White Sox

Offensive grades: Did the coaches blow the game?

954629.png

Offensive grades: Did the coaches blow the game?

Coach Lovie Smith said afterwards that he should have taken the field goal in the second quarter rather than go for it (unsuccessfully) on fourth and less than a yard. The decision may have been curious, but more was responsible for the Bears letting the Seattle Seahawks leave Soldier Field with a win.

The Bears could have been up 17-0 at the midpoint of the second quarter. But they eschewed a field goal and failed on a fourth-and-one at the Seattle 15, and Earl Bennett dropped a wide-open TD pass. The offense was respectable but put up basically the average point total (17) that Seattle allows (16.8).

The offense finished with 358 yards, the first of eight times they have gotten more than 250 yards and lost in 2012. This game marked the first time in the 26 games when Jay Cutler has had a passer rating of 100 or better than the Bears have lost.

QUARTERBACK A

Jay Cutler was confronted with first-rate pressure from Seattle edge rushers Bruce Irvin and Chris Clemons, with big physical corners covering favorite-target Brandon Marshall. But he was accurate and finished with 17 completions in 26 attempts for 233 yards and two touchdowns without an interception, and a rating of 119.6.

The performance was even more noteworthy because he was without injured receivers Alshon Jeffery and Devin Hester and proceeded to lose Earl Bennett to a concussion late in the first half.

Cutler ran four times for 27 yards and displayed more than simply settling for a few yards. Three of his four runs picked up first downs.

RUNNING BACK B-

Matt Fortes falling-down catch at the goal line in the third quarter was a game-changer, a 12-yard TD catch to take advantage of two Seattle penalties.

The Seahawks committed early to stuffing Forte and he managed minus-2 yards on his first four carries, but Michael Bush got tough yards on very physical carries in the fourth quarter.

Forte (21-66) and Bush (7-39) accounted for 105 rushing yards and Forte was a factor in the pass game after Bennett was hurt. Forte caught three passes for 30 yards.

RECEIVERS B

Brandon Marshall was targeted on 14 of Cutlers 26 pass attempts, catching 10 for 165 yards. His 56-yard grab late in regulation gave the Bears a chance for the game-tying field goal and he repeatedly made difficult catches against Seattles physical corners

Earl Bennett turned a takeaway into points with a 12-yard TD pass on the first possession, his first TD since Nov. 7 last season vs. Eagles. But he will surely remember even more the drop of a ball five yards behind any Seahawk defender earlier, costing the offense a score. His leaving with a possible concussion in the first half was a major setback to a receiver corps already missing Alshon Jeffery and Devin Hester with injuries.

Kyle Adams blocking helped get Bennett into the end zone. Evan Rodriguez caught a pass for a first-down pickup.

OFFENSIVE LINE B-

The revamped line of JMarcus Webb-Edwin Williams-Roberto Garza-Gabe Carimi-Jonathan Scott stood up well against the interior power of the Seattle front and allowed some pressure but few hits from a very good pass rush.

James Brown in his first NFL experience worked as the third tight end and threw a key seal block on the right edge for a third-down Forte conversion.

The Seahawks finished with one sack of Cutler and Bears running backs averaged 4.4 yards per carry after Seattles initial burst of holding Forte to minus-2 yards on his first four carries.

COACHING A-

This is a tough one and depends on whether you believe the fourth-down try was a good idea or bad one.

Play design on Earl Bennetts 12-yard TD catch on the first possession was superb. Bennett was started on the right side, motioned all the way across to the left and was all alone. Coaches also beautifully structured the TD pass to Matt Forte coming out of the backfield, outside Brandon Marshall and into a coverage mismatch.

The Seahawks stuffed Matt Forte on his first four runs but the offense ran seven times vs. nine passes in the first quarter, which helped Marshall against safety help. The Bears finished with 28 called running plays to 27 pass plays, plus four Cutler runs that were not necessarily breakdowns in protection but more his choice.

But the decision to go for a fourth-down conversion at the Seattle 15 in the second quarter was surprising, against a good defense in game without much scoring expected. Coaches effectively took points off the board early in the game and allowed the Seahawks to steal momentum.

And yet, it was a chance to stick an early dagger in the heart of a good but wavering Seattle defense. Even after the miss on Bushs run Lovie Smith was correct, a team should be able to pick up less than one yard with a 240-pound running back the Bears were giving Seattle the ball at its 15-yard line. It should not have come down to a missed half-yard.

Expect the unexpected: A triple play, a Charlie Tilson grand slam and a White Sox win over the Astros

Expect the unexpected: A triple play, a Charlie Tilson grand slam and a White Sox win over the Astros

Expect the unexpected.

After the way the first two nights went for the White Sox during their four-game stay in Houston, the expectations weren't high going up against Gerrit Cole. Cole entered the game as baseball's strikeout leader, with 93 of them in his first 60.2 innings this season. After White Sox hitters struck out a combined 27 times in the games started by Brad Peacock and Justin Verlander, it figured to be more of the same.

