Soler, Almora and Theos next moves with Cubs

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Soler, Almora and Theos next moves with Cubs

The Theo Epstein doctrine isnt quite with us or against us. But the Cubs president is using 2012 to evaluate everyone in baseball operations.

Rudy Jaramillo was fired on Tuesday because Epstein and his inner circle didnt think that the hitting coach fit into The Cubs Way. Nothing personal, they said, just philosophical differences.

Jorge Soler and Albert Almora two elite talents Jaramillo no doubt would have loved to work with appear to be close to joining the organization.

Sources indicated Soler agreed to a major-league deal on Monday reportedly worth around 30 million over nine years. Epstein declined to comment on the 20-year-old Cuban defector, a potential five-tool outfielder to build around.

I saw those reports, Epstein said Tuesday at Wrigley Field. But I cant really address anything until its official. In this case, theres usually a process where theres an agreement and a term sheet and then theres an immigration process with getting visas and then theres a physical.

Epstein said the entire process could take hopefully around a week-ish, maybe longer.

Almora, the No. 6 overall pick in last weeks amateur draft, is facing a July 13 deadline to sign with the Cubs. Advised by agent Scott Boras, the 18-year-old outfielder has emphasized his commitment to the University of Miami.

Weve talked briefly, but I think that process will hopefully pick up here in the coming days, Epstein said. Hes a great student who worked hard to get that full ride to a prestigious university and he does have options. (Those types of kids) should fully examine them. But he loves baseball, too, and well sit down and talk about it.

From here, the front office will pivot toward the July 31 trade deadline, with eyes on adding more prospects to the system. Ryan Dempsters no-trade rights dont seem to be an obstacle, and the Opening Day starter figures to be the first big name to leave Clark and Addison.

Youre constantly balancing or juggling different balls, Epstein said, but its true that once the drafts over with, there seems to be more of a focus on the trade market across baseball. There are more phone calls being made now than there were 10 days ago.

Certainly, thats something well evaluate. Were in a position where any opportunity to get better (and) improve our future is something that we have to take seriously, even if it means making difficult decisions about the product that were putting on the field right now.

Epstein took this job with the understanding that he would have total control over baseball operations. He has the luxury of looking toward the next decade. Hes not worried about breaking the franchise record for losses (103) this season.

Im more focused on where were going, Epstein said. When you focus too much on how fast, then sometimes you make compromises with exactly how youre going to get there. I know you guys are probably sick of hearing me say this, but there arent shortcuts.

We have to focus on putting building blocks in place, whether its acquiring young players who can be part of our core going forward, or making sure the right teaching philosophys in place.

Blackhawks break late tie to best rival Blues

Blackhawks break late tie to best rival Blues

Patrick Kane scored his 24th goal of the season and Artem Anisimov scored the game-winner as the Blackhawks beat the St. Louis Blues 4-2 on Sunday night.

The Blackhawks have won nine of their last 10 and are one point within the Minnesota Wild, whose bye ends on Monday night. Duncan Keith recorded a secondary assist for his 500th career point. Scott Darling, starting for Corey Crawford (illness), stopped 30 of 32 shots.

The Blackhawks got off to a 2-0 start in the first 12 minutes of the game, thanks to Jonathan Toews' 16th goal of the season and Kane's power-play goal. But the Blues kept chipping away and forced a tie game by the end of the second period.

But the second line, which hasn't been quite as productive lately, got in on the act late in the third. Panarin threw a perfect feed to Anisimov, who scored his 22nd of the season with 5:20 remaining in regulation.

Tanner Kero added an empty-net goal with 2.6 seconds remaining.

Illini keep NCAA tournament hopes afloat with dominant win over Nebraska

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USA TODAY

Illini keep NCAA tournament hopes afloat with dominant win over Nebraska

Illinois' last-ditch effort to reach the NCAA tournament is still alive.

The Illini won for the third straight time and the fourth time in their last five games Sunday night, using a monstrous second half to fly past the Nebraska Cornhuskers by a 73-57 score in Lincoln.

Illinois started the Big Ten season 3-8, but with this recent surge it's up to 7-9 and with two regular-season games remaining has at the very least given itself a much better position in the upcoming Big Ten Tournament and perhaps has played itself into a spot on the NCAA tournament bubble.

Defense has been the driving force throughout this recent stretch, and Sunday was no different, with Nebraska scoring just 57 points, the second straight game in which Illinois has held its opponent under 60 points.

But offense told the story Sunday, with the Illini catching fire in the second half and shooting the lights out at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Illinois shot 59.1 percent from the field over the final 20 minutes, including a stellar 8-for-13 from 3-point range. The Illini outscored the Huskers by a 43-29 margin after halftime.

All in all, Illinois shot 48.1 percent on the night and 13-for-26 from behind the 3-point line. The Illini's 73-point output was their highest since Jan. 25.

Malcolm Hill had a game-high 19 points and moved past Cory Bradford for fifth place on the program's all-time scoring list. Tracy Abrams joined Hill in double figures with 13 points. Hill and Abrams each hit four 3-pointers. Maverick Morgan scored 12 points.

Tai Webster scored 17 points for Nebraska, the only Husker in double figures on a poor offensive night. The team shot 37.5 percent from the field and went just 4-for-15 from 3-point range.

Illinois still seems like a bit of a longshot to make the NCAA tournament given its 17-12 overall record and the weakness of the Big Ten this season. But things are getting real late in the season. This surge could very well help the Illini end their three-year tournament drought and could do big things for head coach John Groce, who has had his job status talked about all season long.

Illinois' final two regular-season bouts come this week against Michigan State and at Rutgers.