Cubs

Points: Bears struggle scoring, particularly vs. Green Bay

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Points: Bears struggle scoring, particularly vs. Green Bay

The tipping point for the Bears in their hope of staving off further disaster and defeating the Green Bay Packers was put in straightforward perspective by their coach last Monday.

Against Minnesota, we put a lot of yards up, said coach Lovie Smith. We did some good things third downs, passing yardage and all that. But its about points and we still havent scored enough points. Its as simple as that.

Nothing about scoring points for the Bears has been simple, however, particularly against Green Bay.

MORE: Bears must worry about more than Rodgers

The Bears have played the Packers close. Six of the last nine games with Green Bay have been decided by seven point or less, meaning most have come down to or play or two. Seconding Smith: Its as simple as that.

Cutler vs. Capers

The biggest single reason among multiple causes that the Green Bay Packers have beaten the Bears five straight times and are favored to make a sixth has been that one quarterback (Aaron Rodgers) has been better than the other (Jay Cutler).

In the eight games with Green Bay since trading for Cutler, the Bears have scored more than 20 points just once and that was in game 15 last season (21) under Josh McCown. They scored 20 in the only Cutler win over the Packers (first game, 2010) when the Packers contributed 18 penalties.

As to why the Packers have effectively owned Cutler, they have a good game plan, Cutler said. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers does a good job of getting those guys prepared and showing different looks and taking away things offenses are good at and what they want to do with the ball.

Maybe it is a Capers thing. Capers arrived in Green Bay the same year the Bears were trading for Cutler. He already had been a problem for Cutler, however.

Capers was a special assistant and secondary coach under Bill Belichick with the New England Patriots in 2008. The Patriots held Cutler to a 64.5 passer rating and intercepted him twice in a 41-7 mauling of the Broncos.

Capers devised a two-man bracketing of wide receiver Brandon Marshall that limited the franchise wideout to two catches and 24 yards, second only to the 2-21 game Marshall suffered through at San Francisco, also a loss on which the Bears scored only one touchdown.

We had a plan and we stuck to it, said Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy. I thought our defensive line played well in the first game. We have a lot of respect for Brandon and his game and what he brings to the table. Hes a target and obviously the favorite target for Jay Cutler.

Marshall was dismissive of the defensive efforts of the Green Bay defense beyond Capers plan. But he dropped a touchdown pass in the game and the fact was that the Bears could not solve the Packers plan.

Just as they failed to solve the Minnesota Vikings.

We also let the team down this past weekend against the Vikings. Marshall said. We had some crucial drops that could have changed the game. That falls on us, that falls on me being one of the leaders in that receivers room, and we have to change it now.

Whither Forte?

The receivers collectively have failed other than Marshalls 101 catches. But the Bears put 441 yards on Green Bay in game 15 last year (yet only two touchdowns) in major part by running 42 times for 199 yards. And that was with Kahlil Bell netting 121 and Armando Allen 40 in place of Matt Forte and Marion Barber.

Most notably, McCown was not sacked. He ran eight times but came off better than Cutler, who was sacked three times in the game-three loss to the Packers.

That worsened to seven sacks in game one this season, in which Cutler threw four interceptions. Coordinator Mike Tice later took responsibility for poor protection scheming, particularly on the edge against Clay Matthews (3.5 sacks) but Forte was given only seven carries. Michael Bush had 14 but is nursing rib injuries and may be of limited value this week.

Its not just one area, said Cutler, himself dealing with neck and reported knee soreness. Ive got to play better, first and foremost and get the rest of the guys up to speed with me. Youve got to run the ball better, pass the ball better, block better theres no one area we cant improve in.

In another huge playoff moment, Wade Davis stays cool while everything else around Cubs goes crazy

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USA TODAY

In another huge playoff moment, Wade Davis stays cool while everything else around Cubs goes crazy

This became a three-ring circus on Wednesday night at Wrigley Field, Cubs manager Joe Maddon screaming at the umpires, the video board showing the replay of Curtis Granderson’s swing and the crowd of 42,195 booing and chanting “BULLS#$!!”

