Bears schedule: Titans loom before tough stretch

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Bears schedule: Titans loom before tough stretch

Ugly wins count as well as pretty ones and the Bears kept a two-step NFC North lead on Green Bay with their come-from-behind win over Carolina while Minnesota also lost.

After the trip to Tennessee, the Bears move into the toughest quarter of their season (Houston, at San Francisco, Minnesota, Seattle). But taking care of the Titans would bump the record to 7-1 while the division rivals struggle to stay within reach and hoping for a Chicago collapse.

Indianapolis Colts (4-3) W 41-21
Balanced identity established with 33-35 run pass ratio and O runs up 428 yards with Jay Cutler throwing for 333 yards and 2 TDs to go with rushing TDs by Michael Bush (2) and Matt Forte (1) as part of 122 rushing yards.

@ Green Bay Packers (5-3) L 23-10
Jay Cutler berates offensive linemen on national TV for seven sacks; linemen just have to accept Cutlers four INTs apparently. Embarrassing offensive performance all around as defense holds Aaron Rodgers and Pack to 3 FGs and one TD.

St. Louis Rams (3-5) W 23-6
Defense sacks Sam Bradford six times and holds Rams out of the end zone. Offense scores only one TD for the second week in a row and Jay Cutler continues to find a groove with receivers.

@ Dallas Cowboys (3-4) W 34-18
Five interceptions of Tony Romo, two returned for TDs (Briggs, Tillman) and a workmanlike 360 yards on offense produce a crucial road win on MNF.

@ Jacksonville Jaguars (1-6) W 41-3
Bears offense runs up 501 balanced yards (214 rush, 287 pass) and explodes after a sluggish first half. Briggs and Tillman make NFL history with TD interceptions for second straight week and Brandon Marshall puts up 144 yards on 12 catches.

Sun., Oct. 14 Off week

vs. Detroit Lions (3-4) W 13-7
Jay Cutler sacked five times and survives Ndamukong Suhs WWF takedown. Bears RBs net 132 yards as run game clicks. Offense cant put Lions away but Charles Tillman D on Calvin Johnson locked him into a 2nd Pro Bowl.

vs. Carolina Panthers (1-6) W 23-22
Robbie Gould 41-yard FG as time expires caps 16-point fourth quarter and rally from 19-7 deficit. Offense and defense struggle badly for three quarters but Kellen Davis catches TD pass and Tim Jennings TD return to turn back Cam Newton and reeling Ron Rivera team.

@ Tennessee Titans (3-5) Sun., Nov. 4, noon
Titans never trail until Colts score winning TD in OT to end two-game win streak for Tennessee. Matt Hasselbeck keeps playing well, 22-for-29 passing for 236 yards and a TD. Titans defense still most scored-on in NFL by wide margin; Colts (19) first opponent held under 23 points. Next: BEARS

Houston Texans (6-1) Sun., Nov. 11, 7:20 p.m
Off last week. Next: Buffalo

@ San Francisco 49ers (6-2) Mon., Nov. 19, 7:30 p.m.
Beating Arizona gives Jim Harbaughs group a two-game lead in the NFC West. Swarming 3-4 defense makes Alex Smith a winning QB. Next: Off

Minnesota Vikings (5-3) Sun., Nov. 25, noon
Fast start has given way to freefall after losses to Washington and Tampa Bay in last three weeks. Doug Martin nets 214 combined yards. Adrian Peterson is working; Christian Ponder, not so well. On the road vs. Seahawks will be a struggle. Next: @ Seattle

Seattle Seahawks (4-4) Sun., Dec. 2, noon
Seahawks lose second straight despite leading most of the game. Lions convert 12 of 16 third downs and Seattle cant stop Matthew Stafford winning TD pass in final 20 seconds. Next: vs. Minnesota

@ Minnesota Vikings (5-3) Sun., Dec. 9, noon

Green Bay Packers (5-3) Sun., Dec. 16, noon
Without WRs Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson, Packers still handle Jaguars to keep the Bears in sight in the NFC North. Packers have won three straight by nine or more points and schedule is softer but injuries mounting. Next: vs. Arizona

@ Arizona Cardinals (4-4) Sun., Dec. 23, 3:15 p.m.
Spiral reaches four straight with MNF home loss to San Francisco. 4-0 start now just a blip as QB, OL problems wont go away but Cardinals are. Next: @ Green Bay

@ Detroit Lions (3-4) Sun., Dec. 30, noon
Matthew Stafford directs comeback win without heavy production from Calvin Johnson again. Next: @ Jacksonville

Jose Abreu ready for 2017 after season full of 'different challenges'

Jose Abreu ready for 2017 after season full of 'different challenges'

GLENDALE, Ariz. — A torrid two months at the plate helped Jose Abreu end what he found to be an extremely trying 2016 season with numbers close to his career norms.

