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1st year of Epstein overhaul: 101 losses for Cubs

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1st year of Epstein overhaul: 101 losses for Cubs

CHICAGO (AP) Theo Epstein made a lot of changes during his first season as the Chicago Cubs' president of baseball operations.

Players were traded, prospects were called up, star shortstop Starlin Castro got a big-time contract and front office personnel and coaches were fired.

The season ended this week after player gaffes, fundamental mistakes and losses - lots of them. The Cubs had 101 as the franchise reached 104 years without a World Series title. Now the overhaul continues and it appears to be a long road ahead.

The Cubs lost 100 games in a season for the first time since 1966 and just the third time in their history. They set a franchise record with 103 losses in 1962 and 1966.

``It was a very disappointing season in terms of wins and losses and ultimately that's what counts,'' Epstein said Thursday during a season-ending news conference. ``It's not like we wake up and we lost 101 games, `How did that happen?' ... we just didn't have quite enough talent on the field most of the time.''

The Cubs traded veterans like Ryan Dempster, Paul Maholm, Geovany Soto, Reed Johnson and Jeff Baker for prospects they hope will bring brighter days. Oneri Fleita, the vice president of player personnel who had been with the team in some role since 1995, was fired. Hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo was let go in June and third base coach Pat Listach was fired Wednesday.

Fan favorite and reliever Kerry Wood retired and Matt Garza, expected to be a top-of-the-rotation pitcher, went on the disabled list in July with an elbow problem.

Calling up first baseman Anthony Rizzo was one the best moves of the season. He proved to be No. 3 hitter they'd been searching for, batting .285 with 15 homers and 48 RBIs in 87 games.

Castro, who had some mental gaffes like forgetting how many outs there were in an inning, got a seven-year, $60 million contract and batted .283 with 183 hits. Jeff Samardzija, the former Notre Dame wide receiver, became a starter for the future with a relatively strong season, going 9-13 with a 3.81 ERA before he was shut down to preserve his arm.

And Darwin Barney is another major piece for what's ahead after setting an NL record and tying a major league record with 141 straight errorless games at second base before a miscue on the final road series ended the streak.

Carlos Marmol rebounded from a shaky start that saw him lose the closer's role for a while and had 20 saves and a 3.42 ERA. Alfonso Soriano had a comeback season that few expected. The 36-year-old left fielder, who still has two years left on his eight-year, $136 million contract, responded from the cleanup spot with a .262 average, 32 homers and a career-best 108 RBIs.

Soriano said he is open to being traded in the offseason if the Cubs don't plan on contending the next two years. Chicago called up two of its top young players for the final two months and they both struggled -third baseman Josh Vitters and center fielder Brett Jackson had trouble with major league pitching.

So what can Epstein tell the fans who had to pay some of the highest average ticket prices in the majors to watch what at times was a tryout for next season?

``I'm not going to sit here and say, `Don't worry about 101 losses because we have a magic plan to win a World Series in 2013, it's going to happen, so be there now,''' Epstein said.

``That's not the case. I think we're trying to communicate that there is a plan, there is a vision,'' he said. ``It might be a little bit longer-term than we all want it to be, but that we're committed to it, and that there's a great reward at the end. We can't guarantee results, but I can tell everybody that we're not going to be satisfied until we're in the postseason year-in and year-out, and we're in contention every year.''

Even though the Cubs' plan is to build a strong foundation with younger players, Epstein said Chicago would likely have to add to its pitching staff through free agency. Chris Volstad, acquired last season in a trade for Carlos Zambrano, ended a 24-start winless streak and finished 3-12. Travis Wood, acquired in a trade from Cincinnati last December, was 6-13 with a 4.27 ERA, and the Cubs went through a host of would-be starters during the final stretch.

Third baseman Ian Stewart, who came from Colorado last season in a move that cost the Cubs promising outfielder Tyler Colvin, batted .201 with five homers in 55 games before needing wrist surgery.

All of this was going on while Chicago drew 2.9 million fans to Wrigley Field, the first time attendance was under 3 million since 2003. Those who came saw on-the-field mistakes aplenty. Base-running boo-boos drove first-year manager Dale Sveum batty, leading him to say they were like vitamins - one a day.