But that's not how baseball works.

The White Sox got solo homers from Eloy Jimenez and Jose Abreu for an early lead on Cole, but it was what they did in the field that got the baseball world buzzing. They turned the first triple play of the 2019 season in slick fashion. It was the White Sox first triple play since the 2016 season, when they turned three of them.

Normally, a triple play would be hands down the highlight of the night. But after the Astros pushed three runs across against Ivan Nova in the bottom of the fourth inning, the White Sox staged a stunning comeback against the typically dominant Cole.

They started the sixth with four straight hits, with Yona Moncada's single tying the game and James McCann, with another successful moment in the cleanup spot, doubling in the go-ahead run. Four batters and two outs later, Charlie Tilson, not exactly known for his power, smacked a grand slam, his first career homer, to bust things open.

Tilson became the first White Sox hitter whose first career homer was a grand slam since Danny Richar back in 2007. It's been a very nice stretch for Tilson, who came up from Triple-A Charlotte early this month. He's slashing .304/.339/.393 in 2019, now with one home run.

So by the end of the evening, the White Sox got a triple play, a Tilson grand slam, not one but two Jimenez home runs and a win over the best team in baseball — in Houston, no less, where the White Sox last win came in September 2017. Outside of a mighty positive night from Jimenez, who has two two-homer nights in just 24 games in his career, these might be oddities with little big-picture applications for this rebuilding organization. But a fun, eventful night for the record books is surely welcome.

Mercy.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.

The Confidence Conundrum: How Albert Almora Jr. turned his season around

The Confidence Conundrum: How Albert Almora Jr. turned his season around

What's the secret behind Albert Almora Jr.'s recent offensive resurgence?

It wasn't switching to an axe bat like Kris Bryant. It wasn't even a mechanical adjustment of any kind.

No, Almora has turned things around at the plate just because he has more of a belief in himself right now.

"This game is all about confidence," the Cubs centerfielder said. "It's a game of ups and downs. It's tough mentally, but the quicker you could get back to having that confidence, the better. It's kinda like tricking yourself."

Having 39,246 people demand a curtain call has to do wonders for your confidence.

Almora hit his first career grand slam in the bottom of the fifth inning Wednesday night and was none too happy to oblige the packed house at Wrigley Field.

That blast was his fifth homer of the season, which ties the total he reached in all of last season.

Over the first 21 games of 2019, Almora was hitting just .182 with a .432 OPS and 0 extra-base hits in 61 plate appearances.

Then he pinch hit against Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen on April 25 and smacked his first homer of the season. Since then, he's hitting .341 with a .966 OPS and 12 extra-base hits in 87 plate appearances. 

So if the difference is confidence, is there a way to manufacture confidence? Like a "fake it until you make it" kind of thing?

"No, it's tough," Almora said. "It really is. Maybe some guys are really good at it. Defensively, it's a different type of confidence, because you can control more, but you can be confident at the plate and not have the results."

When Bryant started turning things around at the end of April, much was made about his switch to an axe bat. There's no doubt that change in weaponry perfectly correlated with Bryant's red-hot production at the plate over the last month, but even he downplayed the whole thing, using the idiom, "it's not the arrow, it's the Indian" on the Cubs' last homestand.

In talking about Bryant Tuesday night, all Joe Maddon discussed was the star player's confidence, saying he is "unconsciously confident" in every aspect of his game right now.

"It's just who I am — I feel like this is me as a baseball player," Bryant said. "I'm working counts, getting on base, baserunning, playing all over. When I'm doing that, I feel pretty confident, so I hope I can continue that."

Cubs hitting coach Anthony Iapoce echoed Almora's sentiment that baseball is all about confidence and while mechanical changes can certainly help breed that confidence, the only real way to build it is with positive results on the field. 

Obviously mechanics come into play all the time in professional baseball and there's no doubt Almora's and Bryant's physical mechanics are locked in at the moment.   

But there's no substitute for confidence and there's no drill to work on something that isn't tangible and can't even be quantified. 

"I don't know [how to build confidence]," Almora said. "I wish I had the answer. That's why this game is so hard. You just gotta battle and try to not ride that huge up-and-down roller coaster. Try to stay the same. I feel like just having a good attitude is a good part of it and I think it's something I'm trying to feed off of my teammates. I think I've been doing a really good job of just being happy no matter what."

This is Almora's fourth year in the big leagues and he's closing in on 1,100 plate appearances at this level. But he still doesn't feel like he's come anywhere close to mastering the Confidence Conundrum.

"No, because you wanna perform every year, so every year's different no matter what," Almora said. "I've had success hitting at the big-league level, but every year's a new challenge and every year you have challenges for yourself and for your team to win, obviously. It never gets easier."

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream