Bears

Another winner in the Lenti family

694384.png

Another winner in the Lenti family

Gena Lenti considers herself to be a perfectionist. Nothing less than an A-plus is acceptable, whether the subject is AP biology or pre-calculus or Spanish or basketball or softball. Her worst grade in four years of high school? An A-minus in choir as a freshman.

"I am a perfectionist. I always have been more competitive with myself than others," said Lenti, a senior at St. Ignatius College Prep. "I strive for A-plus, not just A on a test. If you look at my grades, you might consider me a nerd. But I can't let myself slack off. I tried this year but I can't do it. I just think of what I can do to make myself better."

She comes from a very competitive family. Her father Eugene coaches a nationally ranked softball team at DePaul. Her mother Candace played on a state championship basketball team at York and played softball at DePaul.

Aunt Jeanne Lenti Ponsetto is athletic director at DePaul. Uncle Frank, the head football coach at Mount Carmel, has won more games and state championships than any coach in state history. Uncle David is Frank's longtime defensive coordinator.

When the big Italian family gathers on Thanksgiving Day at the Ponsetto house near the DePaul campus, there are 27 in all...at least two turkeys, casseroles, stuffing, appetizers, desserts. Before sitting down to dinner, however, they adjourn for a family basketball game. To Gena's regret, the table conversation isn't reserved for sports only.

"The big question after 'How is the season going?' is 'How are the boyfriends going these days?' I try to avoid the question at all costs. I try to keep my family out of my social business as much as possible," she said.

But Gena, who has committed to play softball for her father at DePaul, has added another paragraph to her impressive resume that surely will be a topic of discussion at the next family gathering.

The 17-year-old senior has been named to the Illinois High School Association's 2011-12 All-State Academic Team. She is one of 26 student-athletes selected from among 450 nominees who will be honored at the annual banquet in Bloomington on April 16.

She carries a 4.32 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale and scored 30 on her ACT. She was the leading scorer on her basketball team this season and plays shortstop on the softball team. She hopes to improve on last year's .450 batting average, then will take her skills to DePaul.

"She always had a competitive nature in anything she did, sports or academics," her father recalled. "When she was 4 or 5, we'd play any game and I'd have to find a way to cheat so we could go to bed. She wanted to play until she won. I knew when she was 12 or 13 that she had the skill and drive to be successful in college."

When she was 10, her father converted her from a right-handed to a left-handed hitter to use her speed as a slapper, an Ichiro Suzuki-type hitter. She would show up at her father's games to take extra swings. Always fearless, she once broke an arm when diving for a ball in the outfield.

"I never thought I wouldn't play sports in college," she said. "I love basketball. If you gave me a choice, I would play basketball in college. But I'm better at softball.

"Softball can become boring at times. There is a lot of standing. Basketball is full of action. I can see where my work pays off more in basketball. Softball isn't as fast-paced, not as much action. I put more heart into basketball. It's a longer season and there is more time to bond with my team."

But her mother and two sisters played softball. And her father has coached the game for 32 years. She knew she wasn't tall enough to play basketball--and probably wouldn't get any taller. Her father is 5-foot-8 and her mother is 5-foot-5.

"There were times when I was young that I said I would go to DePaul to play softball for my dad. I thought it was guaranteed when I was younger but I knew it wasn't guaranteed," Gena said.

She recalls the day when her father asked her: "Would you want to play for me? We're starting to recruit your class." They were driving home after a game in a travel league tournament and Gena was mad at herself. She had played badly, struck out a few times and couldn't even put the ball in play with runners on base.

"I went off to the car and sat alone. On the way home, it was quiet. I didn't want to talk. My dad brought it up," she said. "After that game, I didn't think he'd be thinking of me. For sure, I'd be interested in going to DePaul. But I didn't think I was good enough.

"I saw there were other girls in my class who were very good, other kids my age, kids who only played softball while I was playing two sports, girls who were faster and stronger and had better arms.

