Cubs

Red Sox continue historic collapse

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Red Sox continue historic collapse

From Comcast SportsNet Thursday, September 22, 2011
BOSTON (AP) -- Boos poured down on the struggling Red Sox as they left the field after their latest loss. In the clubhouse, it was quiet as they packed for their final road trip -- and perhaps their last games -- of the year. The Red Sox road to the playoffs hit more rough spots when they blew another late lead, falling to the Baltimore Orioles 6-4 on Wednesday night, their 14th loss in 18 games. Boston's lead in the AL wild-card race increased by a half game to 2 when the Tampa Bay Rays lost a doubleheader to the New York Yankees. But the Red Sox seemed stunned by their collapse, with blank looks on their faces and little expression in their voices. "We certainly haven't made it very easy for ourselves," manager Terry Francona said. "That doesn't mean we can't get where we want to go, but we have our work cut out for us." Vladimir Guerrero hit a two-run single in the eighth inning that broke a 4-all tie. Then the Red Sox went meekly in the last two innings, failing to get a hit and ending on Jed Lowrie's soft grounder to pitcher Jim Johnson. The Red Sox led Tampa Bay by nine games on Sept. 3. Now they also must hold off the Los Angeles Angels, who also are 2 games out in the AL wild-card race after beating Toronto 7-2 on Wednesday. The Red Sox have six games left -- three at Yankee Stadium and three at Baltimore. Tampa Bay has seven remaining -- four against the Yankees and three against Toronto. Can the Red Sox, who straightened out their season after losing their first six games and 10 of their first 12, do it again? "I think I can answer that better next Wednesday" after the regular-season finale, Francona said. "I'm not in a very good mood right now. We just lost a game, you know. We've lost a lot of games. We're going to have to fight for everything we get the rest of the way." Ace Josh Beckett started for Boston, hoping to put more distance between Boston and the Rays. Beckett (13-6) allowed just one hit through five innings as the Red Sox built a 4-1 lead. But he gave up a run in the sixth and two more in the seventh on Mark Reynolds' second homer that tied the game. "I kept thinking when we kept it at 4-2, I thought we could get a big hit and we did," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. In the eighth, Beckett gave up a single to J.J. Hardy and a double to Nick Markakis. Alfredo Aceves relieved with runners at second and third, then gave up Guerrero's hard, two-run single to center field. "You want to pitch good all year long, but especially whenever your team needs you," Beckett said. "You need to give them innings and quality innings and that was something I wasn't able to do." One night before Boston's best starter faltered, star closer Jonathan Papelbon blew a save chance for only the second time this season when he gave up a three-run double to Robert Andino in the eighth that gave Baltimore a 7-5 win. Clay Rapada (2-0) got the win on Wednesday and Johnson earned his ninth save in 14 chances -- his third in as many days against Boston. "It's pretty tough," Beckett said. "I wish I could have done better today. Things didn't work out. I got away with some pitches early and I didn't get away with them later on." Carl Crawford, who has struggled most of the season after signing a seven-year, 142 million contract, had a single, double and triple for Boston and drove in two runs. "That'll be welcome if he wants to get real hot like he can," Francona said. "That'll really help us." Reynolds hit a solo homer in the second before Boston tied the game in the third on a triple by Crawford and an RBI groundout by Jason Varitek. Crawford gave the Red Sox a 3-1 lead in the fourth with a two-run double after a single by Adrian Gonzalez and a double by Dustin Pedroia. Consecutive singles by Mike Aviles, Gonzalez and David Ortiz made it 4-1 in the fifth against Tommy Hunter, who left the game with two outs in the seventh with a strained right groin. "It got pretty tight," Hunter said. "It's one of those things that's been lingering all year. I'm glad I didn't throw another pitch." The Orioles added a run in the sixth when Andino singled, stole second and scored on a single by Hardy. They tied it in the seventh when Matt Wieters singled and was forced out at second on a grounder by Adam Jones before Reynolds hit his 36th homer of the season -- his second of the game over the Green Monster in left field. "It's pretty tough," Beckett said. "I wish I could have done better today. Things didn't work out." NOTES: Reynolds tied a career-high with two homers in a game. It was the fifth time he did it this season and the 12th time in his career. ... After a day off on Thursday, the Red Sox begin a season-ending six-game road trip with Jon Lester (15-8) facing the New York Yankees in the opener of a three-game series on Friday night. Boston finishes the season with a three-game series in Baltimore starting Monday. ... With two hits, Gonzalez passed Mo Vaughn for the most hits in a season by a Red Sox first baseman. Gonzalez has 208, one more than Vaughn had in 1996. ... Jacoby Ellsbury got a hit for his 33rd consecutive game against Baltimore. It's the longest hitting streak against the Orioles franchise and the longest by a Red Sox player against any team.

