Cubs

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."

What Chicago sports fans should be thankful for

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USA TODAY

What Chicago sports fans should be thankful for

Families gather and people talk about things they are thankful for on Thanksgiving, but what are Chicago sports fans happy for now?

Raised expectations on the North Side

Got to be thankful that a “disappointing” season is winning the division and losing in the NLCS. The expectations have skyrocketed, and that’s thanks to a ridiculous nucleus of bats and a steady front office. Not many clubs can say that. Also, though, it’s important to be appreciative of the Wrigley bar stretch. They may charge $8 for a Miller Lite, but it’s always a damn good party.

Javy tags, too. Don't forget Javy tags.

Rebuild sparking hope in White Sox fans

Where to begin? Obviously, be thankful for the plethora of young talent that will soon take over the South Side. Be thankful for Avi Time (while you still can). Be thankful that taking your friends or family to a game won’t cause you to take out a second mortgage. Be thankful for the 2020 World Series and, of course, 2020 MVP Eloy Jimenez. But most importantly, be thankful that Rick Hahn’s phone stays buzzing.

Eddie O back in the booth for the Blackhawks

The Blackhawks are having a rough start to the season, but at least Eddie Olczyk is back in the booth. The longtime Blackhawks broadcaster returned to the booth on Oct. 18 after missing time while undergoing chemotherapy treatments for colon cancer.

With some of the key names from the Blackhawks’ title runs either leaving or being unable to play this season (in the case of Marian Hossa), Blackhawks fans are probably thankful to see a familiar face and hear a familiar voice during games.

Lauri Markkanen leading the Bulls rebuild

OK, there’s not much to be thankful for about the current Bulls team. At 3-13, the Bulls are tied for the fewest wins in the NBA (maybe in the long-term that’s something to be thankful for as well). However, Zach LaVine’s pending debut after his eventual return from injury should help create some excitement.

The thing Bulls fans really should be thankful for this year is the play of rookie Lauri Markkanen. The 20-year-old leads the team in scoring (14.6 points per game) and rebounds (8.3 per game) while shooting at a high percentage (34.2 percent on threes and 50.6 percent on twos). It’s only the beginning of the Bulls’ rebuild, but Markkanen is a good start.

Mitchapalooza

If a few things broke the Bears’ way, Chicagoans could have been grateful that the team was finally out of the cellar. Instead, we’ll settle for the fact that there seems to be some building blocks already in place. Mitchell Trubisky, Tarik Cohen, Leonard Floyd and Akiem Hicks seem to fit that category. Also, some may be thankful that this is likely John Fox’s last season at the helm.

Fire ending a playoff drought

After finishing dead last in MLS in 2015 and 2016, the Fire were one of the most improved teams in the league in 2017. After posting the third best record in the league, the Fire made a first playoff appearance since 2012.

The playoff run didn’t last long with the Fire losing a play-in game at home, but the arrival of Bastian Schweinsteiger and the league’s leading goal-scorer, Nemanja Nikolic, helped fill the stadium with six sellouts and gave Fire fans something to cheer for.

With Leonard Floyd going on injured reserve, will the Bears have a pressing need at outside linebacker in 2018?

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With Leonard Floyd going on injured reserve, will the Bears have a pressing need at outside linebacker in 2018?

The Bears placed Leonard Floyd on injured reserve Thursday morning, ending the second-year outside linebacker’s season following a knee injury suffered Sunday against the Detroit Lions. Floyd suffered an MCL and PCL injury and will have surgery in the next week, coach John Fox said, and the Bears do not have a timetable for his recovery yet. But that Floyd didn't suffer damage to his ACL is potentially good news for Floyd's recovery timetable. 

Still, with Floyd on injured reserve and out for the season, the Bears’ current outside linebacker depth chart consists of two veterans (Pernell McPhee and Sam Acho) and two practice squad signees (Isaiah Irving and Howard Jones). These final six games of the 2017 season could serve as auditions for all four players for roles on the 2018 Bears. 

If every team needs at least three good pass rushers, the Bears can count on Akiem Hicks and Floyd for 2018, provided Floyd comes back healthy. But who’s the third?

The Bears could save about $7.5 million in cap space if they release McPhee in 2018; if they were to cut ties with Willie Young, who’s on injured reserve right now as well, it would provide $4.5 million in cap relief. McPhee will be 29 in December, while Young will turn 33 next September. 

The Bears won’t necessarily need the cap relief next year, and could certainly decide to keep both players, who’ve shown they’re still productive when healthy. But even if both players are back, the Bears may need to add another outside linebacker via free agency of the draft — remember, the team could’ve began the season with Floyd, Young, McPhee, Acho and Lamarr Houston as their outside linebackers; an injury Houston suffered in the fourth preseason game ended his time in Chicago. 

Needs at wide receiver and cornerback are pressing, but outside linebacker may need to be in that same conversation. If the Bears have a top-10 pick for the fourth consecutive year, plus some cap space, they perhaps could have the ability to address all three needs in March and April. 

That may be looking a little too far into the future, though. The best-case for the Bears is McPhee finishes the season strong and Irving and/or Jones shows something in the opportunities they receive in these final six games (Jones, for what it’s worth, had five sacks as a rookie with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2015). But the worst-case — and perhaps the most realistic — is that the Bears go into the offseason needing to fill at least one pass-rushing spot.