Bears

Pettitte looks uncomfortable during testimony

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Pettitte looks uncomfortable during testimony

From Comcast SportsNet
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Andy Pettitte looked like he wanted to be anywhere but on the witness stand in the Roger Clemens perjury trial. During breaks Tuesday when the judge and lawyers haggled over legal procedures, Pettitte looked down or straight ahead, never in Clemens' direction. He rested his head in his palm, yawned, looked at his watch and sighed. A few times he rubbed his eyes for several seconds, looking like he couldn't wait for this to end. But Pettitte returns to the stand Wednesday, when Clemens' lawyers will continue to try to sow doubts about the key testimony that Pettitte provided for prosecutors: "Roger had mentioned to me that he had taken HGH." Clemens, who told Congress in 2008 that his friend and former Major League Baseball teammate "misremembers" the conversation, is accused of lying to Congress when he said he never took human growth hormone or steroids. The two men arrived at opposite ends of the courthouse a few minutes apart Wednesday morning, both in gray suits. Pettitte carried a backpack and a bottle of water. Clemens lawyer Michael Attanasio started the doubt campaign late Tuesday when he coaxed Pettitte into agreeing that Clemens' remark was a passing comment made during a workout. Attanasio also got Pettitte to praise Clemens' work ethic, mechanics and concentration -- not to mention the seven Cy Young awards he had won for his outstanding pitching. The cross-examination got to feel so much like a Clemens infomercial that prosecutor Steven Durham objected at one point. Pettitte is crucial to a government case that otherwise will rely heavily on the testimony of Brian McNamee, who worked as a strength coach for both Clemens and Pettitte and has said he injected both men with performance-enhancing substances. The government showed the jury photos of the three working out together in Texas during happier times -- "Mac, Roger and me," as Pettitte put it. Pettitte has acknowledged he received HGH from McNamee; Clemens has not. Pettitte told the jury about the time he used HGH in 2002 while recovering from an injury, but he wasn't allowed to say he was injected by McNamee because the judge earlier ruled that information inadmissible. Pettitte said he used HGH one other time, in 2004. He said he regretted it both times he tried it, that he doesn't think it helped him physically and that it has tarnished his name. "I wish I never would've" taken HGH, he said in his slow Texas drawl. "If I hadn't done it, I wouldn't be here today." Pettitte also recalled the other time he spoke with Clemens about HGH, during the media swirl surrounding earlier congressional hearings -- in 2005 -- on drug use in sports. Both were playing for the Houston Astros, and Pettitte asked Clemens at spring training what Clemens would say if asked by reporters about HGH use. Clemens responded, "What are you talking about?" according to Pettitte, and said Pettitte must have misunderstood the earlier conversation, said to have taken place in 1999 or 2000. "He said, My wife used it,'" Pettitte said. "Obviously I was a little flustered," Pettitte said, "because I thought that he told me that he did." Both Clemens and McNamee have said McNamee injected Debbie Clemens with HGH at the Clemens home in 2003, although they differ over certain details. Pettitte's appearance Tuesday came without warning. The government interrupted testimony from the trial's first witness to call Pettitte just before noon. Wearing a gray suit, white shirt and striped tie, he walked into court a day after allowing six runs and 10 hits with eight strikeouts over 5-23 innings in an extended spring training game in Clearwater, Fla., as part his comeback attempt at age 39 with the New York Yankees. Pettitte strode purposefully to the witness stand, but when he squeezed his 6-foot-5 frame into the seat, he looked out of place. He sat with hands clasped during most of his testimony. During prosecutor Durham's questioning, Pettitte described how he admired Clemens as a youngster and considered him a mentor when they played together for the Yankees and Astros. Pettitte said he still considered Clemens a good friend but hasn't been able to talk to him for a long time because of the case. He also said it was difficult to testify against his friend. But there was almost no interaction between the two large men Tuesday. About the only time Pettitte looked in Clemens' direction was when the prosecutor asked whether Clemens was in the courtroom, and Pettitte pointed to the man in the suit and "greenish tie." Clemens stood and nodded. For his part, Clemens took more notes than usual on his yellow legal pad. When trial recessed for the day, Pettitte walked out of the courtroom without looking toward Clemens. Pettitte signed an autograph in the hall, then quickly entered an office.

