Bears

The Bears' moment in time

963325.png

The Bears' moment in time

Remember that crossroads in the Bears season I wrote about three weeks ago? That fork in the road after two straight losses to the Texans and 49ers? Its turned into the fork thats hovering the Bears body of work for 2012.

The opportunity to deliver potential knockout punches to two teams trying to stay in the playoff picture started well enough at home against the Vikings. But the failure to lock down that home game with Seattle has given the Seahawks momentum (and now, the fifth seed in the NFC, ahead of the Bears), and carried over into the Minnesota rematch.

The trends certainly aren't encouraging. The Bears face an arch-rival Sunday they haven't been able to beat lately. Then there are the health issues that were compounded in that Seahawks game, which leads me into one particular moment we'll have to keep an eye on as a potential defining moment of the year.

Chicago led Seattle 14-10 with just over a minute remaining, and had them facing 4th and 3 at the Bears' 48. They needed to top Russell Wilson and company, then take over, run the clock out and improve to 9-3. But Wilson completed a seven-yard pass to Zach Miller, and two plays later, they went ahead 17-14.

Fortunately (or was it, since they wound up losing anyway?), Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall worked their magic to set up the overtime-forcing field goal. Then came overtime.

Less than 2-12 minutes in, Tim Jennings suffered his shoulder injury, knocking him out of last week's game and probably this week's, too. Pro Bowl cornerback, gone.

Then, as Seattle's game-winning march continued, Brian Urlacher goes down for likely the rest of the regular season with his hamstring injury. That doesn't happen if he's not on the field for overtime - much less 10:36 of the final eleven minutes of the game.

So without Jennings and Urlacher, and with a ninth win turned into a fourth loss, the Bears go up to Minnesota, and lose again. Would the momentum - and the presence of Jennings and Urlacher for the Minnesota game - have made a difference in that outcome last Sunday?

Even if they'd still lost, they'd be 9-4 and still have a shot at the division title with a win this weekend. Winning both of those games - with those two players still in the lineup - instead of a split the last two weeks provides an entirely different outlook.

There's no telling where fate and the health Gods would've taken the Bears if they'd closed the deal and stopped the Seahawks with just 1:11 remaining two Sundays ago. I've also been around long enough to know sometimes strange things happen to certain teams despite cruel twists of fate, when there's so much on the line.

At this very moment, the Bears are still a playoff team despite everything that's happened leading up to that Wilson-to-Miller connection. They can still wind up in the playoffs even if they lose again Sunday. But those three hours this weekend could well determine whether the Bears can overcome some of the odds now stacked against them, and get back on track from a single moment that may factor into multiple off-season decisions.

Sports Talk Live Podcast: How much will Trubisky improve in his 2nd preseason game?

mitch_trubisky_usa_today.jpg
USA TODAY

Sports Talk Live Podcast: How much will Trubisky improve in his 2nd preseason game?

Mark Carman, Scott Merkin and Chris Bleck join Kap on the panel. Jon Lester looks to get back on track against the Pirates? Should he still be the Cubs Game 1 starter in the playoffs?  Len Kasper joins Kap to discuss.

 

How much will Mitch Trubisky improve in his 2nd preseason game? And will Carlos Rodon end up being the White Sox’ best starter?

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

A stellar Jon Lester outing gives the Cubs more than just a win

A stellar Jon Lester outing gives the Cubs more than just a win

It's been a tale of two halves for the Cubs veteran Jon Lester, who after a sparkling first half of baseball that saw him win 12 games with a 2.58 ERA, has looked nothing like a 2018 All-Star. Prior to Thursday's start, Lester had posted a 10.32 ERA, allowed 4 or more runs in 4 of his 5 most recent starts, and had yet to win a game in the second of the season. 

The 34-year-old veteran flipped the script Thursday night, throwing 6-shutout innings while striking out 8 Pirate batters in the Cubs 1-0 win in Pittsburgh. Lester surrendered only 5 hits and baffled the Pirates all-night, finally busting out of his slump and giving the Cubs his 2nd quality start since the All-Star break. 

Lester attacked the bottom portion of the strike zone all night with his fastball, which topped out at 93 mph, generating 4 whiffs with his heater. Over the last month, Lester has said he's felt he can't quite execute his "out" pitches, explaining that when he has a hitter set up for a strikeout he hasn't been able to throw the ball effectively in those moments. 

And while Lester walked off the mound after the 6th inning amassing 8 punch outs, the veteran starter never looked like he was trying to strike out batters. He just continued to dot the corners, occasionally raise the eye-level of the batter with an elevated heater, and threw his secondary pitches just enough to keep the Pittsburgh batters uncomfortable at the plate. 

The Cubs offense once again struggled, facing Ivan Nova who has won four his last five starts against the Cubs, but Ian Happ's solo shot in the 4th inning was enough run support for Lester to push the Cubs to 20 games over .500. But the biggest takeaway from Thursday night's win isn't that the Cubs came out on top, it's that Jon Lester returning to form gives this Chicago rotation something they've lacked seemingly this entire season. 

Stability at the front of the rotation. 

With Cole Hamels impressive three starts in a Cub uniform and Kyle Hendricks finally figuring out his issues on the mound, if Jon Lester can replicate Thursday's performance throughout the rest of the season, the Cubs rotation may finally turn into the strength many thought it could be before the season started. At the very least, Lester showed that whatever he's been working through over the last month of baseball is fixable. 

It's only one start in a string of poor outings for Lester, and while The Athletic's Sahadev Sharma did find some positives in his starts prior to Thursday's big win, Lester will have to show he can maintain this level of pitching through the remainder of this season. But I think our own Tony Andracki put it best tonight on Twitter. 

With the Cubs pitchers finally starting to perform to their expected level, and the return of Yu Darvish looking closer each day, it could be the Cubs starting pitching that carries through the rest of the season.