"He belongs here": What to expect from top prospect Adbert Alzolay's first major league start

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USA Today

"He belongs here": What to expect from top prospect Adbert Alzolay's first major league start

A big part of the Cubs’ MO during the Epstein Era has been the team’s reliance on veteran pitchers. Whether it’s Jon Lester’s cutter, Cole Hamels’ changeup, or Jose Quintana’s sinker, it’s been a while since other teams have had to step into the box against a Cubs starter without much of a scouting report. On the surface, uncertainty from a starting pitcher may sound like a bad thing, but it’s that same apprehension that makes Cubs’ prospect Adbert Alzolay’s first major league start so exciting. 

“There’s energy when you know the guy’s good,” Joe Maddon said before Tuesday’s game. “There’s absolutely energy to be derived. But there’s also curiosity. Let’s see if this is real or not. I think he answered that call.” 

The good news for Alzolay and the Cubs is that much of the usual baggage that comes with one’s first major league start is already out of the way. All of the milestones that can get into a young pitchers head -- first strikeout, first hit, first home run allowed, etc -- took place during Alzolay’s four-inning relief appearance back against the Mets on June 20th. 

“I want to believe that that would help,” Maddon added. “It was probably one of the best ways you could break in someone like that. We had just the ability to do it because of the way our pitching was set up, and I think going into tonight’s game, there’s less unknown for him.”

It also helps that Alzolay will have fellow Venezuelan countryman Willson Contreras behind the plate calling his first game. There’s even a sense of novelty from Contreras’ end too. 

“[Catching someone’s debut] is really fun for me,” he said on Tuesday. “It’s a big challenge for me today. I’m looking forward to it. I’m really proud of Alzolay, and I know where he comes from - I know him from Venezuela. It’s going to be fun.”

Tuesday's plan for Alzolay doesn’t involve a specific innings limit. Maddon plans to let the rookie go as long as he can before he “gets extended, or comes out of his delivery,” as the manager put it. On the mound, he’s a flyball pitcher with good control that works quickly. Expect to see a healthy dosage of 4-seamers that sit in the mid-90’s alongside a curveball and changeup that have both seen improvements this year. 

Against the Mets, it was his changeup was the most effective strikeout pitch he had going, with three of his five K’s coming that way. It’s typically not considered his best offspeed offering, but as Theo Epstein put it on Monday afternoon, “[Alzolay] was probably too amped and throwing right through the break,” of his curveball that day.  

It’s obviously good news for the Cubs if he continues to flash three plus pitches, long the barometer of a major league starter versus a bullpen guy. Even if he doesn’t quite have the feel for all three yet, it’s his beyond-the-years demeanor that has those within the organization raving. 

“The confidence he showed during his first time on the mound, as a young pitcher, that’s a lot,” Contreras said. “That’s who he can be, and the command that he has of his pitches is good, especially when he’s able to go to his third pitch.” 

Akiem Hicks reveals what makes him so good against the run

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USA TODAY

Akiem Hicks reveals what makes him so good against the run

Akiem Hicks finally earned the recognition he deserved in 2018 with his first trip to the Pro Bowl, and playing on the NFL’s No. 1 defense provided the national attention he should have received in his first two years with the Bears.

He’s a solid interior pass rusher, but where he dominates is in run defense, leading the NFL in run stops last season according to Pro Football Focus.

When Hicks beats an offensive lineman at the line of scrimmage to make a big tackle in the backfield, it’s a work of art, and he revealed the secret to those flashy plays on NFL Game Pass.

He broke down the film of a play against the Green Bay Packers where he beats center Corey Linsley because he knew right guard Jordan McCray was going to pull to the left.

“I read it before the snap happens. I know that McCray is going to pull just based off his stance,” Hicks said. “I know his stance for every play that he’s going to do. I’m going to be at least 75 percent right.”

Hicks looks at how much weight an offensive lineman is putting on his hand, how far apart his legs are and how much bend is in his hips.

“If you do your due-diligence as a defensive lineman and prepare like a professional during the week, you’re going to know,” Hicks said.

Any little deviation from a normal stance is an indicator to Hicks of what the play is going to be, and that pre-snap knowledge keeps him a step ahead of the blocker in front of him.

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