Monday, May 4, 2009

Planting a (7) seed

Well, the Bulls couldn't quite pull off the upset over the Celtics, but they got some much needed experience for youngsters like Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Tyrus Thomas and even coach Vinny Del Negro. For Del Negro to match wits with Doc Rivers while Rose battled Rajon Rondo, Noah found ways to exploit his energy and contribute to a winning cause, and a team came together at the right time to nearly pull off something nobody expected--all in the most watched opening round series in NBA playoff history--well that just might be the start of something good.

Don't get me wrong, epic series or no, this was still a 41-41 team. And if Kevin Garnett had played in the series, the Bulls surely would have made a quick exit. But a banged up Celtics team gave the Bulls an opportunity to grow and build a foundation for next year. With a maturing Derrick Rose, a healthy Luol Deng, and some solid pieces in John Salmons, Brad Miller, Noah and others, the Bulls should be able to put the .500 mark in the rear view mirror and compete in the East. Their best opponent this year was often themselves, as they lacked intensity at times and had a tendency to lose focus. But the Bulls were 18-11 after the All-Star break, and they certainly showed some passion in the series against the Celtics, a series which I believe requires a warning to viewers who may be pregnant or nursing, or who have a heart condition.

The big question for now: What happens with Ben Gordon? He says he wants to be in Chicago, but has turned down contracts worth $50 million or more each of the last two offseasons. To sign Gordon, the Bulls would need to move payroll or risk entering luxury tax territory. John Paxson has some work to do over the next few months, but the Bulls provided their fans a level of excitement we haven't seen since the 20th century, and hopefully this experience planted a seed that will help them climb higher than the seven seed they attained this year.

Cubs win, but do they lose Zambrano?
The Cubs offense continued to produce Sunday in a 6-4 victory over the Marlins, their third in a row. It's the third time this season the Cubs have won three in a row--they'll go for a season-high four in a row Monday against the Giants. Dempster would love to get a win in game one of this short two-game set, because Tuesday the Cubs will face reigning Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum.

Good news from Sunday? Derrek Lee hit another home run--a grand slam--and Fontenot added his fifth of the year. Lee's slam--which traveled over 400 feet to straightaway center--marked the first time he had homered in back-to-back games since last April15-16 versus the Reds. Soto also showed signs of breaking out of his early season slump, drilling a double off the wall in right, hitting a hard liner to center, and driving one deep to left center in the 8th.

But the bad news could be really bad: Zambrano laid down a beautiful bunt in the 5th inning but strained his left hamstring as he beat it out. If Zambrano has to go on the DL, expect to see a fill-in from Triple-A Iowa. It could be Randy Wells (eight career appearances), Jose Ascanio (six appearances out of the 'pen last year, 7.94 ERA), or Mitch Atkins (never appeared in majors).

So we await news on Zambrano's hamstring, and hopefully he won't miss much time. Zambrano has never gone on the DL for any type of leg problem.

MLB notes
-The Rays' Carl Crawford stole six bases against the Red Sox Sunday. That ties the modern major league record and it's just the fourth time the feat has been accomplished since 1900.

-Only two of the top 10 batting averages in the majors are held by National Leaguers (Carlos Beltran and Joey Votto).

-The Giants have scored just 82 runs in 23 games this year, though they still find themselves with a 12-11 record. They beat the Rockies Sunday 1-0 in 10 innings.

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