Cubs maintain strong work ethic despite poor record


Cubs maintain strong work ethic despite poor record

Let's face it, laying a foundation is no fun. It's painful at times. It makes you start to wonder if you'll ever reach your ultimate goal or fret about just how long it's going to take to get there. But, it's necessary. Nobody wants a house built of cards. Perhaps it's why Cubs manager Dale Sveum seems so even-keeled about his team's failings this year. There's frustration, yes, but there's no ranting and raving, no tirades to speak of.

"It's not easy to lose ballgames on a consistent basis and still keep an attitude of work ethic and preparation," lamented Sveum before the Cubs-Tigers series finale on Thursday. "That's all you can ask for."

And so Sveum methodically goes about building a winning culture based on teaching players how to play the game the right way, how to prepare for success so when it comes, it will be automatic. But the biggest factor in that cultural equation is accountability. It's something the Cubs insist on and it's something Sveum is mandating without exception.

"You're building something to where it's (mistakes) not acceptable," said Sveum emphatically. "You're accountable for everything you do, even talking to the media after making a blunder. That's part of your job, to be accountable after a game when things don't go well. That's what you try to produce. That's the way we do things here and if you don't want to do them that way, we'll get somebody else."

As a working member of the media, that's music to my ears. Getting a player to talk after a poor performance in any sport can be difficult. Even the Miami Heat don't require Lebron James and Dwayne Wade to face the music after a loss. The two are notorious for blowing off the post-game press conference. But there was Joe Mather after Wednesday night's loss, standing at his locker fielding questions about the error he made in the 6th inning that could have been the difference in helping Matt Garza to his first win since April 29th.


In fact, this whole Cubs way is kind of refreshing. Veteran players taking early infield practice at 3 o'clock, a good hour or so before batting practice. Extra long practice on Thursday, a day game after a night game when most teams opt out due to the short turnaround.

"I just believe those are certain things that need to be done on a constant basis," replied Sveum when asked about it. "The bottom-line is trying to get better in every situation."

It won't translate into any measurable results just yet, but even a small semblance of progress is encouraging and that's what's keeping Sveum from losing his cool when the going gets tough.

"It's a reality that we're building, setting a tone and building an organization," said Sveum matter-of-factly. "You're setting a precedent that we've got to build an organization to where that's going to happen every year, that we're going to win 90-plus games and have a chance of being in the postseason. Then your chances of winning a World Series go up and that's the ultimate goal."

In the meantime, the Cubs sit 20-games below .500. President Theo Epstein is backing up the truck as trade talks heat up. New hitting coach James Rowson is charged with conveying the 'selectively aggressive' approach to his struggling hitters and Sveum continues to lay one brick at a time, a tedious process that will ultimately pay off.

Laying the foundation isn't fun, but from the looks of the sellout crowd at Wrigley for the Tigers series, fans are willing to watch the Cubs build from the ground up with the promise of grand ambitions filling the air.

"That day is going to come," promises Sveum. "Where winning every game is life or death to get to the postseason. We're going to win 90-plus games every season and not have to rebuild again."

Trey Burton, Adrian Amos earn Bears’ top grades from Pro Football Focus for Week 7


Trey Burton, Adrian Amos earn Bears’ top grades from Pro Football Focus for Week 7

The Bears were not at their best against the New England Patriots on Sunday. They made plenty of mistakes on all three phases and gave Tom Brady too many opportunities to control the game.

It wasn’t all bad from Chicago, though. Trey Burton emerged as a new favorite weapon of Mitchell Trubisky, and the tight end was the Bears’ highest-graded player in the game by Pro Football Focus.

Burton had a career high 11 targets, nine catches and 126 yards with a touchdown, giving Trubisky a 144.7 passer rating when targeting his top tight end.

Seven of Burton’s targets and six of his catches traveled 10 or more yards in the air, according to PFF.

Defensively, safety Adrian Amos led the pack with a 74.6 overall grade. He did not miss a tackle after missing a career-high five last week, and he allowed only one catch for eight yards against the Patriots.

On the bottom of the scale, outside linebacker Leonard Floyd received the second-lowest grade of his career (38.9 overall) for his performance. He did not record any pressure on the quarterback in 13 pass rushing snaps, and he allowed two catches for 13 yards and a touchdown in coverage against running back James White.

Wide receiver Allen Robinson had a career-low grade as well at 44.9 overall. He was clearly limited by his groin injury, targeted five times with one catch for four yards and a dropped pass.

Overall, the Bears were able to stick with one of the top teams in the AFC while also leaving a lot of room for improvement. It’s a step in the right direction from where Chicago was in recent seasons.

Wendell Carter Jr. survives gauntlet of centers to begin career


Wendell Carter Jr. survives gauntlet of centers to begin career

Don't tell Wendell Carter Jr. the center position is a dying breed.

The 19-year-old rookie hasn't exactly been able to ease into the NBA, finding himself up against a handful of All-Stars and powerful frontcourts just five days into his career.

It culminated Monday night with a date against Mavericks center DeAndre Jordan, and once again the seventh overall pick held his own. It was much of the same as it was against Philadelphia's Joel Embiid and Detroit's Andre Drummond last week (and Nikola Jokic in the preseason finale): some good, some bad, plenty of poise and zero backing down. The NBA is unforgiving, but this could very well be the toughest stretch Carter faces all season.

"He’s playing against top level centers now," Fred Hoiberg said before Monday's game. "It’s a great experience for him. He’s going to learn and get better and he plays within himself, we will continue to look for him to be more aggressive."

He was as aggressive as the Bulls have seen him against Jordan and the Mavericks. He blew by the 20 and 18 minutes he played in the first two games of the year, totalling 32 minutes. His final line won't tell the story - 4 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists and a block - of a Carter who defended well at the rim, picking and choosing his spots on when to attack shots and when to simply use his verticality.

He wasn't credited for a block but he contested a Jordan dunk that turned into a Bobby Portis dunk on the other end. Plus-minus isn't always a good indicator of a player's worth, but Carter was a +5 in a 14-point Bulls loss. He even attempted a corner 3-pointer early in the shot clock, showing no hesitation. Carter's had his moments, but it's also apparent he's got a 19-year-old body going up against veterans each night. That'll come with time in the weight room. For now the experience is 

"I appreciate the fact I’m able to play against these very talented bigs early in my career," Carter said after the loss to the Pistons. "What I need to work on is I have to get stronger; that’s the first thing I recognize; just being up against the best. I love the competition. It’s always a great feeling going against the best."

What the Bulls are finding out is they have a player mature beyond his years. As he progresses he'll continue to get more difficult assignments. He had his rookie moment late in Monday's loss, committing a turnover in the backcourt after the Bulls had cut the deficit to five with 35 seconds left. The fouls are also an issue, as Carter has committed 10 in three games (after committing 17 in five preseason games).

That doesn't necessarily seem important for a Lottery-bound team, but considering the continued struggles of Robin Lopez (and Cristiano Felicio is entirely out of the rotation) it is. Lopez had 2 points and 1 rebound in 10 minutes while committing five personal fouls. In three games he has 11 personal fouls and 11 points, and also has more turnovers (five) than rebounds (four). If the Bulls are going to compete until Lauri Markkanen returns, Carter will need to hover around the 32 minutes he played Monday.

He'll get a much easier test on Wednesday when the Charlotte Hornets arrive in town. Cody Zeller doesn't exactly have the credentials of a Jokic or Embiid, meaning Carter may have a little more room to work. 

The Bulls know they have something in Carter. It'll be abother month until they can deploy him alongside Markkanen, but if the first three games are any indication, Carter won't have any problems matching up with some of the league's best.