Bears

Ian Stewart feels like things are about to change

763086.png

Ian Stewart feels like things are about to change

ST. LOUIS Even if the Cubs say the numbers are deceiving, theyre still next to Ian Stewarts name and up on the video board for everyone to see.

Stewart who entered Monday hitting .193 tries to catalog all the line-drive outs and hard-hit balls. Its probably the only thing keeping me sane, he said.

Stewart is a thoughtful player who speaks in a low, quiet voice, and he was only joking.

It cant hurt your state of mind when Theo Epsteins front office makes you a priority at the winter meetings and swings a four-player trade with the Colorado Rockies and tells you youre the everyday third baseman.

Or when the Cubs send you to an offseason minicamp in Arizona with hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo, and manager Dale Sveum repeatedly gives you strong votes of confidence.

In a year thats all about evaluation and identifying core pieces for the future, the Cubs are going to give Stewart a very long runway.

This is the profile of someone theyd take a chance on only 27 years old, a former first-round pick, a left-handed bat and a plus defender.

Defensively, hes been as good as anybody in baseball at that position, Sveum said. Offensively, his numbers arent even close to what they could be. Hes probably hitting into as much tough luck as anybody in the game.

Im not saying he couldnt be better, but hes squared up a lot of balls right at people to where he could easily be .260, .270.

I think he feels pretty good about whats going on. Obviously, hed like to have better numbers and all that, but I think hes in a heck of a lot better place than he was last year at this time.

Stewart spent long stretches of last season at Triple-A Colorado Springs, and dealt with wrist, knee and hamstring injuries. The previous two seasons combined, he generated 43 homers and 131 RBI for the Rockies.

Entering Monday, three of Stewarts four home runs have come in his last nine starts. His .621 OPS ranked 10th out of the 11 qualified third basemen in the National League.

It is a slow start when you just look at the numbers right on paper, Stewart said. (But) my teammates (know) Ive been hitting some hard balls, a lot of at-em balls you could say.

Its kind of clich, but I feel like if I keep getting my work in with Rudy and Dale and just keep being aggressive, those are going to turn into base hits and extra-base hits. If I can get hot, thats just going to help the team even more.

When building out the roster, dont discount how much the Cubs want to stuff their lineup with left-handed bats. From signing David DeJesus to elevating Bryan LaHair to waiting on top prospects Anthony Rizzo and Brett Jackson, its clear which way theyre leaning.

Its invaluable, Sveum said. It just wears the pitcher out. There are no quick outs with left-handed hitters up to the plate.

(Theyre usually) the guys that end up working the counts, just because pitchers dont have (the) ability to get quick outs with the slider (or) the cutter off the end of the bat or a quick groundball. Theyre just more patient.

On Sunday, Stewart launched one ball off the second deck in right field at Miller Park. Maybe his luck is about to turn. Either way, the Cubs are going to be patient enough to find out.

As long as I feel good up there and Im hitting the ball hard, then theyll come around, Stewart said. They usually come in bunches. Hopefully, thats pretty soon.

Can the Bears make enough plays to beat the Carolina Panthers?

Can the Bears make enough plays to beat the Carolina Panthers?

Everything changed for the Bears after going up 17-3 last week against the Baltimore Ravens. Mitchell Trubisky’s 27-yard touchdown to Dion Sims was immediately followed by Bobby Rainey running a kickoff back 96 yards for a touchdown, then the offense was bogged down with three fumbles (two lost) on three consecutive possessions. 

But Adrian Amos seemed to seal the game with his 90-yard pick six — that is, until Michael Campanaro ran Pat O’Donnell’s punt back 77 yards for what wound up being a game-tying touchdown after a two-point conversion.

The point is the Bears should’ve cruised to a comfortable win last week; a few critical mistakes didn’t allow that to happen. The Bears haven’t led at the end of the fourth quarter this year, a pretty strong indicator they haven’t played a complete game yet despite having two wins. 

The Carolina Panthers have road wins over the Detroit Lions and New England Patriots this year, and only lost to the Philadelphia Eagles by five points last week (despite Cam Newton throwing three interceptions). The bet here is the Bears keep things close on the backs of a strong defense, but either can’t make enough plays or make too many mistakes to win. 

Prediction: Panthers 20, Bears 16

Offseason of change begins with Cubs firing pitching coach Chris Bosio

chrisbosiochanges.jpg
USA TODAY

Offseason of change begins with Cubs firing pitching coach Chris Bosio

"Of course," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said in the middle of the National League Championship — he would like his coaches back in 2018. Pitching coach Chris Bosio told the team's flagship radio station this week that the staff expected to return next year. President of baseball operations Theo Epstein didn't go that far during Friday afternoon's end-of-season news conference at Wrigley Field, but he did say: "Rest assured, Joe will have every coach back that he wants back."

That's Cub: USA Today columnist Bob Nightengale first reported Saturday morning that Bosio had been fired, the team declining a club contract option for next year and making a major influence on the Wrigleyville rebuild a free agent. Epstein and Bosio did not immediately respond to text messages and the club has not officially outlined the shape of the 2018 coaching staff.

Those exit meetings on Friday at Wrigley Field are just the beginning of an offseason that could lead to sweeping changes, with the Cubs looking to replace 40 percent of their rotation, identify an established closer (whether or not that's Wade Davis), find another leadoff option and maybe break up their World Series core of hitters to acquire pitching. 

The obvious candidate to replace Bosio is Jim Hickey, Maddon's longtime pitching coach with the Tampa Bay Rays who has Chicago roots and recently parted ways with the small-market franchise that stayed competitive by consistently developing young arms like David Price and Chris Archer.

Of course, Maddon denied that speculation during an NLCS where the Los Angeles Dodgers dominated the Cubs in every phase of the game and the manager's bullpen decisions kept getting second-guessed.

Bosio has a big personality and strong opinions that rocked the boat at times, but he brought instant credibility as an accomplished big-league pitcher who helped implement the team's sophisticated game-planning system.

Originally a Dale Sveum hire for the 2012 season/Epstein regime Year 1 where the Cubs lost 101 games, Bosio helped coach up and market short-term assets like Ryan Dempster, Scott Feldman, Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija. 

Those win-later trades combined with Bosio's expertise led to a 2016 major-league ERA leader (Kyle Hendricks) and a 2015 NL Cy Young Award winner (Jake Arrieta) plus setup guys Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr. and All-Star shortstop Addison Russell.

Bosio helped set the foundation for the group that won last year's World Series and has made three consecutive trips to the NLCS. But as the Cubs are going to find out this winter, there is a shelf life to everything, even for those who made their mark during a golden age of baseball on the North Side.