Cubs

All-Star games battle for nation's best

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All-Star games battle for nation's best

Originally, there was only one national high school All-Star football game. Then there were two. Now there are three, and counting.

All of which means the sponsors of the three events--U.S. Army, U.S. Marines and Under Armour--are battling for the nation's top players as if it was a month before national signing day.

Who's going to play for whom?

The U.S. Army traditionally announces its roster before anyone else. Its 2013 squad includes only one Illinois product, wide receiver LaQuon Treadwell of Crete-Monee. He has at least 19 scholarship offers, including Alabama, Auburn, USC, Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Nebraska.

The Marines-sponsored Semper Fidelis game has landed commitments from Michigan-bound offensive tackles Kyle Bosch of Wheaton St. Francis and Logan Tuley-Tillman of Peoria Manual and the state's two top-rated quarterbacks, Aaron Bailey of Bolingbrook and Matt Alviti of Maine South.

But USC-bound Ty Isaac of Joliet Catholic, the No. 1 running back in the nation according to recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network, and LSU-bound offensive tackle Ethan Pocic of Lemont, both of whom originally had committed to Semper Fidelis, changed their minds and decided to compete in the Under Armour game.

The Marines also have invited offensive tackles Jack Keeler of Barrington, who is committed to Wisconsin, Notre Dame-bound Colin McGovern of Lincoln-Way West and Kendall Moore of Simeon, defensive end Ruben Dunbar of Glenbard West, defensive lineman Josh Augusta of Peoria Central and Illinois-bound running back Kendrick Foster of Peoria Richwoods.

Augusta, who played on Peoria Central's Class 3A championship team, has emerged as one of the top prospects in Illinois in a relative short period of time.

The 6-foot-5, 275-pounder has 11 offers, including Illinois, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Michigan, Iowa, Indiana, Memphis, Missouri, Nebraska and California. He also is attracting interest from Alabama, Oregon, Michigan State and Ohio State.

After heading the selection committee for the U.S. Army game for several years, Lemming knows it is important to nail down commitments as quickly as possible, even more importantly when there are three All-Star games competing against one another for the nation's best talent. He can't understand why the Marines haven't pulled the trigger faster than they have.

Sean Berry, CEO of Junior Rank Sports and founder of the U.S. Marine Corps' Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl, admits the Marines' approach has been slow. But he predicts "big plans for this year." The game, which was played for the first time last year in Phoenix, is likely to move to Los Angeles this year and will be televised on NFL Network.

"We're getting the best football players, what people saw last year," Berry said. "They may not be the best ranked players (according to most recruiting services) but they are more competitive."

Berry pointed out that Lemming, chairman of the Marines' selection committee, picks players with NFL potential, not necessarily because they are ranked among the top 100 in the nation. For example, Bosch is rated as the No. 1 guard in the country based on his NFL potential.

Berry admits he is disappointed by Isaac's decision. Isaac has been involved in Berry's Junior Rank program since eighth grade. He attended the Marines' combine in Phoenix last January and Berry has a good relationship with Isaac's parents.

"Kids make decisions for a lot of different reasons," Berry said. "I don't think you'll see more than three high school all-star games. But, to be successful, you have to be that authoritative entity to say you can accumulate the best collection of players.

"How do you do that? Look at Tom Lemming's track record in terms of finding the best athletes. But some organizations throw a lot of free gear at a kid, as much as 2,000 worth. Sometimes kids are persuaded by the fact the game is being played in Florida. We think a lot of West Coast kids will be persuaded to participate in the Semper Fidelis game."

Meanwhile, Berry is planning for the future. He already is building relationships with four young and promising prospects in the Chicago area--6-foor-2, 240-pound freshman tackle Brennan Bosch, 6-foot-4, 200-pound sophomore wide receiver Brannon Barry and eighth-grade quarterback Justin Berry of St. Charles East and 6-foot-6, 250-pound eighth-grade tackle Eric Swenson of Downers Grove South.

Brennan Bosch is Kyle Bosch's brother, and Michigan is already expressing interest in him. Barry already is attracting interest from Oklahoma. Berry, Sean Berry's son, took an unofficial visit to West Virginia recently.

In the business of all-star football games, like recruiting, it is never too early to evaluate talent.

Breaking down where Cubs can turn NLCS around and beat L.A.

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USA TODAY

Breaking down where Cubs can turn NLCS around and beat L.A.

“Sometimes, you got to lay your marbles out there,” Jon Lester said Sunday night inside Dodger Stadium’s visiting clubhouse, before the Cubs flew home from Los Angeles down 0-2 in the National League Championship Series. “And you get beat.”

It will be extremely difficult for the Cubs to win four of the next five games against the Dodgers, starting Tuesday night at Wrigley Field. But the Cubs had the, uh, marbles to win last year’s World Series and have developed the muscle memory from winning six playoff rounds and playing in 33 postseason games since October 2015.

