Cubs

Bears OL shuffle is the norm, not the exception

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Bears OL shuffle is the norm, not the exception

Maybe everyone should be used to this sort of thing.

The anticipated annual? shakeup of the Bears offensive line proceeded Thursday with Jonathan Scott replacing Gabe Carimi at right tackle and Chris Spencer returning to left guard in place of Chilo Rachal, who had been his replacement after the Green Bay game.

It felt pretty good, getting the calls down and communicating, things of that nature, Scott said. I think its definitely conducive to winning.

For Carimi it was a tough epilogue to a disastrous outing against the San Francisco 49ers and rush linebacker Aldon Smith, who abused Carimi, J'Marcus Webb and others for 5.5 sacks, a record for any Bears opponent.

It seemed like it just kept rolling worse and worse, Carimi said. I didnt play my best and I can only talk about myself. I needed to do a better job and didnt. I needed to step up and I didnt.

Situation normal: in complete flux

It is far from the first time that the Bears have had to scramble with a shuffle on the offensive line, not the first time Spencer has been a key figure, and not the first time that right tackle has been an issue.

Spencer began last year on the bench but was dropped in at right guard in Weeks 2-4 when Louis was down with an ankle injury and then just held out. Louis returned for Game 5 but by then the struggles of Frank Omiyale in place of Carimi had become unacceptable and Louis was shunted out to right tackle and Spencer brought in at right guard again.

Chaos does not automatically translate to collapse. The 2010 team had four different front-fives three different starting right tackles in the first six games. The result was a 4-2 mark in that stretch even with the nine-sack first half against the New York Giants that cost them a Jay Cutler game with a concussion.

If the Bears go 4-2 from this point, they are 11-5 and a virtual lock for the playoffs.

Searching for depth in the draft

The Bears didnt address their offensive line in the draft because the organization believed the tackle tandem of JMarcus Webb and Carimi, a No. 1 in the 2011 draft, was adequate at the time, with an arrow pointing up. Carimi was one of the top linemen when he was injured, so the expectation for improvement was anything but a stretch.

But you can never be too rich, too thin or have too many tackles and the Bears quietly drafted three extras: James Brown, a surprise undrafted free agent, signed April 29; Corey Brandon, an undrafted free agent with Tampa Bay last year, signed June 15; and Scott, added on Sept. 10. Brown and Brandon wound up on the practice squad.

The Bears appear to like Tampa Bay castoffs. Besides Brandon, defensive tackle Brian Price was signed during training camp (cut after preseason) and guard Chris Riley was signed on Thursday after spending the majority of the 2011 season on Tampa Bays practice squad.

It might have been just another dinger in homer-happy All-Star Game, but Willson Contreras will remember it forever

It might have been just another dinger in homer-happy All-Star Game, but Willson Contreras will remember it forever

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Willson Contreras’ third-inning home run might not have ended up standing out too much in an All-Star Game featuring a jaw-dropping and record-shattering 10 dingers.

But, obviously, it will always stand out to the guy who hit it.

“I enjoyed every single second that I spent out there.”

Remarkably, Contreras repeated his feat from two seasons ago, when he hit his first big league homer on the first big league pitch he ever saw. Ditto on Tuesday night at Nationals Park, when he launched the first pitch he saw as an All Star out over the wall in left field.

“When I hit the ball and thought it was gone, I went back to 2016, playing in Chicago. It was the same thing, first pitch for a homer,” Contreras, all smiles, said following the American League’s 8-6 victory. “I’m really blessed with these kinds of situations. Those moments, they’re going to be history and they’re going to be in my mind and my heart.”

Contreras’ long ball was the highlight of the evening for fans watching back home in Chicago. Javy Baez got a hit in his first All-Star at-bat but was outdone by his teammate. White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu was hitless in his two trips to the plate.

And while it will be a highlight on this night for Cubs fans, it will be a highlight forever for Contreras, who enjoyed the heck out of his first All-Star experience.

“‘I did it, I did it,’” he said when asked what was going through his head. “I knew it was something special. And I wasn’t trying to do too much because these guys are nasty, throwing 98 in the first inning. I just tried to get the hit out.”

The nasty guy he went deep against was Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Blake Snell, whose 2.27 ERA on the season made him a very worthy inclusion on the AL roster. But Contreras was more impressed with the guy who started the game for the National League, raving about Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer after the game.

“He was great, man. Great stuff, he gets so into the game,” Contreras said. “I would like to have him one day on my team or play with him for a few years. That guy is amazing.”

That’s not the current Nationals star Cubs fans are dreaming about, Willy, but point taken.

But it wasn’t Snell or Scherzer or even Baez or Jon Lester, also in the NL dugout, who Contreras was thinking about the most during his home run trot. Instead, Contreras was thinking about his grandfather, Ernesto, who passed away a few years ago.

“My grandpa, he died in 2015,” Contreras said. “I grew up with him.

“He didn’t play ball. But I feel like every time I go out there and step into the box, he’s at my back. It just feels amazing when you hit a homer or do something special, look at the sky and you know that he’s there smiling somewhere.”

It all made for a pretty incredible night for Contreras, who has officially and loudly taken his place among baseball’s best on the game’s biggest stage.

The only thing that was missing? The ball.

Yeah, Contreras didn’t get the ball, not that he really expected to. But if you’ve got it, he wants it.

“I don’t think they’re giving it back,” he said with a grin.

We’ll see. Social media’s a powerful tool. So reach out.

Manny Machado as a Dodger creates a formidable foe out west for the Cubs

Manny Machado as a Dodger creates a formidable foe out west for the Cubs

Well, it's finally happening, or at least it's going to happen. The Athletics' Ken Rosenthal reported during the MLB All-Star game that the Baltimore Orioles had agreed to officially move their franchise player Manny Machado. Neither team has confirmed anything at this time, but the deal has reportedly been as close to a done deal for the last day or so, and it would seem Machado is destined for finish his 2018 campaign in Hollywood. 

Of course, with this addition, the reigning National League champions look primed for another deep postseason run. Though, the club is clinging to a half-game lead in the NL West, with Machado in tow the Dodgers are right with the Cubs and Brewers as the elite squads in the National League. It could be argued the Dodgers didn't necessarily 'need' Machado, with an offense that was already in the top 10 in runs scored, but Machado might be the perfect addition for the Dodgers. 

After losing their young star shortstop Corey Seager for the season with an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery, the Dodgers were in need of a more permanent solution at shortstop. And despite Machado's defensive metrics showing a steep decline in his glove at shortstop, the Dodgers will welcome his robust slash line of .315/.387/.575 while ignoring any shortcomings on defense. 

But what this means for the Cubs, who are only two games off the 2016 World Series club pace, is the path to another championship will likely require another run-in with the Dodgers. The club's biggest threat has been at this point the Brewers, but it's not hard to envision the Dodgers distancing themselves as the clear favorites in the National League with Machado in the heart of the order.

The good news for the Chicago is at least Machado didn't end up in Milwaukee, but that also could mean the Brewers make a more concerted effort to acquire pitching before the July 30th deadline. The Cubs will also see the return of Yu Darvish, who despite only managing to win one game this season in a Cubs uniform, will be a massive upgrade over the scuffling Tyler Chatwood. If the Cubs pitching can start producing like many expected them to before the start of 2018, and guys like Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant start to hit alongside All-Stars Javier Baez and Willson Contreras, it's not hard to imagine the Cubs separating themselves from the pack in the 2nd half of season. 

The Dodgers are no strangers to blockbuster deadline deals, acquiring Yu Darvish in a similar three-month rental situation, but the Cubs getting a bat like Rizzo right and an arm like Darvish healthy would be better than any deal Theo Epstein could make to improve this team. And if it's not enough, the Cubs have a solid track record of grabbing former Dodger rentals in the off-season. The push for the playoffs starts Thursday for the north-siders.