Cubs

In the desert, some good stuff and a lot of bad facing Bears

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In the desert, some good stuff and a lot of bad facing Bears

First the bad news (and theres a lot of it):

A team that spiraled down a nine-game losing streak is usually a doormat. If the Bears regard the Arizona Cardinals as such, they will spend Sunday night explaining a sixth loss in the last seven games.

Arizona bumbled away a 4-0 start because of problems on offense, not defense. Kind of like the Bears. The Cardinals are not in the Bears class at stopping points but they are 11th in scoring defense (21.6 per game). And the Bears have only managed to score that number in one of the past six games, which goes a very long way toward explaining why they lost the other five.

Of some significance possibly is that the Cardinals play a 3-4 defense, and the Bears have scored six (Houston), seven (San Francisco) and 13 (Green Bay) points in their last three games against that scheme.

They show a lot of different looks, theyre not afraid to blitz you and have talented guys in the secondary and linebackers, quarterback Jay Cutler said. They create turnovers, theyre really good on third down so weve got our hands full.

More bad stuff

Some specifics bode ill, or at least challenging, for the Bears.

The offense, what there has been of it, has run through Brandon Marshall. The Packers (twice) and 49ers in particular gave him problems and the Bears lost all three games in dismal offensive performances.

Arizona has an elite cornerback in Patrick Peterson, whose matchup with Marshall rates on the interest scale with Charles Tillman vs. Calvin Johnson.

I got a text message from my college coach that also coached at LSU when he was there and he said, This is the best athlete youre going to go against this year, Marshall said. Ive got my hands full this week. I know hell follow me around a little bit.

I heard some comments he made a week or two ago about how hes playing the best at the position. I agree with him. Watching film now, he really is backing it up. Unfortunately their record doesnt show that. That kind of put a damper on his play right now but hes playing at a high level. This guy is going to be another Pro Bowler.

A little more bad stuff

Defensive end Calais Campbell is 6-8, 300 pounds and has 4.5 sacks, and he likely will be facing off against struggling Gabe Carimi. The second-year right tackle lost his job over failures to block a speed rusher (San Franciscos Aldon Smith); the hope is that other end of the size spectrum is a better matchup.

JMarcus Webb has the task of staving off three-time Pro Bowl selection Darnell Dockett on the other side. Not a good matchup for the Bears.

But the rush nightmare for the Bears is inside linebacker Daryl Washington, who leads the Cardinals with both 120 tackles and 9.5 sacks. Bears' guard play has been spotty at best and rookie James Brown played so badly against Green Bay that he was benched in-game.

We have some guys in place that we think were going to go with, said offensive coordinator Mike Tice. Theyre from the group of guys that played in the game the other days. So well have five guys out there.

The Cardinals, fourth in takeaways with 32 (vs. the Bears 37) have intercepted 13 passes in the last five games, including the three that doomed Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions. They rank No. 1 in the NFL in interception percentage and fourth in sacks per pass play, meaning they are precisely what a shaky Bears offensive line and quarterback need with playoff hopes hanging by a thread of a thread.

The last two Bears losses and the one to Houston arguably turned on Cutler interceptions, which has helped quell any ripple of Cutler-for-MVP sentiment that appeared briefly when the Bears were 7-1.

For purposes of comparison, the Bears defense has held opposing quarterbacks to a combined passer rating of 71.4. That is very good.

The Cardinals have held quarterbacks to a combined 68.0. That is even better.

Now, a little good stuff

But for all that the Cardinals have done against the pass, they rank 28th in rushing yards allowed per game and 19th in yards per carry. In six of the losses in the nine-game swoon, opponents rushed for 165 or more yards.

The problem is that the Bears have been as inept running the ball as they have throwing it. They have scored a rushing touchdown (two) in only one of the last six games and the guy who scored those two Michael Bush went on injured reserve this week with a rib injury.

The Detroit Lions lost to the Cardinals last week when they rushed for only 84 yards. The Bears lost to Green Bay and San Francisco with sub-85 rushing totals and the tipping point clearly will be the run game.

Were all searching right now, Tice acknowledged. Theres a lot of what-ifs, is-it-him? but thats the way it is when youve lost a number of games in the last six.

CubsTalk Podcast: How new coaching staff will help ensure Maddon's tactics won't get stale

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USA TODAY

CubsTalk Podcast: How new coaching staff will help ensure Maddon's tactics won't get stale

ESPN’s Jesse Rogers stops by the CubsTalk Podcast to chat with Kelly Crull and Tony Andracki about his new book on Joe Maddon. The trio also debate whether Maddon’s tactics get stale and how the new coaching staff will affect the season.

Plus, who should hit leadoff? Fans are all in on Albert Almora Jr., but that might not be the best option. And whose side do you take in the Willson Contreras-Yadier Molina tiff?

Listen to the entire podcast here:

Who should lead off for Cubs in 2018?

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USA TODAY

Who should lead off for Cubs in 2018?

The Cubs' offseason has been hyperfocused on pitching, pitching and more pitching.

But what about the offense? Specifically: Who's going to hit leadoff for the 2018 Cubs?

That question seems to be one of the hot topics surrounding the team as they strive to make Even Year Magic a Chicago thing and win another World Series in 2018.

Before we get into who SHOULD lead off, I'll tell you who shouldn't: Albert Almora Jr., who is a popular choice among fans to fill in for the ghost of Dexter Fowler atop the order.

That's not a knock on the young outfielder, who seems primed for a breakout in 2018 when he should be playing on a regular basis and seeing a lot more time against right-handed pitching. 

This will only be Almora's second full season in the big leagues and given he was in a platoon for most of last year, he still only has 411 career plate appearances in the majors. 

So he's not much more experienced than Kyle Schwarber was when he was penciled into the leadoff spot for the Cubs to kick off 2017 and we all know how that experiment went. Leading off is a tough position to put players in, especially those that are still growing in their big-league skin.

Plus, Almora simply doesn't see enough pitches. He swings at the first pitch often (more than 11 percent of the time) and saw only 3.45 pitches per plate appearance in 2017. That mark was good for 29th on the Cubs behind eight pitchers (Dylan Floro, Kyle Hendricks, John Lackey, Jon Lester, Eddie Butler, Jose Quintana, Jake Arrieta and Hector Rondon), though the pitchers obviously have a small sample size of plate appearances.

Still, that's a shockingly small number for a position player. Almora would've been tied for 143rd out of 145 position players in baseball in pitches per plate appearance if he had enough at-bats to qualify.

But as for who SHOULD lead off, my choice is Ian Happ, though I would like to see Kris Bryant get some run up there and maybe even another Anthony Rizzo stint as "The Greatest Leadoff Hitter of All Time."

Here are my Top 5 suggestions if Joe Maddon were writing out the lineup today:

1. Ian Happ
2. Kris Bryant
3. Ben Zobrist
4. Jason Heyward
5. Anthony Rizzo

Here's more on the reasoning behind that:

Hot Stove - Cubs Leadoff Hitters/2021 White Sox Predictions

Who should be the Opening Day leadoff man for the Cubs? What will the 2021 White Sox lineup and rotation look like? We make our predictions and want to hear yours NOW on Hot Stove Live!

Posted by NBC Sports Chicago on Wednesday, January 17, 2018