Ball and season still in Cutlers hands

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Ball and season still in Cutlers hands

It hasnt always been pretty but the Bears are 6-1 and playing a 3-5 team for the chance to win a sixth straight game. Bears teams that win six straight have always made the playoffs since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger (1977, 1985, 1986, 1990, 2001, 2005, 2006).

That is no assurance of true success, however. All but the 85 and 06 teams lost in the first round of the playoffs.

But for the Bears to join the first part of that list will require a meaningful performance upgrade from quarterback Jay Cutler.

Cutler Time

This has become a familiar refrain, but with Houston, San Francisco, Minnesota (twice) and Seattle the next five opponents after the Tennessee Titans all but Minnesota (11th) ranked top-five defensively Cutler needs a whole-game show like his fourth quarter against the overmatched Carolina Panthers.

The Chicago defense has been the story of the 2012 season but at some point Cutler is expected and needed to play like the franchise quarterback that at least GM Phil Emery has decided he is.

Cutlers dalliances accounted for three of the six sacks he took against Carolina. This is simply unacceptable from a quarterback into his seventh NFL season and who is working with his virtually hand-picked position coach in Jeremy Bates.

And he really isnt all that convincing looking deeper into this season and whether things will be any better with Mike Tice than they were with Ron Turner or Mike Martz.

Didnt say it was getting better, Cutler said. I never said it was. We could be playing this type of ball in December. I dont know. I cant tell the future.

How I saw it in August

The season has held to the form I expected before it began, which had the Bears winning the ones they have and losing in Green Bay. This Tennessee game, however, was not one I had in the ledger as a W for the team I projected for 11-5.

Heres how it looked after preseason:

9. At Tennessee Titans (2011 record 9-7) Sun., Nov. 4, noon

Analysis: Whether the Bears will be facing Matt Hasselbeck or Jake Locker is a question but Tennessees offensive line allowed just 24 sacks last year. This is a very dangerous team, adding pass rusher Kamerion Wimbley, aging but solid LG Steve Hutchinson and drafting Baylor WR Kendall Wright a pick after the Bears took Shea McClellin.

Result: L (6-2)

The quarterback issue has come down with Hasselbeck because of Lockers shoulder injury. Wimbley hurt the Bears last year as a Raiduh and Wright already has 40 catches, an average of five per game.

This isnt a trap game where the Bears dont take a bad team seriously and spend three quarters figuring out that theres a game and maybe they should join it already in progress. The Bears appeared to be looking past Carolina and with so much attention on the toughening second half of the schedule, overlooking Tennessee would not be beyond possibility.

The problem is that Titans with Hasselbeck are not the same team as with Locker. The defense is still a serious concern, having given up no fewer than 23 points in the first seven games before taking Indianapolis to overtime and a 19-13 loss.

And so

The Bears very well could go back home with a 7-1 record and narrow win against the Titans. I didnt think they would before this season started and I still dont.

Titans: 23; Bears: 20

Elena Delle Donne scores 18, leads Sky over Wings

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Elena Delle Donne scores 18, leads Sky over Wings

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) - Elena Delle Donne had 18 points and eight rebounds to help the Chicago Sky beat the Dallas Wings 92-85 on Sunday.

Courtney Vandersloot added 15 points and nine assists, Cappie Pondexter scored 14 and Erika de Souza had 12 for Chicago, which is sixth in the AP power poll.

The Sky (13-13) had an 18-1 run spanning the first and second quarters to make it 40-16 on de Souza's basket with 6:09 left in the first half.

The 10th-ranked Wings (9-18) cut the deficit to 60-54 in the third quarter but Chicago answered with a 12-3 run. From there, the Wings trailed by double-digits until a late 13-2 run brought them within 90-85 with 15 seconds left.

Odyssey Sims scored 22 points and Skylar Diggins added 16 to lead Dallas, which dropped its eighth in a row.

