Theo Epstein has strong words for lowly Cubs

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Theo Epstein has strong words for lowly Cubs

From Comcast SportsNet
CHICAGO (AP) -- Theo Epstein expected some rough stretches. He just didn't envision anything like this. A few hours after addressing his team's skid, the Chicago Cubs broke one of the longest losing streaks in franchise history, beating the San Diego Padres 11-7 on Monday. That ended a 12-game slide. The work, however, is just beginning. "I saw tough stretches, but I don't think this is indicative of the type of team we are," Epstein said before the game. "I think we're clearly better than this." Only seven times in their cursed history had the Cubs dropped 12 or more in a row, and they entered Monday's game on their worst losing streak since they started the 1997 season with a franchise-record 14 straight defeats. For all the optimism surrounding Epstein's arrival as president of baseball operations in the offseason, the results are awfully familiar. Of course, he needs time. He also realizes something needs to change. One thing that won't is the plan. Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer said they will continue to build for the future, but they don't want this season to get worse than it already is. "On both fronts, short- and long-term, there's work to do," Epstein said. "In the short term, in the trenches, there's a lot of work to do to get ourselves to a respectable level. This is a bad stretch. Just sort of appeal to the base instincts and start scrapping and keep grinding for pride. Long term, it underscores the magnitude of the job here and sort of how far we need to go to get where we want to be." On Monday, they let out a sigh of relief. A big one, at that. Not since they beat St. Louis on May 14 had they won a game, and the losses certainly were wearing on them. "We lost 10 in a row, but now that's in the past, so now we have to try to win 10 in a row," Alfonso Soriano said after collecting three hits with a home run. "We have to turn it around. You have to believe in this team because we're not that bad." The Cubs brought in Epstein and Hoyer, hoping they would help lift that championship albatross that's been hovering over them for more than a century. Chicago last won it all in 1908, when the Model T was rolling off the assembly line. With a new management team in place, there was a new sense of hope when the season began. After all, Epstein built the team that in that in 2004 ended Boston's 86-year championship drought and then won another title in 2007. For now, the Cubs are simply taking their hits. Hoyer called the losing streak "torturous" and insisted better times are ahead. Manager Dale Sveum sympathized with the players before the game, and when it was over, he made no effort to hide his relief. He played for Milwaukee in 1987 and was a part of a 12-game losing streak that year. That team ultimately finished with 91 wins. "Let's not kid yourself," said Sveum, in his first season as Cubs manager. "You lose 12 in a row, you finally win ... thank God I didn't break my streak. It's a big relief. All the guys, like I said today, you feel bad for them. It's tough. It shows you sometimes how tough it is to win a major league baseball game. Then to lose 12 in a row ... hopefully something like that gets everything going, the bats." Hoyer called the skid "a really painful bump that we're going through right now on the way to get there." The starting pitching, with Matt Garza and Ryan Dempster leading the way, has been solid. The bullpen has been a mess, repeatedly blowing games. Carlos Marmol lost his job as the closer, and Kerry Wood struggled before retiring. At the plate, things haven't been much better. Only three major league teams scored fewer runs entering Monday and with a .244 average, the Cubs ranked 21st. "We're losing right now and teams are beating us and we're on this kind of a streak, and it seems like a bad dream," said Bryan LaHair, one of the few bright spots in the lineup with a .312 average and 10 homers. "But if you're not becoming more hungry to want to win and go on 12-game winning streaks, then I don't know. I know it's what it's doing to me." He said it's not tough to show up at the ballpark. It is tough to leave during a stretch like this. "It beats you down more after the game than before because you've lost," LaHair said. It's not what Soriano envisioned when he signed that 136 million, eight-year contract before the 2007 season. He thought he was going to help the Cubs capture that elusive championship, and they came close, making the playoffs during his first two years. Since then, they've been on a steady decline and so has the veteran slugger. "Sometimes, it's like hard to believe where we are right now," Soriano said. "We played so good. And the last 12 games, we're nothing." Hoyer said the Cubs are "very open" to making changes, but they don't want to be "dumping guys off just to make a point." They would probably love to trade Soriano, but finding takers is not easy. Dempster has an expiring contract and might be attractive to a contender. Garza might be, too. He's eligible for arbitration after the season, and the Cubs might want to keep the 28-year-old. "When you rip the scab off, sometimes there's some pain until we grow some new skin," Epstein said. "We're going places. This is a tough road."

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Ross Mahoney: Recently re-signed Chritstian Djoos could compete for a spot on Caps

Ross Mahoney: Recently re-signed Chritstian Djoos could compete for a spot on Caps

CHICAGO—After spending the past two seasons honing his game in American Hockey League, Capitals prospect Christian Djoos could get the opportunity of a lifetime come September.

Djoos, who was re-signed on Thursday, is one of a handful of blue line prospects the Caps hope will compete for playing time in the NHL next season.

