Cubs

Favorite American Pharoah rallies to win Kentucky Derby

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Favorite American Pharoah rallies to win Kentucky Derby

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Brilliant but untested, American Pharoah was put to a fight in the Kentucky Derby and won.

Sent off as the 5-2 favorite by the record crowd of 170,513, the brown colt rallied in the stretch to beat Firing Line by a length Saturday and deliver trainer Bob Baffert's fourth Derby win and first since 2002.

"It's a fantasy moment for us," said a joyous Baffert, surrounded by his three older sons and his youngest, 10-year-old Bode, who jumped up and down and waved his arms in celebration.

Baffert also saddled third-place Dortmund, the other part of his lethal 1-2 punch in the 141st Derby. Firing Line finished second.

"We were ready to rumble," Baffert said.

Dortmund set a leisurely pace with Firing Line tracking him closely in second. American Pharoah sat comfortably in third down the backstretch.

That trio made it a three-horse race in the stretch, with none of the closers able to make up ground. American Pharoah angled outside and fought off a persistent Firing Line as Dortmund tired along the rail.

Victor Espinoza won his second consecutive Derby a year after being aboard California Chrome, and third overall.

"He's been a special horse since I first rode him," Espinoza said. "I feel like the luckiest Mexican on Earth."

American Pharoah ran 1 1/4 miles in 2:03.02.

Baffert tied D. Wayne Lukas and Herbert "Derby Dick" Thompson for second on the career win list.

American Pharoah paid $7.80, $5.80, $4.20.

Firing Line returned $8.40 and $5.40, while Dortmund was another two lengths back in third and paid $4.20 to show.

Owner Ahmed Zayat accepted the gold winner's trophy — his first after a trio of second-place finishes.

American Pharoah missed his first big test last year when he was scratched from the Breeders' Cup with an injury. He returned with two easy wins this year against lesser competition. Dortmund and several other Derby contenders had beaten much tougher fields, raising questions about whether American Pharoah could mix it up in a 20-horse field.

Cubs could get another bullpen boost soon as Carl Edwards Jr. nears return

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USA TODAY

Cubs could get another bullpen boost soon as Carl Edwards Jr. nears return

Cole Hamels is still likely more than a week away from returning, but the Cubs could get another arm back soon to help augment the pitching staff.

Carl Edwards Jr. threw another outing Tuesday night with Triple-A Iowa, his fourth appearance on this latest rehab assignment while recovering from a left thoracic strain. 

The 27-year-old righty allowed two hits and a walk in a scoreless inning, notching all three outs on strikeouts. He also pitched Saturday and on July 1st and 4th before Iowa also hit their midseason break. He last pitched in the big leagues on June 9.

"CJ's progressing well," Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said. "He's feeling better every time out. Good CJ stuff [Tuesday] — fastball's got some carry, some cut to it. He's feeling good."

As for what comes next, the Cubs don't have a plan in place yet. That will depend on how Edwards continues to feel after his latest outing.

"The one thing with him has been the rebound," Hottovy said. "We talk about the recovery that next day, he's had a couple days where he's like, 'yeah I feel good.' And a couple days where it's like, 'ah, I need another day.' 

"So that's always a thing you want to do with relievers is make sure their recovery and their rebound is there. The last thing you want to do have a guy come up and he pitches and then you can't use him for 2 or 3 days. We just gotta make sure we hit all those checkpoints as well."

Edwards got off to a rough start and struggled toward the end of the 2018 season, but he's a huge piece to the Cubs bullpen puzzle and he was dynamic upon his return from minor-league demotion earlier this year.

From his first outing after being called back up (May 6) until the injury hit (June 9), Edwards surrendered only 3 earned runs on 4 hits and 3 walks against 15 strikeouts in 13.1 innings — good for a 2.03 ERA and 0.525 WHIP.

As the Cubs look to bolster their bullpen ahead of the MLB trade deadline in two weeks, Edwards looms as another addition given his ability to neutralize both right-handed and left-handed hitters and induce weak contact when he's on.

Of course, there's obviously some inherent risk in counting on Edwards to be a reliable piece of the bullpen given the way the last couple years have gone. But if he's healthy and pitching the way he had for a full month before the injury, that's a nice option the Cubs can fold into their bullpen alongside Craig Kimbrel, Pedro Strop, Steve Cishek, Brandon Kintzler and Kyle Ryan.

Under Center Podcast: State of the Bears: Defense

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USA TODAY

Under Center Podcast: State of the Bears: Defense

JJ Stankevitz, Cam Ellis and Paul Aspan are back with their training camp preview of the Bears' defense, looking at if it's fair to expect this group to take a step back without Vic Fangio (2:00) or if it's possible to repeat as the league's No. 1 defense (10:00). Plus, the guys look at which players the Bears need to improve to remain one of the NFL's best defenses (15:15), debate if Leonard Floyd can be better (20:00) and look at the future of the defense as a salary cap crunch looms after 2019 (25:00). 

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below: