White Sox

Breaking down the Bears' 2012 schedule

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Breaking down the Bears' 2012 schedule

Critics may not consider the Bears prime-time players but the NFL has them playing five prime-times games, including Thursday night Week 2 in Green Bay and three Monday Night Football games, based on the official 2012 schedule released Tuesday.

The NFL limits a team to five prime-time games in a season. The Bears ring up that total in the span of their first 10 games.

The opponents have been known for months, just not which team on which date at which time, allowing for late-season flex scheduling.

Now thats in place, with some interesting twists.

The Bears will open at home for the third straight year. Besides having their first two games within five days of each other for the first time since 1940, they have seven games against teams with winning records for 2011 (two each with Green Bay and Detroit, Houston, Tennessee and San Francisco). Arizona and Dallas each finished 8-8.

We started our offseason program Monday and received our schedule today, so our 2012 season is officially underway, coach Lovie Smith said in a statement. "I love starting the season at home in front of our fans. I dont think there is a better place to kick off the season than playing at Soldier Field on the lakefront.

Playing five of our first 10 games in prime time also stands out. Each week brings its own challenge and we are excited to begin our pursuit of a world championship.

Up against new guys

The Bears face three teams with new head coaches: Indianapolis (Chuck Pagano), St. Louis (Jeff Fisher) and Jacksonville (Mike Mularkey).

Nearly half of their games project to be against quarterbacks either in their first or second years as starters: Carolina (Cam Newton), Jacksonville (Blaine Gabbert), Indianapolis (Andrew Luck), Minnesota twice (Christian Ponder), Seattle (Matt Flynn) and possibly Tennessee (Jake Locker).

Throw in Arizonas Kevin Kolb (five seasons, 14 total starts, no more than seven in any year) and the Bears defense will not be facing a Hall of Fame list of quarterbacks, at least not yet.

But there will be surprises, probably good and bad in the course of a schedule thats also a prelude:

Week Opponent Daydatetime

1. Indianapolis Colts (2-14) Sun. Sept. 9 noon

Analysis: Another franchise making itself over from GM (Ryan Grigson) to coach (Chuck Pagano) to quarterback (Andrew Luck) and beyond. The post-Peyton Colts will be a work in progress and probably the softest touch on the schedule. Get ready for re-analyzing Luck all over again. If Bears cant pressure this rookie QB behind that offensive linebe afraid, be very afraid.

2. At Green Bay Packers (15-1) Thurs. Sept. 13, 7:20 p.m.

Analysis: This makes four straight years that the Bears and Packers have met by Game 3. The Packers are the gold (green and gold, actually) standard in the NFC North. The Bears goal going into the offseason was to gain on the Packers; heres the pop quiz to see if they did it.

Packers replaced one Pro Bowl center with another (Jeff Saturday) but their key has been draft hits, although theyre likely moving on from RB Ryan Grant. The defense suffered a major drop-off last year and is not the force it was in 10. It needs to be.

3. St. Louis Rams (2-14) Sun., Sept. 23, noon

Analysis: The Rams lost Gregg Williams as their defensive coordinator and decided they were strong enough at quarterback with Sam Bradford to deal away the No. 2 pick and its option of landing RGIII. The coaching change to Jeff Fisher portends progress but a franchise that has won three or fewer games in four of the last five seasons has a ways to go.

4. At Dallas Cowboys (8-8) Mon., Oct. 1 7:30 p.m.

Analysis: The Bears turned their 2010 season in the right direction in Dallas but that is the only time Lovie Smith has beaten his favorite home-state team. Few teams have gotten the hype that the Cowboys have, with Tony Romo putting up numbers and the talent seemingly there. But this is an underachieving team that too often makes more noise than impact.

5. At Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11) Sun., Oct. 7, 3:05 p.m.

Analysis: This may have some small measure of specialness for O-coordinator Mike Tice, who coached the Jags offensive line before coming to Chicago. Blaine Gabbert did not establish himself as the Jacksonville franchise QB as a rookie and if that doesnt happen, the Jaguars will be a while before contending. Maurice Jones-Drew has become a consistent ground force but this team is a work-in-progress under new coach Mike Mularkey.