From Bears’ win over Seahawks, 4 takeaways not named “Khalil” or “Mitch”

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USA TODAY

From Bears’ win over Seahawks, 4 takeaways not named “Khalil” or “Mitch”

The Bears reaching .500 is in itself news, since the last time it happened (2014) was two Bears head coaches and three Brandon Marshall uniforms ago, and only three current position players (Kyles Fuller and Long, Sherrick McManis) were on the roster back then.

But beyond getting coach Matt Nagy his first win as an NFL head coach, the win over Seattle occasioned a handful of takeaways beyond all of the ones headed up by Khalil Mack and Mitch Trubisky:

Defense in a rush, even at less than full strength

The Bears lead the NFL with 10 sacks (which is on pace to fall just short of the NFL team record of 72 for a season, set in 1984 by the Bears, for those who delight in frivolous early-season stat’ing). The production is especially noteworthy because the sacks are spread among eight different players.

Even more significantly, the sacks haven’t just come from eight different players; they’ve come from eight different POSITIONS, including every position in the front seven in the Bears base 3-4: both outside-linebacker spots (Mack, Aaron Lynch) and both insides (Trevathan and Roquan Smith); both defensive-end slots (Akiem Hicks and Roy Robertson-Harris); and nose tackle (Eddie Goldman).

The rush has contributed to one of the NFL’s worst pass-picking secondaries effectively sealing the Seattle game with one interception (Prince Amukamara) and having the Green Bay game within its grasp on another (Kyle Fuller).

What makes the sack production even more impressive is that none of the stops have come from Leonard Floyd, still playing with one hand encased on a padded cast and whose playing time was cut back from 77 percent of the snaps in Green Bay to 59 percent against Seattle. Floyd has zero quarterback hits in his 85 total snaps but delivered 3 tackles, a pass defense’d and a fumble recovery against the Seahawks despite his limited hand, which is a factor.

“Oh, for sure,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said last week. “I mean there’s no way around it. Like trying to type on your computers there with one hand. You’ve got your head in the sand if you don’t think that affects a guy’s play.”

Kevin White’s absence is surprising.

White did not generate the wow factor of rookie Javon Wims in preseason but he revealed an eye-opening ability in the open field with the football in his hands, the kind of yards-after-catch that West Coast offenses treasure. Not insignificantly, with the added reps with the No. 1 offense while Allen Robinson was held out for knee rehab, then working with Robinson in a variety of packages, White had developed a positive relationship with Mitch Trubisky; the two worked out together in California, and quarterbacks have a warm spot for 6-3 receivers with downfield speed.

But White played just two snaps against Seattle, down from 12 at Green Bay, and he has yet to be thrown a pass after consistently earning plaudits from coaches through the off- and preseason.

“I think that’s just how the game goes,” Nagy said. “Sometimes depending on whether it’s a slight injury to a wide receiver, a guy’s out of breath or tired, but there’s nothing either good or bad from that. It’s just the way it kind of played out.”

How White’s NFL future plays out is becoming increasingly problematic, and less and less likely to be in Chicago. Allen Robinson is signed for three years, Taylor Gabriel for four, and Anthony Miller’s rookie contract is for four. White went into this off- and preseason with a clean slate in the form of a new coaching staff. That slate still has 14 games remaining, but White doesn’t play special teams, and the only other players with fewer than 21 game snaps Monday were major special-teams contributors: Josh Bellamy, 2 snaps on offense, 18 on ‘teams; Ben Braunecker, 1 on offense, 19 on ‘teams; and Daniel Brown, 1 and 14.

