Cubs

The Golson formula: Oklahoma game key in QB's development

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The Golson formula: Oklahoma game key in QB's development

Following Notre Dame's 30-13 win over Oklahoma, Everett Golson admitted he probably couldn't have quarterbacked the Irish to a such a monumental victory a few weeks earlier in the season. It was Golson's best game to date, with his fourth quarter 50-yard deep ball to Chris Brown standing out.

Golson's confidence was riding high, and understandably so. A week later, that confidence could've been crushed.

A less-than-stellar first half led coach Brian Kelly and offensive coordinator Chuck Martin to remove Golson from Notre Dame's matchup with Pittsburgh, inserting Tommy Rees at the end of the second quarter and staying with him to open the second half.

It was the third time Golson was removed in favor of Rees for performance reasons during the 2012 season, although Martin said the decision wasn't as easy as it was against Purdue and Michigan.

"We had been through it and kinda survived it, so theres almost just (a feeling of) like hey, thats always what gives you the best chance to win," Martin said. "I would say that was the hardest day to figure out what gave us the best chance to win."

After Rees through an interception, Golson jumped back in. And while he threw a nearly-debilitating fourth quarter interception in the end zone, he wound up rallying to lead Notre Dame to a narrow triple-overtime win over the Panthers.

"Being taken out like that at the time, initially it hurt, to be honest," Golson said. "The competitor in me wanted to still be in there, (to show) that I could handle it and come back from adversity. I guess (Kelly) saw what was best, so he took me out.

"The adversitys going to be there, but its about what you do with it after. Ive used that as motivation."

It's tough to get used to being pulled from a game, and in the previous two instances, Golson didn't have the complete trust of his coaching staff and, to some extent, his teammates. But with his performance against Oklahoma, the redshirt freshman earned the total confidence of those around him. That turned out to be key for Golson's strong comeback after his benching, not only that day against Pittsburgh but against Boston College, Wake Forest and USC.

"I went up to him at halftime -- this is when he found he wasnt going in -- and I told him, 'youre going to have to go back in, or at some point this season at least, if not this game," senior wide receiver Robby Toma recalled. " And he actually went back in the game and won us the game. So I think for him to be able to do that really helped him this year.

"Hes always been confident, but to know guys on the team are confident in him now, I think that was the biggest thing for him," Toma added.

Despite plenty of reassurances from his coach, perhaps Golson felt as if he had to look over his shoulder in the weeks prior to Notre Dame's trip to Norman. That's not to say that held him back -- Martin would certainly disagree with that -- but the way Golson played at Oklahoma solidified in his mind he was the No. 1 quarterback, and nothing that happened during a game was going to change that.

"I think once he knew after the Oklahoma game that he was the guy, the confidence level and the trust builds and builds and builds," Kelly said.

Martin, who's been Golson's toughest critic throughout the 2012 campaign, paid Golson a rare compliment after the game in Oklahoma. But Golson is someone who quickly understands what he did wrong when he does it, so often times doesn't need Martin or Kelly screaming in his face about a poor play.

In that same vein, Golson didn't necessarily need Martin to tell him he played a good game at Oklahoma. He already knew.

"He left the field at Oklahoma thinking hey, I really played my tail off tonight for four quarters in a hostile environment," Martin said. " I think he kinda felt like he played a complete game and had the confidence from there that I can do this at this level at a very high level all the time."

After the Oklahoma game, Golson completed 74 of 122 passes for 990 yards with 7 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. There's still plenty of room for improvement -- specifically, in the red zone -- and even on the grandest stage in college football, Golson will still be in the midst of a learning process.

But that comes with the territory for most young quarterbacks. It's been a collective effort to get Golson to this point, where he's the quarterback of a team 60 minutes away from a championship.

"Im very confident not only with myself but with the supporting cast of my teammates," Golson said. "You talk about our team this year, weve always been set at the underdog. And going in to it, nobody would ever saw us at this point.

"But we worked our way up from the bottom, and that just shows great resilience from us and great unity from us. Going in with a great group of guys that I do have does give me a great amount of confidence."

Home run ball continues to sting Cubs' starting pitching

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AP

Home run ball continues to sting Cubs' starting pitching

Cubs' starting pitchers have been on a roll recently, anchoring the team during its 30-day stretch without a day off. Over each of their last six starts (entering Wednesday), Jon Lester, Cole Hamels, Kyle Hendricks and José Quintana have been flat-out dominant.

Mike Montgomery has been stellar lately as well, allowing two runs or less in five of his last six starts. One common trend, though, is that Cubs' starting pitchers have been susceptible to the long ball as of late.

Hamels has allowed five home runs total in his last three starts, including two Wednesday night. The veteran left-hander surrendered a three-run blast in the first inning as well as a two-run shot in the sixth inning.

Lester has not allowed a home run since Aug. 27 against the Mets, but Hendricks has allowed one in two of his last three starts. Quintana allowed two solo homers in Sunday's 2-1 loss to the Reds, while Montgomery has given up one in each of his last two starts.

Home runs by the oppposition haven't hurt the Cubs much recently, as they are 18-11 in their last 29 games. The pitching staff has been excellent down the stretch, outside of Wednesday's 9-0 loss.

