Bears

Sexy matchup on the mound for Yankees, Tigers

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Sexy matchup on the mound for Yankees, Tigers

From Comcast SportsNet
NEW YORK (AP) -- The New York Yankees and Detroit Tigers are set to open the playoffs the same way they began the regular season: Justin Verlander vs. CC Sabathia. Game 1 of the AL division series offers about as good a postseason pitching matchup as you can get. "It's funny. The season has kind of gone full circle," Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira said. "We started in March with Verlander and CC opening day and now the playoffs. It should be fun." Verlander, who went 24-5 with a 2.40 ERA and 250 strikeouts, looms as one of the biggest first-round obstacles for the Yankees. Of course, the Yankees have an ace of their own in Sabathia, who goes against a Tigers lineup that carried Detroit to a 30-9 finish. The Yankees have been coasting since wrapping up the AL East. The last time these teams met in the playoffs -- the 2006 division series, which Detroit won 3-1 on its way to an AL pennant -- it was the Tigers who came in cold after losing their last five. This year, The Yankees finished by being swept in Tampa Bay and losing their last four. "A whole new season starts tomorrow for everybody," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. No more setting up rotations, no more bench players starting and no more protecting key relievers -- as Yankees manager Joe Girardi did by not using Mariano Rivera, David Robertson or Rafael Soriano against the Rays. Everything counts now. But first, maybe a little sleep would be good. The Yankees flew back from Tampa Bay after playing 12 innings in the regular season finale, a game the Rays won on Evan Longoria's homer that put them in the playoffs as the AL wild card. The Yankees watched the drama unfold and flew home for an all-too-early workout. "Man, I got home at 4:30. I don't even know what I'm saying right now," a bleary-eyed Derek Jeter said. "It's not fun yet." It should be soon enough with Sabathia and Verlander going up against two loaded lineups. "Hopefully, it's a good one," Sabathia said. "We've faced off a lot, me playing in that division for a long time. He's had one of the best seasons for a pitcher ever, I think." In Game 2, it's New York's Ivan Nova vs. Doug Fister, with Detroit's Max Scherzer and Freddy Garcia slated for Game 3. If there's a fourth game, Girardi plans to bring back Sabathia on short rest. Leyland has said he won't pitch Verlander on short rest in the first round, even if Detroit is facing elimination in Game 4. While most of the attention has been on Verlander, a near lock for the AL Cy Young and a strong candidate to be the first starting pitcher to win the AL MVP since Roger Clemens in 1986, Fister has been even better since the Tigers traded for him in July. Fister is 7-0 with a 0.65 ERA in his last eight outings. Fister, picked up in a six-player deal with Seattle on July 30, has gone 20 innings without walking a batter. He and Verlander are a combined 14-0 with a 1.61 ERA in 16 appearances since Aug. 16. Of course, Verlander has been doing it all year -- he's 22-2 since throwing a no-hitter against Toronto on May 7. "There's not really a chance to sit back and kind of let it soak in," Verlander said. "Once the last pitch is thrown -- hopefully, after we have won a World Series -- I can sit down and look back and enjoy it. For right now, I'm focused on Game 1." The Tigers also have some pop in their lineup. While not as daunting top to bottom in the order as New York, Detroit features AL batting champion Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Jhonny Peralta. And catcher Alex Avila has been a revelation, with 19 homers and a .295 average. The Yankees, of course, have Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano and Teixeira slugging away at the heart of their order. A-Rod will hit behind Cano in the postseason, swapping their usual order from the regular season. And then there's former Tigers outfielder Curtis Granderson, who had a career year with 41 homers. "I've seen his numbers, and they're amazing," Verlander said. Not that it will matter Friday night, when everyone's stats are reset to zero and what happens from then on is all that counts. It's almost here. "I'm not excited yet," Jeter said. "The excitement starts tomorrow."

2017 Bears position grades: Defensive backs

2017 Bears position grades: Defensive backs

2017 grade: B-

Level of need: High

Decisions to be made on: Kyle Fuller (free agent), Prince Amukamara (free agent), Marcus Cooper (contract), Sherrick McManis (free agent), Bryce Callahan (restricted free agent), Quintin Demps (contract)

Possible free agent targets: Trumaine Johnson, Malcolm Butler, Bashaud Breeland, E.J. Gaines, Rashaad Melvin, Robert McClain, Darrelle Revis

There’s a wide spectrum of scenarios for the Bears at cornerback, ranging from keeping the status quo to blowing the whole thing up, and everything in between. Safety is far more stable, with Adrian Amos and Eddie Jackson proving to be a reliable pairing, so that’s set for 2018.

