White Sox

NU's Siemian struggles through the air continue

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NU's Siemian struggles through the air continue

Both Northwestern's and Nebraska's offense expected to see stout run defense against their highly-successful ground games. Bo Pelini's group entered Saturday's affair as the top rushing team in the Big Ten, running for 292.0 yards per game. The Wildcats also had attacked via the ground game through seven weeks, rushing for 229.9 yards per game, fourth best in the Big Ten.
And, for the most part, both offenses were limited on the ground.
Led by Damien Proby's 12 tackles, Northwestern held Nebraska to 44 rushes for 201 yards, its lowest rushing total this season. The Wildcats rushed 38 times for 180 yards, their third lowest total of the year and second lowest total in Big Ten play.
But the difference Saturday afternoon at Ryan Field was that one team, Northwestern, couldn't make up for the low run totals through the air in the Cornhuskers' 29-28 win at Ryan Field.
Nebraska was the 15th best pass defense in the country when they entered Evanston on Saturday, and ranked behind only Michigan and Minnesota in the Big Ten. Pelini's group used that to their advantage, constantly stacking the box against Trevor Siemian and Kain Colter.
The response was simple: attack the box against eight- or nine-man fronts, or try and attack the Nebraska cornerbacks one-on-one with little safety help over the top.
"Schematically you knew they were really going to load the box and we were going to have to take some shots down the field," Fitzgerald said.
The Widcats did a little bit of both, but couldn't rely on the latter to balance out the attack.
Northwestern's Trevor Siemian finished 15-of-35 for 116 yards and two touchdowns, including one to Toby Jones, who beat single coverage down the right sideline to give the Wildcats a late second quarter lead.
Siemian's other touchdown pass, a 10-yard strike to Dan Vitale, came on the heels of a muffed punt return by Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah. The Wildcats recovered on the Huskers' 14, giving Siemian a short field to work with.
But the second half was a nightmare for Siemian. Though he was never sacked and had relatively good protection, the junior signal caller finished was 6-of-18 for 57 yards after halftime. At one point he threw incomplete on six straight passes in the third quarter.
The plan, coach Pat Fitzgerald said, was to take chances on the outside and see if the Wildcat wide receivers could win those one-on-one battles. It happened once with Jones, but they needed one more play from the skill players they never received.
"If we make one of those catches and throws it's a different game. We ended up making one for the touchdown pass, but there were about four or five other ones that, if they're gonna go out and play one-on-one, we've got to take advantage of it," Fitzgerald said, "and we just couldn't make those plays."
Credit must be given to the Cornhuskers' secondary, which played aggressive and confident throughout the game. On his own, cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste broke up five passes, more than half of the nine Nebraska compiled as a team.
The heavy run support was also meant to shut down Kain Colter, who finished with just 57 all-purpose yards, easily his lowest output of the season. He was a non-factor much of the afternoon, especially compared to his performance last season against the Cornhuskers, when he had 229 all-purpose yards in the Wildcats' 28-25 win.
But even without the luxury of Colter and Venric Mark, who left with an undisclosed injury in the fourth quarter, Siemian almost made up for his sluggish second half. On Northwestern's final drive, completing three straight passes for 32 yards to get inside the Nebraska 40 yard-line trailing by one.
That range was close enough for kicker Jeff Budzien, but Siemian threw an incomplete pass, tucked and ran for three yards on second down, and threw incomplete again on 3rd and 7 in an attempt to get closer. Budzein missed the 53-yard attempt wide right.
"We were in position to make a few plays there down the stretch and we didn't make them," Fitzgerald said.
On the other end, Taylor Martinez made up Northwestern's tough run defense with his arm, throwing for 342 yards and three touchdowns. The Big Ten's most efficient passer got better as the afternoon went on, scoring three second half touchdowns, including two passes in the final seven minutes.
In the end there was more than one reason Northwestern failed to take down the Huskers in a crucial Legends Divison game. But if teams continue to key in on the run, knowing Siemian will struggle throwing the ball, Saturday afternoon could be a trend for the Wildcats.
"We gave ourselves every opportunity to do it, but we didn't make plays down the stretch," Fitzgerald said, "and we give credit to Nebraska for doing that. We ended up on the short end."

