Cubs

Fire end home schedule Saturday with D.C. United

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Fire end home schedule Saturday with D.C. United

Home field advantage is one thing, and the Fire has enjoyed its best season ever playing at Toyota Park. The Fire is 11-3-2 there going into Saturdays last regular season match against D.C. United.
Like most matches in the last two months, this one is huge for the Fire and the expected return of Pavel Pardo might mean more than the good vibes provided by the clubs impressive record on its home turf.
The Fire hasnt been the same since Pardo injured a hamstring in a 2-1 road win against Toronto FC on Sept. 12. He sat out the next game, a 3-1 home win vs. the Montreal Impact three days later, and then suffered a left calf injury at the Fires next training session. The Fire is a mediocre 3-3-0 in the six games that the 36-year old Mexican midfielder missed.
Daniel Paladini was a decent replacement, especially offensively where he contributed two goals and two assists. Still, the Fire could have used the steadying influence that Pardo brought in the first 27 matches, 26 of which he started.
Pardo played for Mexico in the 1998 and 2006 World Cups, appeared in over 300 matches for one of his countrys premier clubs teams Club America, and was on Stuttgarts championship team in the German Bundesliga in 2007. Losing a player with that kind of resume couldnt help but hurt, and the Fire lost road matches to two teams that had long been eliminated from playoff contention the Philadelphia Union and New England Revolution while Pardo was sidelined.So, the Fire (17-11-5, 56 points) has lost three of its last four matches and cant afford another letdown against D.C. United (17-10-6, 57 points), though both are already guaranteed spots in Major League Soccers postseason competition.
"Our goal was to be in the playoffs, so now its important where you finish (within the Eastern Conference)," said Fire coach Frank Klopas. "Its very important to have home-field advantage and not to play that extra game...We have to get the three points at home that will put us in second place."
Pardo returned to full training on Tuesday and went through the Wednesday and Thursday sessions with no setbacks. Klopas wont commit to starting him on Saturday but is hopeful Pardo will be available for selection."Its always good to be on the field with the whole team and training at 100 percent," said Pardo after one of this weeks workouts. "Im happy to be coming back, and hopefully I'll be fully ready to play on Saturday."If the Fire does win in Saturdays matinee match it will climb back into the second spot and wont have to play in the one-game knockout match on either Wednesday or Thursday between the teams that finish fourth and fifth in the East. United is second and the Fire third heading into the last weekend of the campaign.The history between these teams is interesting. D.C. United was the premier team when MLS started, winning titles in 1996 and 1997 and going to the MLS Cup final again in the third season of 1998. That coincided with the Fires first season, and the Fire pulled off a monumental upset en route to sweeping the MLS and U.S. Open Cups. The Fire hasnt been that successful since, and D.C. United hasnt aged gracefully either.United is in postseason play for the first time since 2007 and the Fire is there for the first time since 2009. The Fire hasnt defeated D.C. United at Toyota Park since 2006, its first season in Bridgeview. The Fire is winless in their meetings there since then (0-3-3).As was the case with the Fire, just getting back to postseason play was a big deal for United and their road back was an unlikely one. United got red hot after its best player, Dwayne DeRosario, was lost with a knee injury. United is 5-0-1 since the star forward-midfielder went down.D.C. is the only team to score four goals against the Fire this season, doing it in a 4-2 win at RFK Stadium in their only previous meeting on Aug. 22. DeRosario had a goal and an assist in that matchup. Originally thought to be out for the rest of the season, United coach Ben Olsen is holding out hope that DeRosario might be able to play if his club goes deep into the postseason.Regardless of that possibility, the Fire can finish anywhere from second to fifth based on the results of this weekends matches. The New York Red Bulls (15-9-9, 54 points) could move up by beating Philadelphia and the fifth-place Houston Dynamo (14-8-11, 53 points) could wrangle a home game in the knockout match with a road win at Colorado and the right set of outcomes in the other matches.The wild card, knockout match will be played on Wednesday or Thursday. The playoff format switches to two-game home-and-home series for the conference semifinals (No. 3 or 4 and 7 or 8) and the conference finals (Nov. 17 or 18). The MLS Cup final will be played Dec. 1 on the home field of the team with the higher seed.As part of the regular season finale festivities the Fire will have pink touches to their attire in support of breast cancer awareness and will also announce its award-winners. Media members did the voting for Most Valuable Player and Best Defender. My picks were goalkeeper Sean Johnson for MVP and Arne Friedrich for Best Defender.Johnson was a clear-cut winner for MVP in my book, with Patrick Nyarko his closest competition. The choice of Friedrich was more difficult, as Austin Berry deserves a boost for what I consider a Rookie-of-the-Year season. My reasoning was that Friedrichs steadying influence was also a big reason for Berrys solid play.

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?