White Sox

Webb the early leader to be Bears starting left tackle?

825983.png

Webb the early leader to be Bears starting left tackle?

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- The single biggest position battle in Bears training camp the competition between JMarcus Webb and Chris Williams for the starting left tackle job may already have a leader. Its just not evident, given that Webb and Williams have alternated and will continue to split time with the No. 1 offense.

It may not be appreciably more apparent when the pads come on for the first time at Saturday nights practice. The reason: The reps and drills are quizzes. They all count in the grade.

But the first real test comes Aug. 9 in a Thursday preseason game against the Denver Broncos in Soldier Field.

Games will be the biggest determinant of whether Webb or Williams open against Dwight Freeney and the Indianapolis Colts.

Once we get to the practice field, we take everything into consideration, coach Lovie Smith said. We videotape everything they do. Im talking about one-on-ones, all of that.

But yes, it comes down to how they perform in the game also.

The standard for determining the starter is simple:

Between those two we're looking for somebody that's consistent, said GM Phil Emery. That looks like a consistent starter, someone who can contribute to winning football.

In Webbs favor is that he has the traits that fit the job. He is 6-7, 333 pounds, an inch and 13 pounds bigger than Williams. The Bears view him as having the quick feet, range and temperament for a left tackle, where he started all 16 games last season.

He was the hood ornament for Bears offensive-line problems last season with his sacks allowed and penalties. But it was his first stint at the position at the NFL level, after starting at right tackle as a rookie, and the lockout meant that his first time at left tackle was the first day of training camp 2011.

I think he made progress, Emery said. Does he need to make more progress to be that guy that I said, that consistent starter so that when we lineup on Sundays we know that our left tackle is a consistent starting left tackle? Yes, he needs to make more progress.

Where Webb has started 16 games at left tackle and 12 at right, Williams has 11 games at right tackle and seven at left, the position he was drafted in 2008 to play.

Williams has managed to play all 16 games in just one of his four NFL seasons, vs. Webb, who was inactive the first two games of his rookie year and a starter in every one since then.

One undesired prospect is them both starting, but that is likely only if Gabe Carimi does not return adequately from his knee injury.

In the meantime, it is Webb vs. Williams on the field, beginning with Wednesdays team conditioning drills, and on film.

Every time we get an opportunity to evaluate the guys, were doing it, Smith said. It first starts with the conditioning test and from there, the type of shape they come in, meeting rooms, all of that. But then we take everything into consideration. I think in the end, we talk about competition and cant wait to get the roster set.

Normally players tell you exactly who should start and where you stack them on the depth chart. And thatll be the case this year.

Zack Burdi is pitching off a mound again

burdi-618.jpg
USA TODAY

Zack Burdi is pitching off a mound again

Zack Burdi was thought of as a college pitcher who could make the major leagues quickly after he was drafted in 2016.

The White Sox drafted him 26th overall that year and it appeared his quick rise through the minors was going to come true. Burdi reached Triple-A Charlotte by the end of 2016 and had a 2.25 ERA with 22 strikeouts in 16 innings with the Knights.

However, he had Tommy John surgery in July and hasn't pitched in more than 11 months. The 23-year-old from Downers Grove is nearing his return and had video proof.

That's Burdi throwing off a mound, which means a rehab stint might not be far behind. Burdi may not getting into the full swing of things before the minor league season ends in early September, but this is a good sign for him being ready to go for spring training in 2019.

Before going on the disabled list, Burdi had a 4.05 ERA with 51 strikeouts and 17 walks in 33 1/3 innings with the Knights in 2017.

How the Cubs are trying to help Kris Bryant out of his slump

How the Cubs are trying to help Kris Bryant out of his slump

Whatever Kris Bryant does from here, it's just frosting on the cake that is his legacy.

That's one way to look at the lasting impact of a guy like Bryant, who morphed from "The Chosen One" as the No. 2 overall pick. He's lived up to the hype from Day 1, has a Rookie of the Year and NL MVP Award in his trophy case and — most importantly of all — led the Cubs to their first World Series championship in 108 years.

A slump in May and June of 2018 won't tarnish that legacy.

But you can also forgive Cubs fans if they're growing a little antsy with their stud player. 

Just rest easy that he's growing a little antsy, too.

After chronicling his "temper tantrums" and actually admitting he gets so angry he is prone to breaking bats in frustration (still find that really hard to believe) last week, Bryant still isn't quite over his slump.

Maybe he's just simply trying to do too much right now.

"Kris is fine," Jon Lester said. "I mean, I think anytime you have a guy like that, he's got such high expectations not only of himself but the other people outside of the baseball world.

"I think he feels that — he feels pressure from his teammates, he feels pressure from himself and he wants to perform and he wants to do well every night. When he doesn't, it seems like he just keeps adding on. The rock on his back gets a little bigger every time."

As recently as May 22, Bryant was hitting .303 with a 1.007 OPS.

But since then — a span of 21 games — he's hitting just .241 with a .316 on-base percentage and .310 slugging percentage, good for a .627 OPS. More alarming than anything, he's struck out 28 times in 87 at-bats, taking a step back in the area he has made the most improvement in since breaking into the league in 2015.

The power has been an issue for even longer. Bryant just recently went a month without a homer before sending one into the bleachers Friday night at Busch Stadium.

Still, since May 15, he has only 8 extra-base hits (7 doubles and that 1 homer) in 27 games.

The struggle is real right now, but that hasn't stopped the Cubs from going 17-11 during Bryant's dip in power.

GM Jed Hoyer reiterated again that Bryant is the last guy the Cubs worry about in the big picture.

"The way he runs the bases, the way he plays defense, I feel like he's contributing to wins even when he might be struggling at the plate a little bit," Hoyer said Monday evening. "With guys like him, I always look at it and think to myself — that means a hot streak is right around the corner.

"I said that about Anthony [Rizzo] in April when he was struggling and he's been great since May 1. I think Kris will have the same kind of turnaraound. With him, it's just a matter of when he breaks out.

"Over the course of the season, every great player goes through one or two big slumps. We're in a strange sport where even the greatest players are not slump-proof. He'll get out of it and we'll all reap the benefits when he does."

Even with the struggles, Bryant ranks 23rd among position players in WAR (Fangraphs) with 2.3, pacing the Cubs in that category. That still puts him on pace for a roughly 6-WAR pace, which would be his lowest throughout his MLB career but is still very clearly elite.

In an effort to get him back to the "KB" we've seen so much over the last four years, Joe Maddon has twice resorted to bumping him to the top of the lineup, including Monday night's game against the Dodgers.

Maddon is hoping a move to the leadoff spot will reinstill in Bryant's head that he doesn't need to be a power hitter to help the team win.

For right now, it works. After all, Bryant is still tied for 9th in baseball in OBP (.389). 

"You really do start trying too hard," Maddon said. "You try to force things as opposed to letting them come to you. Especially a power guy that's not hit home runs in a bit. My take on power guys is that it normally is cyclical. They'll get it for a while, then they'll get away with it, then it comes back."

Like Hoyer, Maddon talked up Bryant's abilities as a "winning player" in every other area of the game even when he's not going yard. That includes his daily hustle and effort.

"When a guy like him goes through this moment, I want him to focus on that — not homers," Maddon said. "He probably hears that way too much about the power situation and I'm really not interested in that. 

"Put him back in the leadoff spot for the reasons I just said — he can help win a game in so many different ways and I want him to just focus on that. ... He needs our support; he's gonna get it. I just put him in that top spot to readjust how he's thinking and that's all."