From Comcast SportsNetANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) -- It wasn't as though Bartolo Colon didn't give the Los Angeles Angels anything good to hit. The Oakland Athletics' right-hander threw 82 of his 108 pitches for strikes against his former team -- including 38 in a row at one point.But the Angels' vaunted offense managed only four hits over eight innings against the 38-year-old Colon, who struck out five and walked none in a 6-0 victory on Wednesday night."I felt like I threw a lot of strikes, but I never thought I threw 38 in a row. I didn't know anything about it until I came in here," Colon said through a translator. "The two-seamer was the most consistent pitch that I had tonight. I feel good because I know that team has great players. You have to have confidence in yourself, because if you don't, that's when you have trouble."Colon's strike streak ended on an 0-1 pitch to Bobby Abreu with one out in the eighth after he gave up a pinch-hit ground-rule double by Erick Aybar -- the only hitter to reach second base against him."I can't believe it," A's catcher Kurt Suzuki said. "I mean, against a team like the Angels when you look at their lineup, that's going after guys and not being afraid to throw strikes. That's what he did tonight -- basically off heaters, too. He was just dialing."We tried to keep it going. And as the game goes on, you kind of figure out what's working for him," Suzuki added. "We got into a rhythm probably after the second inning. Bartolo knows where the ball's going and he knows what he wants to do. He's the kind of pitcher you need in the rotation to kind of stabilize it, and the kind that the other guys can lean on, with the young rotation we have."Colon (3-1) helped drop his former team six games behind two-time defending AL champion Texas in the AL West -- just 12 games into the season."Our offense has been a little bit spotty, and we need to get simple at the plate," manager Mike Scioscia said. "Some guys are starting to get into their game -- but as a unit, we're not finding that offensive chemistry. We just need to start to get a better direction of our own. But we have a good club. I really like this club."Colon won the 2005 AL Cy Young Award after helping lead the Angels to a division title with a 21-8 record and 3.48 ERA. The two-time All-Star is 3-2 with a 2.05 ERA in five starts against them since leaving the organization and signing with Boston as a free agent in February 2008.Colon, whose three previous starts this season all were against Seattle, has walked only two batters in his first 27 1-3 innings and has made 18 consecutive starts with fewer than three -- one off his longest such streak. The last time he issued more than two walks was July 7, 2011, when he had four against Tampa Bay."It's a phenomenal feat, yet really not surprising out of him," A's manager Bob Melvin said of the 38 straight strikes. "I mean, I think he could throw a strike with his eyes closed if he had to. That's the way he's been for us. Granted they have a great lineup and you can never take a breather with it. But a guy like Bartolo has been around long enough to know that you're going to throw strikes, not walk anybody and make them earn their way on."Yoenis Cespedes hit a three-run homer for Oakland, giving the Cuban-born rookie a team-leading 12 RBIs in his first 12 games.Jonny Gomes added a solo shot for the A's against Ervin Santana (0-3), who gave up four runs and seven hits over seven innings with five strikeouts. The Angels' No. 3 starter is 5-7 with a 3.90 ERA in 14 starts since his no-hitter at Cleveland on July 27, and has a 6.75 ERA in his three starts this season.Colon was staked to a 3-0 lead before he even threw a pitch. Cespedes, whose two-run double capped a four-run eighth inning in Tuesday night's 5-3 win, drove a 1-2 pitch into the left field bullpen for his fourth home run after singles by Cliff Pennington and Josh Reddick.Gomes, starting in left field with Coco Crisp battling a flu bug and a 2-for-24 drought, led off the sixth with a drive to left field for his third homer of the season -- and third hit.Albert Pujols' season-opening home run drought reached 12 games and 49 at-bats. The three-time NL MVP was 1 for 4, including a sixth-inning drive that Cespedes caught at the edge of the warning track in left-center. The only other time in Pujols' 12-year career that he went more than five games before hitting his first homer was 2008, when it took him nine games and 28 at-bats to do it.Notes: The Angels have called a press conference for Thursday to announce a contract extension for Aybar, for a reported 35 million over four years. He then will be presented with his first Gold Glove before the start of the series finale. ... The A's had 10 hits, including Jemile Weeks' RBI double in the ninth. It was the first time they're reached double digits in 13 games this season. ... Angels LF Bobby Abreu was 0 for 4 while batting in the leadoff spot for the first time since Aug. 28, 2010 -- when he ended stretch of 20 consecutive starts in the one hole. Lifetime, he is hitting .281 with nine homers, 20 RBIs, 32 walks and 45 strikeouts in 50 starts in the leadoff spot.
As Cubs players and generations of fans celebrated Christmas in October, Jon Lester had to be The Grinch for a moment. Sure, the Cubs would party from Saturday night into Sunday morning, probably get “a little bit” drunk and enjoy the franchise’s first National League pennant in 71 years. But the reality of the Cleveland Indians would set in once the Cubs got rid of this hangover.
“We ain’t done anything yet,” Lester said during the Wrigley Field celebration after the Cubs eliminated the Los Angeles Dodgers. “Nobody likes second place.”
There are enough Boston Red Sox connections in this World Series that Lester already knows what to expect, starting with Indians manager Terry Francona, who became a father figure as he dealt with a cancer scare as a rookie.
There are ex-teammates from those championship teams in 2007 (Coco Crisp) and 2013 (Mike Napoli, Andrew Miller) at Fenway Park. There is the accumulated experience from throwing 119 postseason innings (2.50 ERA) and becoming one of the best big-game pitchers of his generation.
