Cubs

Vikings game a test for Emery GM efforts

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Vikings game a test for Emery GM efforts

Besides its obvious playoff implications, the Bears-Minnesota Vikings game on Sunday becomes a spot referendum on the first year of general manager Phil Emery.
One of Emerys clear missions in his first stint as a GM was to muscle up the Bears depth chart from its level of 2011 that cost the Bears a playoff berth.
In addition to draft choices and a trade (Brandon Marshall):Quarterback: Jason Campbell for Caleb Hanie.

Running back: Michael Bush for Marion Barber.

Offensive line: Chilo Rachal for Frank Omiyale, Jonathan Scott for Chris Williams.

Linebacker: Geno Hayes for everybody.

Cornerback: Kelvin Hayden for D.J. Moore, Zackary Bowman (Bowman has since been brought back).

Not all of the moves have worked, for various reasons. But a key to the Bears regaining some momentum in a playoff direction now will depend on significant contributions from Hayes and Hayden in particular, and on Scott.

During the course of the year youre going to be playing without players for a brief period of time, said coach Lovie Smith. We thought we would get lucky being this late in the year but thats not the case.

Hayden will start for injured Tim Jennings. Hayes starts at strong-side linebacker with Nick Roach sliding into Brian Urlachers spot. Scott is tasked with controlling the rush of Minnesota Vikings end Brian Robison (5.5 sacks) in quarterback Jay Cutlers face.

Sharp corner

Hayden replaces a virtual Pro Bowl lock in Jennings, with his eight interceptions. The Vikings are without franchise wide receiver Percy Harvin and are the worst passing offense in the NFL (just ahead of the Bears).

More importantly, one reason Hayden already had replaced D.J. Moore at nickel back was because of more size and physicality, which becomes an added asset against an offense built around running back Adrian Peterson.

The situation thats at hand, you dont wish that upon anybody, said Hayden, who signed with the Bears for one year and is playing for his future. Its always good to be out there every play, out there having fun, making plays and enjoying the moment.

If a guy goes down on the second play of the game, you want to be prepared and ready to go. Thats my whole job is just to be ready when my number is called. Im going to try to continue to do the same.

Ironically, Hayden and Jennings were once teammates with the Indianapolis Colts. Jennings has 61 career starts, Hayden 47.

Hayes happening

Hayes started 42 games with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in a defensive system similar to the Bears. Like Hayden, he signed for one year and is getting his first Chicago start.

Its a great opportunity, Hayes said. Anytime you get the opportunity to step on the field and make plays, its always that chance youve got to go out there and take something. Its big.

I try not to think about his contract situation. I just want to go out there and play ball. Contract and that stuff is for after season. Right now, all Ive got to do is go out there and do my job. Thats all Im here to do.

Is Joe Maddon covering for Wade Davis? Where do Cubs go from here?

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USA TODAY

Is Joe Maddon covering for Wade Davis? Where do Cubs go from here?

Is Cubs manager Joe Maddon taking the heat and covering for Wade Davis while the All-Star closer deals with atypical soreness in his right arm?

“No, no,” Maddon said Tuesday when asked if Davis felt anything unusual that lingered into the National League Championship Series after last week’s all-out effort eliminated the Washington Nationals from the divisional round.

The Los Angeles Dodgers took a 2-0 lead in this best-of-seven bullpen battle without Davis throwing a single pitch, the backlash from Cubs fans, Twitter and the national media again putting Maddon on the defensive, the year after he got second-guessed for pushing Aroldis Chapman so hard during the World Series.

This NLCS truly is a bizarro world, with Maddon comparing the Buster Posey Rule to the Chicago soda tax, getting so little benefit of the doubt – the Cubs really did beat the Cleveland Indians in Game 7 – and working the baseball term “dry-hump” into one answer during Monday’s Wrigley Field press conference.

Maddon said he would have to check first with Davis – who would have almost five full days in between relief appearances – if the Cubs need a four- or five-out save in Game 3.

“Nevertheless, I always check,” Maddon said. “I can’t just assume that.”

Maddon’s Game 2 calculus on Sunday night at Dodger Stadium – sticking with lefty reliever Brian Duensing in a 1-1 game to start the ninth inning and then bringing in John Lackey to serve up the walk-off, three-run homer to Justin Turner – made you wonder if Davis was still dragging after ending Washington’s season and traveling on the overnight cross-country flight that got diverted to New Mexico for about five hours when Jose Quintana’s wife experienced a panic attack.

“I think he just got mentally exhausted,” Maddon said. “Physically, 44 pitches, he hasn’t done that in a while. But also the seven outs and what it meant and the plane ride itself, sitting on the tarmac, there was a lot of non-rest going on right there, so it was harder to recover.

“So, no, he was fine for the last game, but we set up the parameters before the game.”

Maddon is sticking with his story, that he would only deploy Davis in a save situation and not use him for one out against Turner (1.115 career postseason OPS) or have him totally warm up without the guarantee of getting him into the game.

“To put Wade in that position would be wrong on my part,” Maddon said. “We had already talked about the circumstances, so my loyalty there lies with Wade, or my decision-making lies with Wade, nobody else.

“That was a heavy day for him (in Washington). Going into the last game in L.A., like I talked about, we talked about one inning only, and not to get up and not put him in the game.

“If you get him up and sit him down, then you have no idea what it’s going to look like. My responsibility is to him, also, and to the players, so I told him that before the game, so I had to stick with our decision.”

Before finalizing the Jorge Soler trade at the winter meetings, the Kansas City Royals took the unusual step of allowing the Cubs to meet with Davis at his home in New York’s Hudson Valley and go through a physical exam. The Cubs wanted reassurances after Davis spent parts of last season on the disabled list with a forearm strain and a flexor strain.

The Cubs wondered if “dry-humping” had contributed to those injuries, and tried to stay conservative with Davis during his free-agent year, watching him convert his first 32 save chances and using him for three-plus outs only three times during the regular season, all in mid-to-late September.

“If you look at the numbers this year, I thought going into the playoffs his usage has been really good,” Maddon said. “Minimal, in a sense. We didn’t get him up hardly at all where we didn’t utilize him.

“He just wasn’t set up for it the other day. So honestly, I think he’s in really good shape right now, actually. I don’t think he could have gone those seven outs the other day if he had been overly dried up during the course of the season. He felt good. But that was above and beyond, and that wasn’t part of the game plan the other night.”

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Ben Zobrist shares his leadoff approach

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SportsTalk Live Podcast: Ben Zobrist shares his leadoff approach

Sports Talk Live is on location at the Brickhouse Tavern at Wrigley Field to get you set for Game 3 of the NLCS. David Haugh (Chicago Tribune), Jesse Rogers (ESPNChicago.com) and Bob Nightengale (USA Today) join Kap on the panel. 

Plus, Ben Zobrist and Curtis Granderson drop by to talk about the big matchup.

Listen to the full SportsTalk Live Podcast right here: