Fire

Astros torch Garza, Cubs' skid hits 7

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Astros torch Garza, Cubs' skid hits 7

HOUSTON (AP) Jason Castro and Chris Johnson each hit three-run homers and Bud Norris threw seven scoreless innings to give the Houston Astros an 8-4 victory over the slumping Chicago Cubs on Monday night.Castro's home run came in the second inning and Johnson added his in the third, to hand the Cubs their season-high seventh loss in a row.Jed Lowrie homered for the second straight game, hitting a solo shot in the seventh inning to give the Astros three homers in a game for the second time in three games.Norris (5-1) allowed five hits with eight strikeouts in seven innings. He has allowed just one earned run in his current four-game winning streak.Cubs starter Matt Garza (2-2) yielded five hits and season-high seven runs in three innings - his shortest start of the season.Johnson hit a two-out single in the second inning before a walk by J.D. Martinez to set up Castro's homer, which broke an 0-for-9 streak. His first home run of the season landed several rows up in the lower deck in right field, where a man wearing a Cubs shirt fell backward trying to catch it, to put Houston up 3-0.
Lowrie singled in the third and later stole second base and advanced to third on an error by catcher Koyie Hill. He scored on a single with two outs by Carlos Lee to make it 4-0. Brian Bogusevic walked before Johnson's 429-foot shot to the deepest part of the park in center field pushed Houston's lead to 7-0.Chicago didn't score until the ninth inning when reliever Enerio Del Rosario allowed three straight hits, capped by an RBI single by pinch hitter Reed Johnson to make it 8-1. He was replaced by Fernando Abad, who gave up a run-scoring single by David DeJesus.Wilton Lopez replaced Abad with one out before Blake Lalli got his first major league hit with a two-out, two RBI single to make it 8-4. Joe Mather's flyball to Travis Buck ended Chicago's threat.DeJesus walked to start the fifth inning before Norris retired the next eight batters, striking out four. He didn't allow another man on base until DeJesus singled with two outs in the seventh inning, but he struck out Tony Campana to end the inning.Campana walked in the first and stole second and third base. But the Cubs came away empty when Bryan LaHair struck out to end the inning. Ian Stewart walked with one out in the fourth and reached third on a single by Hill with two outs. He was left stranded when Norris retired pinch-hitter Jeff Baker.Notes: Cubs manager Dale Sveum said catcher Wellington Castillo, who has a sprained knee ligament, was doing better on Monday, but wasn't healthy enough to return to the lineup. ... Houston optioned RHP Jordan Lyles to Triple-A Oklahoma City and recalled Del Rosario to take his spot on the roster on Monday. ... Astros CF Jordan Schafer missed his second straight game since injuring his lower right leg avoiding a collision Saturday night. But he said before the game that he was OK, and manager Brad Mills expects him back in the lineup Tuesday. ... Chicago left-hander Travis Wood is expected to be recalled from Triple-A Iowa on Tuesday to start against J.A. Happ when these teams play Game 2 of the three-game series.

Joao Meira spills the first news of the Fire's offseason

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USA TODAY

Joao Meira spills the first news of the Fire's offseason

The wait to find out which players have their options picked up or declined by the Fire might still be a couple weeks, but the first news of a player move in the Fire's offseason came via Twitter.

Defender Joao Meira announced he won't be returning to the club in 2018.

Meira signed with the Fire just before the start of the 2016 preseason after being out of contract in Europe. The Portuguese center back signed a one-year deal with a club option for the second year.

After he played 28 matches with 26 starts in 2016, the Fire picked up his option. He became even more of a fixture at center back in 2017, beating out Jonathan Campbell for the other starting spot alongside Johan Kappelhof. Meira played in 30 regular season matches and made 27 starts, finishing fourth on the team in minutes played (2,412).

That Meira won't be back isn't a major surprise for a few reasons. First, he was out of contract. He was one of two players, along with Bastian Schweinsteiger, on the Fire's roster that the team had no control over for 2018. On top of that, the 30-year-old had made it clear that he wanted to be closer to his home and family in Portugal.

Meira's departure leaves a gap at the center back position for the Fire. Kappelhof, who enters the third year of a three-year guaranteed deal in 2018, and Campbell, who will likely have his club option picked up, enter as the only healthy center backs in 2018. Christian Dean was added in August via trade, but is coming off a broken foot, an injury that has plagued him before. His status for the start of the 2018 season is unclear.

Grant Lillard, a potential homegrown signing and a senior at Indiana, could compete for time at center back next season. He is one of the top rated players in the country for the Hoosiers, which are the No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. While Lillard could step in from a numbers perspective and would add size to the Fire's back line (Lillard is 6-foot-4), he wouldn't be able to replace Meira's ability on the ball. Meira wasn't as effective of a defender as Kappelhof, but was arguably the best passer among the Fire's center backs and helped alleviate pressure at times.

This also opens up an international spot on the Fire's roster. The Fire went over the alloted total last season, but were able to put John Goossens and Jorge Bava on the disabled list to clear room. Meira's exit gives a bit more flexibility in that department.

Bears-Lions prediction: Will special teams continue John Fox's NFC North woes?

Bears-Lions prediction: Will special teams continue John Fox's NFC North woes?

Only three of John Fox’s 12 wins as Bears coach have been against NFC North opponents, while 12 of his 29 losses have come against divisional opponents. 

That’s a recipe for back-to-back-to-back last place finishes in the NFC North. And if the Bears can’t beat an Aaron Rodgers-less Green Bay Packers team, why could it beat a Detroit Lions team that has a healthy franchise quarterback?

The positive end of that answer is the Bears do have wins over two playoff teams (Pittsburgh and Carolina) while six of their four losses have been by eight points or fewer. Sunday’s game will probably be close, again (if it’s not, and the Bears are on the losing end of it, it would raise some significant concerns about the state of Fox within the locker room). 

So if the game is decided by one possession or less, this could be the difference: Detroit has one of the best special teams units in the NFL, ranking second in Football Outsiders’ DVOA, while the Bears are 28th by the same measure. 

Getting Sherrick McManis back this week should help solidify Jeff Rodgers’ special teams units, but Jamal Agnew has two punt return scores and is averaging 18.3 yards per return. 

“Tough guy — he’ll return inside and outside,” Rodgers said. “He’s got multiple longer returns against people this year. it’s not just, ‘I had a long return in Week 2 or Week 1,’ and kinda held onto that. he’s been productive in a lot of games. certainly a guy that we’ve gotta do a good job against.”

If the Bears don’t do a good job bottling up Agnew, though, he could be the reason why the game flips to Detroit — or, at least, why the Lions keep the Bears at arm’s length. 

Prediction: Lions 24, Bears 16