Cubs

Tim Tebow does it again

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Tim Tebow does it again

From Comcast SportsNet

DENVER (AP) -- "Pull the trigger," John Elway told his Denver Broncos star, Tim Tebow, trying to shake the quarterback from a three-game funk. Tebow went one better -- he pulled off an upset. A rejuvenated Tebow connected with Demaryius Thomas on an electrifying 80-yard touchdown pass on the first play of overtime and the Broncos defeated the stunned Pittsburgh Steelers 29-23 in the AFC wild-card game on Sunday. Wild doesn't begin to describe it. The play took 11 seconds and was the quickest ending to an overtime in NFL history. It was also the longest overtime touchdown in playoff history. Thomas hauled in a high play-action pass at the Denver 38, stiff-armed Ike Taylor and then outraced backup safety Ryan Mundy to the end zone. "I was just saying, Man trust your speed. Trust your speed. Don't cut back. Don't cut back.' And he kept it straight. He outran the guy," said Willis McGahee, whose fourth-quarter fumble helped Pittsburgh tie it. "I was like, Oh my God, is he still running?' Please just go. Please. Please." Tebow, who had done next to nothing in the second half after a 20-point explosion in the second quarter, looked as startled as everyone else. He chased down Thomas and knelt on one knee -- Tebowing as it's known -- in the end zone while the crowd was going crazy. Then he pounded a fist in triumph and took a victory lap. "When I saw him scoring, first of all, I just thought, Thank you, Lord,'" Tebow said. "Then, I was running pretty fast, chasing him -- like I can catch up to D.T! Then I just jumped into the stands, first time I've done that. That was fun. Then, got on a knee and thanked the Lord again and tried to celebrate with my teammates and the fans." Behind Tebow's season-high 316 yards passing, the Broncos (9-8) are heading to New England for a second-round game against the top-seeded Patriots (13-3) on Saturday night. The Patriots walloped the Broncos 41-23 last month, sending Tebow into a funk that included seven turnovers and a 40 percent completion clip -- and prompting Elway to implore him to "pull the trigger" in the playoffs. Did he ever. And unlike Elway, who lost his first postseason start -- to the Steelers at home in 1984 -- Tebow is 1-0 in the playoffs. "We're just a fighting team. A lot of resilience," cornerback Champ Bailey said. "In any adverse situation, we'll find a way to get out of it. Everybody says we backed into the playoffs, we're in. We did something right along the way. We're in it. We won a game. Now, we've got to go try to win another one." The Steelers (12-5) lost despite Ben Roethlisberger rallying injury-depleted Pittsburgh from a two-touchdown halftime deficit with 10 points in the final 10 minutes. Pittsburgh called tails for the overtime coin toss, and it came up heads. Tebow, who engineered five fourth-quarter comebacks and three OT wins in the regular season, wasted no time finding Thomas over the middle with just his second pass on first down all night -- and his first completion. Thomas also had receptions of 51 and 58 yards to set up second-quarter touchdowns after Tebow lost his top target, Eric Decker, to a seriously injured left knee, in the first half. "They were the No. 1 defense and we are the No. 1 offense running the ball," Thomas said. "So, I feel like they wanted to make a statement and stop the run. I don't know if they forgot about the passing game. The last couple of games that we had, we were not passing the ball that great." Thus, Elway's admonition. "I feel like he came out and played confident," Eddie Royal said. "And I think that's what John was trying to tell him: Play the way you know how to play. And Tim did that. He was smart with the ball and really led this offense today." Tebow's passer rating of 125.6 was the highest in Broncos postseason history. "He showed he's a quarterback in the NFL, case closed," McGahee said. "They say he couldn't throw. They said we wouldn't be able to run the ball on them. We did that. I wonder what they're going to say next week." Mundy was playing in place of Ryan Clark, the Steelers' leading tackler who sat this one out because of a blood condition that's exacerbated at altitude. "We lost, and it's not because I didn't play; we had very capable guys that played well," said Clark, who was one of several Steelers sidelined or injured. Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey was out, replaced by Doug Legursky, who had a bad snap right before halftime that moved Pittsburgh out of field goal range. On the first snap of overtime, Thomas pulled in Tebow's high pass and raced down the Broncos sideline, sending the crowd, including Elway, the Broncos executive vice president, into a frenzy at Sports Authority Field, which was rocking like the old Mile High Stadium back in the 1990s. McGahee sold the play-action well, drawing safety Troy Polamalu and others up to the line to defend the run and leaving Thomas with room on the crossing pattern to grab the pass and turn on the jets for the 80-yard score, Tebow's longest pass play as a pro. "It was a little surprising," Steelers linebacker James Farrior said. "But I guess he's been working hard. He's taken a lot of criticism over the past few weeks about his throwing motion, his passing game. Like I said earlier, he's a competitor. You keep trying to down a guy, and a guy like him who's a tough competitor, he's going to get you one time." Hines Ward called this defeat "just as disappointing" as last year's loss to Green Bay in the Super Bowl. "I've been on a lot of really good teams, thank God, and I felt this team was up there with them," Polamalu said. "We weren't able to stay healthy and keep a cohesiveness like we wanted to." Tebow completed 10 of 21 passes and Thomas hauled in four of them for 204 yards after Decker was injured on a hit by linebacker James Harrison. Thomas, who missed training camp while recovering from a torn Achilles and the start of the season while dealing with a fractured finger, has come on strong of late, averaging 109 yards over the last six games. But the Broncos' top pick in 2010 -- taken three slots ahead of Tebow in the first round -- hadn't had done anything like this. "It's amazing because I haven't played explosive like I did in college in a long time," Thomas said. Tebow threw two TD passes and also ran 10 times for 50 yards and a touchdown. "I think we executed a little bit better. We tried to step up," he said. "We knew it was win or go home. This team wanted to fight. We wanted to play another game." These two teams had played the first ever regular season overtime game on Sept. 22, 1974, in Denver. Now, they played the first non-sudden death playoff game in history. The new rules called for both teams to get the ball in the extra period providing there wasn't a touchdown by either the offense or defense. Tebow took care of that in a hurry. Making his first appearance in the playoffs after going 7-4 as Denver's starter, Tebow outplayed Roethlisberger, a two-time Super Bowl winner playing on a bad ankle, who fell to 10-4 in the playoffs. Roethlisberger was 22 for 40 for 289 yards with one TD, one interception and five sacks. Tebow wasn't taken down once by the league's top defense. The Broncos snapped a three-game losing streak that had many wondering if they were even worthy of their first playoff in six seasons, and it kept the Steelers from their 34th playoff win, which would have broken a tie with the Cowboys for the most ever. Tebow led Denver to 20 second-quarter points -- they had scored just 13 in the quarter in his 11 starts -- but a 20-6 halftime lead didn't last long. Receiver Mike Wallace had a 1-yard TD run, Shaun Suisham kicked a short field goal and Jerricho Cotchery grabbed a 31-yard TD pass with 3:48 left in regulation to tie it. The Steelers were nearing field goal range in the final minute of regulation but the Broncos sacked Roethlisberger three times on that final drive, forcing a fumble that Roethlisberger recovered. "We were moving it and we had a shot," Roethlisberger said. "Someone got, it felt like a finger, on the ball and knocked it out. After that, you're trying to throw a 70-yard Hail Mary and that's hard." Roethlisberger never got the ball back as Tebow added to his growing list of impossible victories in the blink of an eye and a flick of the wrist. "He gets a lot of flak when things go wrong," Clark said, "but he played phenomenal today." Notes: This was the Broncos' second playoff win since Elway retired following his second straight Super Bowl triumph in 1999, and their first since Jan. 14, 2006, when they handed Tom Brady his first playoff loss. The Broncos lost to the Steelers the following week. ... This was the first OT playoff game since the Saints beat the Vikings 31-28 in the NFC championship on Jan. 24, 2010.

