Bears

Best pitcher in National League traded to Toronto

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Best pitcher in National League traded to Toronto

From Comcast SportsNetNEW YORK (AP) -- Eager for a new challenge and certainly a better chance to win, R.A. Dickey broke the news of his trade even before the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Mets.A few minutes ahead of the teams announcing the seven-player swap Monday that sent the NL Cy Young Award winner to Toronto, he tweeted his thanks to Mets fans and added he was all set to pitch for the Blue Jays."Now that its official, I want to say that I don't have the words to express how grateful I am to you for the steadfast support," Dickey posted on Twitter. "Thank you for making me feel wanted.""Looking forward to a new chapter with the Jays," he wrote.Toronto acquired the 38-year-old knuckleballer and catchers Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas. The Mets got top catching prospect Travis d'Arnaud and veteran catcher John Buck, plus minor league right-hander Noah Syndergaard and outfielder Wuilmer Becerra."It was an extraordinary privilege for us to be part of his career," Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said about Dickey on a conference call. "The final chapter has not been written."Earlier in the day, Dickey and the busy Blue Jays agreed to a new contract, clearing the way for the Mets to send him to a team that's spending a lot of money trying to join baseball's elite. Toronto has now acquired All-Stars Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Melky Cabrera and Dickey since the season ended.Dickey was already signed for 5.25 million next year. His new contract adds two more seasons for 25 million -- he will get 12 million in both 2014 and 2015, plus there's a club option for 2016 at 12 million with a 1 million buyout."We're just so close to contention," Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos said. "It's not just about one season. This allows us to put what we feel is a contending team together for an extended run, for a three-to-five-year period."Dickey needed to pass a physical before the teams announced the deal. He became the fourth pitcher to win the Cy Young and be traded before the next season, joining David Cone, Pedro Martinez and Roger Clemens.Alderson said the Mets' preference going into the offseason was to re-sign Dickey. But as the winter meetings approached in early December, Alderson said Dickey's value "in a possible trade was also sky-rocketing. At some point, those lines crossed."Several teams made runs at a deal for Dickey, with Texas and the Los Angeles Angels among those in the mix. Alderson said while some clubs popped in and out of trade talks, Toronto's interest remained steady.Alderson said the Mets didn't completely decide to trade Dickey until they saw the final package that Toronto offered."This was a complicated deal," Alderson said.The Blue Jays have missed the playoffs since winning their second straight World Series crown in 1993, and have boldly moved to reshape a team that went 73-89 last season in the rugged AL East.Last month, they acquired a high-priced trio -- Johnson and Buehrle on the mound, Reyes at shortstop -- in a 12-player trade with the Miami Marlins.Toronto later signed Cabrera, an All-Star outfielder with San Francisco whose season ended when he was suspended 50 games for a positive testosterone test.Dickey was 20-6 with a 2.73 ERA last season, capping his rapid rise from the majors' scrap heap to an ace pitcher. He did it by perfecting a way to throw his floater faster than previous knuckleballers, and tossing it with exceptional control.Dickey becomes part of a stellar Toronto rotation that includes Johnson, Buehrle and returning starters Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow."We clearly are convinced this can be a front-line starter for us," Anthopoulos said. "I don't think he gets the credit or the respect he deserves because of his age, and because of what he does throw. And I understand because it's so rare."But there's so much overwhelming data and evidence that points to him continuing to have this success."Thole gives the Blue Jays a catcher who is familiar with handling Dickey's knuckleball, and Anthopoulos said that relationship was a key to the deal."R.A. is too important to our chances to take a chance and have a tryout camp to see if someone can catch him," he said.Thole joins a lineup that features former home run champ Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, who hit 42 homers last season.Despite a big spot in the rotation to fill minus Dickey, Alderson said the Mets were not giving up on next season."We certainly are not punting on 2013," he said.D'Arnaud turns 24 in February. He hit .333 at Triple-A Las Vegas with 16 homers and 52 RBIs before tearing a knee ligament trying to break up a double play in June. He has been an All-Star at several levels during his climb through the minors.Alderson called d'Arnaud the top catching prospect in the minors and predicted he could contribute on the major league level next year."As painful as it was to trade the kids that we did trade, it might be three or four years down the road before they become All-Star status, or whatever is going to happen to them," Anthopoulos said. "At that time Reyes could be gone, Buehrle could be gone, Bautista could be gone, Encarnacion could be gone. We have no idea what our core will look like."Popular with Mets fans, Dickey perturbed team management when he spoke about his contract situation last week during a club event at Citi Field for children displaced from their schools by Superstorm Sandy.Dickey said he enjoyed playing for the Mets and added it would be "disappointing" if he went through his option year without a new deal and became a free agent."If that's the decision that they make, I feel like it would be unfortunate because it probably is going to mean that I'm not going to be back," Dickey said then. "And that would be sad."Buck was an All-Star with Toronto in 2010. The 32-year-old hit .192 with 12 home runs and 41 RBIs for Miami last season, then was part of the big trade between Marlins and Blue Jays.The 20-year-old Syndergaard went 8-5 with a 2.60 ERA for Class A Lansing. The 18-year-old Becerra hit .250 with four RBIs in 11 games in the rookie Gulf Coast League.Thole hit .234 with one homer and 21 RBIs in 104 games last season. The 26-year-old played four seasons with the Mets.Nickeas split last season with the Mets and Triple-A Buffalo. The 29-year-old hit .174 with one homer and 13 RBIs for New York.

First and Final Thoughts: Does anyone really know what to expect this Sunday?

First and Final Thoughts: Does anyone really know what to expect this Sunday?

