Cubs

Frankie O's Blog: The People vs. Jay Cutler

Frankie O's Blog: The People vs. Jay Cutler

Thursday, Jan. 27, 2011
5:03 p.m.

By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com

It isnt a trial, but it sure feels like one. From the moment that he was injured in the NFC Championship game, people have taken sides and its the argument that has consumed a city, if not a nation. Where I work is a different kind of court, one where facts arent always the deciding factor. It is a court where perceptions rule, it is the court of public opinion. Its one where Im an arbiter every day. Short of someone breaking the law, I dont know if I have ever seen a case like this one.

The defendant is one different dude. He has taken the act of walking to the beat of a different drummer to stratospheric heights. The perception of him publicly is that he does not care about ANYTHING. It is one thing to have a detached cool about you, but past that is an arrogant smugness and that is where most people think he resides. This is an accusation that has dogged him for a long time, longer than he has been in the public eye. Why would a quarterback of his talents end up at Vanderbilt? You tell me. See? Thats how it works. You can put the puzzle together without having all the pieces as long as it seemingly makes sense. (This especially happens after a few coldies and I sometimes need to swat reality back into the face of someone who is reaching.) In his early years at Denver, we all remember the verbal spats with Philip Rivers and on-field officials and the growing perception that he was a punk. In fact, I had a QB from the upcoming Super Bowl XLV say that to my face. Its no wonder Jay Cutler has horrible body language, due to the amount of baggage hes carrying.

In an event that would change the direction of the Bears for the next generation Josh McDaniels took over the Denver Broncos and immediately decided that Cutler was not his kind of guy and promptly traded him to the highest bidder, your, Chicago Bears. Who won in that transaction is still up for debate. That McDaniels has since been proven to have his own issues and was in way over his head has not benefitted Cutler at all. The public PERCEPTION of that time, that Cutler threw a hissie when he became aware of McDaniels shopping of his talents, and in diva-like fashion demanded to get out of town, has remained. Although I would ask, how would you have reacted if the young genius decided he could do better than you as soon as he walked in the door? Thought so. Interestingly, I rarely hear about the comments that Cutler supposedly made comparing himself in a more than positive light to Denver icon John Elway before he ever played a game there. Unless, that is, Im talking to a Broncos fan, their venom is in no short supply.

The trade created an euphoria amongst Bears fans, for they finally, after generations of waiting, had their franchise QB. The Summer of Cutler was as fun as it got without winning a game. Hope truly sprung eternal, and the sky was the limit. I sold a ton of Bears kool-aid at the bar and the faithful wanted even more. Then, unfortunately, the season began. Talk about a buzz-kill, its not easy throwing 26 interceptions in the NFL, but it wasnt that god-awful amount of picks that was the worst thing. Yeah, there was something worse! It was media Jay. I have never in my life seen someone whos every move and reaction got picked apart for evaluation by the masses. That being said, I dont know any athlete who has ever repeatedly looked worse. You can not say Jay Cutler without talking about his body language. On the field it looks bad, in a press conference or on TV it looks ten times more so, with a smirk added for good measure. Whether it is intended or not doesnt matter. Whether he can control it or not, at this point, does not matter either. Its there for all to see and has become a focal point for all of his bashers, of which there is a large number, with their ranks growing every day. I always thought that the Denver folks were a little over-the-top bitter about him, but after watching for a while, you could begin to understand.

But as always, performance has a way to smooth out ones rough edges. Am I right Ben Roethlisberger? If you win, your packagebaggage becomes a little more tolerable and if you win big, it can almost be accepted. Thats just Jay being Jay. I teased Bear fans all week, even the few I saw sporting his jersey, that all it took was a playoff win for everyone to begin to accept him. But even the ones wearing the jersey would admit doing so in public was a full-time job. I would imagine only wearing an Eagles 7 Mike Vick jersey would be more work, unless that is you could find a 32 O.J. Simpson Bills retro.

Better or worse, he was the QB for this town, leading the Bears into the biggest game ever played in this city. Any analysis of the game and its outcome always depended on what would be considered the games wild-card factor and that was the play of Cutler. It wasnt quite the good Rex-bad Rex of 2006, but is really close, although, from his play in the game it was difficult to tell any difference in the two Indiana natives. For any number of reasons his play was not good. But as we all know, that is not what we will remember about this game. Our lasting image will be of him sitting on the sidelines, looking like he would rather be anywhere else.

