Bears

With Jackson and Vitters, the vision for the future comes into focus

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With Jackson and Vitters, the vision for the future comes into focus

LOS ANGELES Out in Hollywood, the vision finally came to life. The Cubs believe they will one day be starring in October baseball.

So much has to happen before that becomes a reality, but the Cubs took a step forward on Sunday by green-lighting Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters from Triple-A Iowa.

Ready or not, the two former first-round picks will get a chance to show they belong alongside their buddy Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro, who at the age of 22 now seems like an old veteran on this team.

It was 83 degrees and sunny as Jackson looked all around Dodger Stadium.

I caught myself laughing a couple times: Youre kidding me right now? Jackson said after a 7-6 loss. (Its a) pretty indescribable feeling inspiring. I look forward to the days and hopefully years to come.

Jackson said it was hard to soak it all in. They were running on almost no sleep after getting the call from scoutingplayer development chief Jason McLeod late Saturday night and waking up for a 6 a.m. flight from Des Moines to Dallas, where they connected to Los Angeles.

In his big-league debut, Jackson went 2-for-4 with a walk, a run scored and a strikeout. That was all that seemed to be holding back the 24-year-outfielder from Cal-Berkeley, whose 158 strikeouts this season began to overshadow his 15 homers, 27 stolen bases and .817 OPS.

With the strikeouts, I wanted to be here and I knew how close I was and pushed myself a little too hard to be here, Jackson said. But Im here now and Im going to play my guts out and my heart out every day. Thats the type of player I am. Thats the type of player Ill always be.

Jackson rolled in with Vitters, who at 22 finally seems to be living up to the promise that was seen when he became the No. 3 overall pick in the 2007 draft. Vitters was hitting .304 with 17 homers and 68 RBI in his first year on the Triple-A level.

Its really amazing, Vitters said. It seems like half the guys here are guys that started out in Iowa (or) Ive known and played with (while) growing up a little bit.

I really just couldnt think of a better situation to be in right now.

The same way that Jackson has struggled with strikeouts, the Cubs need to see improved defensive play from Vitters at third base. But now 20 games under .500, the Cubs (43-63) will use these final two months to see what theyve got.

It will be a good experience for both these guys, general manager Jed Hoyer said. They can help us win for sure and they can also figure out what they need to do up here to have success. Either way: If they have success, wonderful. And if they struggle a little bit, hopefully theyll learn from those struggles and they can spend the whole offseason working on those things.

We had that with Rizzo in San Diego. He came up and struggled and spent the whole winter working on (those) things and its obviously really helped him this time around. So I dont really see a downside for either one of these guys as far as their development goes in coming up here and experiencing what the big leagues are about.

The Cubs believe Jackson will benefit from working directly with manager Dale Sveum and hitting coach James Rowson.

Its big-league pitching, Jackson said. It goes up a level. Im excited to be here and work with James and Dale and improve as a hitter so that I can beat big-league pitching and hopefully dominate.

Jackson said that last word quietly, matter-of-factly, and his breezy confidence could become part of this teams identity.

This is what its going to be hopefully from here on out, Rizzo said. We all need to stick together. Theres going to be bumps. Theres going to be valleys. But we just got (to) come together and play hard, have each others back.

Rizzo launched a game-tying homer in the top of the ninth inning, a high-arcing shot that just cleared the right-field wall before another bullpen meltdown had Hanley Ramirez and the Dodgers piling on each other celebrating a walk-off win.

Theres plenty of time to write an alternate ending.

I thought we were going to get a little magic for my first game, Jackson said, but well save that for a later date.

Bears early Super Bowl odds

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USA TODAY

Bears early Super Bowl odds

The oddsmakers in Las Vegas don’t think the Bears 2018 season was a fluke.

It took them a while to come around on Matt Nagy and Mitchell Trubisky during the regular season, but a 12-4 finish and the NFC North crown was enough to earn them national respect heading into 2019.

Chicago is expected to enter next season as a legitimate contender. The early odds for the 2020 Super Bowl at multiple sportsbooks have the Bears in the top five.

The offshore site Bet Online has them tied with the New England Patriots and New Orleans for the third-best odds, behind the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Rams.

Super Book USA in Las Vegas is slightly less optimistic, giving Chicago 12-to-1 odds that are tied for fifth with the Los Angeles Chargers.

At this time last year, Super Book USA gave the Bears the lowest odds in the NFL for the 2019 Super Bowl at 100-to-1.

The team came a long way in Nagy’s first season, and expectations are already much higher for year two.

Five things we learned during the Bulls' West Coast road trip

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USA TODAY

Five things we learned during the Bulls' West Coast road trip

The Bulls finished up a difficult road trip on Thursday against the Nuggets with an embarrassing 135-105 loss. They went 0-5 on the trip and now have lost nine straight games, giving them the second worst record in the NBA.

While it wasn't pretty, we're trying to take five things we saw on the trip.

