White Sox

Ray Lewis' career isn't over just yet...

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Ray Lewis' career isn't over just yet...

From Comcast SportsNetBALTIMORE (AP) -- The Baltimore Ravens wanted one long final ride for Ray Lewis.They also wanted Denver. They got it.Having disposed of Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts, they now face a far more imposing challenge -- Peyton Manning and the streaking Broncos.Anquan Boldin set a franchise record with 145 yards receiving, including the clinching touchdown in the Ravens' 24-9 victory Sunday over the Colts in an AFC wild-card game. The win delays star linebacker Lewis' retirement for at least another week as Baltimore (11-6) heads to top-seeded Denver (13-3) next Saturday.The Broncos beat the Ravens 34-17 three weeks ago."I wanted Denver," Boldin said, "because they beat us."We'll make it different."And he wanted the Broncos because it prolongs the Ravens' pursuit of their first NFL title since the 2000 season, when Lewis won the first of two Defensive Player of the Year awards."I came to Baltimore to win a championship," Boldin added. "We all did."Lewis, who made 13 tackles Sunday, ended his last home game in Baltimore at fullback, of all things, for the final kneel-down. He then went into a short version of his trademark dance before being mobbed by teammates.He followed with a victory lap, his right arm, covered by a brace, held high in salute to the fans after playing for the first time since tearing his right triceps on Oct. 14 against Dallas."My only focus was to come in and get my team a win. Nothing else was planned," the 37-year-old Lewis said. "It's one of those things, when you recap it all and try to say what is one of your greatest moments."I knew how it started but I never knew how it would end here in Baltimore. To go the way it did today, I wouldn't change nothing."He would like nothing more than to change past results against Manning, who was 2-0 in the postseason against Baltimore while with the Colts."It's on to the next one," the 17-year veteran said. "We saw them earlier in the year and now we get them back again, but with all of our guns back."The loss ended the Colts' turnaround season in which they went from 2-14 to the playoffs in coach Chuck Pagano's first year in Indianapolis (11-6). Pagano missed 12 weeks while undergoing treatment for leukemia and returned last week.He was upbeat following the defeat to the team he served as an assistant coach for four years."The foundation is set, and we said we were going to build one on rock and not on sand," Pagano said. "You weather storms like this and you learn from times like this."Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, who went 9-3 as interim coach, was absent Sunday after being hospitalized with an undisclosed illness. Pagano said Arians "is fine" and would stay overnight for observation before rejoining the Colts on Monday.Quarterback coach Clyde Christensen called the plays, but Baltimore's suddenly revitalized defense -- inspired by Lewis' pending retirement, no doubt -- never let standout rookie QB Luck get comfortable."It's great making the playoffs, but you can't make mistakes and expect to beat a playoff team like we did," said Luck, who was sacked three times, Paul Kruger getting 2 of those. "We'll have to look back at those and hopefully fix them."Sunday's victory enhanced the Ravens' success rate in opening playoff games. Flacco now has won at least one postseason game in all five of his pro seasons, the only quarterback to do it in the Super Bowl era.His main target Sunday was Boldin, who had receptions of 50 and 46 yards, plus his 18-yard TD on a floater from Flacco in the corner of the end zone with 9:14 to go."I told (Flacco) before the game I was going to get 200 yards," Boldin said with a chuckle."It's huge for us. It's huge for this city, they've supported us this entire year and they expect a lot from us. In return, we want to give it to them."Baltimore overcame the first two lost fumbles of the season by Ray Rice, too, as John Harbaugh became the only head coach in the Super Bowl era with wins in his first five playoff campaigns.Backup halfback Bernard Pierce rescued Rice with a 43-yard burst that led to Boldin's touchdown, and ran for 103 yards.Flacco also connected with Dennis Pitta for a 20-yard TD and rookie Justin Tucker made a 23-yard field goal.Indy's only points came on three field goals by Adam Vinatieri, from 47, 52 and 26 yards. Luck completed 28 of 54 passes for 288 yards. It was the most attempts by a rookie in a playoff game.Reggie Wayne had 114 yards on nine receptions and moved into second in career playoff catches with 92 -- 59 behind leader Jerry Rice. But the Colts, who moved from Baltimore to Indianapolis in 1984 -- they still are despised here -- became the second NFL team to improve to 11 wins following a two-win season and then lose in the opening round of the playoffs.The Ravens also beat the 2008 Dolphins in a similar scenario.Both teams were sloppy early on, with Rice losing a fumble, Lewis dropping a potential interception, and Luck being stripped of the ball on a sack.But Rice atoned with a 47-yard gain on a screen pass, leading to Vonta Leach's 2-yard touchdown.That Pro Bowl backfield was bolstered by the kick returns of another Pro Bowl player, Jacoby Jones. He gained 60 yards on kickoff runbacks and 57 on punt returns.Vinatieri, familiar with big kicks in the playoffs after winning two Super Bowls for New England with field goals, made a 47-yarder in the second quarter, a 52-yarder as the first half expired, and a 26-yarder near the end of the third period. But he also missed a 40-yarder wide right, his first miss against Baltimore after 18 successes.NOTES:Ravens LB Dannell Ellerbe sprained an ankle late in the game. The Ravens didn't specify which ankle. ... Harbaugh is 6-4 in playoff games, as is Flacco. ... Rice finished with 70 yards rushing and Flacco threw for 282. ... Rookie Vick Ballard rushed for 91 yards for Indy. ... Colts T Winston Justice injured his arm.

Rick Renteria wants you to be ready for the White Sox to win in 2020: 'People, have expectations'

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USA TODAY

Rick Renteria wants you to be ready for the White Sox to win in 2020: 'People, have expectations'

SAN DIEGO — Rick Renteria isn’t shy about what he wants for his White Sox.

