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The Bears have a replacement for Lovie Smith

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The Bears have a replacement for Lovie Smith

From Comcast SportsNetCHICAGO (AP) -- The Bears hired Montreal Alouettes coach Marc Trestman on Wednesday to replace the fired Lovie Smith, hoping he can get the most out of quarterback Jay Cutler and make Chicago a playoff team on a consistent basis.It's the first head coaching job in the NFL for Trestman, a long-time assistant in the league who spent the past five seasons coaching the CFL's Alouettes and led them to two Grey Cup titles.Trestman was an offensive coordinator with Cleveland, San Francisco, Arizona and Oakland.Chicago general manager Phil Emery cast a wide net in his search, meeting with at least 13 candidates. Besides Trestman, he also brought back Seattle Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and the Indianapolis Colts' Bruce Arians for second interviews.Smith was let go after nine years, ending a run that included a trip to the Super Bowl but also saw Chicago miss the playoffs five out of the past six seasons.The Bears, who have scheduled a news conference for 11 a.m., are turning to the 57-year-old Trestman in part because of his background with quarterbacks.He worked with Bernie Kosar as an assistant at the University of Miami and again when he was on the Browns' staff in the 1980s. Trestman helped the Raiders reach the Super Bowl at the end of the 2002 season with an offense he geared for QB Rich Gannon, the league's MVP that year.In recent years, Trestman has worked as a consultant in the NFL and in the offseason helped develop quarterbacks entering the league -- including Cutler. His biggest task will be maximizing the man behind center and getting the offense to click.That's something that never really happened under Smith, who helped build a top defense around stars such as Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, but never could solve the issues on the other side of the ball. The Bears' offense never ranked higher than 15th under Smith, and the problems in that area along with the postseason misses ultimately led to his dismissal.The Bears have big holes on the offensive line and at tight end, but the No. 1 task is connecting with Cutler. As gifted as he is, questions remain about his makeup and demeanor.He has one year left on his contract, and the Bears have to figure out if he can lead them to the top. In Chicago, the deck at times has been stacked against him.His relationship with former offensive coordinator Ron Turner seemed icy, and he took a beating in Mike Martz's system. The offense sputtered this year with Mike Tice calling the plays, and now Cutler will be working in his fourth system since the Bears acquired him from Denver in 2009.Besides the issues on the line the past few years, Cutler also lacked a go-to receiver his first three years in Chicago, but that changed in a big way before this season. The Bears hired Emery to replace the fired Jerry Angelo as GM after a late collapse last year, and although he was given a mandate to work with Smith for at least a year, he was able to retool the roster.The biggest move? That was the trade with Miami for Brandon Marshall, Cutler's favorite target in Denver.Marshall set club records for catches and yards, but the Bears still ranked 28th on offense.It didn't help that receivers Alshon Jeffery and Earl Bennett missed time with injuries or that running back Matt Forte was banged up and uninvolved at times, whether it was in the run or passing game.The Bears also have an aging core on defense and a big question at middle linebacker. Urlacher has an expiring contract and missed the last four games with a hamstring injury after being limited by a knee problem, and the eight-time Pro Bowler might have played his final down for Chicago.Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Tillman, star defensive end Julius Peppers and linebacker Lance Briggs all are in their 30s.Despite having some aging stars, the Bears' defense ranked fifth overall and picked off a league-leading 24 passes while returning and NFL-best eight interceptions for touchdowns.Their special teams remain a strong point, too, even if Devin Hester failed to return a kickoff or punt for a touchdown.

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With or without Justin Verlander, Jake Arrieta expects Cubs to stay in first place: ‘We have the pieces’

With or without Justin Verlander, Jake Arrieta expects Cubs to stay in first place: ‘We have the pieces’

The Cubs already have a Cy Young Award winner, someone who was transforming into the hottest pitcher on the planet around this time in 2015, and then beat the Cleveland Indians twice on the road in last year’s World Series.

So the Cubs can keep discussing Justin Verlander and trying to figure out the price point where it makes sense, what caliber prospects they would have to give up and how much money the Detroit Tigers would have to kick in to cover a bill that could soar toward $90 million. 

But Jake Arrieta showed why the Cubs might finally start to run away from the division and become a very dangerous team in October, dominating the White Sox on Wednesday night at Guaranteed Rate Field during an 8-3 win that vaulted them into first place in the National League Central.          

“We expect to remain in first place,” Arrieta said. “We know it’s going to be a tough task, but that’s kind of what you deal with at the highest level of sports. You expect to have really good competition from teams that are either equal with you or close behind.

“We feel like we have the group to separate ourselves at this point in time and remain in first place for the remainder of the way.”

The Cubs probably don’t have the blue-chip prospects – and the appetite to raid their farm system again – to blow away the Oakland A’s and win a bidding war for Sonny Gray. The Cubs kick the tires on everything, but Yu Darvish would be a rental and the Texas Rangers are torn over what to do with their Japanese star. 

This is another reason why the Cubs are focusing on adding a veteran backup catcher and strengthening the bullpen before the July 31 trade deadline: Arrieta Watch is back, taking a no-hitter into the fifth inning in front of a sellout crowd of 38,517 before Omar Narvaez drilled a ground-rule double into the right-center field seats.  

The Cubs are 10-2 since trading for Jose Quintana during the All-Star break, erasing a 5.5-game deficit against the Milwaukee Brewers heading into this weekend’s showdown at Miller Park. At 53-47, the Cubs are a season-high six games over .500, and it all starts with pitching.  

“I think we’ve got the pieces to get it done,” Arrieta said. “If there’s a situation where we can get another guy and not lose any key players, it might work in our favor.

“Obviously, when we traded for Quintana, that’s a huge addition to our ballclub. This guy’s really good. He works his butt off. And just seeing how he carries himself in between starts is a really great sign. To have a guy like that who works extremely hard and cares about the team winning ballgames – you can’t replace that.

“That trade right there in itself is one that’s going to pay huge dividends for this ballclub, not only for this year, but for the next couple years. But we’re a great team right now, and I think we have the pieces to get it done.”  

Arrieta was on cruise control until Yoan Moncada launched his 98th and final pitch – an 0-2 curveball – 409 feet over the center-field wall with two outs in the seventh inning. Arrieta only allowed those two hits, giving up two runs and finishing with five strikeouts against two walks, continuing the correction super-agent Scott Boras predicted when the Chicago media and Cubs fans wondered about his flashes of diminished velocity and spikes in hard contact during a free-agency push.

Arrieta has methodically put together 10 wins and three straight quality starts after the All-Star break, chopping his ERA down from 5.44 in the middle of May to 4.03. Ricky Renteria’s White Sox are obviously tanking for the future and there are a lot of conditions attached to this statement: 

But if Arrieta pitches like this, Jon Lester continues to be one of the best big-game pitchers of his generation, Quintana excels in a pennant race and Kyle Hendricks regains his feel and rhythm after six-plus weeks on the disabled list, then the Cubs might have a better playoff rotation than the one that ended the 108-year drought.     

“We’re feelin’ it,” Arrieta said, thinking back to last summer, when Theo Epstein’s front office added 100-mph closer Aroldis Chapman to a team with close to a 99-percent chance of making the playoffs. “I remember last year we were in this clubhouse around this same time, and it’s no different.” 

Look at the competition: The Washington Nationals might be forced into adding a frontline starter now that Stephen Strasburg is headed to the 10-day disabled list with a nerve impingement in his right forearm. The Los Angeles Dodgers are hoping a strained lower back won’t stop Clayton Kershaw from making a few tune-up starts in September before becoming their Game 1 starter in October.

With or without Verlander, the Cubs are ramping up to defend their title.

“I’m going to continue to get stronger as the year progresses,” Arrieta said. “I feel like my best baseball, my best pitching, is still ahead of me. And I’m ready for it.”