Cubs

Short, medium and long-term issues facing Lovie

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Short, medium and long-term issues facing Lovie

In the aftermath of the Bears crushing NFC North division loss to the Minnesota Vikings, coach Lovie Smith needed to deal with very, very significant issues in the short, medium and long terms:

Short term: Jay Cutlers neck.

The Bears have proved shaky with winning with their franchise quarterback in place and virtually incapable of winning without him. Best indications that they will not have to try to break a stretch of losing four of five games without Cutler next Sunday against the Green Bay Packers.

Cutler was forced to leave the Minnesota game in the fourth quarter with neck stiffness after a crunching hit. Cutler said Monday on his WMVP-AM radio show that he expects to play next Sunday and the biggest reason is that the soreness is indeed just that rather than a structural injury.

Without going into detail, which I dont really know, I think its normal soreness that you would have from a stiff neck, Smith said. But again, I try not to jump too far on that side, to try to play doctor too much. Im just basing it on what he has right now. He has a sore neck.

Medium term: The playoffs

Sitting at No. 6 in the playoff seedings at the 13th-game point, the Bears are in the postseason if they win the remaining three games on their schedule. With an offense that effectively gave away as many points to Minnesota as it scored (14), it is unlikely the Bears deep-down believe that can happen.

Smith typically talks of the season in terms of quarters. He is now faced with a more pressing and shorter time frame.

Were at 8-5 right now, got a three-game season right now. Its as simple as that, Smith said. As far as the big picture, we control what happens to us but we have to play better football.

The Bears have the Packers and then two teams in the throes of nine-game (Arizona) and five-game (Detroit) losing streaks. They have at least a one-game lead on every playoff hopeful except Seattle, which has to go cross-country to Buffalo next, followed by San Francisco and St. Louis, which has currently won three straight.

But the Bears can no longer waste even the effort to worry about someone elses schedule.

The pressure were feeling right now is on our performances. Improving, its on us, Smith said. We talked about someone else controlling the division, but what happens to us, it doesnt really matter about the teams ahead of us or the teams behind us right now. Its just what we do.

Long term: Job security

What the Bears do will likely affect more than just the 2012 playoffs. Smith has had a team from 7-3 to out of the playoffs last season and one that was 7-1 and now is a bad day from falling out of them again.

With one playoff appearance since 2006 and having lost five straight to Green Bay there is pressure on Smith.

I think every day Ive been here, each day I think, all of us come to work, were going to do the best job that we possibly can, Smith said. All of our futures are tied its all based on wins and loses really, and Im OK with that.

Why did Kris Bryant get a first-place vote in this year's National League MVP balloting?

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USA TODAY

Why did Kris Bryant get a first-place vote in this year's National League MVP balloting?

Kris Bryant was the 2016 National League MVP. And despite having what could be considered an even better campaign this past season, he finished seventh in voting for the 2017 edition of the award.

The NL MVP was awarded to Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton on Thursday night, a fine choice, though it was nearly impossible to make a poor choice, that's how many fantastic players there were hitting the baseball in the NL this season.

After Stanton, Cinicinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto finished second, earning the same amount of first-place votes and losing out to Stanton by just one point. Then came Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado, Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon and Washington Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon ahead of Bryant.

But there was someone who thought Bryant deserved to repeat as the NL MVP. Yes, Bryant earned a first-place vote — as did everyone else mentioned besides Rendon, for that matter — causing a bit of a social-media stir considering the Cubs third baseman, despite his great season, perhaps wasn't as standout a candidate as some of the other guys who finished higher in the voting.

So the person who cast that first-place vote for Bryant, MLB.com's Mark Bowman, wrote up why he felt Bryant deserved to hoist the Kenesaw Mountain Landis Memorial Baseball Award for the second straight year.

"In the end, I chose Bryant because I believe he made the greatest impact, as his second-half production fueled the successful turnaround the Cubs experienced after the All-Star break," Bowman wrote.

"Though I don't believe the MVP must come from a playoff contender, in an attempt to differentiate the value provided by each of these three players (Bryant, Votto and Stanton), I chose to reward the impact made by Bryant, who produced the NL's fourth-best OPS (.968) after the All-Star break, when the Cubs distanced themselves from a sub-.500 record and produced an NL-best 49 wins."

It's easy for Cubs fans and observers to follow that logic, as the Cubs took off after the All-Star break following a disappointing first half. As good as Bryant was all season long, his second-half numbers, as Bowman pointed out, were especially great. He hit .325 with a .421 on-base percentage and a .548 slugging percentage over his final 69 games of the regular season, hitting 11 home runs, knocking out 21 doubles and driving in 35 runs during that span.

Perhaps the craziest thing about this year's MVP race and Bryant's place in it is that Bryant was just as good if not better than he was in 2016, when he was almost unanimously named the NL MVP. After slashing .292/.385/.554 with 39 homers, 102 RBIs, 35 doubles, 75 walks and 154 strikeouts in 2016, Bryant slashed .295/.409/.537 with 29 homers, 73 RBIs, 38 doubles, 95 walks and 128 strikeouts in 2017.

Of course, the competition was much steeper this time around. But Bryant was given the MVP award in 2016 playing for a 103-win Cubs team that was bursting with offensive firepower, getting great seasons from Anthony Rizzo (who finished third in 2016 NL MVP voting), as well as Dexter Fowler and Ben Zobrist. While the Cubs actually scored more runs this season and undoubtedly turned it on after the All-Star break on a team-wide basis, Bryant was far and away the best hitter on the team in 2017, with many other guys throughout the lineup having notably down years and/or experiencing down stretches throughout the season. Hence, making Bryant more, say it with me, valuable.

So Bowman's argument about Bryant's impact on the Cubs — a team that still scored 822 runs, won 92 games and advanced to the National League Championship Series — is a decently convincing one.

Check out Bowman's full explanation, which dives into some of Bryant's advanced stats.

HandiKapping presented by Xpressbet

HandiKapping presented by Xpressbet

In the latest edition of HandiKapping presented by Xpressbet, NBC Sports Chicago's David Kaplan makes his picks for the weekend.

Kap made his picks with the help of Eddie Olczyk this week.