White Sox Talk Podcast: Inside the White Sox draft room with Nick Hostetler

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AP

White Sox Talk Podcast: Inside the White Sox draft room with Nick Hostetler

Chuck Garfien and Ryan McGuffey speak with White Sox scouting director Nick Hosteler inside the team's draft room at Guaranteed Rate Field.

How accurate are the mock drafts? (2:45) Can Andrew Vaughn meeting the lofty expectations? (6:40) Bobby Witt Jr's unique background (8:30), why this draft could bring a face of the franchise type player the top (11:15), and what it's like in the war room on draft day (12:30). Do they have a consensus pick yet? (13:45) Do they need to stock up on pitching? (17:35)

Is Nick Madrigal meeting expectations in Class-A? (26:40) Hostetler's sleeper pick from last season that White Sox fans should watch (30:00) and more.

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below:

White Sox Talk Podcast

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How close is Ian Happ to rejoining the Cubs?

How close is Ian Happ to rejoining the Cubs?

Is Ian Happ nearing a return to Chicago?

In a surprise move at the end of spring training, the Cubs sent the 24-year-old switch-hitter down to the minor leagues to work on his swing and try to cut down on strikeouts.

Happ's numbers in Iowa don't jump off the page at you (.240/.362/.422), but it looks like he may be turning a corner of late. He homered Monday night then went 4-for-4 with another homer, 2 doubles and 5 RBI in the second game of a doubleheader Wednesday.

That's obviously a very small sample size, however, and even including that, Happ is still struggling to make consistent contact. He has struck out 14 times in 25 at-bats over his last 8 games. 

His overall strikeout percentage on the season is 25.9 percent — a major improvement on the 36.1 percent mark he struggled through in the big leagues last year. But Happ had never struck out more than 23.6 percent of the time in a season coming up through the minor leagues, so that number is still higher than the Cubs would like to see.

"If [the mini hot streak] were sustained, you'd have to really start listening," Joe Maddon said. "I'm following him via video, watching the at-bats. I'm doing that almost daily with him. I know prior to that, he had still had some problems with strikeouts. 

"And then hit a home run the other day and that seems like that's led to this other home run. That would be primarily a call on the front office and the minor-league part [on when to call him up], but I will watch the video. The home run I saw, I liked. I thought he had much better balance on the entire swing."

Obviously the Cubs aren't going to overreact to a couple games and deem Happ ready to return to the big leagues based off a handful of at-bats.

But there's also a solid case to be made that he could help the club in Chicago right now.

Despite a hot start to the season, the Cubs' role players have really fallen off the last few weeks and much of the offensive damage has come from the big boppers (Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javy Baez, Willson Contreras) recently.

There's no indication Ben Zobrist is coming back anytime soon, as Maddon said Thursday morning he hasn't spoken to the veteran in a couple days. 

David Bote and Jason Heyward have looked better this week, but they were struggling for the first couple weeks of May. 

Daniel Descalso has really been scuffling, hitting .097 with only 1 extra-base hit in May and his defense at second base has been below average.

Then there's Mark Zagunis, who isn't doing much of anything for the Cubs — literally. He hasn't started a game since April 26 and hasn't seen even one inning in the outfield since then, either, serving exclusively as a pinch-hitter for the last month.

So if the Cubs decide soon that Happ is ready to return to the big leagues, they have a simple decision on the roster spot and right now, there might be an avenue to a decent amount of playing time either at second base or the outfield.

Happ may not be the best or most experienced defender at second base, but he's seen some time there in the minors this season (59.2 innings) and he can also play either of the corner infield spots and all three outfield positions.

But would it be prudent for the Cubs to call up Happ if they don't even have room for him to play every day? That could throw a wrench in his development, which is clearly something the organization has been committed to.

Albert Almora Jr. is still easily the best centerfielder on the roster and has been great offensively for the last month, so it's not like he's done anything to deserve falling back into a platoon with Happ in center like they shared for much of 2018.

"It's hard. You would want to [call him up only if there's ample time to play him]," Maddon said. "But if you could morph him in and there's a platoon that's worthwhile, you could do that, also.

"But part of him being [in the minors] right now on a consistent basis is to get these kind of at-bats to get this all worked out and you would not want to lose that, either. But when he were to come back, being that he could hit left-handed obviously permits us to do other things."

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