WCC Notebook: Bears in the hunt, Bulls embarrassed again,Blackhawks back at home and Baez contract talks

By Thomas Gibbons

It feels good to be able to pump out an article again.

College, man. That is all I got to say.

The Chicago Bears are officially in the playoff hunt and there is a path to get to the postseason.

So you are saying there is a chance? Judging by the graphic, a lot has to fall the Bears way if they want to make the postseason. And it starts with them taking care of business on Thanksgiving day. While the Bears have injuries of their own, the Lions are pretty beat up to and that includes QB Jeff Driskel. He is dealing with a hamstring injury and his status for Thursday is unclear.

Mitch Trubisky and the Bears took care of the Lions a few weeks ago at Soldier Field. It was arguably Trubisky’s best game of the season, completing 16/23 with three touchdown passes and zero turnovers. The Bears defense sacked Driskel five times and their one interception led to a Taylor Gabriel score. It was a game the Bears were favored and they took care of business.

This time around, the Bears are in a prime position to dominate the Lions and prepare for the stretch run of the season. Reinforcements are coming with Akiem Hicks expected to be back in the lineup soon and Danny Trevathan continuing to recover from an elbow injury suffered a few weeks ago. While the Bears offense continues to have it’s struggles, we saw some good things from Trubisky this past Sunday. His connection with Allen Robinson remains strong and found Anthony Miller on a consistent basis. Their running game was non-existent outside of Trubisky making some plays, including a touchdown run, but the Lions rank toward the bottom of the league in opponent rushing yards a game (120.7). This is the perfect opportunity for Nagy to give rookie running back David Montgomery a lot of touches and use him as a passing threat out of the backfield.

The Bears should win comfortably on Sunday. Bears 31 Lions 13

After a historic performance by Zach LaVine in Charlotte Saturday night, the Bulls lost another home game by double digits Monday night 117-94 to the Portland Trail Blazers.

This embarrassing performance marked their fifth double-digit loss this season at the United Center. The Bulls shot 23.1% from three and being outscored 30-18 in the third quarter sealed the deal on another poor performance.

It is not like the Portland Trailblazers were a great team either. They had lost four in a row coming into Chicago Monday night. But the Bulls failure to knock down their shots and close out on shooters on the other end continues to be their downfall.

The bottom of the Eastern Conference is very bad. Despite the Bulls being 6-12, they are only one game out of a playoff spot. Crazy right? And judging by the schedule, the Bulls have missed their opportunity to jump ahead of the bad teams.

It’s a reflection on the players and head coach Jim Boylen. The Bulls are in year three of the rebuild and signed well-established veterans in Tomas Satoransky and Thaddeus Young this offseason to support their young core and bring out the best in them. So far, there has been no clear-cut All-Star or dominant performer. Zach LaVine has had streaks of potentially being a great scorer but can he take over games? Lauri Markkanen has been a huge disappointment. Is it the system? Is he hurt? Wendell Carter Jr and Coby White have been the biggest bright spots but that is only have of the supposed core. The double digit losses and the Bulls failing to win back to back games this season has been the main problem.

Is there an easy fix? Right now, no. If this continues, do the Bulls fire Jim Boylen before the New Year? It is unlikely given the Bulls front office continuing to back Boylen. What is it going to take for the Bulls to make a change? LaVine called out Boylen after being pulled early in the first quarter last Friday night vs. Miami. It had appeared Boylen lost the locker room until LaVine went out the next night and hit 13 threes including the game winner to win the ball game. The script flipped in a matter of 24 hours, and I wondered if it would be the start of something now. Nevertheless, the Bulls dropped a dud Monday night in front of their home crowd.

The Bulls will travel to Golden State Wednesday night to battle the 3-16 Warriors and then off to Portland for a rematch with the Trailblazers on Friday. Again, it is two teams with the same or worse record. The Bulls have a talented roster and they need to turn things around quickly before the rebuild is deemed a failure.

Or has it already…

The Blackhawks welcome the Dallas Stars to town Tuesday night as they attempt to stay relevant in the standings.

After four straights wins against Toronto, Vegas, Nashville, and Buffalo, the Blackhawks endured their best stretch of the season in the past weeks. The offense was clicking, the defense was playing better, and their goaltending continued to be lights out. Now, the Blackhawks will try and break a three game losing streak Tuesday night against the red hot Dallas Stars.

The Blackhawks will roll out the same lineup as Saturday with the only change being Corey Crawford will be in net. In their 2-1 shootout loss in Dallas, the Blackhawks played the Stars pretty well. The shots were close, they were winnings draws at the faceoff dots, and Robin Lehner was outstanding yet again. All that was missing was to close it out in the shootout. Following the loss, Lehner went to the media to talk about his shootout struggles and it was quite interesting. He admits his struggles and actually took to Twitter to ask the fans on how to improve. Here is his clip when he met the media Monday after practice.

As for tonight’s matchup, the Blackhawks have to start fast. In their previous games at the United Center, against the Hurricanes and Lightning last week, their valiant efforts in the third period came up short of victory. It was evident the team has fight but they need that fight for 60 minutes. Tuesday night’s game is not only big to stay in the wild card hunt but an opportunity to take two out of four points early in the season.

As reported by Jon Heyman of the MLB Network, the Chicago Cubs and All-Star Javier Baez are expected to talk about a contract extension at the Winter Meetings.

It is pretty clear given Baez’s production over the past two years that he is apart of the Cubs core group. While 2019 saw less production, Baez will be entering the prime years of his career. He has become a staple in their lineup and there would be a major hole without him.

This offseason is going to be an interesting one for the Cubs. First off, it will be the first without Joe Maddon since 2014. David Ross is now the man in charge. Second, Kris Bryant continues to be a name that keeps popping up in trade rumors. The Cubs are going to offer him a contract but being a Scott Boras client, it is usually not how his players do business. Given we are hearing more about Baez and contracts talks could be a telling sign that Bryant and the Cubs are not on the same page.

There is a lot of time for things to be worked out but the Cubs have to be thinking of the return they could get for him on the trade market. They need young starting pitching, something this current front office has failed to draft and develop. Adbert Alzolay is their only potential starter right now. Trading Bryant could land you a few arms. The Cubs cannot afford to ride out contract talks until it is too late. Either Bryant signs on or the Cubs would be smart to start seeing what they could get for him.

Another name on the Cubs roster that could be dealt this offseason is All-Star Willson Contreras. This is what Jeff Passan of ESPN reported earlier this month

Contreras has been voted to back to back All-Star games but has had his share of highs and lows in Chicago. There is plenty of evidence to back up why the Cubs could look to trade Contreras, Miguel Amaya being the main one. Currently the 8th best catching prospect according to MLB.com, Amaya has worked his way through the Cubs system. He’s highly praised in his framing abilities and raw power. Contreras is not the best at framing pitches so Amaya could fill the need. Also, Contreras could land you young pitching as well. Whether Contreras or Bryant are dealt, it’s likely neither could, young pitching coming back should be a focus of the front office.

The Winter meetings begin December 8th and go until the 12th.

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