The Los Angeles Dodgers are still in command of this National League Championship Series, but the Cubs won’t go quietly into the offseason, unleashing All-Star closer Wade Davis for the final two innings of a 3-2 thriller that kept them alive for at least another night.

The Cubs can worry about the daunting task of winning three more elimination games in the morning. Once Davis forced Cody Bellinger into the double-play groundball that left Justin Turner stranded in the on-deck circle and this one ended at 11:16 p.m., he pulled at his right sleeve and buttoned the top of his jersey while waiting for the Cubs to start the high-five line. “Go Cubs Go” blasted from the stadium’s sound  system and fireworks erupted beyond the center-field scoreboard and Davis acted as if nothing had happened.

To put the idea of beating the Dodgers three times in a row in perspective, the Cubs blasted three homers and got a classic big-game performance out of Jake Arrieta and still needed Davis for a heart-stopping, high-wire act.

Maddon already ruled out Davis for Thursday night’s Game 5 after the closer fired 48 pitches – or four more than he did during last week’s seven-out save that eliminated the Washington Nationals. But at least the Cubs will have those decisions to make instead of cleaning out their lockers.

“I don’t know,” Davis said. “We’ll definitely come in tomorrow and get some treatment and go out and play catch and see how I feel.”

It looks like Davis doesn’t feel anything on the mound. Davis didn’t react to Turner chucking his bat and yelling into the visiting dugout after crushing a 94-mph fastball for a home run to begin the eighth inning. Davis didn’t seem bothered by Yasiel Puig flipping his bat after drawing a walk. And Davis never lost his composure while Maddon got ejected for the second time in four NLCS games.

Maddon flipped out at home plate umpire Jim Wolf – and really the entire crew – when what was initially called a swinging strike three on Granderson got overturned and ruled a foul tip.

“Wade doesn’t care about any of that,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “That’s the right guy to have on the mound. With the mentality he has, he’s going to strike the guy out on the next pitch. Obviously with the replay, it’s not easy to keep your composure. But he’s just different. He’s a different animal.”

While the fans at Wrigley Field got loud and turned angry, Davis chatted with catcher Willson Contreras: “I was just trying to think of the next pitch I was going to throw if he ended up staying in the box.”

Davis got Granderson (0-for-4, four strikeouts) swinging at strike four, walked Yasmani Grandal and then blew away Chase Utley with a 95.1-mph fastball, needing 34 pitches to finish the eighth inning. Davis wasn’t finished, using a Kris Bryant bat to hit against Dodger lefty Tony Cingrani, fouling off five pitches before striking out looking at a 94.9-mph fastball.

“Yeah, I gave up there after a little bit,” Davis said with a look that sort of resembled a smile. “He was bringing it pretty good, and I hadn’t seen a baseball in a while coming in like that.”

If the Cubs are going to match the 2004 Boston Red Sox – the only other team to come back from an 0-3 deficit since the LCS format expanded to seven games in 1985 – they are going to need the offense to generate more runs, a great start from Jose Quintana on Thursday night and someone else to run out of the bullpen. Not that Davis is ruling himself out for Game 5.

“Go get some sleep and then come in tomorrow and start getting ready,” Davis said.

Jake Arrieta stars at Wrigley Field and doesn’t believe this is The End for Cubs: ‘Hopefully, it’s not a goodbye’

Jake Arrieta stars at Wrigley Field and doesn’t believe this is The End for Cubs: ‘Hopefully, it’s not a goodbye’

It’s not Jake Arrieta getting greedy and the Cubs being cheap when he holds up another jersey in a different city this winter, smiling for the cameras while super-agent Scott Boras watches the press conference unfold, marketing an ace to a new audience.

Even Arrieta admits that if he had Theo Epstein’s job, he would do the exact same thing, letting it play out until a 30-something pitcher hits the free-agent market. And Epstein wouldn’t have left the Boston Red Sox and taken over baseball operations at Clark and Addison if he didn’t believe in the need for change, to get outside the comfort zone and test yourself.