Fourth-quarter’ing

The Bears can talk about finishing but their two opponents have combined for five fourth-quarter touchdowns, leading to the loss of a 20-point bulge and the game in Green Bay, and turning a 14-point lead over Seattle into a one-TD game. Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson have posted a combined passer rating of 98.4, up from an 89.9 for 2017. The Bears held the Seahawks to just 2-for-10 on third downs for three quarters, then had Seattle convert all three in the fourth quarter.

Neither the Packers nor Seahawks scored in their first quarters, but of the 41 teams scored against the Bears, 35 of them have been tallied in the fourth quarter.

Probably a jinx here, but special teams have been special

Pat O’Donnell’s job wasn’t all that secure after last season, the fourth in his four NFL seasons with a punting net less than 40 yards. The Bears re-signed him but just to a one-year contract and brought in rookie Ryan Winslow for preseason competition. O’Donnell rose to the challenge with a net of 41.7 yards on 12 punts, five yards longer than Winslow on his seven.

O’Donnell has kept his game on: nine punts with a 41.8-yard average net, and four of the kicks inside the 20. His work has combined to allow the Packers and Seahawks to return just two of eight punts, the inverse of the Bears, who’ve had Tarik Cohen return six of the eight caught.

The NFL has been awash in missed placekicks this year – 15 last weekend – and the Bears have had constant and serious kicker issues in the past few seasons, ever since cutting Robbie Gould, come to think of it. Conor Barth after Gould, then Cairo Santos and Mike Nugent and Cairo Santos brought in last year after Barth missed five of his 23 field-goal attempts.

Cody Parkey has made all five of his PAT’s and his four field-goal tries, although none longer than 33 yards. The results have made the Bears one of only 10 teams to be 100 percent in both field goals and extra points through two games.

Cubs offense appears to be heating up at the right time

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USA TODAY

Cubs offense appears to be heating up at the right time

The Cubs are nearing the end of a brutal stretch where they have reported to the ball park 30 days in a row. Naturally, as that stretch is nearing its end, the offense seems to be catching fire. 

After scoring just 15 runs in their previous seven games, the Cubs have scored a combined 14 runs in two games on 21 hits. They scored nine runs on Tuesday alone, beating the Diamondbacks 9-1 in Arizona.

Scoring nine runs in one game is a great sign, but the fact that the entire starting lineup is contributing is an even better one. Every player in Tuesday's starting lineup got at least one hit, minus starting pitcher Mike Montgomery. 

Daniel Murphy entered Tuesday hitting .191 in September that included a 3-for-26 stretch dating back to Sept. 8. Tuesday, he went 2-for-3 with a leadoff single and a two-run home run.

Javier Báez was in an 8-for-30 "slump" entering Tuesday that dated back to Sept. 8. He hit a two-run home run in the first inning, his second home run in as many days. Kris Bryant hit safely for the third straight game, while Ian Happ hit an RBI double from the ninth spot in the batting order.

Baby steps, people.

Jason Heyward made his first start since Aug. 30 on Tuesday, hitting a double and scoring on an RBI double by Happ. While Heyward exited after two at-bats, it was likely to not push him too hard as he comes back from a hamstring injury.

Heyward's return is important due to his defense, but also because of his .276 batting average and respectable .743 OPS. Adding him to the lineup, no matter where he hits, is only a good thing for the Cubs' offense. 

Willson Contreras is just 1-for-9 this series, but he has been driving the ball with authority. After posting a 19.6 percent hard contact rate in August (his lowest over an entire month all season), he has posted a 32 percent hard contact rate this month (entering Tuesday's game), according to Fangraphs.

With 11 games to go, the Cubs now hold a 3.5 game lead over the Brewers for first place in the NL Central. Their magic number to win the division dropped to 8 following Tuesday's win and the Brewers 3-1 loss to the Reds.

Talks of fatigue have surrounded the Cubs recently due to their current 30-day stretch without a day off. The fact that the offense has scored as much as it has this series is quite ironic; perhaps the team sees the light at the end of the tunnel? 

Fatigue or not, the Cubs have to like they way the offense is trending as the regular season comes to a close.