The Cubs are ahead of the game in MLB's brand new world

The Cubs are ahead of the game in MLB's brand new world

"BINGO!"

Joe Maddon couldn't contain his glee as he was told there is actual scientific evidence that proves the Launch Angle Revolution has not had any impact on the uptick in homers over the last couple seasons.

The reason MLB players were hitting the ball into the bleachers more than ever before in 2017 was because of the way baseballs are made now, reducing the wind resistence and causing balls to carry more.

But all these players changing their swing path to get more lift on the ball? Not a thing for the group as a whole (h/t MLB.com):


But in analyzing Statcast™ data from the measurement tool's 2015 inception through 2017, the committee found no evidence that batter behavior, en masse, has been a contributing factor toward the homer surge. In fact, exit velocities decreased slightly from 2016 to 2017, spray angles from the time studied were stable and a small increase in launch angles was attributable primarily to, as the study refers to them, "players with lesser home run talents."

Basically, the long-ball surge was global, affecting players from all spectrums of homer-hitting ability and irrespective of their approach.

"Going into this, I thought that was going to be the magic bullet, the smoking gun," Nathan said. "But it wasn't."


Hence the "BINGO!" cry from Maddon, who has been very vocal in the fight against the Launch Angle Revolution this season.

The end result is the study will eventually lead to baseballs being returned to normal levels and a more uniform way of storing the balls moving forward. Thus, homers figure to eventually return to normal levels, too, and everybody who was caught up in the Launch Angle Revolution may be left behind.

It's the changing landscape of baseball and we've already seen the after-effects this year: April was the first month in MLB history where there were more strikeouts than basehits.

Why? Because strikeouts are a natural byproduct of the Launch Angle Revolution as players are swinging up on the ball more and sacrificing contact for power and lift.

That, coupled with an increase in velocity and higher usage of relievers, has led to more strikeouts.

It makes perfect sense — it's tougher for a player to try to catch up to 98+ mph at the top of the strike zone with an uppercut swing.

"It's one of those things that sounds good, but it doesn't help you," Maddon said of launch angle. "There's certain things that people really want to promote and talk about, but it doesn't matter. When a hitter's in the box, when you're trying to stare down 96 or a slider on the edge, the last thing you're thinking about is launch angle.

"Now when it comes to practice, you could not necessarily work on angles — your body works a certain way. Like I've said before, there's guys that might've been oppressively bad or they just had groundballs by rolling over the ball all the time So of course you may want to alter that to get that smothering kind of a swing out of him.

"But if you're trying to catch up to velocity, if you're trying to lay back and I could keep going on and on. It sounds good."

The idea of hitting the ball hard in the air has been around for decades in baseball, pretty much ever since Babe Ruth on some level. It just wasn't able to be quantified or accessed by the public as easily until Statcast came around and made it all mainstream.

The Cubs, however, have been anti-launch-angle to a degree this season. They let go of hitting coach John Mallee (who liked players to hit the ball in the air and pull it) and replaced him with Chili Davis (who teaches the full-field, line-drive approach).

The effects haven't yet yielded results in terms of consistently plating runs or having a better performance in the situational hitting column, but the contact rate is, in fact, up.

Here is the list of Cubs hitters who currently boast a career best mark in strikeout rate:

Kris Bryant
Javy Baez
Willson Contreras
Addison Russell
Jason Heyward
Kyle Schwarber

Even Ben Zobrist is very close to his career mark and Anthony Rizzo is right at his career line.

Some of that jump in contact rate can be attributed to natural development and maturation of young hitters, but the Cubs are buying into the new way of doing things and it's paying off.

It's also probably the way the game is going to shift, with an emphasis on contact going to become more important the less balls are flying out of the yard.

