Peppers named NFC defensive player of the week

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Peppers named NFC defensive player of the week

One day after being named to his eighth career Pro Bowl, defensive end Julius Peppers earned NFC defensive player of the week honors for his work in Sunday's win over the Cardinals.
Peppers had three sacks, two quarterback hurries, forced a fumble and registered a defended pass in the Bears' 28-13 win in Arizona, moving them within one win and a Vikings' loss of grabbing the sixth and final playoff seed in the NFC.
The 5-foot-7 defensive end has tallied 11.5 sacks this season, the most in his three-year tenure in Chicago. 4.5 of those have come in the last two weeks, as he also collected 1.5 sacks against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in Week 15.
The Bears' top-ranked defense in the NFC has shown up plenty on this list, as Brian Urlacher won the award in Week 9 against the Titans. Charles Tillman also won the award twice in October, when he was also named the NFC defensive player of the month.
Tim Jennings was named the defensive player of the week in September.

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

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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.”

Cubs: Jason Heyward ready to put wrist issue behind him

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Cubs: Jason Heyward ready to put wrist issue behind him

Jason Heyward's name wasn't in the starting lineup Thursday, but he said he was preparing for the game as if he were playing, testing his injured right wrist with batting practice and cage work.

Apparently batting practice went well.

Heyward entered Thursday's game before the fourth inning, taking over in center field after Dexter Fowler was thrown out of the game for arguing balls and strikes with home-plate umpire Vic Carapazza.

Joe Maddon said the Cubs' plan was to see how batting practice went and evaluate from there, but all parties were planning on a return to the lineup in Friday's game before extenuating circumstances precipated a change Thursday evening.

Heyward missed the entire three-game series in Pittsburgh, but watched his teammates dominate the second-place Pirates without their Opening Day right fielder, left fielder (Kyle Schwarber) and catcher (Miguel Montero).

"When we lose guys, having other people come up and still do that, that's awesome," Heyward said. "I feel like those are building blocks for what can make a very special season — when people go down and other guys get reps when they're not expecting to get reps. They don't take 'em for granted. Getting everybody involved is a good thing."

Heyward said he initially hurt his wrist while doing tee work in spring training and had just been dealing with it since then.

The 26-year-old outfielder entered play Thursday hitting just .211 with a .573 OPS, but refused to use his wrist as an excuse.

"I don't like to not play," Heyward said. "It just got to a point where I was like, 'Hey, I should say something and get some extra help.' Now it's good because I can come in and get treated for it."

Heyward is playing under the biggest contract in Cubs history (eight years, $184 million) and undoubtedly wanted to prove himself to a new team and new city.

He missed just 21 games across the last two seasons, hitting .281 with a .766 OPS in the process.

Heyward had been hitting better of late, going 10-for-20 with two doubles and five RBI in the last five games of the Cubs' road trip in late April. 

But then he went hitless in the rain-shortened homestand against the Milwaukee Brewers and Atlanta Braves, going 0-for-17 with two walks. However, he did have a bunch of hard-hit balls, just right at defenders.

Still, he and the Cubs deemed it time to get some rest.

"It's tough [to know when to take a couple days off]," Heyward admitted. "But I know it's not a ligament [issue]. You know your body. The way I did it — it wasn't running into a wall or anything like that. It was just working hard in the cage.

"I want to play. I know I needed to play, especially at that time — it was so early. I know it's still early, but at that time, we weren't 20-6.

"It was just a matter of — is it going to help the team? Is it going to help me to get it calmed down sooner? I think it was a good time to do so."

Cubs ring in Cinco de Mayo with a mariachi band in the clubhouse

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Cubs ring in Cinco de Mayo with a mariachi band in the clubhouse

You could hear the Cubs clubhouse well before walking into the new state-of-the-art facility.

On Cinco de Mayo, of course Joe Maddon's Cubs would have a live mariachi band - complete with a Cubs jersey - performing as players geared up for a showdown with the NL East-leading Washington Nationals.

What were you expecting - Maddon wearing a sombrero?

"I can confirm I won't be wearing a sombrero in the dugout," Maddon joked before Thursday's game.

Fresh off their "Minimalist Zany" suit trip that included a sweep of the second-place Pittsburgh Pirates, the Cubs are feeling themselves quite a bit, so the mariachi band actually fit right in.

Plus, it made for a pregame moment Maddon said he'll remember forever.

"I was partially serenaded in the video room," Maddon said. "They were really good. My favorite moment was their solid rendition of 'Tequila' that was resonating throughout the entire clubhouse. 

"It's something I'll probably never forget - hearing a mariachi band playing 'Tequila' and your boys really participating pregame. That was kinda fun."

Maybe if the Cubs win Thursday, they'll celebrate with shots of Patrón.

Here's to hoping they dump the contents of a margarita machine onto a players' head during the CSN postgame interview. It'll be just like the "slime" on Nickelodeon.