No, he’s not out there on Twitter, demanding the front office adds Gerrit Cole, Anthony Rendon, Nicholas Castellanos and Dallas Keuchel. But every chance he gets, he talks about where he expects his team to be in 2020.

“We left the season last year, the last series of the year, talking about this year, what we were going to expect and what we wanted to do and the things that we want to accomplish,” the skipper said Tuesday at the Winter Meetings. “Obviously winning more games and being a part of a relevant season is important to us, so we're going to ask a lot of these guys.

“It's time. We talked about it being time. Guys are going to have to step it up. We've made tremendous strides, made growth, but we still have to continue to add pieces to put us over the top to give us an opportunity to be relevant.”

Don’t misconstrue those words as Renteria poking his front office. Rick Hahn & Co. know very well they’ve got more work to do in the wake of giving the richest contract in team history to free-agent catcher Yasmani Grandal.

But a generally silent first two days at the Winter Meetings — there is a rumor suggesting the White Sox are trying to trade for Texas Rangers outfielder Nomar Mazara — have not lived up to the sky-high expectations of fans, who anticipated hearing the South Siders tied to the biggest names on the free-agent market.

Because the White Sox have been so quiet, it’s hard to figure out what new toys Renteria will have to play with in 2020. It’s hard to figure out if the White Sox will even be ready to leap into contender status by the time March rolls around.

That doesn’t seem to matter to Renteria, though, who was talking about the 2020 postseason while still wrapping up an 89-loss season in 2019. He’s instructing the fan base to start thinking the same way.

“People, have expectations,” he instructed. “Have them on me. Have them on our team. Have them on everyone.

“What scares me is if people don't have expectations. That scares me because then it means you're not striving to be better. We want to be better. We want our guys to improve.”

The idea that all the young White Sox who broke out in 2019 still have a good deal of growing and improving to do is what makes the future so bright on the South Side. And it’s what drew Grandal to sign with the team. It’s what Hahn says should make the White Sox a destination for all free agents.

Renteria agrees.

“There's no one, I don't think, that we've talked to, even toward the end of last year and even people that we've spoken to in terms of possibly coming here that don't see where we're at right now,” Renteria said. “I think there is an optimism and an excitement about the South Side right now that is legit. I don't think it's made up. It's not. It's real.”

As Hahn has alluded to for some time now, any skeptical fans out there likely won’t believe the White Sox have arrived as contenders until they see it, be it through the huge splashes of offseason additions or the fusion of the young core into a true force to be reckoned with. Rumors of reclamation-project outfielders and stopgap solutions in the starting rotation aren’t exactly bringing folks to Renteria’s level of excitement.

But any stretches of offseason inactivity shouldn’t make anyone forget about Yoan Moncada or Lucas Giolito or Tim Anderson or Eloy Jimenez or Luis Robert or Nick Madrigal. Or, you know, Grandal.

That’s what’s real. That’s what’s got Renteria so excited.

Playoffs? A Jim Mora style reaction to that question wouldn’t be unwarranted. But Renteria is asking you to dream bigger.

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Cubs still trying to break through on extension talks with current players

Cubs still trying to break through on extension talks with current players

SAN DIEGO — While the rest of the baseball world is occupying their time on free agent signings and trades, the Cubs have been waiting for their number to be called.

They've been trying to nail down extensions with key players that are only a couple years away from free agency, though nothing appears imminent on that front. 

Kris Bryant, Javy Baez, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber are all free agents after the 2021 season, leaving the Cubs two years to work out a deal or trade the player before losing them for nothing but a compensation pick. Willson Contreras is a free agent after 2022. Theo Epstein's front office reached a four-year, $55.5 million deal with Kyle Hendricks in spring training, extending his team control through the 2023 season.

The Cubs won't comment specifically on the current extension talks, but they'd ideally hope to wrap anything before spring training this year, so the players can focus solely on baseball by then.

"We always take the position of not commenting on extensions, but are we having those discussions? Yes," Jed Hoyer said Tuesday. "People focus so much on trades and free agent signings at these meetings, but all the agents are under the same roofs, also, and allows us to have those kinds of discussions. I'm not gonna specify who or what, but yeah certainly those conversations are ongoing."

Bryant has long been thought of as the toughest of the group to lock up long-term given that his agent, Scott Boras, typically advises clients to hit the open market and maximize their value. Boras reiterated Tuesday afternoon at the Winter Meetings he and Bryant are still open to extension talks with the Cubs.

Baez and Rizzo loom as the two most likely to extend their Wrigley Field stays, with the two emerging as the faces of the franchise in their own ways.

As the Cubs try to navigate an offseason where they're "serving two masters" (trying to compete in 2020-21 while also enhancing the long-term future of the franchise), a potential extension would check both boxes in a major way. If Hoyer and Theo Epstein knew Baez would be locking down shortstop and the middle of the lineup for the next six seasons, they could breathe a bit easier thinking about the big picture and long-term health of the franchise. 

At the same time, they can't operate as if anything is a certainty. Bryant could decide he likes the Cubs' offer and make Chicago his forever baseball home. Baez could conclude the opposite. 

It's what makes this particular offseason so tricky for the Cubs.

"We have to be able to have parallel tracks in our mind," Hoyer said. "We have to be able to do multiple things at once. It doesn't make it more difficult. We have a lot of really good players. We've had them for a long time. When we talk to these players about contracts, there's no player that we talk to that we haven't had a conversation with at some point before about a contract. 

"We've talked about these players for five years in some way, shape or form. When we sit down with these players, we're not covering a ton of new ground. We've already been over a lot of it. I think we're able to have parallel tracks."