6. Off week

7. Detroit Lions (10-6) Mon., Oct. 22, 7:30 p.m.

Analysis: The Bears crushed the Lions in their second meeting last season and put 752 combined yards on Detroit in the two games. Before the Cutler injury, the Bears were ahead of the Lions; are they still? The Lions were the chic choice through the first half of last season but still have to establish consistency and that Matthew Stafford can stay healthy.

8. Carolina Panthers (6-10) Sun., Oct. 28, noon

Analysis: You cant expect Cam Newton to repeat the kind of epic first season he had, and yetThe Panthers committed major money to WR Steve Smith so the Bears have to deal with him again. But Carolina was dismal against the run and will have a long day with Michael Bush and (presumably) Matt Forte. An upgrade on defense at No. 9 overall is expected.

9. At Tennessee Titans (9-7) Sun., Nov. 4, noon

Analysis: The offseason was marked by pursuits of veteran free agents (G Steve Hutchinson, DE Kamerion Wimbley) and even Peyton Manning, which says the Titans arent convinced that Matt Hasselbeck has another year in him or that Jake Locker is the answer. Chris Johnson-Matt Forte story lines will not be hard to find.
10. Houston Texans (10-6) Sun., Nov. 11, 7:20 p.m.

Analysis: Houston finally made the postseason last year under Gary Kubiak, thanks to Peyton Mannings season lost to neck injury. Its a team that lost defensive end Mario Williams and cut tackle Eric Winston among other changes but was No. 2 in yardage defense and No 4 in points allowed.

11. At San Francisco 49ers (13-3) Mon., Nov. 19, 7:30 p.m.
Analysis: Few teams have surprised the NFL as much as the 2011 49ers, who went out this offseason and talked with Peyton Manning, added Randy Moss and established a defense that is not expected to fall off appreciably. But ESPN.com NFC West blogger Mike Sando points out that of the 19 teams that won 13 or more games in seasons from 2004-10, all 19 won fewer games the next year by an average falloff of 4.1 games.

12. Minnesota Vikings (3-13) Sun., Nov. 25, noon

Analysis: The Vikings earned the No. 3 pick in this draft by being bad. They cut ties with some established vets like guard Steve Hutchinson and started in new directions. How far have they gone? Heres the Bears chance to find out (as well as whether JMarcus Webb has figured out Jared Allen).

13. Seattle Seahawks (7-9) Sun., Dec. 2, noon

Analysis: How much difference adding former Packers backup QB Matt Flynn makes is a significant issue for the NFC West and possibly more for the team probably closest to causing problems for the San Francisco 49ers. They added on to their offensive line besides re-signing RB Marshawn Lynch but are they back to the perennial-playoff level they were not too many seasons ago?

14. At Minnesota Vikings (3-13) Sun., Dec. 9, noon

Analysis: Could be one of the Bears last trips to Minneapolis if a new stadium deal is not worked out. Governor says Vikes will leave if no new stadium.

15. Green Bay Packers (15-1) Sun., Dec. 16, noon

Analysis: Think thisll matter much to either team? How bout both?

16. At Arizona Cardinals (8-8) Sun., Dec. 23, 3:15 p.m.

Analysis: The Cardinals were in the early Peyton Manning discussions, then chose the course that led back to Kevin Kolb for a 7 million payment. This was an 8-8 team in 2011 that has not made precipitous offseason moves to get better and will have difficulty contending even in its own division.
17. At Detroit Lions (10-6) Sun., Dec. 30, noon

Analysis: One team likely to be playing for postseason seeding or even getting in, the other?

White Sox Talk Podcast: Zack Collins on hitting, catching and a Dylan Cease story you have to hear

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USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: Zack Collins on hitting, catching and a Dylan Cease story you have to hear

Chuck Garfien and Ryan McGuffey speak with Charlotte Knights catcher Zack Collins about

-His hot start to the season at the plate (5:30)

-How James McCann helped him with his catching during spring training (7:20)

-How he's changed his approach at the plate this season (13:10)

-What he orders at Chick-fil-A (15:40)

-Why he's not thinking or worrying about getting called up to the majors (17:50)

-An incredible story about Dylan Cease (20:30)

-His thoughts on Tim Anderson's bat flip (28:20) and more.

Listen to the entire podcast here or in the embedded player below.

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White Sox Talk Podcast

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A Jose Abreu awakening could make an already productive White Sox offense even more fearsome

A Jose Abreu awakening could make an already productive White Sox offense even more fearsome

Hitting has not been the biggest problem for the White Sox. But even after a win to kick off this week's series against the Baltimore Orioles, they're still under .500 and in fourth place in the aggressively weak AL Central.

