Cubs

The Cubs and Theo Epstein hit reboot on Opening Day

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The Cubs and Theo Epstein hit reboot on Opening Day

Theo Epstein made up his mind months ago, knowing that it was time to leave the Boston Red Sox. So maybe some emotions hit him on Opening Day. But the Cubs hired him to take a sledgehammer to the organizations sentimentality.

I think the best time for reflection is the morning after sipping champagne when you win a World Series, Epstein said Thursday. Until then, you just keep plotting forward (and) try not to look back too much.

For better or worse, this franchise has been all about looking back, celebrity traditions like Bill Murray throwing out the first pitch and singing the seventh-inning stretch.

That Epstein can talk champagne with a straight face after taking over a team that hasnt won a championship in more than a century and has finished in fifth place the past two seasons shows how big everyones thinking.

The fans were in such a good mood that they didnt even boo Alfonso Soriano during player introductions. The president of baseball operations took the ivy turning green this early as a good omen.

That morning, the back page of the Sun-Times showed Epstein striding across Lake Michigan, with the Chicago skyline as the backdrop.

Well, there was the photo of him walking on water, chairman Tom Ricketts said. You could call that expectations, but I think hes up for it.

There are game-changers off in the distance that could transform the Cubs into the Evil Empire of the Midwest.

But the new televisions deals are a few years away, and Ricketts described the Wrigley Field renovation plans as just having conversations, not the final-stage negotiation floated the other day by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Epstein knows what the upgrades at Fenway Park did for the Red Sox, but hes not focused on fixing Wrigley Field, and will be glad when the spotlight hits those who actually win or lose the games every night.

(Fans) look at me symbolically as a new direction, but its not me, Epstein said. There are dozens and dozens and dozens of people the players first and foremost working extremely hard to try to push this organization forward. It starts with Tom and the whole Ricketts family, a very hard-working front office, a new manager and major-league coaching staff.

(Its) our scouts and player development people. So its hard to sit there and put all those people on the back page of the sports. But they really should, because Im one small person in a very big machine thats hopefully going to get this thing right over time.

Near the end of a media scrum that surrounded Epstein, someone asked what it would be like to raise a banner here on Opening Day. No one snickered or rolled their eyes. Whatever happens this year, the Cubs have bought some credibility.

Theres no better feeling than being able to raise a banner and seeing the effect it has on just millions of people, Epstein said, what it means to them and their families and how they share it generationally. (To) sit back and watch that happen and know that you played a really small part in it, its a very rewarding, special feeling.

It keeps you driving forward. (There) are hundreds of people in this organization working hard to get to that day.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Jon Lester struggles against the division-rival Cardinals

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Jon Lester struggles against the division-rival Cardinals

It was a tough day for the North Siders.

The Cubs got obliterated by the Cardinals as Matt Carpenter had a three-homer, two-double day. Ben Finfer, Seth Gruen and Maggie Hendricks join David Kaplan on the latest SportsTalk Live Podcast to talk about the blowout.

Was Jon Lester due for this kind of terrible outing? And do the Cubs have enough to swing a big trade before the deadline?

Plus, the panel discusses Matt Nagy’s first training camp practice in the rain and Roquan Smith’s absence in Bourbonnais.

You can listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Could Bears improve and still lose ground? The MMQB's Albert Breer weighs in on tough NFC North

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USA TODAY

Could Bears improve and still lose ground? The MMQB's Albert Breer weighs in on tough NFC North

NBC Sports Chicago’s John "Moon" Mullin talked with The MMQB's Albert Breer, who shared his thoughts on where the Bears stand — and if they’ll be able to compete — in a highly competitive NFC North.

Moon: The Bears have made upgrades, but they’re in the NFC North and not many divisions are tougher, given the strength at quarterbacks.

Breer: Yes. You look at the other three teams, and they all very much believe they’re in a window for winning a championship. The Packers are going through some changes, but they’ve gotten Mike Pettine in there as defensive coordinator and a new general manager who was aggressive on draft day. I know that internally they feel that’s going to give them a boost, and bringing Aaron Rodgers back obviously is the biggest thing of all.

Minnesota, all the things they did this offseason, signing (quarterback) Kirk Cousins, (defensive lineman) Sheldon Richardson, and they were knocking on the door last year.

The Lions have been building for two years under (general manager) Bob Quinn and (new coach) Matt Patricia, who lines right up with the general manager — the two of them worked together in New England. They really believe that Matthew Stafford is ready to take the sort of jump that Matt Ryan made in Atlanta a few years ago, where you see that mid-career breakthrough from a quarterback that we see sometimes now.

It’s one of the toughest divisions in football, and every team in the division believes that it’s in the position to contend right now.

Moon: We didn’t see a lot of Mitch Trubisky — 12 games — so it sounds possible that the Bears could improve and still lose ground.

Breer: The Lions were pretty good last year. The Vikings were in the NFC Championship game. And who knows where the Packers would’ve been if Rodgers hadn’t broken his collarbone. The biggest change is that Aaron Rodgers will be back, and that’s the best player in the league. It was a really good division last year, and you’re adding back in a Hall of Fame quarterback.

As far as the Bears, there’s going to be questions where the organization is going. It’s been seven years since they were in the playoffs. I think they certainly got the coach hire right. This is a guy who I know other organizations liked quite a bit and was going to be a head coach sooner or later.

And I think he matches up well with Mitch. I think the Bears are in a good spot, but as you said, they’re competing in a difficult environment, so it may not show up in their record.

Moon: A lot of love for the Vikings after they get to the NFC Championship and then add Kirk Cousins.

Breer: A lot of people look at Minnesota and think Kirk Cousins’ll be a huge improvement. And maybe he will be. I think he’s a very good quarterback, top dozen in the league. But Case Keenum played really, really well last year, so it wasn’t like they weren’t getting anything out of that position last year.

The NFC right now is clearly the strength of the league. If you picked the top 10 teams in the league, you could make a case that seven or eight of them are in the NFC. I think there will be NFC teams that miss the playoffs who could be in the Super Bowl coming out of the AFC. There’s a little bit of an imbalance there.

Moon: Trubisky projects as part of a wave of new quarterbacks league-wide, a sea change in the NFL.

Breer: The interesting thing is that this is probably as stable as the league has been at quarterback in a long time. There’ve been questions where the next great quarterbacks will come from, but I don’t know that there’s a team right now in the NFL like you looked at the Jets or Browns last year, where you say that team is definitely drafting a quarterback in 2019.

Everyone either has a big-money veteran or former first-round pick on their roster. One team that doesn’t is the Cowboys, but they’ve got Dak Prescott who’s played really well. Every team in the league has some stability at the position. I think the position is as healthy as it’s been in a long time, and you’ve got a lot of good young prospects.