White Sox

Theo Epstein says Cubs will grind through tough start

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Theo Epstein says Cubs will grind through tough start

Near the end of spring training, Theo Epstein told beat reporters that he could write their stories for them. The Cubs president of baseball operations already saw their angles.

Epstein didn't know when it was coming, but at some point he predicted the headlines would scream: The honeymoon is over.

The city isn't there yet, even if the Cubs had lost five of their first six games. As much as fans will demand to see Epstein riding on a float down Michigan Avenue, deep down they seem resigned that 2012 will be a bridge year.

Epstein watched batting practice from behind the cage on Thursday at Wrigley Field and then walked into the Cubs dugout.

Holding a dark suit jacket in his hands, the collar to his white dress shirt open, Epstein declined when a reporter jokingly asked him to write the lede.

"No, we've been in every game," Epstein said. "We just got to grind through it. These things even out."

A few hours later, almost everything fell into place in an 8-0 win over the Milwaukee Brewers. A lineup that had scored 19 runs in the season's first six games dropped eight on Cy Young winner Zack Greinke and went 7-for-12 with runners in scoring position.

There was Alfonso Soriano flicking a broken-bat, two-run single into right field, then stealing second base and crossing home plate with dirt covering the front of his uniform.

There was Matt Garza, one out away from a complete-game shutout, firing the ball into the seats behind first base. Who writes this stuff?

"No, I'm not discouraged about anything," Epstein said. "We just got to keep grinding. We faced some pretty good pitching. We haven't really locked in our approach yet. Our right-on-right performance hasn't been exemplary yet, but we'll get there.

"We got to make things tougher on opposing starters. It's tough to win games when they can be as efficient as they've been. Even early in the season, with the lower pitch counts, it keeps them in the games late. When you go starting pitcher, setup guy, closer, it's tough to win.

"You got to try to get into the other end of their bullpen. You do that by grinding at-bats, seeing pitches, having a disciplined approach. So we'll get there. We're a week into the season. We're finding our way."

No, the Cubs aren't relentless like those Boston Red Sox teams that used to grind out at-bats and play deep into October. You can't just rewire this lineup, flip a switch and expect it to be patient.

But the rotation has been better than advertised, and you've noticed how aggressive the Cubs have been on the bases. Dale Sveum projected calm after the bullpen meltdowns and doesn't carry himself like a first-year manager.

That's why catcher Geovany Soto pointed out they're only one pitch away, and second baseman Darwin Barney said you don't pull the chute in Week 1.

"Yeah, we've had a couple nights where we haven't had the best of luck," Garza said. "But I'll take the way we're playing over anything right now. The record might not show it, but we're playing good baseball.

"We're running out balls. We're making other teams panic. We're pitching, throwing strikes, playing catch.

"That's good baseball right there. The hits and the offense will come. But as long as we keep pitching and playing defense, we'll be all right."

Epstein has promised that his front office will block out all the noise on talk radio and shrug off what's written online and in the newspapers. The sky is falling in Boston, where the Red Sox also woke up on Thursday with a 1-5 record.

"Tough starts are always amplified," Epstein said, "no matter where you are, because there's no reference point for anybody when you're that early in the season.

"When teams have tough weeks at the start of the season, it gets a lot more attention than it would if it was the middle of August somewhere. No matter what team you're talking about, they're getting into the grind of the season.

"I'm not going to talk about another team, other than to say, 'Hey, they have a ton of time, they'll be fine.'"

The Red Sox will be celebrating Fenway Park's 100th anniversary on April 20. Every ex-player and manager has been invited to that game against the New York Yankees, for what should be a blowout ceremony.

This week Terry Francona told Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy that he has no interest in attending. The former manager felt like his reputation was stained by anonymous sources on the way out of town last year.

Epstein grew up not far from Yawkey Way and helped build two teams that won World Series titles and changed New England forever. Will he be there?

"No, we have a game that night," Epstein said.

Yeah, Tim Anderson's got a lot of errors, but he's also making plays like this

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USA TODAY

Yeah, Tim Anderson's got a lot of errors, but he's also making plays like this

Yeah, Tim Anderson's got a lot of errors. But he's also making plays like this.

Anderson does have a ton of errors, 20 of them, to be precise, a total greater than any player in baseball. He's committed at least 20 errors in each of his last three seasons, and in four major league seasons he's got 82 of them.

None of that should cancel out the great defensive improvement we saw from Anderson over the course of last season. Just because he's making a lot of errors doesn't mean he's not a good fielder, as the frequent eye-popping defensive plays he makes should illustrate.

The outside focus on Anderson this season has been on almost everything besides the defense: the offense, the attitude, the high ankle sprain, the evolution into one of this young team's leaders. All that's deserved, of course. That injured-list stay has him just outside of qualified status, and if he had it he'd own one of the highest batting averages in the American League. But defense remains a high priority for Anderson, who said he practices plays like the one from Friday night all the time.

"That's stuff I practice on," he said Saturday. "I go out before the game and I practice on those things, and I think it's starting to show now. And people are watching."

"He’s really, really good because he gets to balls most people won’t and then he completes a play like that," manager Rick Renteria said. "He’s been doing that quite a bit now for over two years. You really tip your cap to him and Joe (McEwing, White Sox infield coach), who has been steadfast working with him. For Timmy to take it upon himself to want to be the best at what he does, he continues to work very, very hard and play like that. It’s becoming a staple play like that for him in the hole."

It's true, we've seen that play an awful lot from Anderson this season, even if he was particularly and ridiculously deep Friday night.

According to Renteria, Anderson's range might be one of the reasons he's accumulated more errors than most.

"Anybody that can get to more balls than most people and have more chances (racks up more errors)," Renteria said. "Some of those plays, they are able to extend themselves to make those plays and they are not necessarily in the best position possible. But they are still capable of, with body control, trying to execute some plays.

"I think overall the more balls you can get to, the more chances you have, there’s a great chance of increasing errors — especially at shortstop, where he covers a lot of ground."

Those who watch Anderson on a nightly basis know that his error total doesn't define him as a defender at shortstop. They know he makes a ton of plays that few other shortstops make. But there will be those who scan the statistics at the end of the season and see all those errors and jump to their own conclusions.

That error total, whatever it ends up being, doesn't need to come with an asterisk. But maybe a link to some of the highlight-reel plays would be helpful.

Anderson's season deserves all the praise it's received for his offensive breakout, his excitement-generating bat flips and his rise as one of the young leaders in a group primed for such a bright future.

But remember the defense. It's a big part of what makes him a core player for this White Sox team.

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WATCH: Nick Kwiatkoski bolsters his case for backup ILB spot with nice sack

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@ChicagoBears

WATCH: Nick Kwiatkoski bolsters his case for backup ILB spot with nice sack

The Bears' are still aren't sure who their backup inside linebackers are, and it's one of the positions Matt Nagy has his eye on tonight. 

Cue Nick Kwiatkoski, who's had an up-and-down preseason so far. Midway through the 1st quarter, Chuck Pagano sent him on a blitz:

It's a nice move from the fourth-year pro, who is battling with Joel Iyiegbuniwe, Josh Woods, and Kevin Pierre-Louis for the backup role.