There's a ton of baseball left, and their spot in the standings on April 22 indicates nothing about where they'll be at the end of September. But the issues that have cropped up in the early going — many of them having to do with what's gone on on the pitcher's mound — have signaled that another losing season in the thick of the ongoing rebuilding process wouldn't come as a great shock.

That point being established, there's still been more to smile about in the early going this season than there was perhaps in the entirety of the 2018 campaign, what Rick Hahn described from the beginning as "the toughest part of the rebuild." That turned out to be prescient, with the White Sox losing 100 games. This year, the early season emergence of Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada and, to a lesser extent, Eloy Jimenez have made it so there are exciting reasons to pay attention to what's going on on the South Side, all the while making for a lineup that can push across a good deal of runs.

Now imagine if Jose Abreu wasn't hitting below the Mendoza Line.

He's not anymore after a big night Monday, but the guy who's arguably still the team's best hitter when everything's right hasn't been right very often so far in 2019. That could be starting to change, though, and if it does, a lineup that's already a heck of a lot more threatening to opposing pitchers than it was at any point in 2018 could become even more fearsome, even more productive. And that leads to more wins, important not just for fans hoping for a surprise run at relevancy given the weak state of the division, but for a team building a lineup for the future that it hopes is scoring a whole bunch of runs in meaningful games in seasons to come.

Abreu went 3-for-5 in Monday night's 12-2 laugher in Baltimore, the White Sox bats looking even better with an opportunity to feast on Orioles pitching, which entered as the worst staff in the majors with a 6.21 ERA and owned a 6.37 ERA after Monday's blowout. But it's a three-game hitting streak for a guy whose average was down to .174 after Thursday's series-opener in Detroit. Since, he's 6-for-15 with a homer and seven RBIs.

Maybe it's just a nice three-game stretch, boosted by a chance to swing against the big leagues' worst pitching staff. But it allows the White Sox to dream about a lineup made ever more dangerous by the regular production of a two-time All Star and one of the AL's reigning Silver Sluggers.

Again, offense has not been the main reason the White Sox are still underwater, from a win-loss perspective, at this point. They aren't exactly blowing the doors off the league when it comes to their offensive prowess, middle of the pack in baseball with 106 runs scored this season. But they entered Monday's game with a 5.44 team ERA, one of the four worst marks in the bigs. The bullpen's ERAs are still on their way down after short outings from the starting staff in the season's first couple of weeks forced them into unenviable situations. One run allowed in Monday's bullpen day should help with that. The team ERA shot down to 5.27 after Monday's game, still not enough to vault them out of the bottom six teams in the league.

But reliable versions of Anderson (who's still hitting over .400), Moncada and Jimenez are pieces this lineup didn't have last year, and they've been three of the best parts of it so far in 2019. Leury Garcia has been quietly productive if not flashy while doing it. James McCann, who hit a three-run homer to start the scoring in Monday night's rout, has put up good numbers in limited time while splitting catching duties with Welington Castillo. Even Ryan Cordell, only the team's starting right fielder for a few days, has shown promise with a couple homers already. There have been holes, of course, chiefly Yolmer Sanchez — who was still hitting under .100 on April 13 but is now batting .231 after a three-hit night Monday — and the sent-down Daniel Palka. Abreu and Yonder Alonso, in the middle of the White Sox order, have been unproductive, as well, while the younger guys have flourished around them.

But an Abreu turnaround — or, really, an awakening, considering how early it still is — would boost the numbers and make the lineup capable of even more on a regular basis.

It could also be another factor in the ongoing conversation about a potential Abreu contract extension. While Hahn has suggested it's unlikely that such a deal would be struck during the season, it wouldn't be surprising to see it come before Abreu is set to hit free agency once the 2019-20 offseason begins. The White Sox are such big fans of what Abreu does in the clubhouse and as a mentor for younger players that production might not play as big a role as it normally would. But obviously the consistency of that production in Abreu's first five big league seasons certainly helps. To keep that production going with a late-April awakening would be all the more reason to keep Abreu around for the transition from rebuilding to contending.

The White Sox lineup has been promising to this point. It could become downright potent if Abreu starts knocking the ball around as we all know he can.

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