Miller: No pity party for banged-up Bears defense

956783.png

Miller: No pity party for banged-up Bears defense

Everyone knew this was coming. Its been stated repeatedly the last three years that the Bears' defense is getting old. All their great players defensively are over 30 and are currently hurt, so this general statement must undoubtedly be true.

Unfortunately, for anyone trying to fit that narrative would have to erase 10 other stellar defensive performances besides San Francisco and Seattle this past weekend. One would also have to erase the fact that all four of the Bears' best defensive players made the Pro Bowl in 2011. Furthermore, all four performed legitimately at a Pro Bowl caliber level to be worthy selections a year ago.

Durability is an issue for every player in the NFL, whether you are young or old. No one can ever predict when a significant injury will occur, but in this line of work, its almost a guarantee it will. The NFL does not discriminate against anyone when it comes to injuries. It's just a matter of time.

Just look around the NFL. There are plenty of teams dealing with injuries to key players. Timing is everything when it comes to injuries. It just depends when they happen, to whom they happen, and if the roster is strong enough to sustain them.

The timing of injuries can be problematic, but they can be overcome. General manager Phil Emery has done just that from a roster standpoint. It is now up to the players to perform and show their worth.

Here are the Bears key injuries defensively:

Charles Tillman: Playing with a chipped bone in his ankle. Its just what prideful, tough football players do.

Lance Briggs: fighting through his own ankle injury (playing through it, same as above).

Julius Peppers: has played with a foot problem since camp (same as above).

Brian Urlacher: played with a balky knee and now dealing with a hamstring which may cost him the rest of the regular season.

Tim Jennings: has a shoulder injury which may sideline him also.

All were addressed this offseason through scheme or signings. One of those signings already replaced a former starter, as Kelvin Hayden was already logging significant playing time as D.J. Moores replacement. Hayden comes with significant starts and experience while playing for Indianapolis in the same exact defensive system. If Hayden has to start for Jennings, it also allows a hungry Moore to state his case why he deserves to be the starting nickel back again.

The Urlacher injury was already well thought out by coaches and tested during pre-season games with Nick Roach moving to MLB and Geno Hayes to SLB. If the Bears feel Hayes is the better fit at MLB, so be it. Only one position is affected rather than two if that is the case. Hayes understands the MLB position if he has to start and what is being asked of him.

It was discussed, tested and all players involved have played, performed and won in this defensive system before. Does it hurt the Bears not having their defensive leader out there on the field? Of course it does, but havent the Packers won a Super Bowl and ripped off victories this season without their defensive leader, Charles Woodson, on the field?

The Peppers injury was also already addressed. Corey Wooten and Shea McClellin were already playing to spell Peppers. Unfortunately for McClellan, a concussion slowed his opportunities for more experience. The defensive line rotation as a whole has been much better in 2012 than seasons prior.

So, there really is no time for pity parties concerning the Bears. The only pity is the Bears defense has logged an entire game more in terms of snaps when compared to their offense. The defense has 759 snaps compared to the offense which has accumulated only 700. Typically, each side logs 60 to 70 snaps during a game.

Tired would be an understatement if you play defense for the Bears. They have played basically one more regular season game than their offense.

Football is a team game. It might be time for the Bears offense to aid an ailing defense that has consistently protected them and bailed them out for the past three seasons. They should be well rested and up for the job. It should also be compartmentalized as a pride thing.

Joe Maddon vents frustrations with tensions already rising in Cubs vs. Pirates

maddon_and_zobrist_post_05-02_640x360_678254147548.jpg

Joe Maddon vents frustrations with tensions already rising in Cubs vs. Pirates

PITTSBURGH — “Still smells like champagne,” said one wise guy walking through the visiting clubhouse at PNC Park late Monday night.

The Cubs had just beaten the Pittsburgh Pirates, with some of the same raw emotions from last year’s wild-card win resurfacing during a 7-2 win in early May. There’s that much at stake in the National League Central that maybe we shouldn’t spend so much time fixating on the St. Louis Cardinals.

The eye-for-an-eye moment came in the seventh inning, with Pittsburgh reliever Kyle Lobstein drilling Ben Zobrist with his first pitch. Home plate umpire Laz Diaz had already watched Cubs starter Jason Hammel hit Starling Marte with a pitch in the sixth inning and issued a warning to both benches.

Manager Joe Maddon yelled at Lobstein and Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli screamed at the visiting dugout, and it felt like October all over again.

“I was able to vent a little bit,” Maddon said. “It’s always fun to vent, isn’t it? I mean, we’ve all been there. You have to vent on occasion. That’s the worst thing you could possibly do for your health long-term — to hold that stuff in. I want to get it out.”

Maddon spent part of his pregame media session talking up Cervelli, calling him a “good dude” who worked out at his wife’s boxing gym in Tampa, Fla., during the offseason: “He came to my Gasparilla party, dressed as a pirate of all things.”

“It’s just a matter of judging intentions,” said Zobrist, who’s new to this emerging rivalry after earning a World Series ring with the Kansas City Royals last year. “As a team, you’re trying to think: ‘Well, was that intentional? Was it not?’ But I think in that situation it was pretty clear.

“Our whole team’s going to stick up for each other. Obviously, Joe took exception to it. I think a lot of other guys did, too. I’ve been around long enough — I’ve been hit before. I took my base and scored a run. That’s the way I look at it.”

Maddon had even more fun with the Pirates and the replay system in the seventh inning after Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle erased a double play with a successful challenge at first base. Maddon responded by using Major League Baseball’s new takeout rule to challenge Jordy Mercer’s slide into second base.

“I had no clue what I was doing,” Maddon said. “I just knew I could challenge. At that particular juncture, why not? Give it a roll. Bottom of the seventh inning, who knows what they’re going to think?”

Maddon kept rolling and filibustering during his postgame news conference, saying how much he loved the Pirates’ uniforms as a kid growing up in Pennsylvania and comparing this rivalry to his high-school quarterback days and Hazleton vs. West Hazleton.

“People in Pittsburgh can enjoy that,” Maddon said. “They can identify with ‘Friday Night Lights,’ ‘All the Right Moves,’ all of the above. I’m being this way specifically so I don’t comment on the hit by batter.”

Cubs top Pirates to stay baseball's best, but Theo Epstein won't stop making moves

cubs_pgl_hit_05-02_640x360_678218819760.jpg

Cubs top Pirates to stay baseball's best, but Theo Epstein won't stop making moves

PITTSBURGH — Relentless is the word the Cubs keep using to describe a lineup that knocked out Gerrit Cole on Monday night with the bases loaded and two outs in the fifth inning and the Pittsburgh Pirates already trailing by two runs at PNC Park.

Relentless could also be a label for Theo Epstein’s front office, even after spending almost $290 million on free agents and even with an 18-6 record that’s the best in baseball following a 7-2 win over the Pirates.

The Cubs want nothing to do with the randomness of another elimination game and can’t take anything for granted with 85 percent of the schedule still remaining. They’ve already lost playoff hero Kyle Schwarber for the season, and the outfield picture is clouded with Jason Heyward dealing with a sore right wrist since early April and Matt Szczur scheduled to get an MRI on his right hamstring on Tuesday morning.

Not that Epstein needed a reminder, but the president of baseball operations flashed back to last year’s National League wild-card game when he flew into Pittsburgh, checked into the team’s downtown hotel across the Roberto Clemente Bridge and went running along the Allegheny River.

From his hotel room, Epstein could sort of see where Schwarber’s two-run homer off Cole flew out of PNC Park last October, giving this franchise a runaway sense of momentum.

“We’ve played really well,” Epstein said, “but I don’t think we’ve completely locked in yet or clicked in all facets of the game. Our pitching staff’s really been carrying us. It’s been the most consistent part of our team yet. As it warms up here, I think the bats will get going and they’ll probably carry us for a while.

“But as far as needs that we might have, or ways that we can get better, we’re always assessing that. I think there’s lots of different ways we could potentially improve the club before the end of the season.”

The Cubs will watch Tim Lincecum’s upcoming showcase in Arizona because they always check in on potential impact players at that level. Lincecum — a two-time Cy Young Award winner who helped the San Francisco Giants win three World Series titles — is making a comeback after hip surgery.

While the Cubs should have big-picture concerns about their rotation and a farm system that hasn’t developed the arms yet, Jason Hammel (4-0, 1.24 ERA) is making his own comeback.

Even if manager Joe Maddon doesn’t seem to completely trust Hammel, who gave up two runs across five innings and got pulled after throwing 89 pitches and accidentally hitting Starling Marte to lead off the sixth. Four different relievers combined to shut down the Pirates (15-11) the rest of the night.

Epstein — who is in the fifth and final year of his contract and used “status quo” to describe his extension talks with chairman Tom Ricketts — will have the position-player prospects to bundle if the Cubs do need a frontline pitcher this summer. A franchise-record payroll in the neighborhood of $150 million was also projected to have some room for in-season additions.

After beating up on the division’s have-nots and going 8-1 against the Cincinnati Reds and Milwaukee Brewers, the Cubs should have a better idea of where they stand after Maddon’s “Minimalist Zany” road trip to Pittsburgh and a four-game showdown against the Washington Nationals at Wrigley Field.

“There’s always the threat of somehow playing to the level of your competition in a negative way,” Maddon said. “I’m not denigrating any team that we’ve played to this point. That is not my point. But if you play teams with less-than (.500) records and maybe they’re not playing as well, you don’t turn that dimmer switch up to the full velocity. But when you’re playing really good teams, I think that naturally brings out the best in you.”

Preview: White Sox, Red Sox duel Tuesday night on CSN

stl_sox_most_impressive_05-02_640x360_678176835717.jpg

Preview: White Sox, Red Sox duel Tuesday night on CSN

The White Sox take on the Red Sox on Tuesday night, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins live from the South Side at 7 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on White Sox Postgame Live.

Tuesday's starting pitching matchup: Jose Quintana (3-1, 1.47 ERA) vs. Steven Wright (2-2, 1.37 ERA)

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

[SHOP WHITE SOX: Get your White Sox gear right here]

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

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

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