Bears

Maholm roughed up in Cubs debut

729404.png

Maholm roughed up in Cubs debut

Paul Maholm needed 41 pitches to get through his first inning at Wrigley Field in a Cubs uniform. When it was over, he walked off the mound to sarcastic applause.

The Cubs know a lot of things will have to break right if theyre going to contend this season. But they feel confident that theyll put a credible starting pitcher on the mound 162 times this season.

Yes, this is only about three percent of the season. But this business is all about taking snapshots. The Cubs are 1-4 after their first run through the rotation.

It was a raw, cold Tuesday night at Clark and Addison 40 degrees at first pitch and still the Milwaukee Brewers blasted Maholm in front of 37,265 fans. A 7-4 loss showed the margins for this Cubs team.

To put it blunt, I sucked, Maholm said.

One through five, manager Dale Sveum feels like his rotation can stack up with anyone. The bullpen will cause anxiety, and the lineup wont outslug the opposition on most nights. But the Cubs should probably be better than 1-4 right now.

Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija and Chris Volstad combined to throw 27.1 innings and allowed only seven earned runs. They notched 29 strikeouts against six walks and limited hitters to a .170 average.

Maholm simply didnt have it against the Brewers (3-2), walking two batters and hitting two more in a first inning so off that ex-Cub Aramis Ramirez even stole a base during this sequence.

Alex Gonzalez drilled what Maholm called a bad cutter (that) pretty much turns into a BP fastball through a strong wind and into the left-field bleachers for a three-run homer.

The Brewers took a 5-0 lead. In the end, it didnt really matter that Maholm who gave up six runs in four innings steadied himself.

He just couldnt put anybody away, Sveum said. I didnt think he had a good feel for his curveball at all (or) keeping his changeup down. He couldnt get the ball inside for strikes. It just snowballed a little bit in that first inning. He settled down and did OK after that, but the damage was done already.

Maholm had spent his entire career in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization until signing a 4.25 million deal here (with a 6.5 million club option for 2013 or a 500,000 buyout). The 29-year-old left-hander broke the news on his Twitter account over the winter.

It wasnt a huge story, but it showed the front offices top priority. Pitching depth was exactly what this team needed. Maholm has accounted for at least 160 innings in each of his last six seasons. If the Cubs are going to make it interesting, it will be on the rotation.

I dont know if it was trying to do too much, but its one of 30-something starts, Maholm said. Obviously, (we) want to get off to a better start than we have. But weve been in almost every game. (Its) a long season. Well battle back and well get after it tomorrow.

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

burton-1014.jpg
USA TODAY

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.png
AP

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.