times that we're willing to resume when they are (and) we're willing to resume without preconditions. So we're waiting to hear back from them."Last week, the NHL announced it filed a class action suit in the U.S. District Court in New York, seeking to establish that its lockout is legal. In a filing posted Thursday, the court said the union had three weeks after receiving the suit to file an answer.

Once again, Javier Baez will be a huge X-factor for Cubs down the stretch

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USA TODAY

Once again, Javier Baez will be a huge X-factor for Cubs down the stretch

Javier Baez flicked his bat and watched the ball rocket in the direction of Waveland Avenue, the last of the back-to-back-to-back homers against Cincinnati Reds starter/Cubs trivia answer Scott Feldman.

That quick strike came during a four-homer fourth inning on Thursday afternoon at Wrigley Field, where the offense looked explosive and the pitching looked combustible in a 13-10 loss that left the Milwaukee Brewers one game out of first place, the St. Louis Cardinals right behind them and the Cubs awaiting a diagnosis on Jon Lester’s lat injury.

“I know the talent we got,” Baez said. “When they come to play a team like us, we know they’re going to come play hard and obviously play good baseball. They’re going to come to compete, and that’s what we got to do.”

Whatever happens from here – the Cubs are 2-2 so far during a 13-game stretch against last-place teams – you know Baez will be in the middle of the action as the No. 8 hitter with 19 homers this season and a power source with Willson Contreras (strained right hamstring) injured.

This is the starting shortstop until Addison Russell (strained right foot/plantar fasciitis) comes off the disabled list and the unique talent you couldn’t take your eyes off during last year’s playoffs.

“He’s not afraid of anything,” manager Joe Maddon said. “So I don’t care how big or small the game is, he’s going to play the same way. He’s going to do everything pretty much full gorilla all the time.

“Sometimes, he’s going to make a mistake. And that’s OK, because with certain people – with all of us – you got to take the bad with the good. Everybody wants perfection. He’s going to make some mistakes. But most of the time, he’s going to pull off events.”

The night before against the Reds, Baez led off the ninth inning with a line-drive double and scored the game-winning run on a wild pitch. Last week, Statcast clocked him at 16.11 seconds for his inside-the-park homer off the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park. Over the weekend, he launched another home-run ball 463 feet against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field.

There are so many different ways Baez can help the Cubs win a game at a time when they don’t have anywhere close to the same margin for error that they did during last season’s joyride into the playoffs.

“I know we often talk about the strikeouts or the big swings,” Maddon said. “But look at his two-strike numbers. Look at his OPS (.808). Look at the run production in general (his 55 RBI match Kris Bryant). It’s been outstanding. And you combine that with first-rate defense.

“Now he’s going to make some mistakes. I’ve talked about that. That’s going to go away with just experience. As he gets older, plays more often, he’s going to make less of those routine mistakes. And the game’s going to get really clean and sharp.”

Until then, Baez will keep taking huge swings, making spectacular plays and trying to cut down on the errors (10 in 334 innings at shortstop, or one less than Russell through 729 innings), because he knows what he means to this team.  

“Javy’s very important,” pitcher Jake Arrieta said. “He’s one of our best defensive players, one of our most athletic players on the team.

“Javy’s got a really big swing, but he’s got a great eye and he handles the bat really well. For as big as his swing is, he still manages to make really good contact. I don’t want him to approach the game any other way than he does right now.”

Should the Cubs pursue Justin Verlander after Jon Lester's injury, and what would they have to give up?

Should the Cubs pursue Justin Verlander after Jon Lester's injury, and what would they have to give up?

The Cubs may be in some trouble, with the injury bug hitting them at an inopportune time.

First it was Addison Russell (strained right foot), then it was Willson Contreras, arguably the best catcher in baseball and one of the hottest hitters on the planet before going down with a hamstring injury, and now it's Jon Lester who may be on his way to the disabled list after suffering a strained left lat muscle in Thursday's 13-10 loss to Cincinnati.

All of this occurring during a time Joe Maddon's club is looking to pull away from the pack in the National League Central and capture their second straight division crown, which appears to be the only way the North Siders can control their own destiny.

So what should the Cubs do if Lester is sidelined for an extended period of time?

One option could be re-opening trade discussions surrounding Justin Verlander, who cleared revocable waivers in early August. But what would it take to get him, and how much salary would they have to take on for it to happen?

The SportsTalk Live panel weighed in on that possibility in the video above.