"But my dad treated me like other recruits. I got letters in the mail signed 'Coach Lenti.' I was invited to visit the campus. I made unofficial and official visits. I toured the campus, saw the dorms for the first time, the science building, the quadrangle.

"He knew I was coming. I wasn't thinking of anywhere else. I chose DePaul because it is the best softball school I could go to. I didn't seek out anyone else. I looked at myself and felt I was going to the best school I could go to. And I wanted to stay close to my family."

Gena loves Chicago, especially the Downtown area. She rides her bicycle to North Avenue beach two or three times a week during the summer. She also prefers the Flat Top Grill at Southport and Belmont.

"I am the kind of person who doesn't like free time," she said. "I don't want a lot of TV and I don't go to movies. I have to balance school and sports and my social life."

Gena's day begins at 6 a.m. on school days. Breakfast is eggs or cereal. She car pools with two friends and arrives at St. Ignatius at 7:30a.m. Classes begin at 8 a.m. AP Biology, her favorite. Dance, pre-calculus, film, journalism, religion, Spanish. Then basketball or softball practice for two hours after school. Afterward, during the basketball season, she went to DePaul for a shootaround. During the softball season, she takes extra swings at a homemade hitting station in her basement. Then homework for at least two hours.

"I push myself too hard in sports and academics," she said. "Going into my senior year, knowing I was going to DePaul, my parents suggested that I should ease off. They gave me permission not to take a lot of AP classes, to enjoy myself more. But I am a perfectionist. I can't let myself slack off. I tried but I can't do it."

But she concedes that it is more difficult to be a perfectionist in softball. Her father reminds her that hitting is a losing battle, that you're always below .500, that the majority of the time you won't hit the ball safety, that major league baseball players with .300 batting averages are in the Hall of Fame.

"It is a mental game," she said. "You have to come back the next game if you strike out five times in the past game. You have to be mentally tougher. My dad said I have to have a swagger. My goal this spring is to hit higher than .450 and focus on fewer errors and more stolen bases."

So she'll have something to talk about next Thanksgiving.

Hyperbole aside, did Bears really get needed progress in Mitch Trubisky? They think so, but…

Hyperbole aside, did Bears really get needed progress in Mitch Trubisky? They think so, but…

The 2018 season ended with a predictable tsunami of feel-good about the play and prospects for quarterback Mitchell Trubisky:
 
From GM Ryan Pace: “I think it was just good to see the natural growth in the offensive scheme as [Trubisky] gained more comfort and then also more comfort with the players that are around him, that chemistry that developed. And I was just talking to Mitch today about that, just the excitement of going into an offseason with the pieces in place around him and then Year 2 in the same offensive scheme and how much growth can take place. So I just felt like you saw him playing more with his instincts because he was more comfortable in the system.”
 
Coach Matt Nagy, for whom total buy-in on Trubisky as the franchise quarterback was an understandable condition of employment, was even more lavish with his praise in the immediate aftermath of the playoff loss to Philadelphia: “We're lucky to have him. I'm looking forward to the future. I really am, with him, because the city of Chicago is lucky to have that kid at quarterback.”
 
But gushy talk is easy, particularly when the immediate objective is positivity. Exactly how “lucky” is Chicago to have a civic treasure like Trubisky? Did the organization get from Trubisky the improvements that it needs to move into the echelon of New England, Kansas City, New Orleans and the rest of the NFL’s Final Four?

Some indicators say “yes.” Others, maybe not so much. Still others, wait ‘til next year.
 
The Bears reached the 12-4 NFC North level they did in largest part because of the defense, which improved from No. 14 to No. 1 in Football Outsiders’ DVOA rankings, picking one apples-to-apples measure. The offense with 14 Trubisky starts vs. the 12 of 2017 improved from No. 28 last season to No. 20. Not good enough to get past Philadelphia, Cody Parkey notwithstanding.
 