The debate over his injury and his ability to deal with it, although unfair in many ways, is one that will be had because he is the on-field leader of a team that was playing for a berth in the Super Bowl. If you want to be the man, and get paid like one, you better be able to deal with what comes your way like one. Having Deion Sanders question Cutler, when he never made a tackle in his life, is a joke. But who takes Prime seriously anyway? Hes paid to be a TV funnyman these days, sitting next to his old White House roommate Michael Irvin, trading NFL yuck-yucks. And Jason Whitlock? Honestly?! Seems to me hes trying to fill the void left by the absence of the former Sun Times columnist as someone who will only type inflammatory comments. At least Jay could write. This being said, there are many questions that need to be answered about the injury and how it was handled. My main question is: Why wasnt he getting treatment for his knee if it was the straintear that we are being told? Isnt the critical part of dealing with such an injury putting ice on it as soon as possible so that the swelling can be controlled so that the knee could be fit with a brace if it would be needed in say, 2 weeks?

This is where the Cutler indictment starts. Rightly or wrongly, because he was not taken off the field on a stretcher, his toughness is being questioned. I dont think this line of questioning would be asked of a lot of other athletes. For two reasons it is: First, Cutler has not made a lot of friends in the media which is now bashing him. Second, it seems the Bears are in over their heads in dealing with their Cutler situation. They know hes a lightning-rod, but do they help diffuse any of the situations which he has gotten himself into? Why is there so much venom? Did this just happen? Hes a person who is need of some help and you would think if hes one of your prized assets you would help him, or demand, that he get it from someone else, say a professional.

The shots of Cutlers disengagement brought a weird feeling over the bar. Not knowing what happened or why he was just standing there looking into outer-space was not painting a good picture for the face of the franchise. I do not question the fact that he was hurt. Unless it is you, you will not understand what he is going through. But because of the reaction to his injury, it about time that he, and the Bears, realize that the way things have been done, is not working. Not saying that he has to change, but he can at least try to play the game. Im with Barkley in that all athletes are not role models, but most of them can be used to teach the right and wrong way to handle a situation since they tend to live their lives in very public ways. Part of the maturity of any person is to understand that there might be better ways to do things, that just because you think that something should be done in a certain way, makes it the ONLY way it should be done.

I have found myself defending Jay a lot at the bar, and on TV, this year. I only met him once, but I got a good vibe off of talking to him and I usually trust my instincts, as jaded as I am. But my defending him in animated bar conversations does not matter. What matters is whether he wants to defend himself. I know he may not believe it, but people do want to give him a chance, he just has to let them in, show them that he can be their guy. For as much as he does not want to admit it, being a quarterback, in a major U.S. city is a big thing and comes with a lot of responsibility. He can view it that way and find a path forward that hopefully wont be as painful as the one hes on now, or he can look back many years from now and wonder if only he did things differently. Its his choice.
But for sure, well be watching. For in the court of public opinion, there are no mandatory sentences or statute of limitations. Theres just a constant docket that occupies our attention. Any decision can be over-turned, the public just needs a reason to do so.

Cubs go quietly into winter, their reign as defending champs finally over

Cubs go quietly into winter, their reign as defending champs finally over

The armchair psychology went like this: Force the Los Angeles Dodgers onto the plane, let them think about it during the long flight to the West Coast, get in their heads during Friday’s day off and feel all the momentum and pressure shift in this National League Championship Series.

At least that’s what the Cubs told themselves and the media, whether or not they actually believed it, playing the kind of mind games designed for lesser teams. From Theo Epstein and the top of baseball operations down, the Cubs had enough connections to the 2004 Boston Red Sox to hope they could become only the second team to overcome an 0-3 LCS deficit.

That dream officially ended at 10:15 p.m. on Thursday when Willson Contreras lined Kenley Jansen’s 93.3-mph cutter at backup shortstop Charlie Culberson, another symbol of Dodger Way game-planning and the overall depth to withstand the loss of All-Star Corey Seager as he recovered from a back injury. The mosh pit formed in the middle of Wrigley Field, where it got very quiet except for a few sections of Dodger fans cheering and Gary Pressy playing the organ.

The Cubs are no longer the defending World Series champs after an 11-1 loss that had no drama or suspense and felt more like a getaway day. There will be no Game 6 or Game 7 this weekend at Dodger Stadium.

“I only experienced winning,” said Albert Almora Jr., a rookie outfielder on last year’s forever team. “Jon Jay told me: ‘Look at the expressions on their face when they’re celebrating on your field and let that sink in and learn from that and build from that.’”

You believed Almora, a baseball gym rat, when he stood at his locker and said: “It hurts.” But when the clubhouse doors opened to the media roughly 30 minutes after the final out, you didn’t really feel any tension in the room, more like a collective exhale, a time to sit around and drink a few Presidente beers and realize that the Dodgers deserved to go to the World Series for the first time since 1988.

“They just flat-out beat us,” said Kris Bryant, who got the first hit off Clayton Kershaw, a garbage-time homer in the fourth inning when the Cubs were already down 9-0.

Bryant is everything you could ever want in a franchise player – diligent on the field, polished off the field, even more productive in many ways after his MVP campaign, someone who doesn’t even drink during clinch celebrations – but even he admitted he still felt the World Series hangover that bugged the Cubs.

“I was just looking back at last year,” Bryant said. “I didn’t get home until like November 10 last year with all the festivities after winning and stuff. I think that really caught up to some of us this year. So I don’t know, maybe the extra time to recoup, maybe train a little harder. I am getting older, so I got to watch that.”

The reporters chuckled along with Bryant in a room where the sound system played classic rock like Dire Straits and Tom Petty. The Cubs know they should be good again in 2018 – and for years after that – and didn’t exactly sound devastated.

To be honest, Wednesday’s thrilling Game 4 win felt like the Super Bowl for this team, Jake Arrieta getting a standing ovation and tipping his cap before signing his free-agent megadeal somewhere else, Wade Davis having the guts to finish off a 48-pitch, two-inning save and the Cubs feeling the adrenaline rush of staving off elimination for another night.

When Jon Lester saw the media gathering by his locker, he joked: “What? I didn’t do s---. Why the f--- do you want to talk to me?”

“Obviously, nobody likes to lose, but we’ve been in the NLCS for three years in a row,” said Lester, who raised the bar for expectations when he signed a $155 million contract with a last-place team after the 2014 season. “You know how special that is. I know everybody kind of goes back to the first half of the season and they like to nitpick. But we won the division, made the playoffs and made it to the NLCS.

“Sometimes, you’re not always going to be in the World Series. The Dodgers are a really good team. They’re playing really good baseball right now. This series showed it. Sometimes, it is what it is, and you just kind of move on.”

The Cubs had Lester, a three-time World Series champion, lined up for a Game 6 that is no longer necessary. Jose Quintana – who shined against the Washington Nationals in the last round and battled Kershaw to a draw in Game 1 – didn’t give his team a chance this time.

Quintana, a signature trade-deadline move made with multiple playoff runs in mind, allowed runs in the first and second innings and left the bases loaded in the third for Hector Rondon, who watched Kike Hernandez drive the second of his three home runs into the right-center field basket for a grand slam.

The Cubs were desperate enough that John Lackey, five days before his 39th birthday, pitched two innings in what was likely his last game in a big-league uniform. Lackey kept walking out of the clubhouse and declined to speak with reporters: “No, I’m good, man.”

“It’s not easy to be the best,” outfielder Jason Heyward said, “but that’s what you want. You don’t want easy. You don’t want to expect to be going home every year. You want to be in October. You want to have a chance to win the World Series. And you want to be one of the teams that expects to be there.”

That’s what the Cubs will be next year, when the last day of the season won’t have the same big-picture perspective. It will be either a stinging loss or spraying champagne.

“Seems like a hundred years ago, right?” Lester said about his decision to sign with the Cubs. “It’s one of those Catch-22s. You look at it as it’s a disappointing season for the simple fact that we didn’t make it to the World Series. But you got to look at the positives, too, in that moment whenever you get on a plane to go home.

“We gave ourselves a chance. It just didn’t happen this year. We got beat by a better team. We beat them last year (in the NLCS), and they beat us this year, so you got to tip your hat sometimes, and you move on. We’ll be ready to go in spring training.”

