Bears

Cubs looking for Starlin Castro to take it to the next level

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Cubs looking for Starlin Castro to take it to the next level

Starlin Castro shrugged off striking out with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning. Not much seems to bother him, and that has to be considered one of his strengths.

Castro lost that battle to Milwaukee Brewers closer John Axford on Monday night and froze at the 96 mph fastball that ended the game. Castros attitude: Next time.

That also broke Castros streak of reaching base safely in 43 consecutive games, which dated back to Aug. 15 of last season.

Keep going, Castro said Tuesday. You got to keep going.

That sums up a 22-year-old All-Star shortstop who thinks Why not? when people ask him about 3,000 hits, the Hall of Fame and being the Derek Jeter of the North Side.

If Castro is going to reach those heights or crash the Cubs should get a better idea in his third year in the majors. When team president Theo Epstein talks about parallel fronts, Castro is pretty much at the center of the Venn diagram.

Its a pretty good building block, general manager Jed Hoyer said. Its so easy with him to forget about his age and you think about him as an established guy. Well, hes probably younger that some of the top prospects in the game and hes already hit .300 in the big leagues twice. So sometimes I think we lose sight of that.

Starlin is one of the best young players in the game. Hes already proven at the big-league level (and) we all think theres a lot more in there. I think there is a lot of power in there at some point. Young shortstops make errors. The key (is) concentration. Its every single pitch.

Manager Dale Sveum, an old shortstop, made that a point of emphasis from the first workout in spring training, showing Castro how to gain more ground. Their relationship will be a key part of this rebuilding project.

By October, Castro should have played more than 430 games in the big leagues, perhaps approaching a leadership position within the clubhouse. He will have to cut down on the 56 errors in his first two seasons combined.

Its that time to mature defensively, to mature on the mental side of the game, Sveum said. Hes been very good at responding to everything you ask him to do. I think he realizes that hes going to be held accountable.

Hes pushing himself, putting it on himself, challenging himself each day to see how good he can be on the 100 groundballs hes taken. Thats a big step for any young player to critique himself on his day of work.

For the future of the franchise, Sveum felt it was time to commit to Castro as the No. 3 hitter.

Plate discipline is one area where the Cubs think Castro can unlock some power and take another leap forward. As the Brewers hitting coach, Sveum saw what it did for Ryan Braun (even if some will put an asterisk next to that MVP award).

It just puts you in a whole nother category, Sveum said. The bottom line to hitting home runs is getting a good pitch to hit. Youre not going to hit many home runs if you dont wait for a pitch (where you can) drive the ball out of the ballpark.

Castro found his name in the headlines for the wrong reasons last winter, though people close to him privately insist theres no story there. The kid is still smiling, and really just getting started.

Any player has to (have it) in their own mind that youre always a work in progress, Sveum said. Its just understanding that every single day when we take a field, youre trying to make yourself a better player.

Thats the work in progress, but thats (something) Ive tried to implement with everyone else: Youve never got this thing figured out. You always have to make your skills better every single day or your skills will deteriorate. I dont care how good you are thats just the nature of the beast.

A Bears' offense lacking results needs to hope messy start to 2019 is an early-season mirage

A Bears' offense lacking results needs to hope messy start to 2019 is an early-season mirage

DENVER — Through two games, the Bears’ offense hasn’t shown any evidence of being better in Mitch Trubisky’s third year in the NFL, and in its second year running Matt Nagy’s scheme. 

If anything, it’s looked worse than it did in 2018.

Yes, the Bears won on Sunday, beating the Denver Broncos, 16-14, in what might’ve been a season-saving victory. But teams were 2-16 in 2018 when their quarterback passed at least 25 times and averaged fewer than 4.5 yards per attempt. Trubisky completed 16 of 27 passes for 120 yards on Sunday, good for a paltry average of 4.4 yards per attempt. The Bears were incredibly lucky to escape Colorado with a win.  

“We know we’re not where we want to be as an offense,” Trubisky said. “I’m not where I want to be as quarterback, but you use these games and these wins as momentum to keep getting better and finding ways to win and keep improving our skills.”

