Bears

White Sox open series vs. McCarthy, A's tonight

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White Sox open series vs. McCarthy, A's tonight

Chicago White Sox (60-50) vs. Oakland A's (60-51), 7:10 p.m.

The White Sox welcome the Oakland As to U.S. Cellular Field tonight hoping to bounce back from a series loss to the Royals and will try to increase their one-game lead over the Detroit Tigers in the American League Central while theyre at it.

The availability of first baseman Paul Konerko for tonight is in question after suffering a mild concussion on Tuesday night against the Royals. He missed Wednesday's game and will be re-evaluated today. If he is not available, he may wind up on the seven-day disabled list.

The As enter this series after winning consecutive games and taking their three-game set with the Angels and are 17-8 since the All-Star break. Cuban center fielder Yeonis Cespedes has been on fire since the break, sporting a .408 batting average, .455 on-base percentage and 1.086 OPS which includes five home runs and 20 RBIs.

Pitching matchup

White Sox -- Gavin Floyd (8-9, 4.43 ERA): Floyds last start didnt begin well (41 pitches in the first inning), but he settled in and gave the Sox 6 13 hard-fought innings in a game thy eventually lost to the Angels in 10 innings on Saturday. The only time Floyd faced the As this season (April 24), he took the loss despite allowing just an earned run on two hits over 7 13 innings of work.

As -- Brandon McCarthy (6-2, 2.54 ERA): McCarthy will be on the mound with the As for the first time since June 19 thanks to right-shoulder soreness. In that June start he tossed seven shutout innings, allowing two hits and walking one while striking out five against the Dodgers.

They said it

Hes got great stuff. But usually it seems like youre going to get a pitch or two to hit. Tonight we did, but we didnt do anything with them. He didnt make mistakes. Adam Dunn on Jeremy Guthries eight shutout innings on Wednesday night

In case you missed it

Heres a quick recap of the latest White Sox news:

White Sox opponents no longer holding 'track meet'
White Sox have been feeling the Royal pains
White Sox deal minor leaguer Kuhn to Arizona
Konerko has mild concussion, could be placed on DL

For Matt Nagy, there’s a method to the madness of plays like ‘Santa’s Sleigh’

For Matt Nagy, there’s a method to the madness of plays like ‘Santa’s Sleigh’

Taking a step back from last night’s Bears win, consider this: 

The only touchdown scored in a game featuring two first-place teams, one of which has the NFL’s best offense, came on a play with exactly zero running backs, wide receivers and tight ends on the field. Four of the five eligible receivers were defensive linemen, and the other was an offensive lineman. The play started with a run fake to a 332-pound defensive tackle and ended with a pass to a 312-pound offensive tackle.

Call it gimmicky, call it cute — use whatever slightly-veiled critical term you want. It worked on a night when the Los Angeles Rams, a team that averaged 35 points per game, wound up in the end zone once. And that was when Eddie Goldman dropped Jared Goff for a safety. 

“If it wouldn’t have worked, you all would be ripping me right now,” coach Matt Nagy said of “Santa’s Sleigh.”

Nagy hasn’t shied away from not just thinking outside the box in his first year as a head coach. He’s scored touchdowns with two quarterbacks on the field (“Willy Wonka”), a defensive tackle carrying the ball (“Freezer Left”) and a 5-foot-6 running back throwing the ball (“Oompa Loompa”). The Bears converted a two-point conversion against the Vikings with Akiem Hicks and Roy Robertson-Harris lined up as half of a diamond formation on one side of the field. Safety Eddie Jackson and nickel cornerback Bryce Callahan have played offensive snaps, too. 

But the process matters just as much as the results of these plays. And Nagy isn’t just calling these plays just to give his players a morale boost or because he’s showboating in the face of decades of conventional wisdom. There’s a method to his madness, if you will.

“As a quality control coach, when you’re up in the booth and you’re trying to tell the D-coordinator that those four numbers are coming in, and I don’t know if they necessarily prepare for that,” Nagy said. “So I always tell you guys, any advantage you can get — and now you gotta be able to make sure it’s something that you feel like you can be worthwhile and not foolish. There’s that balance there. And so the other part of it too is our guys love it. They enjoy it, they have fun, they’re working. Maybe we’ll stay away from them for a few weeks and come back to it later.”

The other part of these plays: Players believe in them. Bradley Sowell, who caught the touchdown on “Santa’s Sleigh,” made mention of Nagy getting criticized for the first time a play was designed to get him the ball (a pass that should’ve been picked off in the end zone against the New England Patriots). 

“He tried it with me earlier in the season and got flack for it,” Sowell said.  

The Bears trust that these plays are going to work, and that Nagy believes his players can get out of their comfort zone to execute them. That’s why we’ve seen Hicks scoring a touchdown against the New York Giants or Mitch Trubisky and Chase Daniel faking a read option before popping a pass to Taylor Gabriel for a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 

“If you have a ‘why’ behind why you do it, then it makes sense,” Nagy said. “They’re not all gonna work. There’s gonna be some where I’m gonna be standing up here and you guys (the media) are gonna be saying ‘you’re an idiot.’ But that’s inevitable. I’ll accept that. They’re working right now and the guys like it, so keep going.”

One other interesting aspect of “Santa’s Sleigh” is that Nagy said the play wasn’t devised just because Hicks had scored a touchdown on “Freezer Left” the week prior. Getting the Rams to bite on the play fake to Hicks was important, of course, but when the Bears line up with six offensive linemen, four defensive linemen and a quarterback on the field, the natural thought is they’re going to run the ball. Making sure the Rams respect Hicks’ running ability — which is an absolutely wild thought to type — was important, but not the reason why the play was drawn up. 

“You could do whatever you want to do,” Nagy said. “It’s endless. There’s so much good stuff you can do.”

Here's how the Bears can have the NFC North won by the end of next Sunday

Here's how the Bears can have the NFC North won by the end of next Sunday

With the Bears sitting at 9-4, it's time to acknowledge what everyone's been dancing around for two weeks: the Bears are making the playoffs. 

It's no longer an 'if' situation, but a 'when' and 'how?' 

According to 538, the Bears have >99% odds to make the playoffs and a 92% chance to win the division. A first round bye is less likely, with the odds of that currently sitting at 8%. Cut it down to 4% and you have the Bears' Super Bowl chances. 

So, how is this going to play out? The Bears' quickest path to an NFC North title starts tonight, when the Vikings head into Seattle on Monday Night Football. Should the Vikings lose, the Bears have complete control of their destiny. If the Bears can handle the Packers at Soldier on Sunday, the NFC North Champion tshirts and hats are theirs. 

Even if the Vikings win tonight, a playoff berth is still in the Bears' control. They can still beat the Packers and clinch a berth, even with the NFC North title having to wait. They'd also be guaranteed a berth with a Redskins -- who are probably going to start Josh Jackson-- loss against Jacksonville. 

It'd be the first time the Bears made the playoffs since 2010, when they lost in the NFC Championship game to the Packers. That was also the last year they won the NFC North. 

So all they have to do is just go beat Aaron Rodgers and the Packers to win an NFC North title. No big deal. 

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