Cubs

Saints coach, GM take blame for the bounty scandal

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Saints coach, GM take blame for the bounty scandal

From Comcast SportsNet
Almost a week after the NFL pointed to them for failing to stop a bounty program involving some two dozen Saints players, coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis apologized and took the blame for violations that "happened under our watch." "These are serious violations and we understand the negative impact it has had on our game," Payton and Loomis added. "Both of us have made it clear within our organization that this will never happen again, and make that same promise to the NFL and most importantly to all of our fans," Payton and Loomis said in a joint statement Tuesday. Payton and Loomis also said New Orleans owner Tom Benson "had nothing to do" with the bounty pool. "We acknowledge that the violations disclosed by the NFL during their investigation of our club happened under our watch. We take full responsibility," they said. The league's investigation, released last Friday, said the bounty program was funded primarily by players for the past three seasons and was overseen by former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. He admitted to running the program and apologized within hours after the report surfaced. The NFL said it confirmed Benson was unaware of the program, and that he told Loomis to stop it immediately, but that Loomis did not. The league also said Payton, though not directly involved, was aware of the bounty pool, but did nothing to stop it. Williams now is defensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams. He met with NFL security officials on Monday as part of the league's ongoing investigation. Once it concludes -- the league says there is no timetable -- Roger Goodell likely will hand out the stiffest penalties of his 5 years as commissioner. Goodell has frequently taken a hard line on any action that threatens player safety. He suspended Detroit's Ndamukong Suh for two games for stomping on an opponent last season; banned Pittsburgh's James Harrison for one game after a series of flagrant hits that culminated in a collision with Cleveland quarterback Colt McCoy's helmet; and has ramped up the amount of fines for what the league terms "egregious hits." NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said before handing out any penalties, Goodell will review the information with his staff and consult with others, including the union and player leaders. The players' union has not seen a full report of the investigation, so it can't be certain if Goodell will levy punishment under the on-field discipline or the personal conduct policy. There's a major distinction, because players can appeal on-field punishment to independent arbitrators Art Shell and Ted Cottrell. Appeals under the personal conduct policy are heard by Goodell and other league officials. "The commissioner has broad authority to impose discipline for violation of league rules. We're not going to put it in a category right now," Aiello said. The NFL hasn't cited specific players, but fines and suspensions are probable for those found to have participated in the bounty program. "We take this issue seriously and we continue to look into it," union spokesman George Atallah said. Goodell fined the New England Patriots 250,000 and their coach, Bill Belichick, 500,000 for the Spygate scandal in 2007, when the team was caught illegally videotaping the Jets' sideline. New England also was stripped of a first-round draft pick. That violation pales in comparison to a bounty of up to 50,000 over the last three seasons that rewarded players for knocking targeted opponents out of games. The Saints can expect heavier sanctions than those given the Patriots, with suspensions likely for Loomis and Payton and a seven-figure fine for the organization. "I don't think there can be a limited focus -- if the league only is looking to penalize players and coaches," said George Martin, executive director of NFL Alumni and a former player, adding: "It is kind of shocking it still goes on in this time and age. "The organization has to take responsibility for it because it took place under their jurisdiction," he said. "The league needs to do whatever it takes in the way of discipline to make sure this is stemmed." John Lynch, an outstanding safety for 16 seasons, once was fined 75,000 for a hit on Indianapolis tight end Dallas Clark. Lynch was one of the hardest and surest tacklers in the NFL. He is just as sure that Goodell will hand out hefty punishments. "I would expect this to be pretty severe and harsh because of the direction the commissioner has taken in making player safety if not his top initiative, then one of them," Lynch said. "If this is true, as blatant as this is, and to have a coach out there saying, You knock this guy out of the game. Get him taken off on a cart. Here is the monetary reward,' you need a severe and harsh punishment." That coach has been identified by the league as Williams, who could face a year's suspension and a six-figure fine. Maybe more. The Rams would not say Tuesday what duties Williams currently is performing. "Coach Williams has shown contrition for his actions and continues to cooperate with the NFL in this investigation," Rams GM Kevin Demoff told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "Out of respect for the NFL's ongoing process, we will refrain from commenting until the league has come to a final decision on all aspects of this matter." Williams could turn to the NFL Coaches Association for help. Its executive director, David Cornwell, was concerned about individual coaches being singled out. "As this matter unfolds," Cornwell said, "I will work with our executive committee to protect the interests of individual coaches without compromising the NFLCA's fundamental belief that fair play and sportsmanship begins with the men who teach the game."

Cubs feel Yu Darvish is 'on a mission' to return and provide boost in pennant race

Cubs feel Yu Darvish is 'on a mission' to return and provide boost in pennant race

Yu Darvish cursed and snapped his head in frustration.

He had just spiked a fastball in the dirt to Cubs backup catcher Victor Caratini as Tuesday morning's sim game was winding down.

A couple moments later, Darvish fluttered one of his patented eephus pitches way up and out to Caratini and again let an expletive slip out.

Darvish threw about 55 pitches in three "innings" worth of a simulated game (meaning he sat down and rested for a few moments in between each "inning") while facing Caratini and David Bote with a host of onlookers including a gaggle of Chicago media, Joe Maddon and his maroon Levi's and Van's kicks, Theo Epstein and a group of Cubs coaches.