Not unlike Matt Nagy and Mitch Trubisky, it's Year 2 of First and Final Thoughts. Insider JJ Stankevitz and producer Cam Ellis talk about what's on their minds between games.

Final Thoughts on the Bye Week 

J.J. Stankevitz: The Bears had a lot of soul-searching to do in their off week, specifically among offensive players and coaches not named Allen Robinson. But more important than anything else will be improvements on the offensive line — better protection and run blocking will go a long way toward helping this offense operate more effectively in the Bears’ final 11 games. That means better play from left tackle Charles Leno and center James Daniels, as well as counting on Rashaad Coward/Ted Larsen/Alex Bars to be better at right guard than a less-than-100-percent Kyle Long was. 

Fix the O-line and a lot of problems will be solved. Don’t and it could diminish how much better Mitch Trubisky is — if he is at all — upon  coming back. 

Cam Ellis: I'll be curious to see where the Bears' bye week preparation show up first. Between the offensive line, an uninspiring run scheme, absent tight end production and no real answers at quarterback (but otherwise it's fine!), they've got to start somewhere.  Is it fixing the run game in hopes that it takes the burden off Trubisky's return? Or is it getting Trey Burton: The Adjuster involved earlier? Speaking of getting the ball earlier, Anthony Miller lightly lobbied for a higher workload, which may not be a bad idea either. This is why they pay Nagy the big bucks, but man, coaching in the NFL seems kind of hard. 

First Thoughts on Week 7 

Stankevitz: I’m going to expand on this more later in the week, but New Orleans’ defense looks like a tough challenge for Trubisky to face in his expected return Sunday. 2018 first-round edge rusher Marcus Davenport is third in the NFL in pass rushing efficiency, generating a pressure once every 13.7 snaps (behind only Nick Bosa and Khalil Mack). Cam Jordan is one of the better defensive linemen in the NFL and doesn’t always get his due for how good he is. 

So New Orleans has an excellent defensive front, one that will take sound technique and strong communication for the Bears’ O-line to block. And then there’s cornerback Marshon Lattimore, who’s shut down the likes of Amari Cooper, Mike Evans and DJ Chark over the last three weeks. His lock-down presence — he travels in zone coverage to take out a team’s best receiver — allows the Saints to not need to always play a safety over the top, leading to extra men in the box to stop the run. 

So Trubisky will have his hands full on Sunday. It’s not like the Saints have an elite defense, but it’s good, and looks like a bad matchup for the Bears’ offense. 

Ellis: To almost directly contradict J.J., I actually think there are yards to be had against a Saints defense that ranks 13th in pass defense DVOA, ninth in yards per play and has allowed five plays of 40+ yards (T6). Marshon Lattimore's had a great month, but his season-long coverage numbers are more good than great. An average pass defense will be more than enough if the Bears' offensive line plays as poorly as it did in London, but if for some reason the combination of Rashaad Coward, a bye week breakthrough, and Taylor Gabriel makes everything snap into place, I think the Bears could move the ball better than people expect.

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How Blackhawks physicality is adding new dimension to style of play

How Blackhawks physicality is adding new dimension to style of play

The Blackhawks turned in their best 60-minute effort of the young season in Monday’s 3-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers. They controlled the pace of play, got terrific goaltending from Corey Crawford and tightened up defensively.

But they also showed that they added a new layer to their team game this season.

The Blackhawks registered 36 hits against the Oilers, one of which was thunderously delivered by Andrew Shaw, sparking a scrum. Brent Seabrook led the team with six hits, Calvin de Haan had five and Drake Caggiula and Olli Maatta each had four. Heck, even Alex DeBrincat (three) and Patrick Kane (one) got in on the action.

It’s an element of their game that’s been missing the last few seasons and something they feel is important to their overall team success because it keeps other teams honest.

"I don't know if it's because of the personnel we have or the way we want to be strong and competitive and win battles, but obviously the other night we had a lot of finished hits and a lot of physicality that brings up the morale on the bench, which is a good thing," Kane said. "You look at Shawzy's hit, the stuff he's been doing early in the season — whether it's scoring big goals or sticking up for guys after they get hit — it's been awesome for the team. That's something that can really help us. We also need to play a little bit more with the puck, but it's a way we can get the puck back."

The Blackhawks don’t necessarily want to lead the NHL in the hits category, but they do want to establish an identity centered around being a difficult team to play against and adding that dimension is part of it. So is team unity.

"I don't think it's going to be our go-to in the way we're going to beat teams," Jonathan Toews said. "There's no doubt we've got guys that can mix it in. We saw last game with Shawzy and Murph, and [Ryan Carpenter] and [Zack Smith] and go down the list of guys. Even [Caggiula] and [DeBrincat] were throwing the weight around a couple days ago. It's definitely part of our game — we can play with energy and I think it's going to be there when we're ready to go. But our game is puck possession and keeping teams in their end and outplaying them in that sense.”

Through four games this season, the Blackhawks are averaging 33.0 hits per game. The previous two seasons they averaged 16.5 and 16.8, respectively, which ranked 30th.

While it's still early, there's clearly an uptick in the physicality department and it's exactly what the organization was hoping for after bringing in players like Shaw and Smith to add some bite to the roster. The Blackhawks are focused on becoming a team that can win in several different ways and play any kind of style.

"There’s a difference between running around just trying to get a tick on the stat sheet," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "But we definitely want to be physical when we have the chance and force the opposition to make plays before they're ready, and we can create turnovers and transition and offense and get out of D zone. We have some guys who like to play that way and I think it helps our team." 

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