Bears

Giants players thrive in All-Star Game

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Giants players thrive in All-Star Game

From Comcast SportsNet
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Melky Cabrera, Pablo Sandoval and Matt Cain helped the National League to a Giant blowout in the All-Star game. After all the talk about AL dominance during an offseason when Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder switched leagues, the NL romped to an 8-0 victory over the American League on Tuesday night. The World Series will start in the city of the NL champion for the third straight year. "It's a nice edge," the NL's Tony La Russa said after his final game as a manager. Flashing their bright orange spikes and booming bats, the San Francisco sluggers keyed a five-run blitz against Justin Verlander in the first inning. Cabrera homered and won the MVP award in the ballpark where he played last season, and Cain got the win in the NL's most-lopsided All-Star victory. "I didn't come to win an MVP. That's just a surprise," the former Royals outfielder said, his mother and grandmother next to him. "The same opportunity that Kansas City gave me last year is the same opportunity that San Francisco is giving me every day to showcase my talent." Chipper Jones singled in his final All-Star at-bat at age 40. Ryan Braun, an All-Star again after his drug suspension was overturned last winter, doubled, tripled and made a fine catch in the outfield to help give the NL its first three-game winning streak in two decades. Teen sensation Bryce Harper had a shaky All-Star debut with a walk, strikeout and missed catch. Fellow rookie Mike Trout, only 20, showed off his dynamic skills. Cain combined with Stephen Strasburg, R.A. Dickey, Aroldis Chapman and the rest of a lights-out staff on a six-hitter. The game was pretty much decided a few moments after it started. Sandoval hit the first bases-loaded triple in All-Star history off Verlander, who couldn't control his 100 mph heat. Cabrera singled and scored the first run, then hit a two-run homer against Matt Harrison in a three-run fourth. "I don't get many triples," said the slow-footed Sandoval, known as Kung Fu Panda. "We had some fun with that in the dugout." San Francisco fans, who made a late voting push to elect Sandoval and Cabrera to starting spots, might really appreciate the victory come October. The Giants are a half-game behind the first-place Dodgers in the NL West. Rafael Furcal also hit a three-bagger, making the NL the first league with three in an All-Star game. As the All-Stars returned to Kansas City for the first time since 1973, La Russa bid farewell to the national stage in the city where he played for his first major league team. Having retired after managing St. Louis to last year's World Series title, La Russa became just the fourth inactive manager to skipper an All-Star team and improved to 4-2. "Just lucky, like I've been 30 years," La Russa said. The NL boosted its advantage to 43-38-2 and won for just the third time in the 10 years the All-Star game has been used to determine home-field advantage in the World Series. La Russa's Cardinals benefited from last year's NL All-Star victory, with St. Louis winning Games 6 and 7 at home against Ron Washington's Texas Rangers. "It's very disappointing, because we're competitors and we want to win," said Washington, who lost for the second straight year. "They came out. They swung the bats. Once they got the lead, started bringing those arms in their hand, and they got the job done." Jones, retiring at the end of the season, also had one last All-Star moment, pinch hitting in the sixth and singling just past second baseman Ian Kinsler and into right field. Jones chuckled as the ball rolled through. La Russa asked Jones to address the team before the game and the Atlanta third baseman told players: "Whether you're 19 or 40, we are all equals here." "I am not going out losing my last one. So, you with me?" he added. At 19 the youngest position player in All-Star history, Harper had a shaky start when he entered in the fifth. The heralded rookie, wearing shiny gold shoes, didn't flash a Gold Glove and lost Mike Napoli's routine fly to left in the lights, allowing it to drop behind him for a single. Harper then caught Kinsler's bases-loaded flyball to end the inning, earning applause from the crowd of 40,933 at Kauffman Stadium, spruced up by a 250 million renovation that was completed three years ago. Harper tagged up on a long fly after his walk in the fifth, but got himself hung up in a rundown and tagged out. Trout, among a record five All-Star rookies, had a nice showing against two very different pitchers. The Angels outfielder singled and stole a base against Dickey's knuckleball, then drew a walk against Chapman and his 101 mph heat. "I'm going to remember this the rest of my life," Trout said. Cain pitched the 22nd perfect game in big league history last month. He didn't have to be perfect in this one, allowing one hit in two innings for the win. "For those guys to go out and score five runs in the first inning was definitely a little more relaxing for me," he said. "But I still tried to stay focused." Cain was followed by 10 relievers, with Jonathan Papelbon getting the last out with a runner on third base. Verlander had a puzzling outing. In games that count, he hasn't allowed five runs in an inning since April 2010, according to STATS LLC. He became the first All-Star to give up a five-spot since Houston's Roger Clemens in front of his hometown fans in 2004. "I know this game means something and you don't want to give up runs, but we're here for the fans," Verlander said. "I know the fans don't want to see me throw 90 and try to hit the corners." In a 35-pitch inning, he threw five pitches clocked at 100 mph and another at 101. "Hitting 100 in the first inning? Normally you see the guy throw 93, 94 in the first and then hit 100 in the eighth. We saw him hit 101," Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano said. "The funniest part was Fielder said to him, Hit 101' and the next pitch he hit 101. Is it that easy?" La Russa, usually serious and tense after games, was playful after his finale, chanting "Mel-ky! Mel-ky! Mel-ky!" as the MVP walked to the podium. "If you're trying to win one game, there's not a better manager out there," Braun said. "It's only fitting that he went out with a win." NOTES: The NL extended the AL's scoreless streak to 14 innings -- its longest drought since 1995-97. ... The NL won for just the sixth time in a quarter-century. ... The NL had last won three straight in 1994-96. ... It was the first All-Star shutout since the NL's 6-0 win in 1996 at Philadelphia. ... The Giants' Barry Bonds was MVP of the '73 game.

