Cubs

Moon: Seahawk'ing while waiting for Eagles - Pack

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Moon: Seahawk'ing while waiting for Eagles - Pack

Sunday, Jan. 9, 2011
3:28 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

If the Philadelphia Eagles get past the Green Bay Packers, the Bears will have to deal with Michael Vick and that Eagles offense for a second time since Thanksgiving. Until that happens, and I dont think it will, lets think Seahawks:

The Bears had beaten Seattle three of the last four times the teams met before this seasons stumblefest in Soldier Field.

Victories are usually turning points in seasons but the Seattle game was one of the turning points in the Bears season because that and the Washington game that followed forced Mike Martz and Jay Cutler to make changes in the planning and the execution of the offense, respectively.

Against a Seahawks team that was in the bottom third of the NFL in rushing yards allowed, Martz called exactly 12 running plays combined for Matt Forte and Chester Taylor. Less than two weeks after Cutler was given a concussion by the New York Giants, Martz called 45 pass plays. Cutler was sacked six times and completed less than half of his throws.

That debacle was followed by Cutlers 4-interception performance against Washington, a game in which he also was sacked four times. In the off week, high-level discussions resulted in a dramatic shift in the balance of the offense and the season, along probably with a lot of jobs beginning with Lovie Smiths, was saved.

Seattle ran the ball 31 times for 111 yards and a modest 3.6 yards per carry. The Bears averaged 4.4 per rush, yet Martz called on Forte and Taylor just those 14 times. Matt Hasselbeck and Cutler each threw for yardage in the 240s but Cutler was sacked those six times and Hasselbeck went un-sacked.

Thats how you lose to a team with a new head coach and a roster with 200-some changes since the end of last season. If it does end up being the Seahawks at the end of Sunday for the Bears in their division-round game, Bears will advance to the NFC Championship game for the second time under Smith.

Saints ain't
If the Seattle Seahawks did nothing else, they disabused the myth of the New Orleans Saints. Well, maybe not entirely a myth, because myths do not win Super Bowls.

But the question was raised to me on repeated occasions last week as to what team represented the most acute threat to the Bears. The one I saw as the least dangerous, from among Seattle, New Orleans, Green Bay and Philadelphia, was New Orleans. The reason wasnt any sort of clairvoyance; if I had that, Id be writing this from aboard the S.S. Moon from somewhere south of, oh, maybe the Southern Cross.

No, so much of the NFL is about matchups. The Bears as constructed by Jerry Angelo and Lovie Smith put down the Saints annually from 2005-08, four straight wins and the last three of which were in Soldier Field, which is where this years game would have been played.

The Seahawks did to the Saints about what I thought the Bears would have.

Resume Boost

The Bears defense is looking even better as the Green Bay Packers roll out to a 14-0 lead on Philadelphia. Thats the same Packers offense that was kept in check, in Green Bay, by the Bears, held to 10 points in a true must game for Aaron Rodgers and an offense that was averaging 25 ppg.

Keys to the Game

If the weekly keys to the game from coaches like Lovie Smith sound repetitive, its because they are, and should be. Turnovers. Giveaways. Takeaways. And they come in different forms.

Green Bay handed away a touchdown with the dropped ball by James Jones late in the first half and then handed Philadelphia a re-admit ticket to the game with Aaron Rodgers fumble early in the third quarter that the Eagles turned into a touchdown.

The fumble was forced. The muffed TD was not.
Bear-talkin'

I'll check in Monday about 6:05 a.m. with long-time pals at WGN-AM 720 and see what we think about the way this divisional round will set up....

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

The curious ripple effects of the Cubs' trade for Martin Maldonado

The curious ripple effects of the Cubs' trade for Martin Maldonado

While the Cubs put the finishing touches on a lackluster loss to the Reds Monday night at Wrigley Field, the game quickly took a backseat as reports of a trade filtered through Baseball Twitter.

In came a veteran catcher — Martin Maldonado — from the Kansas City Royals in exchange for Mike Montgomery, who will live on in Cubs history books forever as the guy who threw the curveball that notched the final out in the 2016 World Series to break a 108-year championship drought.

There are many layers to this move, including the corresponding aspect of Cubs All-Star catcher Willson Contreras hitting the 10-day injured list with a strain in the arch of his right foot. Contreras had an MRI Monday afternoon/evening, which revealed the issue. 

Contreras felt like he could play through it and passionately pleaded his case, but the Cubs want to exercise an abundance of caution with one of their most important players.

"Our medical staff feels like if he were to try to play on it, that he'd be risking exacerbating the injury and turning it into something long-term," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. "So we have to get ahead of it, take it out of Willy's hands and take him off his feet. 

"We don't expect it to be longer than 10 days — that's what we hope for, anyways."

But even before the severity of Contreras' injury was known, Epstein said the team was already in talks with the Royals front office.

"We've been having discussions with Kansas City and they had an opening in their rotation after trading [Homer] Bailey and they'd been talking to a couple teams about Maldonado and we knew that," Epstein said. "We'd actually been working on a version of the deal beforehand and it was something we wanted to quickly finalize once it became clear that Willson was gonna miss some time."

That's interesting.

So the Cubs' interest in Maldonado is not solely based on Contreras' injury, which means they value the veteran catcher as more than just a short-term, couple-week insurance policy to pair with Victor Caratini. 

On the one hand, that leaves the Cubs free to trade Caratini over the next couple weeks if a deal developed.

But the move for Maldonado also shores up a major area of depth for the Cubs, which is exactly what Epstein talked about before Monday's game, referencing the change in MLB rules that eliminated the August waiver wire deadline. Now, every team has to make their moves ahead of the July 31 deadline and that's it.

"Teams need to keep depth in mind a little bit more, that you have to anticipate where you might be vulnerable to an injury and try to build that depth up in advance — preemptively, really — knowing that there's no escape valve in August," Epstein said. "So you gotta really do all your work this month as much as possible and really take a hard look at your organizational depth."

Well, despite fantastic seasons from Contreras and Caratini, the Cubs actually have very little in the way of catching depth beyond those two. Taylor Davis is the only other backstop on the 40-man roster and he has almost no big-league experience. When Caratini was on the IL earlier this year with a hand injury, Davis rarely played in the month-plus he was on the roster.

Even if Contreras' injury is as minor as it appears, it underscores the point that the Cubs' depth is very fragile at the most physically demanding position on the field. What would the team do if Contreras or Caratini suffered an injury in August or September?

Now, they can add Maldonado into the mix — a veteran catcher who draves rave remarks for his defense and game-calling. 

The right-handed-hitting catcher is due to turn 33 next month and is in his ninth big-league season. He hasn't done much with the bat in his career (.289 on-base percentage, .351 slugging) and that hasn't changed this year (.647 OPS), but his work behind the plate was enticing to the Cubs and their veteran-laden pitching staff.

"He's an established catcher in the league who does a lot of great things behind the plate," Epstein said. "He can really receive, he can really throw. He's caught playoff games. He's handled some of the best pitchers in the game; he's a favorite for pitchers to throw to.

"He's very calm back there, very prepared, calls a great game, really soft hands, lot of experience, lot of savvy and someone who we think can step in and share the job with Vic and get up to speed really quickly in what we hope is a brief absence from Willson."

The Cubs haven't yet shared a plan for how they plan to manage the roster crunch for all three catchers when Contreras returns from injury in a week or two, but that might be because they don't yet have a plan. That's more of a "cross that bridge when it comes" type of situation.

When everybody is healthy — if everybody is ever healthy all at the same time — the Cubs could carry three catchers and utilize Contreras' ability to play the outfield and Caratini's first/third base versatility. They could also option Caratini to the minors for a couple weeks and bring him back up when rosters expand in September or if another injury strikes.

Either way, the Cubs front office, coaching staff and pitching staff can rest easier knowing they have another experienced backstop on the roster. 

The other aspect to all this, obviously, is in the Cubs bullpen and starting depth. Montgomery is out, which means there is an easy open spot on the roster for Alec Mills, who is making a spot start Tuesday while Cole Hamels continues to rehab his oblique injury.

In the longer term, this could be a good thing for the Cubs bullpen, as Montgomery was miscast and rarely used as a short-inning reliever. The 30-year-old southpaw last threw on July 2 and has only made five appearances in the last month. 

Montgomery was slowed by injury in spring training and then again in the first couple weeks of the season, but he had been building up his workload of late - throwing at least 2.1 innings in each of his last three outings. Still, the Cubs opted to go with Mills Tuesday against the Reds instead of Montgomery and they also had Tyler Chatwood and Adbert Alzolay in the rotation at various points earlier this season.

Montgomery hasn't started once in 2019, but he made 28 starts in a Cubs uniform, including 19 last year while filling in for the injured Yu Darvish.

The Cubs clearly feel good enough with their rotation depth as is (Mills, Chatwood, Alzolay) and Hamels' return looks to be right around the corner, so the writing was on the wall that Montgomery wouldn't get many chances to start in the short or long term in Chicago.

It's also good for Montgomery, a guy who got the last out in the World Series and did everything asked of him in his three-plus years in Chicago, bouncing between the rotation and bullpen. 

Now he gets an opportunity to start, which he's been vocal about wanting to do, and he'll be thrown right into the fire — the Royals have him penciled in to start Friday...in Cleveland.

How's that for full circle?

After short stint in the majors, White Sox send Zack Collins to Triple-A

After short stint in the majors, White Sox send Zack Collins to Triple-A

When general manager Rick Hahn has talked about bringing up key prospects, he says he wants those players to be able to come up to the majors and stay there. That won't be the case with Zack Collins.

The White Sox sent the catcher down to Triple-A Charlotte following Monday's 5-2 loss to the Royals. No corresponding move will be made until Tuesday, but it is expected Welington Castillo will return from his rehab stint and rejoin the White Sox.

Collins was called up on June 18, but only played in nine games with seven starts in his 28 days on the big league roster. Collins drew a pinch-hit walk in his first plate appearance at the Cubs on June 19. He then homered two days later in his first start in Texas.

After that, Collins struggled. He goes back to Charlotte after hitting .077 (2-for-26) with five walks, the one home run and 14 strikeouts in 31 plate appearances.

It's unclear if Collins had a chance to stick on the roster or if the plan was for him to go back to Triple-A once Castillo was ready to return. Collins certainly didn't do himself any favors at the plate, but he also didn't see regular playing time.

Collins, a first-round pick in 2016, was seen working out at first base in fielding practice before games, but he stuck to catcher and DH. He could have played some first base or DH when Castillo returned. However, the White Sox claimed A.J. Reed off waivers and he debuted after the all-star break. Reed has taken the at-bats at DH, leaving Collins without regular at-bats.

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