"It was good," Epstein said minutes after Darvish wrapped it up. "He was competing well out there, spinning the ball really well. Maybe his best spin of the year. That was good to see.

"We'll see how he feels tomorrow, but seems like he's just about ready for the next step, which should be rehab games."

Nobody knows how many rehab outings Darvish may need at this point and there's still no timetable for when the Cubs will get him back in the rotation. 

Epstein acknowledged that at this point in the season — with less than seven weeks left until playoffs begin — the Cubs have just one shot to make this work with Darvish. Any setback now is essentially the dagger in any hopes of a comeback.

You can get giddy about the spin rate all you want, but the real telling sign to the Cubs was Darvish's attitude. Instead of worrying about his arm or any lingering pain out there, he was getting pissed at himself for missing spots as he started to tire in the sim game.

It was a sign to both Epstein and Maddon that Darvish is getting back in the right head space to return to a big-league field in the middle of a tight pennant race.

"I think he wants it," Epstein said. "The guys that are around him every day feel like he's really eager to get out there and compete. Even in the sim game today, when Vic had a good swing on the fastball, he came back on the next one a little bit harder and was mixing all his pitches.

"He's going about his business like someone who's on a mission to come back and help this team."

Maddon concurred.

"Totally engaged, looked really good, was not holding back," the Cubs skipper said. "...We were all very impressed."

All that being said, the Cubs still aren't in a place where they feel confident enough to just plug Darvish back into the rotation for the final few weeks of September and into October (assuming they make it there). 

Darvish has said himself he feels like he turned a corner a couple weeks ago and is back in a good place physically.

Still, his journey back has already experienced several hiccups and there's no telling everything will be perfect from here.

At the end of the day, Maddon and his staff have no choice but to try to win ballgames with the guys who are on their active roster and can't worry about what "might be" with Darvish, Kris Bryant, Brandon Morrow or even Drew Smyly.

Of course, getting those guys back healthy would be a heck of a boon to this Cubs team, but it's not something they can count on.

"I don't think you ever get to that point," Epstein said. "... Anytime a player's injured, there's a certain probability that he returns and on a certain timetable and there's a spectrum of outcomes when he comes back. From being significantly better than he was before he went down to performing the same to not being effective.

"None of us can predict exactly what the outcome is gonna be, so you have to be prepared for all the possible outcomes. You never want the performance of any one player to be the linchpin of the success of the club. Because if you are, you're being irresponsible and setting yourself up to fail.

"At the same time, you're never gonna be as good as you might be if one of your most talented players returns and returns in really good form. We're hopeful and we're trying to do everything we can to put him in a position to succeed and right now, there've been a lot of good signs, which is certainly better than where we were six weeks ago."

Brewers' faltering bullpen not doing them favors in NL Central race

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USA TODAY

Brewers' faltering bullpen not doing them favors in NL Central race

At a time when the Cubs are missing their closer and continuing to hold their lead on the division anyway, the Brewers are in a very different place. 

Coming in to a short but weighty series at Wrigley Field, Milwaukee has dropped two games via bullpen meltdown in their last four. Corey Knebel, who saved 39 games for the Brewers in 2017 with a 1.93 ERA, has seen much more limited time in the closer's role this year. But getting him right will probably make the difference for Milwaukee down the stretch.

"It’s important that we get him going," Brewers manager Craig Counsell told reporters before Tuesday's game. "Getting Corey on track is probably the bigger equation in this that kind of normalizes the bullpen."

Last Thursday, Knebel loaded the bases in the 9th when Milwaukee was leading, 4-2, and eventually left for Joakim Soria after allowing a run on a single. This set the stage for Hunter Renfroe's grand slam that cost the Brewers the game. In his next appearance, Knebel pitched in the 5th inning against the Braves and gave up a run in Milwaukee's eventual 8-7 loss.

Without a reliable Knebel, the Brewers have had to play mix and match with their bullpen, a recipe that doesn't usually work. It's been successful so far for the Cubs in the absence of Morrow, but that hasn't been the case for Milwaukee lately. 

The Brewers acquired Joakim Soria from the White Sox on July 26 in hopes of shoring up their bullpen, but after giving up the grand slam to Renfroe last week, Soria hit the DL with a right quadriceps strain. Counsell said that it isn't likely for Soria to return very soon, however.

"We’re not going to be at 10 days, I’ll tell you that," Counsell said, adding that Soria is still only doing stationary bike work at this point.

But help might be on the way. Taylor Williams, who was placed on the 10-day disabled list on August 3, is eligible to return. For now, the Brewers opted to keep outfielder Keon Broxton on the roster, but Williams could prove to be a boon for the Milwaukee reliever corps. Before being shelved, he was averaging more than a strikeout per inning. 

Otherwise, the Brewers have Matt Albers rehabbing in Biloxi, Mississippi, where they plan to let him appear in at least a couple games before activating him.

Milwaukee has a chance to cut the division lead to a single game these next two days, but without a reliable bullpen, that could prove especially difficult.