It’s just business, but this still felt very personal on Wednesday night at Wrigley Field, Arrieta probably making his last start in a Cubs uniform while the defending World Series champs survived an elimination game against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Three straight trips to the National League Championship Series might have spoiled Cubs fans to the point where standing-room-only Game 4 tickets were selling for $60 on StubHub less than an hour before the 8:01 p.m. first pitch.

By 10:13 p.m., the crowd of 42,195 started booing when manager Joe Maddon popped out of the dugout in the seventh inning to take the ball from Arrieta after 111 pitches. It turned into a standing ovation as Arrieta walked off the mound and tipped his cap, his shaved head set against a mountain-man beard.

“Hopefully, it’s not a goodbye,” Arrieta said after a dramatic 3-2 win, surrounded by reporters at his locker. “It’s a thank you, obviously. I still intend to have another start in this ballpark.

“If that’s where it ends, I did my best and I left it all out there. But we’ve won four in a row plenty of times this year. And there’s no reason we can’t do it again.”

So many times, Arrieta has been worth the price of admission, must-see TV through two no-hitters and those two World Series games he won on the road last year against the Cleveland Indians. None of this would have been possible without the Cubs finding a winning lottery ticket in that Scott Feldman flip deal with the Baltimore Orioles on July 2, 2013.

“I took a little bit of extra time in between pitches,” Arrieta said, “just to look around, foul pole to foul pole, behind home plate, just to relish it and take it in. You got the fans on their feet, pulling on the same side of the rope. It breeds some added energy.

“I had that mindset of I’m going to do everything in my power to get it to tomorrow.”

Arrieta’s pitches dart and dive in directions that even he can’t always control, but he has guts, swing-and-miss stuff (nine strikeouts) and the ability to work through traffic. He gave up five walks, hit Chase Utley with a pitch and watched as Cody Bellinger hammered a ball off the video-board ribbon in right field for a third-inning homer.

But lefty reliever Brian Duensing backed Arrieta up with two outs and two runners on in the seventh inning, forcing Bellinger to lift a flyball into shallow left field, keeping it a 3-1 game and setting the stage for a two-inning Wade Davis save.

“Jake was amazing,” Davis said. “He was throwing Wiffle balls, it looked like. Guys were just swinging at balls that started in on the zone and finished a foot off the plate. He’s just got some amazing stuff.”

For perspective on how far this franchise has come, just look at the lineup from Arrieta’s first spot start as a Cub, the second game of a July 30, 2013 doubleheader against the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field:

David DeJesus, CF
Junior Lake, LF
Anthony Rizzo, 1B
Dioner Navarro, C
Luis Valbuena, 2B
Starlin Castro, SS
Cody Ransom, 3B
Cole Gillespie, RF

The Cubs actually sent Arrieta back to Triple-A Iowa for two more starts that summer, part of a mental/mechanical reset and the service-time calculus that would delay his free-agency clock by a year.

By 2015, Arrieta’s raw talent and natural confidence converged with a young, inexperienced team that caught fire in the second half, his Cy Young Award campaign fueling 97 wins and the momentum for chairman Tom Ricketts to authorize a spending spree on free agents that almost totaled $290 million.

"That was pretty special,” Maddon said. “I've never witnessed on the field that kind of consistent performance from a pitcher. It was other-worldly, right down to the wild-card game.

“My God, you pretty much knew if you scored one or two runs, you're going to win that night somehow. I don't know how this is going to look moving forward. But I know one thing, man, that one year of watching him play was different. It was a throwback to the ‘60s kind of pitching (I watched) as a kid.

“He's special – his work ethic and who he is and how he goes about his business. He's a very special young man.”

But Arrieta really isn’t in the mood to wonder if this is the end scene to this chapter of his life.

“There’s a little thought of that, yeah, because you never know,” Arrieta said. “But at the same time, now that the game’s over, it’s out of sight, out of mind. The thought process for me now is to be ready if I’m needed.”