Cubs close out road trip with narrow loss to Dodgers

Cubs close out road trip with narrow loss to Dodgers

LOS ANGELES – Joe Maddon watched John Lackey board the team bus on Sunday morning wearing a Team USA onesie. The Cubs manager later noticed Aroldis Chapman in pajamas in the clubhouse on his way out to the dugout for his pregame media session at Dodger Stadium.

“We’ve created our own little culture, our own little identity,” Maddon said. “I just love the fact that they buy into those moments. Your stars are buying into it.”

The Cubs are in their own world, followed like rock stars on the road, freed from baseball’s unwritten rules and checked out from the daily anxiety and scoreboard-watching stress during a normal pennant race. 

But this afternoon still had a playoff-type atmosphere, with a crowd of 44,745 watching a scoreless game finally pivot in the eighth inning. Cubs reliever Trevor Cahill hit Andrew Toles with a pitch, jammed Howie Kendrick and threw the soft groundball into right field. An intentional walk to Corey Seager loaded the bases, setting up a matchup between Carl Edwards Jr. and the heart of the Los Angeles lineup.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

The rookie unleashed a 97-mph fastball and struck out Justin Turner on a foul tip. Edwards then went right back at Adrian Gonzalez, inducing a chopper toward third baseman Javier Baez, who threw the ball to second base. The Cubs missed escaping the jam by a split second, with Seager’s right foot sliding into second just before Ben Zobrist’s left foot touched the bag.

That would be the difference in a 1-0 loss that again showed the narrow margin between these two big-market, first-place teams. The Cubs needed 10 innings to secure a comeback win on Friday night before Los Angeles won one-run games on Saturday and Sunday at Dodger Stadium.  

The Cubs would still leave Los Angeles with a 14-game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals, their magic number to clinch the division now 20, ending a West Coast trip with a onesies theme almost exactly one year after Jake Arrieta threw a no-hitter at Dodger Stadium, showing this team would be a force in October.

With John Lackey ramping up for return, could Cubs go to six-man rotation?

With John Lackey ramping up for return, could Cubs go to six-man rotation?

LOS ANGELES – John Lackey is ramping up for a return to the rotation and all those “Big Boy Games” the Cubs are supposed to play in October.

The Cubs expect Lackey to test his strained right shoulder and throw two bullpen sessions this week, manager Joe Maddon said Sunday at Dodger Stadium. If everything goes smoothly for the two-time World Series champion, the Cubs will tentatively schedule Lackey’s next start for either the Labor Day weekend showdown against the San Francisco Giants at Wrigley Field, or near the beginning of a three-city road trip in early September.     

Lackey (9-7, 3.41 ERA) has accounted for 158-plus innings, making 24 starts and stabilizing the rotation before going on the disabled list on Aug. 15. Jason Hammel should eventually cool off and will be “well-rested” after Maddon’s quick hook on Saturday afternoon at Dodger Stadium. The Cubs also like what they’ve seen from Mike Montgomery, believing the lefty can develop into a solid big-league starter.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Could the Cubs go to a six-man rotation down the stretch?

“We haven’t planned that specifically yet,” Maddon said. “I’m not opposed, let me put it that way. We’ll see how it all plays out with Mikey the next time through. Again, to do anything we possibly can to conserve our arms for the end of the year is important. 

“It’s being proven throughout the industry right now. Moving forward, the biggest trick there is to get the sixth guy that you like. Most teams are clamoring to get (No.) 4 and 5. We got five that we like. Now we’re working on 6.”

It’s not like the Cubs are fighting for a wild-card spot or clinging to a one-game lead in the division. The best record in baseball allows them to look at the big picture and get creative in September. The counterargument to keeping starters fresh for October would be keeping creatures of habit like Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta in a rhythm. 

“Starting pitchers have always rallied to say that they need to stay on that particular plan,” Maddon said. “But I think it’s kind of been proven – just give them that extra day or two on occasion and it really benefits them. So I just think you’re fighting this old view of specifically how it needs to be done."