White Sox

Late rally improves offensive grades

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Late rally improves offensive grades

The end game will overshadow the middle game but the Bears (6-1) didnt so much defeat the Carolina Panthers (1-6) as escape them.

The 210 total yards of offense were the second-lowest to the 168 at Green Bay. The 25-percent third-down conversion rate was the seasons worst and put the defense back on the field too often too soon.

Because the Panthers werent kicking off deep to Devin Hester, the offense was effectively handed the ball at no worse than the Chicago 34 on four possessions and at the 45 after an interception. On none of those possessions was the offense able to manage even a field goal and only on one did the Bears run more than three plays.

Ball security was one of the strengths of the Chicago offense through the previous four wins and the seeds for disaster were planted when Jay Cutler lost the ball on a first-quarter sack. He proved that was no fluke by doing it again late in the second quarter.

The offense combined to have Cutler sacked on six of his 15 drop-backs in the first half. In one stretch, the Bears went three-and-out on six of seven possessions, two of those ending with fumbles.

QUARTERBACK C

Heres how well do this: An F for Jay Cutlers first three quarters, an A for the fourth, and a win for the .

Credit Cutler with his first come-from-behind win of the year, saving the game with a fourth-quarter drive after posting a passer rating of 37.8 through three quarters. His 12-for-14 passing in the fourth quarter, however, was franchise-grade stuff.

Cutler turned in the worst first half since his nine-sack nightmare at the Giants in 2010: six sacks, two fumbles, poor decision-making. Of nine passes thrown, seven were to Brandon Marshall, covered or not, and none to Devin Hester or Earl Bennett.

Cutler created problems for his line by holding the ball too long, contributing to four sacks in the first half, three in the first three possessions, and six overall. Cutler also squandered a potential drive by forcing a deep throw to Marshall into double coverage.

Half of Cutlers 28 attempts went toward Marshall. It wasnt working particularly well too often.

The real measure of a quarterback is winning even when he isnt playing well. Cutler did that, although needing Robbie Gould to hit a 41-yard field goal to finish it was far from dominant.

RUNNING BACK B-

Matt Forte established the run in the first quarter and with 61 yards in the first half, then was shackled with four carries for just nine yards in the second. His five catches on five targets, however, was crucial even if not producing big yardage (24). Forte provided some help in pass protection but was never a consistent factor after the first quarter (five carries, 44 yards).

Michael Bush was used sparingly, with three carries for net five yards, and did not catch a pass.

RECEIVERS D

Like Cutler, the overall evaluation has to be weighted toward the fourth quarter. Cutlers inaccuracy for three quarters was not helped by drops by tight end Matt Spaeth and WR Devin Hester. But tight end Kellen Davis highlight-reel TD catch was a big grab in the fourth quarter with the game on the line.

Earl Bennett didnt see a ball thrown to him in most of the first three quarters, then jump-started the offense with catches of 24 and 11 yards on consecutive plays. Bennett caught three of the four passes thrown to him and his yards after the catch were pivotal in extending the plays.

OFFENSIVE LINE C-

Six sacks allowed in the first half, zero in the second. But 64 rushing yards in the first half, 15 in the second. A potential F performance was saved by protection when it mattered.

Run blocking early was strong, with tackles Gabe Carimi and JMarcus Webb sealing edges and left guard Chilo Rachal road-grading on two pulls for big gains that established the run. Pass protection needed to improve but early sacks were more Cutler and coverage than protection debacles.

A Roberto Garza false start hurt momentum in the fourth-quarter and the Bears failed to convert the resulting third-and-long on the first good possession in more than two quarters.

The Panthers slanted their line similar to the plan used by the Detroit Lions. The Bears had trouble with it in the first half but made enough tweaks in the second to keep Cutler from being obliterated.

COACHING C

A gameplan was difficult to discern, whether for reasons of confusion or execution, more likely both. But the six sacks in the first half were troubling for a variety of reasons involving planning by both the line and quarterback getting rid of the ball.

The offense never established any rhythm, not surprising given the number of three-and-outs beginning late in the first quarter.

With Michael Kopech out for the year, should the White Sox try to bring James Shields back for 2019?

With Michael Kopech out for the year, should the White Sox try to bring James Shields back for 2019?

Michael Kopech's recovery from Tommy John surgery put an unanticipated item on this offseason's to-do list for Rick Hahn's front office: The White Sox now need to fill a 2019 rotation spot that was supposed to belong to Kopech.

There are numerous ways to fill that hole in the rotation, though are any more attractive, perhaps, than simply bringing James Shields back for another season on the South Side?

Shields' third year in a White Sox uniform has undoubtedly been his best. After he posted a 5.60 ERA and allowed a combined 67 home runs during the 2016 and 2017 seasons, the 13-year major league veteran has done impressive work this season. After six innings of two-run ball Thursday night in Cleveland, Shields has a 4.48 ERA in 2018.