The top five offenses (Chiefs, Rams, Chargers, Saints, Patriots) all reached the divisional round, and all but the Chargers are in the conference championships. Notably, all were top-10 and in the playoffs in 2017 as well, saying something about their quarterbacks’ consistency (and the relevance of the DVOA measure).
 
Better, but how much?
 
Wins are the only truly meaningful NFL measuring standard. But subheads under the general heading of “quarterback performance” warrant evaluation in the case of a work in progress like Trubisky. To that end:
 
Back before the start of training camp, before the on-field installation of Matt Nagy’s offense with Mitchell Trubisky and installing the revised Trubisky into the offense, this source identified three critical areas in which Trubisky needed to improve in if he was to take the uber-critical next step that the organization needed from him:
 
•      “Rediscover accuracy” - move from the 59.4 completion percentage of his 12-game rookie season, toward the 68 percent of his passing at North Carolina.
 
Analysis:  Trubisky had obvious accuracy problems early and at various points during the season, badly missing open receivers. But besides his overall completion bump to 66.6 percent, Trubisky had two sub-60 games in the first seven games of his season, only one in the second seven. And that one was vs. the Rams coming off two games missed with a shoulder injury and with an admittedly over-amped mindset.
 
•      “Stay the ball-security course” – improve on an INT rate of 2.1 percent, again toward his UNC ratio of 4:1, TD’s to INT’s.
 
Analysis:  From a very respectable ball-security rookie year, Trubisky slipped to a pick rate of 2.8 percent. He did throw for 24 TD’s vs. 12 INT’s, better than his 7-and-7 rookie totals but far short of the 4:1 rate sought by Nagy and offensive coordinator Mark Helfich. Nagy recalled situations where Trubisky threw into ill-advised places and acknowledged, “I can’t do that” as late as the Philadelphia game.
 
But Nagy and staff established in training camp that they were comfortable with Trubisky pushing envelopes, even to the point of incurring training-camp interceptions normally unacceptable. That was part of their learning curve, and the assumption is that Trubisky was indeed learning and would not be repeating throws that too often weren’t interceptions only owing to DB’s poor hands.
 
•      “Get the ball off on time” – Trubisky was sacked at a rate approaching 9 percent of the Bears’ pass plays; only one team reached the 2017 playoffs at a rate higher than 6.6 percent. All of the fault did not lie with the offensive line.
 
Analysis:  Trubisky was sacked on 5.24 percent of his pass plays (excluding scrambles and vs. 10.6 percent for Chase Daniel in the latter’s two starts). That would rank No. 6, just behind Kansas City and just ahead of the Rams. Not coincidentally, his release time, per calculations by NextGen stats, improved from 22nd (below Trevor Simian) to 11th (2.65 sec.) and quicker than Mahomes, Rodgers, Watson and others of note.
 
 
Qualitative vs. quantitative – and the “It” factor
 
But there are only lies, damn lies and statistics, in ascending degrees of misinformation. Myriad other elements beyond simple numbers comprise a championship quarterback in the fashion the Bears say they have in Trubisky.
 
The future of the Bears and their offense runs through Trubisky the leader. His performance levels can improve simply by eliminating errors rather than pressing for more dramatic plays. Trubisky faced eight teams in 2018 that he hadn’t seen in 2017, and the teams he had seen before (Detroit, Green Bay, Minnesota, Philadelphia, San Francisco) he was confronting with an offense different than the ’17 one.
 
Very significantly, in the tradition of greats, he got his team into winning range on a final drive in a playoff game, a range (43 yards) from which kickers were 76.7 percent successful in 2018. Cody Parkey had been significantly less successful (69.2 percent) in his career, but that personnel issue is on management, not Trubisky.
 