“I don’t want to sound like a smart-ass, but we got a long ways to go,” Lester said. “I know that manager on their side’s going to be prepared. I know their coaching staff’s going to be ready. I know their players are going to be ready, just based on one player alone, and that’s Mike Napoli. I know what he brings to the table. He helped transform our 2013 team.
“Come Tuesday, we got to put the gloves back on. We got to get ready to fight and grind and do what we’ve done well all year. We got four more games to win.”
After limiting the Dodgers to two runs in 13 innings, and being named the NL Championship Series’ co-MVP along with Javier Baez, Lester should be a worthy Game 1 starter opposite Corey Kluber, the 2014 American League Cy Young Award winner.
This is why Lester took a leap of faith with Cubs bosses/ex-Red Sox executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer and chairman Tom Ricketts’ family and what had been a last-place team in 2014.
Two seasons into the $155 million contract that signaled the Cubs would be serious about contending – and not just in the Baseball America/Baseball Prospectus prospect rankings – the franchise has won 200 games and four playoff rounds and remained in position to dominate for years to come.
“Theo and Jed and the front office and Tom and all these guys had a belief,” Lester said. “I believed in that belief. The talent here speaks for itself. I didn’t do anything – I came here because I wanted to win in Chicago. I’m just happy to be here and be a part of this and get to this point.
“(But) we’re four hard wins away from doing what we set out to do in spring training.”
As bright as the future looks on the North Side, Lester will be 33 next season and his left arm has already accounted for more than 2,000 innings during his decorated career. John Lackey turned 38 on Sunday. Jake Arrieta only has one more season before becoming a free agent.
The Cubs built their franchise around young hitters, with the idea that they can figure out the pitching later with free agents, change-of-scenery trades and bounce-back guys. Easier said than done. They have a true No. 1 starter now in Lester, who as a free agent watched a recruiting video that imagined what it would be like when the Cubs win the World Series.
“This isn’t it,” Lester said. “It’s been a tough playoffs for us to this point and it’s only going to get tougher. We’re going to enjoy it. We’re going to show up Tuesday in Cleveland ready to play. We’ll see what happens.”
Positives were difficult to find in last Thursday’s 26-10 loss to the Green Bay Packers. So maybe the place to look for improvement lies in just getting rid of a few negatives.
As far as positives, Leonard Floyd would be the obvious one, with two sacks, one a strip and fumble recovery for a TD. Ka’Deem Carey would be another, with 10 carries for 48 yards, his second straight game with high-impact running; Jordan Howard has been shackled for two weeks, so the Bears have needed another backfield-committee member contributing. Jeremy Langford may have trouble finding work when he comes back from his ankle injury.
But negatives have far outweighed positives, which is how you get to 1-6. Fixing three of those will go a long way toward improving their chances against a Minnesota Vikings team that appeared eminently beatable in losing at Philadelphia on Sunday:
Stop the penalty hemorrhaging
For the third straight game the Bears had 10 penalties walked off against them. This "streak" started after eight infractions in the win over Detroit. The 10 in Green Bay cost the Bears 108 yards in a game where their offense netted just 189. Seven of the penalties were charged to the defense, six of which gave the Packers first downs.
The three offensive penalties were mental. A wide receiver (Alshon Jeffery) lined up offsides. The quarterback (Matt Barkley) drew a delay flag. An offensive lineman (Ted Larsen) was illegally downfield.
All of which point to a discipline problem getting worse, not better. Whether the fault lies with players losing focus or coaches not instilling a mindset is a debate, but meaningless if the problem is not addressed. “There were a lot of penalties out there,” said cornerback De’Vante Bausby, who committed three of those penalties. “We had a good scheme and plan but we just didn’t finish in the second half as a group.”
Stop the dinking
While Brian Hoyer replacing Jay Cutler scaled back the downfield element of the offense, the loss of an emerging Kevin White should not be understated. The de facto rookie may not have gotten in the end zone but he was leading the team in receptions before he suffered a broken leg in the win over Detroit.
Since the loss of White, however, the offense has shrunk. The Bears averaged 7.5 yards per pass attempt through four games with White. Without White the average is 7.0, and that is including the blip in Indianapolis, which stands as a complete anomaly. The average was 5.9 in the Jacksonville loss and 5.0 in Green Bay.
Hoyer’s ball-security orientation has been a positive, but also a limiting factor. Cutler last year had one of the best ball-security seasons of his career, yet the offense was able to average 7.5 yards per attempt.
The Bears scored two of their three rushing touchdowns in games with White, who may not yet be the field-stretcher his 4.35 speed but the prospect of White arguably made for a more threatening offense than even with the contributions of Cam Meredith.
Stop the Vikings
The Minnesota Vikings have suffered injuries at a rate like the Bears’ but have overcome them. Until Sunday in Philadelphia, when the Eagles sacked Sam Bradford six times and hit him more than a dozen other times. The Vikings never sacked Carson Wentz, who wasn’t special but was good enough while Minnesota was self-destructing.
The Vikings have beaten the Bears the last three times they’ve met, the first time that’s happened since 1999 and 2000, which is also the last time the Bears started 1-6. And the Bears have lost three straight.
The Bears were able to end the first three-game skid by focusing on one game: the Lions. The result was shutting down a very good offense, the lowest yardage-allowed (263) of the season and the firmest commitment to the run game (29) attempts.
Morale inside the locker room can only be revived by a win. One game. This game.