Let’s start with one end of that cornerback spectrum: The Bears keep the top of this unit intact. That means, No. 1, retaining Kyle Fuller via the franchise tag and/or a long-term contract. No. 2, it means bringing back Prince Amukamara, who didn’t record an interception and committed a few too many penalties, but otherwise was a fine enough cover corner. No. 3, it means keeping restricted free agent Bryce Callahan as the team’s No. 1 slot corner.

On paper, this doesn’t seem like an altogether bad option. The Bears weren’t spectacular at cornerback in 2017, but the position was a little better than average, which isn’t the worst place to be for a single unit. Couple with solid play from the safeties and the Bears’ defensive backs were overall a decent enough group. Outside of Marcus Cooper -- who is a candidate to be cut for cap savings -- the Bears may not need to make wholesale changes to this group.

That, though, is a rosier look at this unit. The Bears can certainly improve the personnel in it with a healthy amount of cap space and a strong crop of free agent cornerbacks about to hit the market. Keeping Fuller and then signing a top-tier player like Trumaine Johnson or Malcolm Butler would upgrade this group, as would bringing back Fuller and Amukamara but then using a high draft pick on a player like Ohio State’s Denzel Ward.

Unless the Bears sign two big-time cornerbacks -- i.e. Fuller and Johnson, or even a guy like Brashaud Breeland or E.J. Gaines -- it would seem reasonable for them to use a first or second-round pick on a cornerback in an effort to find a longer-term solution at the position. That doesn’t mean the Bears would absolutely have to go that route, especially with other needs at wide receiver, guard and outside linebacker.

But here’s another thought: It’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Bears are able to sign a combination of two top cornerbacks in free agency. With plenty of cap space top-end free agents lacking at wide receiver and outside linebacker/edge rusher, could Pace allocate a good chunk of that money to, say, tagging Fuller and making runs at Johnson, Butler and/or Breeland? 2018 looks to be a good year to be aggressive in the free agent cornerback market, and that could play into the Bears’ strategy well.

Before we finish, we should carve out some space for Amos and Jackson. Pro Football Focus isn’t the only outlet that’s given Amos high marks -- Bleacher Report’s NFL1000 ranked him as the No. 1 free safety in the league, too. Jackson came in at No. 19 in B/R’s strong safety rankings, which is pretty solid for a fourth-round rookie.

But the larger point here isn’t exactly where Amos and Jackson are in outside evaluations -- it’s that, tangibly, the pair played well off each other on a consistent basis last year. Seeing as Amos didn’t enter the Bears’ starting lineup until Week 4 -- after Quintin Demps suffered a season-ending broken forearm against Pittsburgh -- how quickly and successfully he and Jackson meshed was one of the more impressive developments for the Bears’ 2017 defense. Amos needs to make more plays on the ball and Jackson has some things to clean up, but the Bears enter the 2018 league year not needing to address their safety position. That’s a good place to be for a team with other significant needs.

Three Things to Watch: Bulls-76ers

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NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Bulls-76ers

The Bulls square off against the Sixers tonight on NBC Sports Chicago, with coverage beginning at 6:30 with Bulls Pregame Live. Here are three things to watch as the Bulls begin the stretch run of their regular season.

1. The new rotation: Most of the Bulls’ rotation looks the same, but the addition of David Nwaba, Cristiano Felicio and Cameron Payne will have a different feel. The Bulls clearly want to get a look at these guys before the end of the regular season, meaning they’re not just going to get sporadic minutes. They’ll have to play through their mistakes, play out-matched at times and be put in uncomfortable situations. But the Bulls need to see what they have, especially in Payne, who has missed the entire season to this point with a broken foot.

2. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons: They’re quite the 1-2 punch and have the Sixers looking at their first playoff appearance since Derrick Rose hadn’t yet torn an ACL. Yeah, that’s a long time. Embiid just finished his first All-Star appearance (starting in his second year) and Simmons is the front runner for Rookie of the Year. The Bulls will have their hands full with these two. Luckily…

3. Kris Dunn is back: The Bulls wanted to get Dunn some run before heading to All-Star Weekend to play in the Rising Stars Challenge, and he looked healthy in that thumping against the Raptors last week. The good news is John Paxson says Dunn won’t be on a minutes limit, which means he’s healthy. That, of course, is more important than how he’s playing. It’ll be fun to see him, LaVine and Markkanen play together down the stretch. Their numbers together aren’t great, but the Bulls are 2-2 with all three in the lineup, and tanking or not…it’s more fun to watch when those three are rolling.