Lucky No. 13 for Soriano


Lucky No. 13 for Soriano

Apparently, 13 is Alfonso Soriano's new lucky number.

On Friday the 13th, Soriano moved into 13th place on the Cubs' all-time leaderboard for home runs.

The 36-year-old outfielder has been battling a creaky knee for the entire season and with a rain delay that lasted just shy of four hours, it would not have been crazy to see him scratched from the lineup on a slippery playing surface.

But Soriano played on and powered the Cubs to a 8-1 victory over visiting Arizona in the first game of the second half. Soriano swung early and often -- he only saw eight pitches in four at-bats -- but had two doubles, two homers, three runs and five RBI to show for it.

The five RBI tied his career high, which he has reached seven times, the last of which came Sept. 6, 2008 in Cincinnati.

The four days off during the All-Star break appears to have done wonders for Soriano.

"I told him he's getting four more days off," manager Dale Sveum said with a laugh. "That was impressive...That was huge. Coming out of the break for him to get hot, that would be huge. We could keep this thing rolling with him going."

Soriano said he cleared his mind and his body during the four-day layoff and that his leg has been feeling good the last month or two.

It showed on his first first double in the second inning, in which he hustled into second, advanced to third on Geovany Soto's fly out to center, and then scored on a wild pitch.

The first homer -- in the fourth inning -- left the ballpark, landing on Waveland Ave. for some lucky fan.

The second bomb was a dagger for the Diamondbacks, a three-run shot that just barely snuck into the center-field seats. It was Soriano's 149th in a Cubs uniform, which moved him into 13th place all-time in franchise history. He passed Mark Grace in the process, who ironically was in the house, working as a TV broadcaster for the Diamondbacks and singing the Seventh Inning Stretch.

Soriano added another RBI double in the seventh and coasted to one of his best games in a Cubs uniform.

Just under a month ago, Soriano was booed mercilessly by fans at Wrigley after failing to run out a line drive against the Red Sox. Friday, he was cheered and revered among the Wrigley faithful.

For all the criticism he's taken, the veteran outfielder is on pace for 32 home runs and 100 RBI this season. He raised his batting average 10 points and his OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) 43 points in Friday's game alone.

"It's nice that he's doing it for us," Sveum said. "We've played almost 90 games now. Seventeen homers and 53 RBI is pretty good for a guy that wasn't expected to do a whole lot this year. He's done one heck of a job for us."

Soriano attributes the new front office regime for sticking with him after a couple rough years.

"I'm very happy with the coaches and GM and president, because they show me respect and confidence in myself," he said. "I haven't had that in three or four years."

Soriano admitted it was great to have such a successful game at the plate, but at the end of the day, he was more worried about the victory.

"There was a lot of rain, but more importantly, we got the win," he said, flashing his trademark smile. "It's a long day, but you know, when you get the win, it doesn't matter how long you stay here."

Trey Burton, Adrian Amos earn Bears’ top grades from Pro Football Focus for Week 7


Trey Burton, Adrian Amos earn Bears’ top grades from Pro Football Focus for Week 7

The Bears were not at their best against the New England Patriots on Sunday. They made plenty of mistakes on all three phases and gave Tom Brady too many opportunities to control the game.

It wasn’t all bad from Chicago, though. Trey Burton emerged as a new favorite weapon of Mitchell Trubisky, and the tight end was the Bears’ highest-graded player in the game by Pro Football Focus.

Burton had a career high 11 targets, nine catches and 126 yards with a touchdown, giving Trubisky a 144.7 passer rating when targeting his top tight end.

Seven of Burton’s targets and six of his catches traveled 10 or more yards in the air, according to PFF.

Defensively, safety Adrian Amos led the pack with a 74.6 overall grade. He did not miss a tackle after missing a career-high five last week, and he allowed only one catch for eight yards against the Patriots.

On the bottom of the scale, outside linebacker Leonard Floyd received the second-lowest grade of his career (38.9 overall) for his performance. He did not record any pressure on the quarterback in 13 pass rushing snaps, and he allowed two catches for 13 yards and a touchdown in coverage against running back James White.

Wide receiver Allen Robinson had a career-low grade as well at 44.9 overall. He was clearly limited by his groin injury, targeted five times with one catch for four yards and a dropped pass.

Overall, the Bears were able to stick with one of the top teams in the AFC while also leaving a lot of room for improvement. It’s a step in the right direction from where Chicago was in recent seasons.

Wendell Carter Jr. survives gauntlet of centers to begin career


Wendell Carter Jr. survives gauntlet of centers to begin career

Don't tell Wendell Carter Jr. the center position is a dying breed.

The 19-year-old rookie hasn't exactly been able to ease into the NBA, finding himself up against a handful of All-Stars and powerful frontcourts just five days into his career.

It culminated Monday night with a date against Mavericks center DeAndre Jordan, and once again the seventh overall pick held his own. It was much of the same as it was against Philadelphia's Joel Embiid and Detroit's Andre Drummond last week (and Nikola Jokic in the preseason finale): some good, some bad, plenty of poise and zero backing down. The NBA is unforgiving, but this could very well be the toughest stretch Carter faces all season.

"He’s playing against top level centers now," Fred Hoiberg said before Monday's game. "It’s a great experience for him. He’s going to learn and get better and he plays within himself, we will continue to look for him to be more aggressive."

He was as aggressive as the Bulls have seen him against Jordan and the Mavericks. He blew by the 20 and 18 minutes he played in the first two games of the year, totalling 32 minutes. His final line won't tell the story - 4 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists and a block - of a Carter who defended well at the rim, picking and choosing his spots on when to attack shots and when to simply use his verticality.

He wasn't credited for a block but he contested a Jordan dunk that turned into a Bobby Portis dunk on the other end. Plus-minus isn't always a good indicator of a player's worth, but Carter was a +5 in a 14-point Bulls loss. He even attempted a corner 3-pointer early in the shot clock, showing no hesitation. Carter's had his moments, but it's also apparent he's got a 19-year-old body going up against veterans each night. That'll come with time in the weight room. For now the experience is 

"I appreciate the fact I’m able to play against these very talented bigs early in my career," Carter said after the loss to the Pistons. "What I need to work on is I have to get stronger; that’s the first thing I recognize; just being up against the best. I love the competition. It’s always a great feeling going against the best."

What the Bulls are finding out is they have a player mature beyond his years. As he progresses he'll continue to get more difficult assignments. He had his rookie moment late in Monday's loss, committing a turnover in the backcourt after the Bulls had cut the deficit to five with 35 seconds left. The fouls are also an issue, as Carter has committed 10 in three games (after committing 17 in five preseason games).

That doesn't necessarily seem important for a Lottery-bound team, but considering the continued struggles of Robin Lopez (and Cristiano Felicio is entirely out of the rotation) it is. Lopez had 2 points and 1 rebound in 10 minutes while committing five personal fouls. In three games he has 11 personal fouls and 11 points, and also has more turnovers (five) than rebounds (four). If the Bulls are going to compete until Lauri Markkanen returns, Carter will need to hover around the 32 minutes he played Monday.

He'll get a much easier test on Wednesday when the Charlotte Hornets arrive in town. Cody Zeller doesn't exactly have the credentials of a Jokic or Embiid, meaning Carter may have a little more room to work. 

The Bulls know they have something in Carter. It'll be abother month until they can deploy him alongside Markkanen, but if the first three games are any indication, Carter won't have any problems matching up with some of the league's best.