Of course, that's not a number that will have fans picketing Guaranteed Rate Field if the White Sox opt to move on from Shields this winter. But don't let that one figure overshadow how reliable Shields has been during the campaign. Thursday night marked his 19th quality start of the season, and he ranks in the top 10 in baseball in innings pitched.

Detractors have some statistical ammunition, too, however. Shields is one of three White Sox starting pitchers ranking in the top 10 in the game in walks (74 after three on Thursday), and his 33 home runs allowed are the second most in baseball (back-to-back jacks by the Indians accounted for pair of runs he gave up Thursday).

But Shields, it should be noted, has plenty of value independent of the kind of numbers he's posted during his White Sox tenure. He is a veteran mentor to the team's young pitchers. That includes Lucas Giolito, whose locker has been next to Shields' all season — or rather it was until Kopech became Shields' new locker buddy when the organization's No. 1 pitching prospect got his promotion to the big leagues. That placement, by the way, was Shields' request. While Kopech will be in recovery mode during the 2019 season, bringing Shields back would allow him to continue to help Giolito and act as a resource for Kopech.

This team is young and will continue to be young next season. Having a few reliable veterans around to guide the youngsters is a valuable thing.

Plenty, though, might not be sold on the idea, a reasonable reaction as the team moves toward contention mode and might need to free up spots in a rotation that could soon star some of the young arms developing in the minor leagues. But what are the alternatives for plugging Kopech's empty spot in the 2019 rotation? And if Shields doesn't come back, that makes two holes that need filling.

There isn't a wealth of major league ready options within the organization. Dylan Covey has a 5.33 ERA after his 19 starts this season. At the Triple-A level, Spencer Adams and Jordan Guerrero would figure to be the next-best options. Adams had a 3.19 ERA in 15 starts at Charlotte, and Guerrero had a 3.46 ERA in 12 starts. Though it's possible the White Sox could want them to receive some more conditioning in Triple-A. Jordan Stephens' 4.71 ERA in 21 starts and Carson Fulmer, who was moved to the bullpen after getting sent down to Charlotte earlier this season, are less appealing options.

Of course, the White Sox could go outside the organization, and that would seem to be the most likely course of action. But whether that's via free agency or a trade, wouldn't the still-rebuilding White Sox rather do that once than twice? And while there's nothing to say that the White Sox can't spend big this offseason with a loaded free-agent class, is the time right to do so? Does spending big this winter line up with the timeline of this rebuilding effort? In simpler terms: Would signing a pair of free-agent starting pitchers be the kind of win-now moves that Hahn has tried to avoid during this rebuild?

The most attractive free-agent options include the likes of Clayton Kershaw, Dallas Keuchel, Patrick Corbin and Charlie Morton. But those big names could be looking for instant contention or a gigantic contract that could put the White Sox out of the running. Going lower down the wish list, you'll see names like Chris Tillman, Wade Miley, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Anibal Sanchez, Jeremy Hellickson, J.A. Happ, Garrett Richards, Nathan Eovaldi, Tyson Ross and Gio Gonzalez.

It's quite possible that even with Shields brought back, the White Sox will need to sign one of those guys. Here's the question: Are two of those guys — and the contracts they'll command — better than one of them and Shields?

Another thing to think about: With Kopech on the mend until spring 2020, how close could the White Sox get to contention by the time he returns? And if the team has reached the contention stage, could they afford any growing pains that Kopech could have during his first full season in the majors? Remember that Kopech's first start in 2020 will be just his fifth big league start. That could affect the approach the White Sox take this offseason, perhaps hoping to acquire a pitcher who could be around for a while — not just as a bridge to Kopech but as a safety net for him, as well.

So does a Shields return make sense? Given that the White Sox might still be playing the waiting game next season, having a reliable arm to save the bullpen and a veteran presence to help the still-developing young pitchers could be an attractive option this offseason.

Bears have 6 players ranked in Top 5 by Pro Football Focus through 2 games

Bears have 6 players ranked in Top 5 by Pro Football Focus through 2 games

The Bears are off to their best start since 2014, and the team seems to be playing well together through two games of the season.

The offense is finding creative ways to put points on the board early, and the defense has emerged as one of the top units in the league so far. It’s only resulted in one win, but Chicago seems to be on the right track for more success this season.

The analysts over at Pro Football Focus like what they’ve seen, and their grades are high on a number of individual Bears players. Six of them rank in the top five of their respective positions so far this season.

Khalil Mack, Kyle Long and Charles Leno are all the second highest-graded players among their peers, Jordan Howard has the third-highest grade for a running back, Akiem Hicks is tied for fourth among defensive linemen, and Pat O’Donnell is the fifth-ranked punter.

Just missing the cut is Bryce Callahan, who currently ranks sixth among cornerbacks with an 81.8 overall grade. As a whole the Bears have PFF’s highest-graded defense, while the offense ranks 21st.

It’s clear the team has had a lot of individual success on both sides of the ball, and the next step is converting that into team success with more wins on Sundays.