The Cubs have seen firsthand how to beat the best pitching in the postseason and they know that cutting down on strikeouts and "moving the baseball" (as Maddon likes to put it) can help manufacture runs in low-scoring, tight affairs in October.

Now science is supporting those theories and Major League Baseball teams will have to adjust. 

The Cubs, however, are at least a step ahead of the game.

It's a long game — the offensive strides will take time to fully take effect even for the Cubs, who are at least a full offseason and two months ahead of the curve in terms of bucking the Launch Angle Revolution.

Maddon concedes that launch angle is a cool stat to see on the video board after homers, but other than that, he doesn't see much of a use for it, pointing to Kyle Schwarber's laser-line-drive homers having the same effect as Kris Bryant's moonshots.

However, Maddon does believe there's a place for launch angle and exit velocity in the game, though mostly for front offices trying to acquire players (think "Moneyball").

"As a teaching tool, you either come equipped with or without," Maddon said. "It's like you buy a new car, you either got this or you don't. Sometimes you can add some things occasionally, but for the most part, this is what you are.

"I like inside the ball, top half of the ball, inner half of the ball, stay long throughout the ball, utilize the whole field. I still think that's the tried and true approach and I'm not stuck in the mud on this by any means.

"The harder pitchers throw the baseball, the more laying back is going to be less effective."

Theo Epstein brushes aside rumors: 'There's essentially zero trade talks involving the Cubs'

Theo Epstein brushes aside rumors: 'There's essentially zero trade talks involving the Cubs'

No, the Cubs are not currently talking to the Baltimore Orioles about bringing Manny Machado to the North Side of Chicago.

So says Theo Epstein, the Cubs president of baseball operations who met with the media at Wrigley Field ahead of Friday's series opener with the San Francisco Giants.

Epstein vehemently shot down the notion of trade talks and specified the major diffence between trade rumors and trade talks, while refusing to comment on Machado in particular.

"I'm not addressing any specific rumor or any player with another team," Epstein said. "I would never talk about that in a million years. The simple way to put it is there's been a lot of trade rumors involving the Cubs and there's essentially zero trade talks involving the Cubs.

"There's a real disparity between the noise and the reality and unfortunately, sometimes that puts a player or two that we have in a real tough circumstance. And that's my job to clarify there's nothing going on right now.

"We have more than enough ability to win the division, win the World Series and we really need to focus on our roster and getting the most out of our ability and finding some consistency. Constant focus outside the organization doesn't do us any good, especially when it's not based in reality right now."

The Cubs have presented a united front publicly in support of Addison Russell, whose name has been the one bandied about most as a potential leading piece in any move for Machado.

After all, the Cubs have won a World Series and never finished worse than an NLCS berth with Russell as their shortstop and he's only 24 with positive signs of progression offensively.

Trading away 3.5 years of control of Russell for 3-4 months of Machado is the type of bold, go-for-it move the Cubs did in 2016 when their championship drought was well over 100 years.

Now, the championship drought is only one season old and the window of contention is expected to remain open until through at least the 2021 season.

Epstein likes to point out that every season is sacred, but at what cost? The Cubs front office is still very much focused on the future beyond 2018.

"Everybody's talking about making trades in May — the first part of the season is trying to figure out who you are," Epstein said. "What are the strengths of the club? What are the weaknesses of the club? What's the character of the club? What position is the club gonna be in as we get deeper in the season? What's our short-term outlook? What's our long-term outlook? What's the chemistry in the clubhouse?

"All those things. It's a process to get there and figure it out. If you rush to those kinds of judgments, you can oftentimes make things worse. I think it's important to figure out exactly who you are and give guys a chance to play and find their level and see how all the pieces fit together before you make your adjustments."

So there's no chance we could see the Cubs once again jump the market and make an early deal like they did last year for Jose Quintana or five years ago for Jake Arrieta? Will they definitely wait another five weeks until July to make a move?

"It's just the natural order of things," Epstein said. "We wouldn't be opposed to doing something, but that's not the case right now. It's not happening."