Even then, though, the offense scored zero runs on one hit, so the three home runs that the pitching staff allowed ultimately did not matter.

Come October, though, it could be something to look out for, when one swing of the bat could change a game or series instantly.

Is latest bullpen implosion a sign White Sox need to go shopping for relief help this offseason?

Is latest bullpen implosion a sign White Sox need to go shopping for relief help this offseason?

The White Sox bullpen imploded Wednesday night in Cleveland. It sent Indians fans home happy. It sent White Sox fans scrambling for their computers.

I'd like to see the Google data. How many people in Chicagoland — the ones not flooding the streets of Northbrook to celebrate Jason Kipnis' walk-off grand slam — frantically searched "free agent relievers 2019"?

The results are pretty enticing, to be honest. Craig Kimbrel's going to be on the market. So is Cody Allen. So are Jeurys Familia and Kelvin Herrera and Zach Britton. And some guy named Andrew Miller.

It seems like a good idea, right? Ink one of those guys, two of 'em, even, and the bullpen troubles are gone. No clinging to a pillow and crossing your fingers when Rick Renteria comes out of the dugout in the late innings. No more outcomes like Wednesday's, when a trio of White Sox relievers entered the bottom of the ninth with a 1-0 lead only to load the bases and surrender a walk-off salami.

But a couple points.

First, the White Sox don't need a lockdown bullpen right this second. In a point that will come up again and again this offseason, the team is still in rebuilding mode. Spending big bucks might not be prudent at this juncture because the White Sox have not yet transitioned from rebuilding mode to contention mode. Spending big on high-priced free agents is something teams do when they're in win-now mode. And while a big acquisition can certainly carry a team into win-now mode — just look at what the Cubs did when they signed Jon Lester ahead of the 2015 season — it could also be jumping the gun when there's still a year or two of development that needs to happen for the team's young players to grow into the contending group of the future.

Plus, spending big on bullpens isn't exactly a magic bullet. The Indians and the Colorado Rockies both spent huge sums on their bullpens this past offseason, and while both teams could end up in the postseason, they rank near the bottom of the game in bullpen ERA: Cleveland's 24th out of 30, and Colorado's 26th.

Contending teams often make a habit of trading for bullpen pieces, a strategy that makes a lot more sense considering those deals usually come midseason, when a team is clearly established as a contender. But those deals have their downsides, too. The White Sox have shown how valuable stockpiling prospects in trades can be. The Cubs got their ring but probably would like to have Gleyber Torres right now after shipping him to the New York Yankees in 2016. The Indians are division champs again, but will there be a day when they'll wish they hadn't sent Francisco Mejia to the San Diego Padres in this summer's trade for Brad Hand?

But that, of course, is more of a "cross that bridge when you come to it" situation. The White Sox aren't at that bridge quite yet, as good a point as any that spending on a 30-plus closer two years ahead of when the playoff pushes could come is a risky proposition.

Second, the White Sox are still trying to figure out what they've got when it comes to the bullpen.

Last year and in the first half of this season, the White Sox relief corps was primarily an audition ground for midseason trades. That strategy worked well for Rick Hahn's front office in both seasons. Last year, a big trade with the Yankees sent two relievers out of town and returned a package that includes Blake Rutherford, the No. 7 prospect in the farm system. The White Sox dealt five relief arms last summer. This season, a trade that sent Joakim Soria to the Milwaukee Brewers brought back minor league pitcher Kodi Medeiros, an arm currently ranked as the system's No. 19 prospect. Soria was one of three bullpen arms traded.

In the second half of this season, however, young arms have reached the South Side that have the potential to make up a future bullpen that's mostly homegrown. The ERAs aren't pretty — especially after Wednesday's four-run ninth — but if ever there was a time to play the "small sample size" card, it's now. Ian Hamilton, Ryan Burr, Caleb Frare, Jose Ruiz and Aaron Bummer all put up big numbers in the minors this season. Jace Fry has been at the major league level almost all season. They're getting their opportunities now, and unless the White Sox produce their own episode of "Extreme Makeover: Bullpen Edition" this winter, they'll get their opportunities next year, too. A homegrown bullpen on a contending team is a hard thing to pull off, of course, but these guys — and the heretofore unmentioned Zack Burdi, many's pick for the closer of the future — have the opportunity to do just that.

As is the case with everything surrounding this rebuilding team, there is the luxury of time. The young group of arms does not need to be championship ready right now or in 2019. These guys will take time to develop just like the Yoan Moncadas and the Lucas Giolitos and the Tim Andersons and the Reynaldo Lopezes. Growing pains are to be expected. Until they're given the chance to either succeed or fail, the White Sox won't know what they have, which makes charting a long-term course in one offseason difficult.

Obviously the White Sox don't want to lose games like they lost Wednesday night's battle in The Cleve. But is it a sign that the checkbook needs to come out this winter? The bullpen of the future might not need to be bought at all. It might need to simply be given the opportunity to grow.

There will always be a free-agent market. There will always be a trade market. And shopping at those markets are always more exciting than playing the waiting game. But that's what rebuilding is all about.