Manning, Colts: Where do they go from here?

645100.jpg

Manning, Colts: Where do they go from here?

From Comcast SportsNet
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Jim Irsay has big plans for the Colts' future. He just hasn't worked through the details yet. Two weeks after overhauling the front office, Indianapolis took the next big step in its major housecleaning project Tuesday -- firing coach Jim Caldwell after three seasons. "This (search) is something that's going to start immediately and I really think we're going to get a coach that's going to lead us going into the future, and I think it's a bright future," Irsay said Tuesday. "It's tough to change and go forward, we've had such excellence and greatness here over such a long period of time and that's what I expect us to do again." Irsay is following the same plan he installed after the 1997 season. Back then, a season-ending loss on the road allowed the 3-13 Colts to clinch the No. 1 overall draft pick. The next day, Irsay fired the general manager and the head coach and eventually changed quarterbacks. It could happen again with a little more deliberation. The day after losing at Jacksonville to post their worst record (2-14) in two decades and wrap up this year's No. 1 pick, Irsay fired team vice chairman Bill Polian and his son, Chris, the Colts' general manager. Last week, Irsay hired 39-year-old Ryan Grigson as the replacement for the Polians. Since then, Grigson and Irsay have been in almost constant meetings debating the future of the coaching staff. On Monday, Caldwell and former Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo met in Indianapolis about the Colts' defensive coordinator job. Most took it as an indication Caldwell would be retained. That was still the conventional wisdom Tuesday. Eventually, Irsay and Grigson proved the pundits wrong. Irsay said he told Caldwell of the decision at about 2 p.m., shortly before the team confirmed the firing. "We've talked about where we want to be more balanced," Irsay said. "We want to be excellent on defense and more consistent, and I think that's something that we're looking at as part of the vision. I don't think the guy has to be offensive or defensive or anything like that. It's a heavy lifting process right now." It's unclear where the Colts will turn next. Yes, Grigson acknowledged, he has a short list of candidates. Not surprisingly, he didn't say who was on the list, which could include names such as Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, Eagles offensive coordinator Mary Mornhinweg and perhaps Spagnuolo. Neither Grigson nor Irsay provided a timeline for the hire. "We want leadership. Leadership is important," Grigson said after making his first big decision in charge of an NFL team. "We want strong leadership, and we want someone who shares his vision in this new era of Colts football. We want the best man and the best leader and the man that gives us the best way to go." One thing they did agree on: The future didn't include Caldwell After winning his first 14 games, an NFL record for a rookie head coach, and becoming only the fifth first-year coach to take his team to the Super Bowl, Caldwell did a masterful job guiding the injury-plagued Colts through a thicket of injuries and back to the playoffs in 2010. But those successes all came with Peyton Manning, who led the Colts to a league-record 115 regular-season wins in the previous decade and a record-tying nine straight playoff appearances. This year, with Manning out the entire season, the Colts lost their first 13 games. Among players and coaches, Caldwell was universally well-liked. The list included Manning, who won all four of his record-setting MVP Awards with Caldwell on Indy's staff, as well as perennial Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday. "I think coach Caldwell has done a very good job. He has gotten the most out of his players, and we play hard for him each and every week," Saturday said before the season finale. "We haven't necessarily played well, we've made mistakes and done things, but they have, oftentimes, been things that we've talked about in coaching meetings." Outsiders often saw it another way. Fans frequently complained about Caldwell's game management, and some critics referred to Caldwell as a "puppet" of the Polians. Many never forgave Caldwell for pulling the plug on a perfect season in a Game 15 loss to the Jets in 2009 and pointed to the midseason firing of defensive coordinator Larry Coyer and the long delay in replacing Curtis Painter with Dan Orlvosky at quarterback as decisions that should have come much earlier. Irsay and Grigson did not characterize Caldwell's 1,099-day tenure the same way as fans. But with Grigson already searching for a new coach and presumably preparing to take Andrew Luck with the No. 1 pick, the questions now turn to Manning, who had his third neck surgery in 19 months on Sept. 8. The Colts still are not saying much about Manning's recovery, and Grigson has not yet spoken with Manning, who is owed a 28 million bonus in early March. "We're not even there with anything regarding Peyton Manning just yet," Grigson said. "We have to know about his medical stuff, first. There's so many things there." Caldwell ended his Colts' tenure 26-22 overall with one AFC title, two division crowns and one bleak season that has left him unemployed just three years after replacing close friend Tony Dungy, the first black coach to hoist the Lombardi Trophy. "This was a difficult decision," Irsay said. "I wanted to make sure we took all the time we needed to make sure it was the right decision. ... And just like 14 years, ago, it's a big change for the franchise and at the same time, there's players, coaches, many people on the staff that will go into the new day and get on with the work of 2012."

Cubs, Lackey face Nationals, Scherzer Friday on CSN

maddon_it_s_all_about_tonight_05-05_640x360_680313923983.jpg

Cubs, Lackey face Nationals, Scherzer Friday on CSN

The Cubs take on the Washington Nationals on Friday, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 12:30 p.m. Then catch first pitch with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Today’s starting pitching matchup: John Lackey vs. Max Scherzer

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.  

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

— Channel finder: Make sure you know where to watch.

— Latest on the Cubs: All of the most recent news and notes.

— See what fans are talking about before, during and after the game with Cubs Pulse.

Ben Zobrist channels 'Zorilla,' leads Cubs over Nationals

maddon_it_s_all_about_tonight_05-05_640x360_680313923983.jpg

Ben Zobrist channels 'Zorilla,' leads Cubs over Nationals

The Cubs were due for a close game and they almost got it Thursday evening. 

After steamrolling the second-place Pirates over the three-game series in Pittsburgh, the Cubs looked ticketed for a nail-biting victory over the Washington Nationals in the series opener at Wrigley Field.

Instead, Ben Zobrist channeled his "Zorilla" alter-ego and smashed a two-run homer into the left-field bleachers with two outs in the bottom of the eighth en route to a 5-2 Cubs victory in front of 37,564 fans.

The Cubs were leading 5-0 with two outs in the ninth before Travis Wood served up a two-run shot to Jayson Werth.

Zobrist drove in the first four runs in the game - he also had a two-run single through the right side in the fourth inning to plate Tommy La Stella and Kris Bryant) - and is now second on the Cubs with 20 RBI on the season.

Two batters after Zobrist's blast, Addison Russell drove home Ryan Kalish with a double to left field, pushing the Cubs' run differential to a ridiculous +96 on the season.

"We're off to a good start," Cubs catcher David Ross said, "but we don't sit on the bench and talk about run differential or on-base percentage. We try to have good at-bats. 

"Guys are going up there and doing their thing pitching. Everybody's out to do their best on a daily basis and I think that's the sign of a good team."

Despite the Nationals' late comeback attempt, Zobrist still provided all the offense Kyle Hendricks and the Cubs bullpen needed.

Hendricks spun six shutout innings, allowing just two hits and a pair of walks, striking out four.

Clayton Richard, Justin Grimm, Pedro Strop combined for two shutout innings and Hector Rondon recorded the final out as the Cubs kicked off this crucial four-game series by flying the "W" flag at Wrigley.

The Cubs now lead the majors with 21 victories, but because they've been winning by such lopsided scores, they only have four saves.

Cubs vs. Nationals: Max Scherzer sets $200 million baseline for Jake Arrieta

stl_hoyer_on_changing_the_approach_at_the_plate_05-05_640x360_680373827856.jpg

Cubs vs. Nationals: Max Scherzer sets $200 million baseline for Jake Arrieta

Roughly 48 hours before the no-hitter and the onesie press conference that introduced his client to a national audience, Scott Boras sat in his Dodger Stadium luxury suite explaining the pitching odometer and equating Jake Arrieta to Max Scherzer.

By Aug. 28 last year, Arrieta still hadn’t completed a start-to-finish season in the big leagues, much less won a Cy Young Award. The Cubs had only won six consecutive Arrieta starts, a streak that has now reached 19 in a row, including a second no-hitter for the hottest pitcher on the planet.

That’s why the Cubs have to be looking at this as a two-year window to win a World Series with their ace, because Arrieta can become a free agent after the 2017 season. That’s when Jon Lester will be in his mid-30s, John Lackey will probably be retired and maybe the farm system will have produced an actual big-league pitcher by then.

Boras Corp. almost always pushes its talent onto the open market. And as the super-agent likes to say: “Every Cy Young Award winner I know got a seven-year contract.” Like Scherzer, who reportedly turned down a six-year, $144 million offer to stay with the Detroit Tigers and later scored a $210 million guarantee from the Washington Nationals in January 2015.

“All the free-agent stuff, that just takes care of itself,” Scherzer said Thursday, sitting at his locker inside Wrigley Field’s cramped visiting clubhouse. “If you just play to win the game – and go out there with that mindset – everything takes care of itself.

“It’s a beautiful thing, because everybody’s attention is on your free-agent stuff, but the only thing you care about is winning. And when you win, everything falls right into place.”

Scherzer, who will attack a dangerous Cubs lineup on Friday afternoon in Wrigleyville, went 18-5 with a 3.15 ERA in his walk year, helping Detroit win its fourth consecutive division title in 2014.

At that point, the mileage on Scherzer’s right arm had almost reached 1,240 innings in the big leagues. By comparison, Lester had thrown 1,596 innings by the time he signed a six-year, $155 million megadeal, weeks before Scherzer finalized his contract in Washington.

Arrieta is now only at 838-plus innings after an up-and-down beginning to his career with the Baltimore Orioles. He’s 22-1 with a 0.85 ERA in his last 26 regular-season starts, making $10.7 million this year and setting himself up for another huge payday through the arbitration system.

But Arrieta will also be 32 years old on Opening Day 2018. As much as the Cubs respect his work ethic and fanatical approach to fitness and nutrition, Theo Epstein’s front office will also have to account for the aging curve, all the unknowns and how much risk to stomach.

“I had the (information) in front of me,” said Scherzer, who took out an insurance policy that would have covered him in the event of a serious injury. “The injury risk factors – where I was at in my career – appeared low.

“As a pitcher, you understand that the nature of this business is that you can get injured from pitching with your elbow or shoulder. But I made sure I took certain precautions to minimize that risk factor.

“Once I had that peace of mind, I just went out there and pitched and competed and tried to win. That’s all that mattered to me.”

If the idea of moving on from a place where you’re comfortable and successful sounds difficult, well, “the business side of the game can get ugly at times,” Scherzer said. “That’s how it is.”

So Cubs fans should enjoy this ride with Arrieta, wherever it leads and however long it lasts, appreciating the chance to see history every time he takes the mound.

“He’s fun to watch,” Scherzer said. “He goes out there and competes and he does it with an assortment of pitches as well. That’s what makes him one of the best in the game right now. He really seems to be locked in.

“When you can find the mechanical thing where you can keep your delivery, I know for myself that’s when I feel my best. I’m sure that’s probably how he feels, too. He just feels locked in, that if every time I do this, I can locate the ball exactly where I want to.”