Cubs

Ball and season still in Cutlers hands

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Ball and season still in Cutlers hands

It hasnt always been pretty but the Bears are 6-1 and playing a 3-5 team for the chance to win a sixth straight game. Bears teams that win six straight have always made the playoffs since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger (1977, 1985, 1986, 1990, 2001, 2005, 2006).

That is no assurance of true success, however. All but the 85 and 06 teams lost in the first round of the playoffs.

But for the Bears to join the first part of that list will require a meaningful performance upgrade from quarterback Jay Cutler.

Cutler Time

This has become a familiar refrain, but with Houston, San Francisco, Minnesota (twice) and Seattle the next five opponents after the Tennessee Titans all but Minnesota (11th) ranked top-five defensively Cutler needs a whole-game show like his fourth quarter against the overmatched Carolina Panthers.

The Chicago defense has been the story of the 2012 season but at some point Cutler is expected and needed to play like the franchise quarterback that at least GM Phil Emery has decided he is.

Cutlers dalliances accounted for three of the six sacks he took against Carolina. This is simply unacceptable from a quarterback into his seventh NFL season and who is working with his virtually hand-picked position coach in Jeremy Bates.

And he really isnt all that convincing looking deeper into this season and whether things will be any better with Mike Tice than they were with Ron Turner or Mike Martz.

Didnt say it was getting better, Cutler said. I never said it was. We could be playing this type of ball in December. I dont know. I cant tell the future.

How I saw it in August

The season has held to the form I expected before it began, which had the Bears winning the ones they have and losing in Green Bay. This Tennessee game, however, was not one I had in the ledger as a W for the team I projected for 11-5.

Heres how it looked after preseason:

9. At Tennessee Titans (2011 record 9-7) Sun., Nov. 4, noon

Analysis: Whether the Bears will be facing Matt Hasselbeck or Jake Locker is a question but Tennessees offensive line allowed just 24 sacks last year. This is a very dangerous team, adding pass rusher Kamerion Wimbley, aging but solid LG Steve Hutchinson and drafting Baylor WR Kendall Wright a pick after the Bears took Shea McClellin.

Result: L (6-2)

The quarterback issue has come down with Hasselbeck because of Lockers shoulder injury. Wimbley hurt the Bears last year as a Raiduh and Wright already has 40 catches, an average of five per game.

This isnt a trap game where the Bears dont take a bad team seriously and spend three quarters figuring out that theres a game and maybe they should join it already in progress. The Bears appeared to be looking past Carolina and with so much attention on the toughening second half of the schedule, overlooking Tennessee would not be beyond possibility.

The problem is that Titans with Hasselbeck are not the same team as with Locker. The defense is still a serious concern, having given up no fewer than 23 points in the first seven games before taking Indianapolis to overtime and a 19-13 loss.

And so

The Bears very well could go back home with a 7-1 record and narrow win against the Titans. I didnt think they would before this season started and I still dont.

Titans: 23; Bears: 20

Grandpa Rossy and the 5 biggest things from Cubs-Dodgers NLCS Game 4

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USA TODAY

Grandpa Rossy and the 5 biggest things from Cubs-Dodgers NLCS Game 4

The Cubs aren't dead yet.

Once again, this team has proved they play their best when they're forced to with backs against the wall.

The Cubs finally showed some urgency for the first time in the NLCS, continuing to pile on and smashing the narrative that scoring first on an early home run is not a good move. 

The door won't shut on this 2017 season for at least another day, thanks in large part to this guy:

Farewell, Jake

Making what is almost assuredly his last start in a Cubs uniform and at Wrigley Field, Jake Arrieta was masterful, navigating a relentless Dodgers lineup and giving the Cubs a much-needed deep outing, tossing 6.2 innings.

He struck out 9, working around 5 walks and 3 hits while throwing 111 pitches, his most since May 21 against Milwaukee.

And how's this for justice? Arrieta tied the Cubs all-time postseason record with his fifth playoff victory Wednesday night.

Arrieta had his ups and downs Wednesday night, but he did plenty to remind Cubs fans of all he's done in blue pinstripes the last five seasons.

