Bears

Red Sox sneak out of town after crazy weekend

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Red Sox sneak out of town after crazy weekend

The Red Sox were only in Chicago for three days, but inside the cramped visiting locker room at Wrigley Field, it felt like a whole lot longer.

"Man, it seems like about 12 years," Jon Lester said as the Red Sox were packing up for their return trip to Boston.

There were no black cats at Wrigley Field this weekend. No fan interference, no goats in the stadium. No Curse of the Bambino lingered and there wasn't any controversy over fried chicken or beer.

But there was ninth-inning drama, shaky fielding and some unlucky hitting on the part of the Red Sox. There was Dustin Pedroia swearing in his media appearance after Friday's game and there was Boston manager Bobby Valentine with his hands on his head, responding to a reporter's question with "sometimes, crazy times call for crazy measures."

There were injuries, which have hampered the Red Sox all year. Josh Beckett (shoulder) and Ryan Sweeney (toe) found themselves on the disabled list this weekend and Scott Podsednik (groin) and Kevin Youkilis (toe) had to leave Sunday's game.

Beckett was supposed to be Sunday's starter, but shoulder inflammation forced Franklin Morales to the mound for his first start since 2009. He responded, allowing just two runs in five innings and striking out nine.

Morales didn't pick up the win, as two errors in a disastrous sixth inning allowed the Cubs to tie the game against reliever Matt Albers, despite the fact the ball never left the infield.

"All the sudden, there are men all over the bases and it's a tie score, but Albers never gave in," Valentine said.

The Red Sox could have easily withered under the adversity they faced this weekend and that sixth inning could have been their doom. But they rose above it and plated three runs in the top of the seventh inning.

"The guys came right back and answered the bell," Valentine said. "That's what happens. You win a game, you get that one hit and then other hits follow."

The Red Sox couldn't get the big hit on Friday, as Pedroia left the bases loaded in the ninth inning of a 3-0 ballgame. Saturday, Boston eeked out a 4-3 victory on the back of Lester, who was in complete control until one pitch to Luis Valbuena got away from him and wound up in the left-field bleachers for a three-run homer.

Sunday was a step in the right direction, but could hardly be considered smooth sailing as three straight hits in the ninth loaded the bases for David DeJesus, who just missed a game-tying grand slam.

But Alfredo Aceves nailed down the win and the Red Sox caught the bus to the airport with a .500 (33-33) record.

It's been said that the BP Crosstown Cup -- which starts Monday night at U.S. Cellular Field -- has a tendancy to send the two Chicago teams in opposite directions. The White Sox swept the Cubs last month at Wrigley Field and wound up charging to first place. The Cubs, meanwhile, saw any hope of a surprise season dissipate as they found themselves in a 12-game losing streak.

Maybe this historic weekend series will do the same for the Red Sox. Maybe that seventh inning Sunday was the spark they need to catapult into a push for the playoffs.

"We need a team effort all the way," Valentine said. "We need the constants to remain constant."

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 grade: B+

Level of need: Low

Decisions to be made on: Christian Jones (free agent), John Timu (free agent), Jonathan Anderson (free agent); Jerrell Freeman has reportedly been cut

Possible free agent targets: Demario Davis, Preston Brown, Anthony Hitchens, Avery Williamson, Navorro Bowman, Derrick Johnson

How the Bears rate Nick Kwiatkoski will be the key to figuring out what this unit will look like in 2018. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio thought Kwiatkoski finished last season strong, but strong enough to rely on him in 2018 as the starter next to Danny Trevathan?

The thing with the Bears’ inside linebackers, though: Trevathan makes whoever is playing next to him better. The problem is Trevathan hasn’t been able to stay on the field — he missed time in 2017 with a calf injury and a one-game suspension, and missed half of 2016 after rupturing his Achilles’. Trevathan hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2013, so durability is an issue for the soon-to-be 28-year-old.

So that leads to this question: Do the Bears need to find someone in free agency, regardless of how they value Kwiatkoski, who’s also missed time due to injuries in his first two years in the league?

Free agency could provide a few options. Demario Davis had a career high 97 tackles for the New York Jets last year and has never missed a game as a pro. Preston Brown had some decent production in Buffalo and also hasn’t missed a game since being drafted in 2014. Avery Williamson may not be a world-beater but has only missed one game in his four years in the NFL.

The Bears could also opt for someone who fits more of a rotational mold, like Dallas’ Anthony Hitchens, or try to lure a veteran linebacker like Navorro Bowman (who played for Vic Fangio in San Francisco) or Derrick Johnson (who Matt Nagy knows from his Kansas City days) to play next to Trevathan and/or Kwiatkoski.

The Bears could opt to keep the status quo and re-sign Christian Jones and John Timu for depth, and enter 2018 with Kwiatkoski and Trevathan as the team’s starters (Jerrell Freeman, who suffered a season-ending injury and then was hit with his second PED suspension in as many years, was cut on Tuesday). Signing a starting-caliber free agent isn’t out of the question, either, but there is a third option for the Bears if they appear to stand pat in free agency: Draft an inside linebacker in April. If that’s the route they go, Georgia’s Roquan Smith could be the guy. But again, those more pressing needs at other positions could mean the Bears don’t burn a first-round pick on an inside linebacker.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

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NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Ottawa Senators tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Trade chips.

The Blackhawks have reached the point in their season where they have no choice but to become sellers before the Feb. 26 deadline, and we saw that when they traded Michal Kempny to the Washington Capitals on Monday for a conditional third-round pick in 2018. Tommy Wingels could also be an attractive piece for a team looking to fill out their depth.

The Senators will definitely be sellers, and wow do they have some names potentially on the market that can fetch large returns: Derrick Brassard and Mike Hoffman are two players who log top-six minutes on a nightly basis and also have term left on their contract, which is great for teams looking to load up for this year and beyond.

The biggest name to watch, probably in the league altogether, is Erik Karlsson, who could be on the move if a team offers a big enough package for the Senators to pull the trigger now as opposed to in the offseason if they feel him re-signing is a long shot. He was the best defenseman last season, and if a team steps up to get him, they're getting two possible postseason runs out of him.

2. Artem Anisimov's experiment at left wing not working.

Joel Quenneville has tried rekindling the magic between Anisimov, Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane as of late, only this time Anisimov is playing the wing and it just hasn't been very effective. The trio was on the ice for each of the two 5-on-5 goals the Kings scored on Monday, and Anisimov completely lost his man on the first one.

It's important to establish a consistent left winger for Schmaltz and Kane, and maybe putting Alex DeBrincat up there is something you consider going forward as part of a long-term solution. Move Anisimov back down as the third-line center to play in more of a defensive role and continue using his big body on power plays for his offensive abilities might be the best bet.

3. Win the special teams battle.

In their last meeting against Ottawa on Jan. 9, the Blackhawks went 4-for-6 on the power play and 4-on-4 on the penalty kill in an 8-2 win. And those are two areas to look out for again.

The Senators own the 28th-ranked power play with a 16.1 percent success rate and 29th-ranked penalty kill with a 74.5 percent success rate. Get ready for another offensive outburst?