Trubisky earned the trust of the team, offense and defense and special teams, and took major qualitative and quantitative steps both as an NFL quarterback and, more important, as Matt Nagy’s quarterback:
 
“For him, he conquered the next-play mentality,” Nagy said by way of summary. “He conquered that. He conquered the steps of ‘101’ progressions. By the end of the year, he was reading it, ‘1-2-3 [progressions] -run.’ That, he conquered.
 
“Now, I think level two next year is going to be him really recognizing pre-snap what he's about to see from these defenses. So, last year he was so focused in on, 'What we do we do on offense? Hell, I've never run this offense before. What does that mean?'
 
“Now, he knows it all and can take that next step of figuring out, 'OK, here they come. They got a blitz, cover-0. Now, I know what to do, what to check to, I know the protections, all of that.' That's going to be the big one for him.” 

Tom Ricketts defends Cubs' financial situation

Tom Ricketts defends Cubs' financial situation

Cubs fans upset with the team's spending habits this winter won't get an opportunity to ask ownership directly at the organization's annual convention this weekend.

The Ricketts typically hold a panel each year at Cubs Convention where they open with 10 minutes or so reflecting on what went well the previous year and what they're excited about moving forward. Then they take questions from the crowd, which have been very interesting in the past.

With the way 2018 ended in disappointing fashion and the remarkably quiet offseason the Cubs have had to date, fans are frustrated and outspoken about the team not spending more to address the holes on their big-league roster (namely in the pursuit of Bryce Harper). 

That was all adding up to what promised to be a very intriguing Ricketts panel at this year's Cubs Convention...only that's not happening anymore. 

The Ricketts will not have their typical panel at Cubs Convention anymore, and instead will make an appearance on Ryan Dempster's show Friday night after Opening Ceremonies (though it's not yet known if they will take fan questions during their appearance)

Why?

Tom Ricketts did a Chicago radio tour Thursday morning and told David Kaplan on ESPN 1000 his family canceled their panel at the fan convention months ago because it was the lowest-rated panel at last year's event and was "boring." 

He also told 670 The Score "he's the most accessible owner in sports" and the Ricketts panel could come back in 2020 if fans really want it to.

When it comes to the pursuit of Harper, Ricketts told Kaplan, "We didn't have the flexibility this year to go sign a big free agent and I'm not sure we would have anyways. We like the team we have."

After being handed an early exit from the postseason last fall, the Cubs have added only two guys to their 40-man roster this winter: utility man Daniel Descalso with $5 million guaranteed over two years (and an option for a third year) and pitcher Kendall Graveman, who is rehabbing from Tommy John and not expected to pitch at all in 2019.

However, the Cubs began the offseason by picking up Cole Hamels' $20 million option and they are on track for the highest payroll in franchise history by a wide margin.

After reaching agreements last week with all seven players eligible for abritration, the Cubs' estimated Luxury Tax Payroll is more than $225 million (the luxury tax threshold is $206 million for 2019).

For comparison, the highest payroll the Cubs have ever had came in 2018, when they spent more than $183 million on players. So regardless of any other deals that may come before spring training, the Cubs have devoted a huge increase to the payroll thanks in large part to the Hamels deal and increasing salaries for players like Kris Bryant and Javy Baez.

The Cubs are also limited by the moves they made last offseason that did not pan out in 2018. Yu Darvish ($20 million), Tyler Chatwood ($12.5 million) and Brandon Morrow ($9 million) are owed more than $41 million in 2019 after spending most of last season either injured or ineffective. Darvish threw only 40 innings, Chatwood currently doesn't have a spot in the rotation and Morrow is slated to miss at least the first couple weeks of the year after offseason surgery to clean up his elbow after a forearm bone bruise that limited the reliever to just 30.2 innings.

Ricketts actually acknowledged Thursday morning those moves are hamstringing the Cubs this winter:

He also called the perception the team isn't spending money "misguided" and explained where the money is going beyond the payroll:

Ricketts also echoed what Theo Epstein has been saying all winter: Judge the Cubs based on their on-field results in 2019, not on what they did over the offseason.