Papering over the issues that arose over the game’s first 59 minutes and 51 seconds was the clutch 25-yard strike Trubisky fired to an open Allen Robinson, which set up Eddy Pineiro’s game-winning 53-yard field goal as time expired. That play came on a do-or-die fourth and 15, and Trubisky climbed the pocket well and bought just enough time to connect with Robinson over the middle.

It was reminiscent of the connection he had with Robinson at the end of January’s wild card game against the Philadelphia Eagles, only this time, his kicker made the kick.

“I’ve always been taught that quarterbacks are evaluated by how they finish games and what they do,” Nagy said. “So, this is again one of those games that you saw where there just happened to be some more runs that went on. We tried to control Von Miller and Bradley Chubb, two guys that are real game changers. We wanted to make sure that we controlled them.

“We wanted to get back to throwing the ball a little bit, but when the time presents itself to throw the ball, we will do that. For me, I’m just proud that he made that throw at the end.”

The Bears’ offensive balance was monumentally better than it was in Week 1, with 28 handoffs standing against 27 drop-backs for Trubisky (those numbers don’t account for RPO decisions, but safe to say, Nagy’s playcalling was indeed balanced). David Montgomery looked better than his 3.4 yards-per-carry average may indicate, while a well-designed toss to Cordarrelle Patterson gouged 46 yards — easily the Bears’ most explosive play of 2019.

And credit Nagy and his offensive brain trust for scheming Miller and Chubb out of making an impact — Miller was invisible, and Chubb’s most notable play was a dodgy roughing the passer penalty that helped move the Bears closer to field goal range in the dying embers of the fourth quarter. Those two players accounted for 26 1/2 sacks in 2018, and the Bears’ offensive line can head back to Chicago feeling positive about the impact they made Sunday. 

So the Bears’ offense did show improvement from Week 1 to Week 2, though the bar was awfully low. And it still wasn’t exactly good Sunday — one touchdown and three field goals is not what this team needs if it’s serious about making the playoffs again, let alone reaching the Super Bowl.

The best-case scenario is that the Bears’ offense will be significantly better in Week 7 and Week 11 and Week 15 as it develops an identity. The Bears won an uninspiring 16-14 game against a bad team out west last year — Week 3 over the Arizona Cardinals — but at least before that they showed the ability to sustain a certain level of offensive competence.

Through two weeks, the most competent drive the Bears had was powered by nothing but running plays. Otherwise, this offense has been a mess.

Nagy and Trubisky have time to figure this out, especially with a suboptimal Washington side awaiting them a week from Monday. Few teams are lucky enough to form a season-long identity in the first four weeks of the regular season (remember when the New England Patriots lost to the Detroit Lions last September?) and the Bears can point to that fact as a reason for hope about this offense.

But right now, it’s all about hope. Because the results haven’t shown much of anything to provide hope.  

“Nothing in the NFL is easy at all, especially early in the season when you’re trying to figure out who you are,” offensive lineman Kyle Long said. “That’s why there’s 16 games and 17 weeks.”

 

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NFC North standings: Bears remain in last place despite Week 2 win

NFC North standings: Bears remain in last place despite Week 2 win

The Chicago Bears defeated the Denver Broncos in thrilling fashion Sunday thanks to the right leg of kicker Eddy Pineiro. The winner of Chicago's summer kicking derby blasted a 53-yard field goal as time expired to give the Bears a 16-14 victory over Vic Fangio and the Denver Broncos.

The win moves the Bears to 1-1 on the season, but didn't do much to help their standing in the NFC North. Chicago remains in last place despite the victory. They have company at the bottom of the division, however, as the Minnesota Vikings dropped their Week 2 game against the Packers, 21-16. 

Green Bay's victory moves them to a perfect 2-0 and in sole possession of first place in the North, while the Detroit Lions moved into second place with their victory over the Los Angeles Chargers (13-10).

The Bears have a winnable game in Week 3 against the Washington Redskins on Monday Night Football, and the Packers could end next Sunday 3-0 after welcoming the Denver Broncos to Lambeau Field. The Lions face the toughest opponent -- the Philadelphia Eagles -- while the Vikings are home against the beatable Oakland Raiders.

For now, the NFC North standings are as follows:

1) Green Bay Packers (2-0)
2) Detroit Lions (1-0-1)
T-3) Minnesota Vikings (1-1)
T-3) Chicago Bears (1-1)

 

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