There is a cross section left of the 2015 team that beat the Pittsburgh Pirates and silenced PNC Park’s blackout crowd in a sudden-death wild-card game. While 2016 is seen in hindsight as a year of destiny, those Cubs still had to kill the myths about the even-year San Francisco Giants, survive a 21-inning scoreless streak against the Dodgers and win Games 5, 6, 7 against the Cleveland Indians under enormous stress.

There is at least a baseline of experience to draw from and the sense that the Cubs won’t panic and beat themselves, the way the Washington Nationals broke down in the NL Division Series.

· Remember the Cubs pointed to how their rotation set up as soon as Cleveland took a 3-1 lead in last year’s World Series: Lester, Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks would each give them a chance to win that night. The Dodgers will now have to deal with last year’s major-league ERA leader (Hendricks) in Game 3 and a Cy Young Award winner (Arrieta) on Wednesday night in Game 4.

“Obviously, we know we need to get wins at this point,” Hendricks said. “But approaching it as a must-win is a little extreme. We've just got to go out there and play our brand of baseball.

“Since we accomplished that, we know we just have to take it game by game. Even being down 3-1 (in the World Series), we worry about the next game. In that situation, we didn’t think we had to win three in a row or anything like that. We just came to the ballpark the next day and worried about what we had to do that day.”

· The history lessons only go so far when the Dodgers can line up Yu Darvish as their Game 3 starter instead of, say, Josh Tomlin. There is also a huge difference between facing a worn-down Cleveland staff in late October/early November and a rested Dodger team that clinched a division title on Sept. 22 and swept the Arizona Diamondbacks in the first round. Joe Blanton and Pedro Baez aren’t walking through that bullpen door, either.

“We’ve done it before. We’ve been there before,” shortstop Addison Russell said. “But this year’s a new year. That’s a different ballclub. We’re definitely going to have to bring it.”

· Outside of Kenley Jansen, can you name anyone else in the Los Angeles bullpen off the top of your head? No doubt, the Dodger relievers have been awesome in Games 1 and 2 combined: Eight scoreless innings, zero hits, zero walks and Anthony Rizzo the only one out of 25 batters to reach base when Jansen hit him with a 93.7-mph pitch.

But the Dodgers are going to make mistakes, and the Cubs will have to capitalize. Unless this is the same kind of synthesis from the 2015 NLCS, when the New York Mets used exhaustive scouting reports, power pitching and pinpoint execution to sweep a Cubs team that had already hit the wall.

“Their bullpen is a lot stronger than it was last year,” Kris Bryant said. “They’re really good at throwing high fastballs in the zone. A lot of other teams try to, and they might hit it one out of every four. But this team, it seems like they really can hammer the top of the zone. And they have guys that throw in the upper 90s, so when you mix those two, it’s tough to catch up.”

· Bryant is not having a good October (5-for-28 with 13 strikeouts) and both Lester and Jose Quintana have more hits (one each) than Javier Baez (0-for-19 with eight strikeouts) during the playoffs. But we are still talking about the reigning NL MVP and last year’s NLCS co-MVP.

Ben Zobrist is clearly diminished and no longer the switch-hitting force who became last year’s World Series MVP. Kyle Schwarber doesn’t have the same intimidation factor or playoff aura right now. But one well-timed bunt from Zobrist or a “Schwarbomb” onto the video board could change the entire direction of this series and put the pressure on a Dodger team that knows this year is World Series or bust.

“We need to hit a couple balls hard consecutively,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Once we’re able to do that, we’ll gain our offensive mojo back. That's all that’s going on.

“I inherited something from my dad, and that was patience. So you’ve got to be patient right now. You’ve got to keep putting the boys back out there. You keep believing in them, and eventually it comes back to you.”

· Maddon is a 63-year-old man who opened Monday’s stadium club press conference at Wrigley Field by talking about dry-humping, clearly annoyed by all the second-guessers on Twitter and know-it-all sports writers who couldn’t believe All-Star closer Wade Davis got stranded in the bullpen, watching the ninth inning of Sunday’s 1-1 game turn into a 4-1 walk-off loss.

By the time a potential save situation develops on Tuesday night, roughly 120 hours will have passed since Davis threw his 44th and final pitch at Nationals Park, striking out Bryce Harper to end an instant classic. Just guessing that Maddon will be in the mood to unleash Davis.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should the Bears let Mitch Trubisky throw more?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should the Bears let Mitch Trubisky throw more?

Adam Jahns (Chicago Sun-Times), Ben Finfer (ESPN 1000) and Jordan Cornette (The U/ESPN 1000) join Kap on the panel. Justin Turner hits a walk-off 3-run HR off of John Lackey to give the Dodgers a 2-0 lead in the NLCS. So why was Lackey even in the game? How much blame should Joe Maddon get for the loss?

The Bears run the ball over and over and over again to beat the Ravens in overtime, but should they have let Mitch Trubisky throw the ball more?