Three keys and prediction: Bears vs. Saints

Three keys and prediction: Bears vs. Saints

1. Get production from receivers not named Allen Robinson. 

Robinson can expect to be followed all game by Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore, who’s limited opposing receivers to nine catches on 20 targets in his last three games (a sampling of those receivers: Amari Cooper, Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, D.J. Chark). So if Robinson isn’t open, it likely will have less to do with his own play and more the play of one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL. 

With that in mind, Sunday will be a significant test for the Bears’ other pass catchers. This team’s offensive identity was supposed to be steeped in an ability to spread the ball around to guys like Taylor Gabriel, Tarik Cohen, Anthony Miller, Cordarrelle Patterson and Trey Burton, but so far this season, the only thing the Bears have proven to do well is get the ball to Robinson. That absolutely has to change on Sunday. 

Miller feels primed for a breakout game after ditching his shoulder harness, while Gabriel is back from a concussion suffered on the final catch of his explosive three touchdown game in Week 3 against Washington. Those two guys need to show up, and the Bears need to better scheme plays for Cohen, who’s averaging 4.5 yards per touch — lower than his average in 2017 with Dowell Loggains calling the plays. 

Robinson still could have a productive day — he’s that good — but the Bears shouldn’t count on it.

2. Hold your own against the Saints’ front. 

The Saints are outstanding at affecting quarterbacks without blitzing, with their 76 pressures ranking second in the NFL — this for a team that’s only blitzing on 22 percent of its defensive snaps. And of those 76 pressures, 63 have come from defensive linemen. 

Marcus Davenport and Cam Jordan have been monsters this year, combining for eight sacks while consistently generating that pressure off the edge. Charles Leno Jr. and Bobby Massie will need need to have their best games of 2019 to keep them away from Mitch Trubisky, but the interior of the Bears’ line will have its hands full, too. David Onyemata, Malcom Brown and Sheldon Rankins all have at least one sack, putting an onus on Cody Whitehair, James Daniels and Rashaad Coward and/or Ted Larsen to keep those guys out of Trubisky’s face.

If not, Trubisky will have a difficult time getting comfortable and going through his progressions, which could lead to some forced/panicked throws...which could be jumped by Lattimore or another one of the Saints' defensive backs.   

3. Get game-wrecking plays on defense.

The thought here is Sunday’s game will be a tight defensive battle, with the game swinging on which team gets a turnover deep in its opponent territory. For the Bears, that means coming up with the kind of game-wrecking play (or plays) we’ve come to expect from this defense. 

Teddy Bridgewater has been sacked on only 16.7 percent of his drop-backs (24th, per PFF), though, with tackles Ryan Ramczyk and Terron Armstead among the best pass blockers at their position in the NFL. It’ll be a fascinating matchup for Khalil Mack, who will need to be at his best to beat the Saints’ best and “sack the football,” as he’s so good at doing. Or maybe Sunday is time for Eddie Jackson to get his first interception of the season (though he’s only been thrown at about two times per game, down from his average of nearly three times per game in 2018). 

However the Bears’ defense does it, they need to do it in a game in which their offense very well could struggle to move the ball. 

Prediction: Saints 13, Bears 9. 

While the Saints will be without future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees, star do-it-all running back Alvin Kamara and reliable tight end Jared Cook, this is a team should have the advantage at the line of scrimmage on both offense and defense (the Bears, of course, will be without Akiem Hicks and might start a greenhorn at right guard in Coward). That advantage matters greatly in close games, in which grinding out a few yards here and there will become critical, especially in the fourth quarter.

And too, Sean Payton has built a strong coach of the year case for how he’s guided the Saints to an undefeated record without Brees. The Saints are playing a strong brand of complementary football, with a ball security-based offense and a defense that’s progressively got better this year (punter Thomas Morstead, for what it’s worth, is outstanding and shouldn’t be completely overlooked). 

So the Saints will arrive at Soldier Field undermanned, but with an advantage at the line of scrimmage and on the sideline. And those will be enough for New Orleans to emerge with a win, sending the Bears to 3-3 in the process. 

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Under Center Podcast: Previewing Bears-Saints with NOLA.com's Luke Johnson

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USA Today

Under Center Podcast: Previewing Bears-Saints with NOLA.com's Luke Johnson

JJ Stankevitz is joined by New Orleans Advocate/Times-Picayune Saints beat writer Luke Johnson to preview Sunday's game at Soldier Field, starting with why the Saints have been able to keep winning without Drew Brees (1:29). JJ runs his concerns about the Bears' offense going against the Saints' defense by Luke (4:28) before getting into how New Orleans is viewing Matt Nagy, Mitch Trubisky and Chicago's lagging offense (8:17). Luke then explains the impact of Alvin Kamara's absence (10:40) and why Teddy Bridgewater has been so effective since tagging in for Brees (14:55).

Listen here or via the embedded player below: