Previewing the Phillies-Cubs Series with ESPNChicago's Jon Greenberg

Previewing the Phillies-Cubs Series with ESPNChicago's Jon Greenberg

With the lowly Cubs coming to town this evening to take on our first place Phillies, we reached out to a Chicago writer who we read frequently cracking jokes at the Cubs expense on Twitter. Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com and is the author of such pieces as "The wreck at Wrigley is tough to watch." We've heard things were bad, but we thought we'd ask him just how bad. I've also had beers with Jon in the past at Wrigley, so I asked him to feel free to have some fun at the Cubs expense. Our conversation below.

Enrico: We tend to get tunnel vision a bit here in Philadelphia and focus only on our Phillies, but it's hard not to notice when a guy on the Cubs blasts off about how "We stinks." As a guy who covers the Cubs closely, are things as really as bad in Wrigleyville as Carlos Zambrano seems to think?

Jon Greenberg: Yes, yes, yes. Personally, I think "We Stinks" should become the team's rallying cry, and if there isn't a bootleg T-shirt with that slogan on it by Monday night's game, I'm going to blame the economy or something.

A large section of Cubs fans are really disappointed in the direction of the franchise, which has really nosedived since the 2008 playoff exit. The fans and the franchise just hasn't recovered from that sweep by Los Angeles. I mean, Jim Hendry gave Milton Bradley a multi-year deal months after that! It should have been revoked by reason of insanity.

But a lot of Cubs fans like to be mired in the misery of this team. They won't admit it, but they do. So maybe they're secretly delighted by the admission the team stinks.

I didn't really answer the question, but yeah the team sucks. There are too many Triple-A call-ups on the roster right now, none of whom with any whiff of power. The defense is atrocious and the pitching staff is missing an experienced Major League coach and lacks any semblance of depth.

Also, attendance is down.

Enrico: But at least they're not as bad as the Astros!?!

Things are quite different in Philadelphia. We're riding the most success we've seen out of the Phillies franchise in most of our lifetimes (if not ever?), but a certain segment of fans have turned into over-reactionaries. The Phils are in first place, but do certainly have plenty of weaknesses. The offense has lost a lot of its pop, perhaps due to age, and struggles to put up big runs on a consistent basis.

They've also been playing down to their opponents lately. Struggling against lesser quality teams like Washington and Pittsburgh. They've seem to lack that killer instinct to be able to put teams away when they should.

Which leads me to believe a series with the Cubs won't be as easy as the two teams records may indicate. Any chance the younger Cubs players step up against a championship contender? Although you can't like having to run up against Halladay, Lee, and Oswalt in three of the four games here.

Jon Greenberg: You're right Enrico Pallazo, the Cubs are better than the Astros. A whopping game-and-a-half after the Cubs' 4-1 win over the Reds on Wednesday afternoon, breaking an eight-game losing streak.

Can the Cubs win a game off Philly? Sure. It's baseball, right? (Fill in your favorite baseball cliche here.) Maybe Zambrano and Garza throw back-to-back no-hitters. Sure. Maybe Doug Davis, ah forget it.

But these Cubs hitters against Halladay, Lee and Oswalt? It's going to get ugly. Have you even heard of half the team right now? Marlon Byrd and Soriano are on the DL, remember. It's amazing how good of a staff the Phillies have, and fans should revel in it.

Phillies fans have it good, but they have every right to be nervous. Baseball's meat grinder of a season is guaranteed to cause perpetual worry. In 2008, Cubs fans rode the entire season on a wave of good vibes and look how that ended up.

Enrico: Not going to lie, it's quite enjoyable to listen to you talk about how awful our competition is.

We'll end with this: how about one or two of the younger Cubs players we'll see over the next few days that have shown some real potential?We saw the Dodgers this week playing former Phillies closer Tom Gordon's kid at shortstop for the first time ever. Kid had ridiculous speed. Real fun to watch.

Anyone young and exciting to look out for on the Cubs?

Jon Greenberg: Well, even you East Coast elites have probably heard of Starlin Castro, right? He was on the cover of Sports Illustrated the other week. Even though he's still erratic on defense, he's an exciting player with All-Star potential. Not Pirates' All-Star potential (Jack Wilson, Carlos Garcia), but Jimmy Rollins' type ish.

Pint-sized CF Tony Campana (pictured right) would be a fan favorite in Philly. He's small, white, presumably Italian, wears his hat cocked to the side and flies around like Aaron Rowand's kid brother. He's kind of like Sam Fuld, whom the Cubs traded in the Matt Garza deal.

Second baseman Darwin Barney is having a very good first full season in the majors. He's got the most multi-hit games of any rookie (24, I think) and isn't an idiot, which is refreshing. He told me playing baseball is "like blackjack. You love it and you hate it."

That's fitting for this series. The Cubs hate baseball right now while the Phillies love it.

Instant Replay: Cubs 4, Phillies 1

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The Associated Press

Instant Replay: Cubs 4, Phillies 1

BOX SCORE

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs continue to dominate the Phillies with extra-base hits and terrific starting pitching.
 
They beat the Phils for the second day in a row Saturday. The final score at Wrigley Field was 4-1. Right-hander Kyle Hendricks went the distance for the win. The Phils scored in the ninth inning to avoid a shutout.
 
The Phils have been held to two or fewer runs 18 times and one or fewer 11 times. They are averaging just 3.22 runs per game.
 
The Cubs, who lead the majors with 33 wins, have stroked nine extra-base hits in the first two games of the series and four of them have been homers. The Phils have just three extra-base hits, all doubles. One was a misplay by the Cubs’ outfield.
 
The Phillies are 1-4 on this six-game road trip, which started in Detroit.
 
The Phils have lost six of their last eight games and are now just three games over .500 at 26-23.
 
Starting pitching report
Eickhoff was not nearly as efficient as he was in his previous start when he threw just 85 pitches in seven innings in a 5-0 win over Atlanta. This time, Eickhoff threw a season-high 109 pitches over six innings. He gave up eight hits, four for extra bases and four runs. He walked one and struck out seven.
 
Eickhoff was tagged for three extra-bases hits in the first inning, a home run and two doubles. For the season, Eickhoff is 2-7 with a 4.07 ERA.
 
Hendricks held the Phillies to five hits, three of which were singles. He was not overpowering, but his command was exceptional. He did not walk a batter and struck out seven while throwing just 104 pitches.
 
Jon Lester held the Phillies to one earned run in 6⅓ innings Friday.
 
Bullpen report
The Cubs didn’t need one. Andrew Bailey and Elvis Araujo pitched scoreless ball for the Phillies.
 
At the plate
The Phillies had just five hits. Ryan Howard returned to the starting lineup and went 0 for 4 to drop to .154.
 
The Cubs, who hit three home runs Friday, got their power game going early as Dexter Fowler led off the bottom of the first inning with a solo homer against Eickhoff. Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist both doubled in the inning as the Cubs went up 2-0 in the first. Heyward doubled home a run in the second inning.
 
Up next
The Phillies and Cubs close out the series Sunday afternoon. Vince Velasquez (5-1, 2.75) pitches for the Phillies against right-hander John Lackey (4-2, 3.83).
 
The Phillies return home Monday night to open a 10-game homestand that will see Washington, Milwaukee and the Cubs comes to town.

Police: Pelicans guard Bryce Dejean-Jones shot and killed in Dallas

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USA Today Images

Police: Pelicans guard Bryce Dejean-Jones shot and killed in Dallas

DALLAS -- New Orleans Pelicans rookie Bryce Dejean-Jones was fatally shot after breaking down the door to a Dallas apartment, authorities said Saturday.

Officers were called early Saturday and found the 23-year-old player collapsed in an outdoor passageway, Senior Cpl. DeMarquis Black said in a statement. Dejean-Jones was taken to a hospital where he died.

A person living at the apartment was sleeping when he heard his front door kicked open, Black said. The man retrieved a handgun and fired when Dejean-Jones began kicking the bedroom door.

Dejean-Jones was from Los Angeles and it wasn't immediately clear why he was in Dallas.

"We are devastated at the loss of this young man's life (and) who had such a promising future ahead of him," the Pelicans said in a statement.

In his only NBA season, which ended in February because of a broken right wrist, the 6-foot-6 guard started 11 of 14 games and averaged 5.6 points and 3.4 rebounds.

He was part of the 2014-15 Iowa State team that went 25-9, captured a Big 12 title and made a fourth consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament. He was fourth on the team in scoring, averaging 10.5 points in 33 games. He shot a career-best 47.6 percent in his lone season as a Cyclone. He also played at Southern California and UNLV.

"This is a very, very sad and tragic day for everyone that's a part of the Cyclone basketball family," Iowa State coach Steve Prohm said.

Former Cyclones coach Fred Hoiberg added in a statement that Dejean-Jones was a "passionate and talented player that lived out his dream of playing in the NBA through hard work and perseverance."

Stanley Cup: Offseason moves send Sharks to final after missing playoffs

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USA Today Images

Stanley Cup: Offseason moves send Sharks to final after missing playoffs

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- After watching the San Jose Sharks miss the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade, general manager Doug Wilson set out to remake the team last offseason.

Individually, none of the moves sent shockwaves through the NHL. The Sharks hired a coach who made the playoffs once in seven seasons as an NHL coach, traded a first-round pick for a goalie who had been a backup his entire career, added two playoff-tested veterans for depth at forward and defense and signed an unheralded Finnish rookie.

Together, the additions of Peter DeBoer, Martin Jones, Joel Ward, Paul Martin and Joonas Donskoi to a solid core that had underachieved proved to be the right mix to get the Sharks to their long-awaited first Stanley Cup Final appearance.

"I thought this team has a lot of the pieces of that puzzle," Martin said. "Doug did a great job bringing guys in that he did, to make that push for it. I don't think many people would have guessed that we'd be here right now, but I think we believed."

The players all said the disappointment of blowing a 3-0 series lead to Los Angeles in 2014 and then missing the playoffs entirely last season served as fuel for this season's success.

DeBoer also credited former coach Todd McLellan for helping put the foundation in place that he was able to capitalize on. The Sharks became the second team in the past 10 seasons to make it to the final after missing the playoffs the previous season, joining the 2011-12 Devils that pulled off the same trick in DeBoer's first season in New Jersey.

"Everyone was ready for something a little bit fresher and newer, not anything that much different," DeBoer said. "The additions that Doug made, it just came together. I inherited a similar team in New Jersey when I went in there. First time they missed the playoffs for a long time the year before I got there. I think when you go into that situation, when you have really good people like there was in New Jersey when I went in there, like I was with this group ... they're embarrassed by the year they just had, and they're willing to do and buy into whatever you're selling to get it fixed again. I think I was the benefactor of that."

The transition from McLellan to DeBoer wasn't seamless. As late as Jan. 8, the Sharks were in 13th place in the 14-team Western Conference and seemingly on the way to another missed postseason.

But with Logan Couture finally healthy after being slowed by a broken leg early in the season and the move by DeBoer to put Tomas Hertl on the top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski, the Sharks rolled after that and made the playoffs as the third-place team in the Pacific Division.

In-season additions of players like depth forwards Dainius Zubrus and Nick Spaling, physical defenseman Roman Polak and backup goaltender James Reimer helped put the Sharks in the position they are now.

"With the new coaching staff we needed to realize how we needed to play to win," Thornton said. "Once that clicked, and that probably clicked maybe early December, I think after that, we just exploded. I think that's really when we saw the depth of this team. Everybody plays a big part."

That has been especially true in the playoffs when longtime core players like Thornton, Couture, Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau got the support that had often been lacking during past postseason disappointments.

Jones has posted three shutouts in the playoffs, including the Game 7 second-round clincher against Nashville and back-to-back games in the conference final against St. Louis. He has proven more than capable of being an NHL starter after serving an apprenticeship as Jonathan Quick's backup in Los Angeles.

Ward scored two goals in each of the final two games of the conference final and has 11 points this postseason. Donskoi exceeded expectations just to make the team as a rookie and has solidified his spot on the second line with five goals and nine points.

Martin's steady play has allowed offensive-minded defenseman Brent Burns to roam at times and given San Jose a strong second defensive pair that had been missing in previous seasons.

Zubrus and Spaling played a big role as penalty killers and on the fourth line, while Polak has been one of the team's most physical players.

"Doug did a great job this summer, this season," Couture said. "A lot of credit needs to go to him for the guys he brought in."