Inattentive players picked off bases was one thing. But twice in the latter stages of the season, the Cubs lost a run on a potential sacrifice fly when a runner was tagged out trying to go from second to third on the same fly ball - a double play.

Despite the rough start, Epstein said he was convinced that his overhaul is headed in the right direction. He was given a five-year, $18.5 million contract nearly a year ago to see if he would do for the Cubs what he did in Boston, where he ended a long championship drought and helped the Red Sox win two World Series.

``I really feel good about a lot of things that are going on behind the scenes. Sometimes there's a delay in how long it takes that to manifest at the big league level,'' he said. ``We're going through that right now, but I feel really good about our baseball operation as a while. ... This is a very disappointing baseline that we have to grow from. My hope is that years from now, when we're celebrating successes year-in and year-out we look back at 2012 and say, `Wow, look how far we came.' And I think we will.''

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Not everyone thinks the Redskins need to invest more at wide receiver

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Not everyone thinks the Redskins need to invest more at wide receiver

While the rumors about the Redskins potentially trading for Marvin Jones from over the weekend were total nonsense, a reason they resonated so much with fans is because many believe Washington needs major help at wide receiver.

But during a segment of Monday's Redskins 100 show, analyst Trevor Matich assessed the position group and actually thinks that, as a whole, the team should be relatively pleased with the talent it has outside.

"I like it better than I have in recent years, especially if Paul Richardson stays healthy," Matich said.

His "especially" qualifier is a common one, and that's because Richardson is the most established wideout currently on the roster — and he still has just 1,564 career receiving yards to his name. However, a healthy Richardson (which the 'Skins never really saw in his first year, considering he got injured early in training camp and was never the same) provides Jay Gruden the field stretcher he loves to have.

Richardson isn't the only player Matich is anxious to see, though.

"Terry McLaurin, their draft choice from Ohio State, is legitimately a 4.3 guy," he said. "He gets deep down the field and catches the ball in space."

One of the biggest issues for the 2018 Redskins was a lack of speed at every single spot. In Richardson and McLaurin, the Burgundy and Gold now have a pair of pass catchers who can fly past corners, do damage 30-plus yards down the sideline and open things up for other targets as well.

Overall, in reacting to the Jones storyline, Matich really doesn't see a huge need for the organization to make any additions to that collection of pieces. 

"I think that when you take a look at all the other guys, Trey Quinn in the slot, things like that, this receiving corps is fine," he said. "It's not desperate. They don't need to invest resources to bring extra people in."

Now, is "fine" and "not desperate" the level the front office and coaches want their receivers to be? Of course not. But Matich's stance is intriguing, because he's content with who'll be lining up there while plenty of others absolutely don't see it that way and feel a trade would be prudent.

If you're in that second group, recent history indicates this is the dead zone for NFL deals. So try not to waste your time refreshing Twitter over and over and over.

Perhaps Washington gets to Richmond and, after a few weeks of practices and a couple of exhibition contests, realizes their depth chart could use another name. Or maybe an injury happens and forces their hand. But according to Matich, as of now, the offense can function with the parts it has in place.

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Baltimore Ravens Roundup: Wide receiver battle underway

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Baltimore Ravens Roundup: Wide receiver battle underway

Kick off your Tuesday with the latest Baltimore Ravens news.

1. Aside from the battle at left guard, the Ravens also have a battle going on at wide receiver. 13 of the 90-man roster are wide receivers, and when asked who have been standouts at practice thus far, many said Antoine Wesley and Sean Modster. 

2. Just for fun: The Ravens' team photographer Shawn Hubbard took these amazing portraits of the team that will get you hyped up for this season.

Looking Ahead:

July 15: 4 p.m. ET deadline to get a long-term deal done with designated franchise tag players.

The 2019 NFL schedule is set! See the Baltimore Ravens defend the AFC North at M&T Bank Stadium this season. Get your tickets now at www.BaltimoreRavens.com/tickets.

Credit: Baltimore Ravens for news points.

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