Lauri Markkanen is a different player when he gets going early

Thursday was Lauri Markkanen’s best performance of the road trip, and unsurprisingly it came in the game where he attempted 10 first-quarter field goals. He went 6-for-10 in the opening 12 minutes, hitting three 3-pointers, driving twice to the basket for nice finishes and hitting a baseline jumper.

It was a sight for sore eyes for a Bulls team that has an incredibly low 91.4 offensive rating in first quarters under Jim Boylen; that’s worst in the NBA by more than 8 points per 100 possessions. It was also good for Markkanen, who is averaging 4.0 points on 36 percent shooting in first quarters this season. It’s by far Markkanen’s worst shooting quarter (he’s at 47.4%, 44.6% and 43.6% in the final three quarters) so to see him start quickly was a good sign.

He had two attempts in the first quarter against the Lakers, four against the Jazz and four against the Warriors. He doesn’t need to attempt 10 every first quarter like he did against the Nuggets, but he needs to start aggressive. It changes how he plays the rest of the night like it did Thursday.

Jabari Parker needs to be in the rotation until he’s dealt

Jim Boylen had his reasons for yanking Jabari Parker out of the rotation, and maybe they were warranted. But it’s also clear that the timing has been correct to put him back in the rotation, and credit to Parker for being ready in that moment.

In the final three games of the trip Parker was really solid offensively, shooting 17 of 27 while averaging 14.6 points. It was much needed for an offense that simply couldn’t keep up with opponents most of the time. They’re going

He’s got his warts, he doesn’t have a good positional fit and he definitely isn’t part of the future. But Parker’s return to the rotation should continue. If it isn’t to help the team competing and playing better it’s becoming a nice bump to his trade value.

We’re still waiting for Kris Dunn to put it together

No one is more happy to come home than Kris Dunn. It was a largely forgettable trip for the Bulls’ point guard, who after a 17-point, 7-assist night in Portland was invisible for four games. In five road games he averaged 8.6 points and 5.4 assists. He shot 36.7 percent and just never seemed to mesh with the rest of the offense. He has his moments, but far too few of them.

His lack of 3-point shooting and drawing fouls is beginning to be a real concern. We knew Dunn wasn’t an elite 3-point shooter but he was making a concerted effort to get to the basket more often this season. While he seems to be finishing better around the rim – and he had a thunderous dunk against Denver – he simply isn’t drawing fouls and getting to the line. That’d be fine if he was an elite passer in this offense, but he simply isn’t. He runs basic pick-and-roll fine and drops off to bigs on drives at times, but overall there hasn’t been a lot of “wow” from Dunn like we’ve seen from Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen – and even Wendell Carter – at times this season.

It’s going to be a long 37 games

The belief as the injury-plagued Bulls trudged along during the first month of the season was that, once healthy, there was simply too much young talent to think about the top of the NBA Draft. After all, teams like the Cavaliers, Suns, Knicks and Hawks had far more precarious short-term situations and the Bulls, playing in the East, would at least remain competitive and beat similarly talented teams.

While we didn’t exactly learn this during the trip, the reality is the Bulls will smack dab in the mix for the league’s worst record this season. With Kris Dunn, Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine in the starting lineup the Bulls are 1-12. Part of that is the schedule – 11 of those 13 opponents are at or above .500 – but there simply isn’t enough chemistry between these three for it to yield results. Add in the midseason coaching change and the difficulty that puts on a young team and you’ve got a recipe for a disastrous final 37 games.

That isn’t necessarily a bad thing –heard of Zion Williamson? – but it’s an unfortunate truth that the Bulls aren’t as far along as we thought they’d be. Rebuilds take time, and it appears the Bulls will have very little to show for when they enter 2019 training camp. The Bulls have the sixth easiest schedule to finish the year, including two games against the Cavs and two against the Knicks, but progress the rest of the way can’t be measured in wins and losses. It’ll be looking at the Lauri-LaVine-Dunn three-man lineup numbers, LaVine’s ability to work off Markkanen (when Lauri is looking for his shot) and Dunn’s aggressiveness on the offensive side of the ball.

Chandler Hutchison is finally getting consistent run

It might have been the front office’s doing, but credit to Jim Boylen for finally giving Chandler Hutchison consistent run. The Bulls rookie played 25 minutes or more in every game during the road trip, the first time he’s logged that many minutes in five straight games.

It was promising, too, that his best games came in the final three of the road trip. After logging big minutes on the road he didn’t falter, scoring 11, 12 and 12 points against Utah, Los Angeles and Denver. Hutchison had scored in double figures twice this season, and he’s now done it three consecutive games. The increase in minutes has helped, but Hutchison was also 15 of 25 in that stretch. He doesn’t do much creating but seems to be in the right spots at the right time. He also averaged 6.2 rebounds and had a steal in the last four games of the trip. He was a real bright spot.