Cubs

Olles cooks up a passing game at Palatine

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Olles cooks up a passing game at Palatine

Tuesday is steak night at the Olles house in Palatine. It has become a tradition and the family budget has taken a beating. It's a training table for quarterback Ethan Olles' big and burly and bruising friends. Who eats 16 pounds of sirloin at one sitting?

A year ago, Ethan's mother said that she would cook steaks for the offensive linemen after every game in which they prevented the opponent from sacking her son. Oiles was sacked only six times in 11 games and the linemen enjoyed some hearty meals.

This year, Olles has has emerged as the most prolific passer in the state, accounting for 3,041 yards and 27 touchdowns going into Saturday's Class 8A quarterfinal against Loyola in Wilmette. And he has been sacked only three times, not once since Week 3.

The guest list is expanding as fast as the offensive linemen's robust appetites. It includes tackles Josh Baldus and Justin Roberts, guards Tyler Sydlowski and Cody Oversen, center Ron Rouette, reserve lineman Brad Walls, fullback Sam Miller, wide receiver Alex Nawrot and running backs Cam Kuksa and Chaka Kelly.

Mrs. Olles' menu features sirloin steaks, twice-baked potatoes, homemade macaroni and cheese, red velvet cake and two or three cases of Gatorade. Nobody goes away hungry, not even Baldus (6-foot-5, 250 pounds), Roberts (6-foot-6, 285) or Oversen (6-foot-2, 270).

"We're having a lot of dinners at our house, about eight to 10 guys every week. We never run out of food," Ethan said. "Last week, my mom cooked 16 pounds of sirloin steaks. They're big kids. They eat a lot."

It is good payback for protecting Olles, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound senior who has come a long way since he quarterbacked a 1-8 freshman team. At one time, coach Tyler Donnelly said the very talented but immature, pouting youngster would never quarterback his team.

"As a freshman and sophomore, he didn't work hard. He would pout when things didn't go well," Donnelly said. "But he realized he was wasting his talent. He worked his tail off."

Olles, who always has had a very strong arm, went to Don Beebe's camp and worked with J.R. Rexilius to improve his mechanics. For three months, he worked out twice a week. He competed against other talented quarterbacks, bolstered his confidence, expanded his skills, improved his short game accuracy and learned to read defenses effectively.

When Donnelly called upon him, he was ready. Last year, when Palatine lost to Glenbard North 35-21 in the second round of the playoff to close out a 9-2 campaign, the Pirates' game plan was to throw a lot because Donnelly correctly determined that his team wasn't physical enough to run effectively against its bigger opponent.

"The plan was to see if we could throw a lot against man-to-man coverage," Donnelly said. "Four of our kids got concussions and it all fell apart. But Ethan kept throwing. He threw for 260 yards. We lost but it dawned on us that our strength this year would be Ethan throwing to all of our skill athletes.

"We wouldn't rely on the run anymore. We won't beat Loyola or Glenbard North by running at them. But we can match up with them with our skill kids. We didn't want to hesitate. We have been throwing the ball since the first week and we don't intend to stop. It is our best chance to win."

After losing its opener to three-time defending state champion Montini 40-37 in overtime, Palatine has won 10 games in a row. The offense has amassed 4,814 yards and is averaging 44 points per game. And Olles has shattered Jeff Hecklinski's school single-season passing record along the way.

Olles has completed 233 of 359 passes or 65 percent for 3,041 yards and 27 touchdowns. He also has rushed for 434 yards and five touchdowns.

What is even more amazing about his performance is he is throwing to a lot of receivers in Palatine's hurry up, no huddle, four or five wide, spread offense who weren't even projected to be starters when the season began. One of them was recruited off the hockey team.

Eric Theis has caught 61 passes for 1,011 yards and eight touchdowns. Alex Nawrot has caught 68 for 872 yards and eight touchdowns. Ryan Gronwick has caught 29 for 383 yards and three touchdowns. In four games, Cam Kuksa has caught 27 for 318 yards and two touchdowns. Mike Allen, the ex-hockey player, has caught 35 for 213 yards and two touchdowns.

"All the training he did has helped him," Donnelly said about Olles. "He can throw a great deep ball. He can make all the throws. He can run, too. I think the colleges are just beginning to become aware of him. He is so new to the scene. Ethan is a real success story."

Donnelly mails film clips to college recruiters. On the Internet, Olles impresses with his ability to throw from the end zone, throw accurately from sideline to sideline, throw while running to his right, staying in the pocket despite pressure from pass rushers, running 40 yards up the middle for a touchdown, hitting receivers between two defenders in the end zone, always demonstrating that he is in control.

If he had his choice, Olles would attend Oregon. He wants to play football in college at the highest level he can and Oregon is his dream school. "I have always been a fan. They are my favorite team to watch. They have a great system, so many playmakers, so dynamic," he said.

The last call he got was from North Dakota. He also gets letters from Indiana State and Division III schools.

But Loyola, the rest of the 2012 season and more steak dinners are getting his undivided attention at the moment.

"I'm not surprised by what I have done this year," Olles said. "It isn't just me. The offensive line blocking has been great and the receivers make me look good. The coaches give me confidence by putting the ball in my hands each game. Everything is meshing well. Everything is coming together. Our goal is to play 14 games."

And order more sirloin steaks.

Would trading Kyle Schwarber begin to solve pitching issues that run much deeper than Chris Bosio?