“His hockey IQ is extremely high,” assistant general manager Ross Mahoney said. “He has really good skill. He moves the puck really well. It was pretty evident by the points he put up this year in the American league.”

Djoos, a 22-year-old selected in the seventh round of the 2012 draft, did indeed put up big numbers playing for the Bears. In 66 games, he posted 13 goals and 58 points—the third highest total among AHL defensemen. The players who finished ahead of him—T.J. Brennan and Matt Taormina are longtime minor league vets.  

As impressive as Djoos' offensive production was, though, Mahoney and Co. are equally as intrigued by his ability to make smart decisions under pressure and quickly transition the puck from the backend.

“He’s really, really intelligent,” Mahoney said. “Sees the ice really well. Finds the open man. Can speed the game up, slow the game down.”

The one concern about Djoos—as it's always been—is his size and how it'll affect his ability to battle bigger NHL forwards in the corner and in front of the net. He’s listed at 6 feet, 164-pounds. For comparison’s sake, the lightest players on Washington's roster last season were backup goalie Philipp Grubauer (182 pounds) and wingers Justin Williams (188) and T.J. Oshie (189). The lightest defenseman was Taylor Chorney, who at 191-pounds was the only D under 200-pounds.

So, yeah, Djoos has some work to do in that department.  

“The challenge for him still is to get physically strong,” Mahoney said. “He’s getting there, so we’ll see after another good summer of training and see where he’s at come the fall.”

Depending on what happens in the free agent and trade markets, there figures to be an opportunity—or perhaps even two—waiting for a prospect like Djoos when the team convenes for training camp in mid-September.

After puck-moving defenseman Nate Schmidt was plucked by Las Vegas in the expansion draft on Wednesday night, the Caps were left with only four defensemen under contract (Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik, John Carlson and Chorney) for next season. There’s also Dmitry Orlov, a restricted free agent the Caps intend to sign, but that still leaves a couple of openings.

Asked which blue line prospects are closest to being ready for NHL duty, Mahoney, in an interview with CSN on Thursday, named Djoos and his Hershey teammates Madison Bowey and Tyler Lewington.

“But,” Mahoney said, “it’s up to them to make sure they have a good summer of training, on and off the ice, and then come in and show the coaches that they deserve to be there.”

MORE CAPITALS: The Caps' 2017-2018 schedule

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How Wizards can acquire pick (and from whom) in tonight's NBA draft

How Wizards can acquire pick (and from whom) in tonight's NBA draft

When a team doesn't have any draft picks, as is the case with the Wizards going into tonight, it can buy its way in from teams that are overloaded with too many.

The Wizards shipped their No. 52 selection to the New Orleans Pelicans late Wednesday for Tim Frazier, banking on him being better than any of the options expected to be available. League sources told CSNmidatlantic.com that they'll be actively pursuing another pick for tonight's event that begins at 7 p.m. ET.

But there are several teams that are bogged down with picks. The Philadelphia 76ers, who have the No. 1 overall selection, also have four second-rounders.

The Boston Celtics, who traded down to No. 3 overall in a deal with the Sixers a week ago, have three second-round picks. 

It's simple math for NBA teams. There's a cap on the size of the roster they can carry during the offseason (20) and when the regular season begins (15 + two "two-way" players). The offseason roster includes free agents signed after the draft -- often for little or no guaranteed money -- to attend summer league play in July and training camp in September.

The Sixers have nine guaranteed contracts for 2017-18 and four non-guaranteed deals to decide on. 

[RELATED: 5 things to know about new Wizards point guard Tim Frazier]

Not intrigued by what they saw left on the board when they were set to pick 46th in 2014, the Wizards sold their spot to the L.A. Lakers for $1.8 million. Russ Smith, Cameron Bairstow, Devyn Marble and Cory Jefferson were among the players who were drafted in the next 14 picks which speaks to how difficult it is to find a player who can actually contribute this deep. 

Frazier was available but went undrafted out of Penn State. Tyler Johnson and Langston Galloway also weren't chosen but currently are firmly planted in the NBA. 

In the 2017 collective bargaining agreement, teams were given a bump from $3.6 million to $5.1 million for cash transactions per season that a team can send or receive. This money can be used to buy picks.

In the 2016 draft, for instance, the Golden State Warriors purchased the No. 38 pick from the Milwaukee Bucks to take Patrick McCaw who came off the bench to make key plays in Game 5 of their NBA championship win earlier this month. The move cost $2.4 million.

Tonight, the Sixers' four second-round picks fall from Nos. 36-50; the Celtics own Nos. 37, 53 and 56; the Orlando Magic have Nos. 33 and 35; the Atlanta Hawks hold Nos. 41 and 60; the Utah Jazz have Nos. 42 and 55; the Knicks own Nos. 44 and 58; the Houston Rockets have Nos. 43 and 45; and the Denver Nuggets possess Nos. 49 and 51.

[RELATED: Reasons why dealing for Tim Frazier works for Wizards]