Odds and end zones


Odds and end zones

10 sacks in a game? Cutler going down

After righting the protection issues of the Green Bay game, the offense has seen quarterback Jay Cutler sacked 10 times over a span of roughly four-plus quarters. Actually, 10 times over the span of 60 snaps before the second half of the Carolina game.

Cutler was dropped four times in the final 37 minutes (35 plays for him) of the Detroit game and six more in the first 30 of the Bears 23-22 win over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.

More important overall, play improved in the second half and Cutler was not sacked over the final two quarters.

Coach Tice did a heck of a job correcting some of those things and we adjusted and came out in the second half and did things well, said center Roberto Garza. They had a good plan for us. They saw what weve been having trouble with against Detroit and started slanting guys.

Bad call?

He will likely get a notice of fine from the NFL for it but defensive end Israel Idonije was adamant that his low hit on quarterback Cam Newton in the fourth quarter should not even have drawn a flag.

Idonije was turning the right edge of the Carolina pocket and was blockedpulled down by both the right tackle and then guard of the Carolina line. He continued his rush, reaching up to try to hit Newtons arm but was too low to reach him and ended up around the quarterbacks legs.

You cant make that call, not when a game is that close, Idonije said. Hes got to see that Im getting pushed down to the ground. The tackle was pushing me down and the guard comes in to help and hes pushing me down as well. Where am I supposed to go?

An NFL official told CSNChicago.com last offseason that intent often was amply evident but the rules did not permit grading the mindset, just the action. The fact that Idonije clearly was not going after Newtons knees as a target may help get his fine lowered but probably not eliminated.

New kid

Nate Collins made his first appearance on Sunday after sitting out game one with a suspension and then being active the following five games. Amobi Okoye has struggled with a nagging ankle strain from the Dallas game and was placed on the inactive list for the game

Collins, who stood out in training camp to earn a roster spot, was credited with a solo and two assisted tackles.

Willson Contreras apologizes to Cubs fans on Twitter and again makes his presence felt in World Series

Willson Contreras apologizes to Cubs fans on Twitter and again makes his presence felt in World Series

CLEVELAND — Willson Contreras became the first Cub in franchise history to apologize on social media for pimping a double in a World Series game.

These Cubs are trying to write their own history with a group of young players who love the game and play it with flair and a definite sense of swagger. That raw talent and those emotional sparks helped this team win 103 games and its first National League pennant since 1945. Major League Baseball desperately needs more personalities, and the Cubs are delivering that hoped-for surge in TV ratings, with Fox no doubt rooting for the drama of a Game 7.

As much as the Cubs run on adrenaline, they also don’t crash hard, bouncing back with a 5-1 win over the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday night before the World Series shifts to what will be a wild scene in Wrigleyville this weekend.

Contreras made his presence felt in Game 2 by helping Jake Arrieta flirt with a no-hitter, holding the Indians to zero stolen bases, getting on base three times and learning from his mistake the night before. Facing Indians closer Cody Allen — with his team down six runs in the ninth inning on Tuesday — Contreras hammered a 92-mph fastball and watched it fly at Progressive Field.

Contreras flipped his bat aside, took about five steps and then started to realize that he needed to hustle and follow manager Joe Maddon’s “Respect 90” philosophy.

“I swear I didn’t see it,” Maddon said. “I guess we’re setting a record for the most guys under 24 years of age. And I want to believe that (with) a lot of our youngsters — as they gain more experience — you’re going to see a lot of that stuff go away.

“But I did not notice it. I jumped out to see the flight of the ball and I saw it hit the wall. But I did not see what he was doing. So I would not have known that had you not brought it up.”

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

It did not go unnoticed within the clubhouse, which has already seen Javier Baez do the same act during the playoffs. A veteran Cub said something to Contreras, who posted a message on his Twitter account:

Contreras has been a quick study, absorbing a sophisticated scouting/game-planning system and learning how to work with a veteran pitching staff filled with different personalities. Maddon paired Contreras with a Cy Young Award winner — keeping Miguel Montero on the bench — and will rely on the rookie catcher with a rocket arm to help control the running game against an aggressive Cleveland team.

“He’s an energizer, there’s no question,” Maddon said. “When you talk to him, he definitely engages you. He looks right at you when you’re speaking to him. He’s passionate about his job and very bright.”

Lesson learned: When Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis misplayed a groundball with two outs in the fifth inning, Contreras sprinted to first base and reached safely on the error. That pushed Bryan Shaw — Cleveland’s second of six relievers out of the bullpen — to keep working. Back-to-back walks to Jorge Soler and Addison Russell then forced in an insurance run that made it 5-0.

“I want to compete,” Contreras said. “It feels good when you win the (battle) against one of the best closers in the big leagues. (But) I was wrong. My first thought was get the phone, tweet it out. I knew it was my fault. But it won’t happen again.”

With essential contributions from Baez (NL Championship Series co-MVP) and Contreras (9-for-25, .949 OPS in playoffs), the Cubs have obliterated the narratives about this team playing too tight and worrying about what happened in the past and expecting something to go wrong.

“We all are like brothers,” Contreras said. “We support each other. Either way, Americans or Latin players, we are one team. We’re able to be ourselves because of that confidence that they give us. Maddon gives you the confidence to go out there and play your baseball and do what you got to do.

“That’s important for us — feel freedom.”

Cubs: Even Kyle Schwarber's teammates can't believe what they're seeing in World Series

Cubs: Even Kyle Schwarber's teammates can't believe what they're seeing in World Series

CLEVELAND — Kyle Schwarber fielded a question that, in light of another astonishing performance in the World Series, wasn’t ridiculous: Is this game just that easy for you?

Schwarber collected a pair of RBI singles and drew a walk in the Cubs’ 5-1 win over the Cleveland Indians in Game 2 of the World Series Wednesday night at Progressive Field. This is a guy who, until Tuesday, last saw a pitch from a major leaguer in early April and only had six at-bats against live pitching in the Arizona Fall League before being added to the Cubs’ World Series roster. 

“It’s not that easy, first off,” Schwarber said. “Baseball’s a crazy game.”

Crazy is one way to describe what Schwarber has done at the plate in the first two games of the World Series: In Game 1, he blasted a double off the right field wall off Indians ace Corey Kluber and worked a walk against all-world reliever Andrew Miller. In Game 2, he got the green light on a 3-0 fastball and ripped a single up the middle to score Anthony Rizzo in the third inning, and in the fifth, he punched a single through a drawn-in infield for another RBI. 

And it bears repeating, because it’s such a stunning fact on this stage: Schwarber went 201 days without a major league plate appearance. 

“We should just skip spring training next year,” third baseman Kris Bryant sarcastically quipped. “You'll be fine. Just jump right into the World Series and have success. No big deal."

After Schwarber’s first RBI single, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein was shown on Fox’s broadcast clapping and yelling “Atta Boy!” from the stands at Progressive Field. Epstein’s front office wouldn’t budge on dealing Schwarber to the New York Yankees for Miller, who’s become an X-Factor for the Indians in the postseason, seeing a searingly bright future for the former No. 4 overall pick in the middle of the Cubs’ lineup for years to come. 

But at the trade deadline, when he was still working through his grueling rehab from a torn ACL and LCL, nobody could’ve predicted Schwarber could be an X-Factor for the Cubs’ chances of winning their first World Series since 1908. 

“I can see why Theo sent a plane for him,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “I would, too. That's a lot to ask, but special players can do special things.”

The visiting clubhouse and press conference room at Progressive Field was buzzing with Schwarber talk after the game, with plenty of the questions asked by the media centered around Schwarber. And everybody associated with the Cubs was more than happy to talk about him. 

“I mean, how do you square (pitches) up after that long when you're facing this quality of pitching?” left fielder Ben Zobrist said. “I mean, I feel like when I go into spring training every year, every ball going past me is 115 mph. To see the ball and be able to square it up like that, he's that good of a hitter."

“To even be able to put himself in this position to be on the World Series roster, and to contribute the way he has is remarkable,” starter Jake Arrieta said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. I remember hearing Smoltzy (Hall of Fame pitcher and Fox announcer John Smoltz) comment on the broadcast, and this guy played for 20 years, he said he's never seen anything like it. For a guy to be able to do something like this in his second year is just, you know, I'm kind of speechless.”

“I didn't know what to expect,” Bryant said. ‘I’m sure people expected the world out of him. We knew he'd contribute in some way and that's why he's on the roster, but for him to do it this quickly and have at-bats like that — I mean, every at-bat he's had so far, he's worked a count, a couple walks, big hits, it's really impressive."

With the World Series shifting to Wrigley Field for the next three games, Schwarber needs to be cleared by team doctors to play the field to stay in the Cubs’ lineup. It’s a medical decision that’s out of manager Joe Maddon’s hands, but if he has clearance to make Schwarber more than a pinch hitter over the weekend, the Cubs will roll with the middle of the order they envisioned at the start of the season. 

Bryant, Rizzo, Zobrist and Schwarber combined to reach base in 10 of their 20 plate appearances and drove in four of the Cubs’ five runs in Game 2. 

Said Maddon about having Schwarber hitting fifth: “It makes your lineup longer, it makes it thicker. It makes it better.”

Schwarber’s return from that devastating, gruesome injury could go down as one of the astonishing, improbable storylines in baseball history if he helps lead the Cubs to a championship. He wasn’t supposed to return to the Cubs’ lineup until 2017, but here he is, driving in runs, pumping up his teammates and blowing the minds of almost everyone watching the 2016 World Series. 

"I've never had to do what he's had to do. In this situation, I don't know that anybody has,” Zobrist said. “(He) sat out basically all year and then gets put on the playoff roster. No. 1, most teams wouldn't even do that, especially as a hitter. And then on top of that, to actually have quality at-bats and put some good swings on it — I mean, there's no one else in history that's done that, right? To get a hit in the World Series. It's just crazy. It really is."