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USA TODAY

Would trading Kyle Schwarber begin to solve pitching issues that run much deeper than Chris Bosio?

The Cubs now apparently believe they are a stronger organization without Chris Bosio, firing a pitching coach known for his strong convictions, brutal honesty and bottom-line results in a move that doesn’t seem like an actual solution.

Hiring Jim Hickey – who has a good reputation from his years with the Tampa Bay Rays, a close friendship with Joe Maddon and what looks like a slam-dunk interview lined up for Monday – might make the manager feel more comfortable and less isolated.

But the new-voice/different-direction spin doesn’t fundamentally address the pitching issues facing a team that needs to replace 40 percent of the rotation and find an established closer and has zero expectations those answers will come from within the farm system.

This is an operation that won a seven-game World Series last year without a homegrown player throwing a single pitch.     

If the Cubs can say thanks for the memories and dump “Boz,” what about “Schwarbs?”

Advancing to the National League Championship Series in three straight seasons doesn’t happen without Bosio or Kyle Schwarber. But the fastest way for the Cubs to dramatically improve their pitching staff isn’t finding someone else who thinks it’s important to throw strikes. It could mean breaking up The Core and severing another emotional attachment.   

Theo Epstein saw Schwarber play for Indiana University and used the Fenway Park frame of reference, envisioning him as a combination of David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia with his left-handed power and energizer personality.

Epstein wasn’t the only Cubs official to develop a man-crush on Schwarber, but he’s the only one with ultimate control over baseball operations. Epstein’s style isn’t pounding the table as much as the ability to frame questions in the draft room, gather as many opinions as possible before the trade deadline and at the winter meetings, trying to form a consensus.

“I will say that it’s really an organization-wide evaluation of this player, but I’m not skirting responsibility,” Epstein said. “I’ll happily endorse him as the type of player that we want to win with here at the Cubs, and have won with. I don’t know, the fact that he hit 30 bombs in a bad year is a good start.

“But power is not everything. I think he fell into this year becoming more of a slugger and less of a hitter than he really is. It’s important for him to get his identity back as a dangerous hitter. Honestly, I think we feel he has the potential to be an all-around hitter on the level of an Anthony Rizzo. When he reaches his prime, that’s what he could be.”

Where will that be? As a designated hitter in the American League? That’s obvious speculation, but Schwarber has improved as an outfield defender – his strong throw at Dodger Stadium led to another NLCS Maddon Moment where the manager compared the Buster Posey Rule to the Chicago soda tax.      

A 43-45 record at the All-Star break also exposed some of the weaknesses in the clubhouse and downsides to Maddon’s methods. The Cubs flipped a switch in the second half, got hot in September and had the guts to beat the Washington Nationals in the playoffs. But that doesn’t completely wipe away the concerns about a group that at times seemed too casual and unfocused and didn’t play with enough edge. For better or worse, Schwarber approaches the game like a blitzing linebacker.

“He’s got a certain toughness and certain leadership qualities that are hard to find,” Epstein said, “and that we don’t necessarily have in surplus, in abundance, running around in this clubhouse, in this organization.

“A certain energy and grit and ability to bring people together – that’s important and we rely on it. But the biggest thing is his bat. We think he’s the type of offensive player that you build around, along with a couple other guys like him.”

Maddon would never admit it, but was the Schwarber leadoff experiment a mistake?

“I’ll judge that one based on the results and say yeah,” Epstein said. “I think we can talk about the process that went into it. Or in an alternate universe: Does it pan out? But those are just words. It didn’t work.

“Everything that went into Kyle’s really surprising and difficult first half of the season, we should look to correct, because that shouldn’t happen. He’s a way better hitter than that. What he did after coming back from Iowa proves it.”

In the same way that Maddon should own what happens with the next pitching coach, Epstein will ultimately have to decide Schwarber’s future.

Schwarber didn’t complain or pout when he got sent down to Triple-A Iowa this summer, finishing with 30 homers, a .782 OPS, a .211 batting average and a 30.9 strikeout percentage.    

Trading Schwarber would mean selling lower and take another team having the same gut instincts the Cubs did in the 2014 draft – and offering the talented, controllable starting pitcher that sometimes seems like a unicorn.

Is Schwarber still the legend from last year’s World Series? An all-or-nothing platoon guy? An intriguing trade chip? A franchise player? Eventually, the Cubs are going to find out.

“We have to look to do everything we can,” Epstein said, “and more importantly he has to look to do everything he can to get him to a point where he’s consistently the quality hitter and tough out and dangerous bat in the middle of the lineup that we know he can be.

“He wasn’t for the first half of this year – and he knows it and he feels awful about it. He worked his tail off to get back to having a pretty darn good second half and getting some big hits for us down the stretch.”

And then the offseason was only hours old by the time the Cubs showed they will be keeping an open mind about everything this winter, not afraid to make big changes.

Jake Arrieta shaved his beard again and he keeps looking younger

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USA TODAY

Jake Arrieta shaved his beard again and he keeps looking younger

It's become a tradition that Jake Arrieta shaves his beard after the season ends.

The 31-year-old did it again days after the Cubs were eliminated from the 2017 postseason, and it's still a sight we'll never be used to seeing.

Check it out:

Weird, right?

Here's how he looked following the Cubs' World Series win in 2016:

And again in 2015:

It's crazy how much younger he looks.