Sluggish offense plus Dodger pitching equaled disaster for Cubs in NLCS

Sluggish offense plus Dodger pitching equaled disaster for Cubs in NLCS

Your National League Championship Series final: Cubs 8, Enrique Hernandez 7.

When the Cubs look back at why they struggled in the NLCS and what they’ll need moving forward, many questions are likely to involve fixing an offense that was dormant for almost all of the postseason.

Thursday night’s 11-1 loss in Game 5 of the NLCS to the Los Angeles Dodgers put an exclamation point on a lopsided series, one in which the Cubs were outscored 28-8. Hernandez nearly matched the Cubs’ entire output in the clincher with three home runs and seven RBIs. While the pitching shares much of the blame, a Cubs offense that produced a .168/.240/.289 slash line and scored 25 runs this postseason is perhaps an even bigger culprit.

“(The Dodgers) pitched very, very well from start to finish,” said utility man Ben Zobrist. “It was tough to overcome that. We are going to get our homers. But as a whole, I felt like they kept us off-balance and they kept us from having good quality at-bats consistently. When we did get something going it wasn’t much. It was one run here or there or a couple runs here or there. But they pitched a great series, kept us from really exploding like they can as an offense.”

The Cubs’ bats have been ice cold for the entire postseason. Aside from a nine-run showing in their Oct. 12 NLDS-clincher over the Washington Nationals, the Cubs never appeared to be as formidable a bunch as they were in 2016.

Their scores by game entering Thursday’s loss were: 3, 3, 2, 0, 9, 2, 1, 1 and 3.

By the time the Dodgers plated two early runs off Jose Quintana, the Cubs looked to be in for an uphill battle against three-time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw. That condition was upgraded to next-to-impossible by the time Hernandez blasted a grand slam off Hector Rodon in the third inning to put the Dodgers up 7-0.

As it were, the Cubs finished with four hits and didn’t score until Kris Bryant homered to make it 9-1 in the fourth inning. It was Bryant’s first round-tripper of the postseason.

The struggles of Bryant and teammate Anthony Rizzo were well-documented. The pair produced a combined .169/.210/.206 slash line with two home runs, nine RBIs, three walks and 28 strikeouts in 81 plate appearances. Bryant thought it had to do with a team that was worn down running into outstanding pitching.

“It’s a little of both,” Bryant said. “It took a lot out of us that first series, some really good pitching with the Nationals. Obviously with the Dodgers, too. I think they had a group of players that really turned it on at the right time and were clicking whereas we didn’t. That was the difference. But a ton of credit to them, they just flat out beat us.”

Bryant and Rizzo weren’t alone in their struggles.

The leadoff position alone went from a force of life in 2016 with Dexter Fowler to virtually no production this postseason. Jon Jay, Albert Almora and Zobrist went a combined 4-for-36 with three hit by pitches from the leadoff spot.

Catcher Willson Contreras (.748) was the only Cubs regular to finish with an OPS above .700. Javier Baez produced a .451 OPS, Zobrist registered a .416 and Jason Heyward finished at .403.

By comparison, the Dodgers have six players with at least 20 plate appearances this postseason with an .800 or better OPS. That doesn’t of course count Hernandez, who made only his fourth start of the postseason and went nuts. He homered off Jose Quintana in the second inning to give Los Angeles a 2-0 lead. His grand slam in the third after Quintana exited put the game out of reach. And Hernandez’s ninth-inning blast off Mike Montgomery to center was icing on the Dodgers’ cake.

Figuring out how to remedy their offensive issues figures to be one of the Cubs’ top priorities this offseason. One way the team could help jumpstart Bryant and Rizzo is by acquiring a better leadoff hitter, something they lost when Fowler departed via free agency last winter. The team saw its production from the leadoff spot drop from an .815 OPS in 2016 to .745 in 2017.

“We did enough to beat Washington and that’s all you need in the postseason,” Rizzo said. “We didn’t do enough to beat the Dodgers. They pitched better than we hit. End of story.

“They’re good. There’s no excuses. You’ve got to play better. But at the end of the day, it is what it is. It’s baseball. You hit the ball at the guy or you don’t.”