I mean, just look at the movement on some of these pitches:

A hat-tip to Arrieta for a brilliant Cubs career:

Grandpa Rossy = Bill Murray?

David Ross went full Bill Murray Wednesday night, hyping up the crowd just by his mere presence. In the first few innings of NLCS Game 4, these were the biggest cheers from the 42,195 in attendance at Wrigley Field:

1. Willson Contreras HR off the video board
2. Javy Baez HR to the left of video board
3. David Ross shown on video board

Ross was hanging around the Cubs before the game, visiting with old teammates and chatting for a few mins with "son" Anthony Rizzo during batting practice.

The Cubs finally looked like the team that displayed legendary resiliency from last fall with Grandpa Rossy in attendance. Don't even try to act like there's no concidence there.

Javy Time

Baez was 0-for-20 this postseason entering Wednesday night and that number bumps up to 0-for-23 when taking into account last fall, too.

So naturally, he hits two bombs and shows everybody why Joe Maddon keeps writing his name in the lineup.

Let's tell the story of Javy's night in GIFs:

Ball don't lie

Joe Maddon wasn't f-in around. He brought in Wade Davis in the eighth inning against the heart of the Dodgers order and of course, this game couldn't end without controversy and some edge-of-your-seat thrills.

A few batters after yet another Justin Turner homer, Davis appeared to have struck out Curtis Granderson on a pitch in the dirt. But after a conference by the umpires, they ruled it a foul ball, despite what seemed like pretty clear evidence on replay that Granderson did not make contact with the ball.

Joe Maddon erupted, leading to a lengthy argument that resulted in his removal from the game.

After nearly 10 minutes without throwing a pitch, Davis roared back and struck out Granderson anyway.

After throwing 34 pitches in the eighth, Davis came back out firing in the ninth to shut the door for a six-out save.

Power plays

Willson Contreras hit a ball 491 feet, nearly taking his own face out on the left field video board.

It was the first Cubs run of the game, giving them the lead for the fourth time in the series off a longball. The other three times in the NLCS all resulted in Cubs losses, but this time, however, they crushed the narrative with one blast after another into the wind blowing out to dead left field. 

The Dodgers responded with their own homers - first by Cody Bellinger in the second inning and then by Turner (also off the scoreboard) in the eighth.

The first five runs in the game were all scored on solo homers.

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 5-2 loss to Blues: What's up with the power play?

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USA TODAY

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 5-2 loss to Blues: What's up with the power play?

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks' 5-2 loss to the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday night:
 
1. Nick Schmaltz returns but sizzle doesn’t.

You didn’t expect the fireworks of the season opener but you figured Schmaltz, Ryan Hartman and Patrick Kane would connect pretty quickly again. The speed was certainly there. The connections on passes were not. It wasn’t just that second line, though: it was another night on which the Blackhawks’ offense was sluggish. 
 
2. Tripping along.

I joked that tripping is the new slashing. Maybe that’s not the case league-wide but it was for the Blackhawks on Wednesday night. The Blackhawks took five tripping penalties overall, including three in the first period. It was a clear sign that the Blackhawks were trying to play catch-up all night, and they didn’t fare well at it.
 
3. Power play gets something but…

It took until late in the third period (when the Blackhawks’ offense seems to get going lately). The Blackhawks got two late power-play goals, a reminder of what they can do when they battle for the puck and show some spark.

“Our sense of urgency in the puck area, be it 5-on-5 or on the power play, that’s the differential of keeping the puck in the offensive zone and making plays off it is one of our strengths,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We didn’t do that very often and we haven’t won many battles.”
 
4. Starting slow.

Why these are happening is a mystery, and they’ve been most evident in the Blackhawks’ last three games, which have all come against division opponents. Too much relying on Corey Crawford again and not much in terms of shots, be it quality or quantity through the first two periods. The Blackhawks were outshot 17-8 through the first 40 minutes on Wednesday. While they created little they gave up way too much.
 
5. Patrick Sharp OK?

Sharp was injured late on Wednesday night when the Blackhawks-Blues game got chippy in the final five-plus minutes. Quenneville thought Sharp was fine but he wasn’t positive at the time of his postgame press conference.