But even though he finished with an .820 OPS and 100 RBIs for a third straight season, Abreu admits that 2016 was a season unlike any other he'd faced.

While he didn't disclose any theories for the cause of his lengthy struggles, the White Sox first baseman said Sunday he's pleased to have finished on a positive note and thinks that rebounding from those difficulties will only make him stronger. Abreu — who hit .293/.353/.468 with 25 home runs and 100 RBIs in 695 plate appearances — is also a fan of new White Sox manager Rick Renteria and is equally impressed with the prospects the club acquired this winter.

"Yes, those were different challenges, especially in my mind," Abreu said through an interpreter. "I never in my life experienced some of the kind of struggles like I did last year. But that put me in a better position as a player, as a person too. I'm in a better position now for this season because I learned from the experience."

In spite of his struggles, Abreu was still a league average player through the first four months of the season. But the 2014 All-Star hardly resembled the player who produced a 153 OPS-plus over his first two seasons. His timing was off and Abreu — hitting .269/.325/.413 with 11 homers and 56 RBIs through July 30 — wasn't driving the ball as he typically had in his first two seasons, when he smacked 66 homers.

Abreu was lost at the plate and nobody could figure out why.

But after the arrival of his son, Dariel, who visited him for the first time since he moved to the United States, Abreu took off. He hit .338/.402/.568 the rest of the season with 14 homers and 44 RBIs in 249 trips to the plate.

"Right after last season ended, I had my meeting at my house with my family, just to explain to them how the season was because they know about baseball," Abreu said. "But sometimes they can't register how the process is in a season as long as the major league season is. We talked about it. I explained to them all of the challenges, the problems I had during that season. Once we ended with that meeting, last season was in the past. We moved on and we were trying just to figure out things and how can I do better for this season."

Now in his fourth season in the majors, Abreu has a firm grasp on how the White Sox operate and likes some of the team's modifications. He likes how Renteria thoroughly communicates what he has in mind for the club. Abreu also enjoys being seen as one of the team's leaders and wouldn't mind being a mentor to prized prospect Yoan Moncada.

Now he hopes to carry over his strong finish to the start of the 2017 campaign.

"I'm working on it," Abreu said. "That's one of my goals. Everybody knows that at the beginning of last season, I wasn't performing good. It was kind of a surprise for me, too. But I'm in good shape right now and I believe I will be able to succeed."

After playoff bullpen issues, Cubs again see Pedro Strop as a late-game force

After playoff bullpen issues, Cubs again see Pedro Strop as a late-game force

MESA, Ariz. – Inside Wrigley Field’s state-of-the-art clubhouse, the Cubs posted a blown-up image of the 2015 Sports Illustrated cover where Pedro Strop is high-stepping next to Kris Bryant down the third-base line, the mosh pit awaiting at home plate.

Between his tilted-hat look, chest-pounding celebrations and overall joy for the game, Strop sets an example for the younger guys in the bullpen and the Latin players in the clubhouse. Strop has been so valuable that Jake Arrieta could have never thrown a pitch in a Cubs uniform and Theo Epstein’s front office still would have considered the Scott Feldman trade with the Baltimore Orioles an absolute success.  

Yet when the long rebuild reached its apex – and manager Joe Maddon searched for World Series answers – Strop had already been marginalized in the bullpen. A freak injury – Strop heard a pop and tore the meniscus in his left knee while trying to slide and field a groundball in August – bumped him from his role as the seventh- or eighth-inning stopper.  

“It was a little difficult,” Strop said. “After I came back from my surgery, it was a different situation. But it’s something that you got to get used to and understand the situation, understand how deep our bullpen is and just go and fight whenever they ask you to.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a big deal.”  

During Sunday’s media session, Maddon dismissed any issues with Strop (2.85 ERA) or Hector Rondon, the former 30-save closer who strained his right triceps last summer and didn’t quite get his timing down for the playoffs. Down 3-1 in the World Series, Maddon summoned Aroldis Chapman to throw 97 pitches combined in Games 5, 6 and 7 against the Cleveland Indians.

“Listen, it’s not a lack of trust,” Maddon said. “(Strop) just got hurt. And when you get hurt like that at that time of the year, it’s hard to play catch-up. When guys get injured in-season and you get to the moment where you’re trying to win a championship, you got to put like personal feelings aside on both sides of it, whether you’re managing it or playing.

“I have nothing but trust. My God, the threat is when you have him, you want to use him too much, always. And the same thing with Ronnie. I talked to Ronnie about that – I don’t want to put him in a position. I think Rondon got hurt last year because part of it was my greediness on using him too much in the early part of the season.

“You really have to battle against that when you get guys that good. You want to use them all the time. (I have) a tremendous amount of trust in both of those guys. It’s just a matter of utilizing them properly and keeping them healthy.”

[MORE: What Joe Maddon wants to see next from Javier Baez]

Since the middle of the 2013 season, Strop has notched 84 holds for the Cubs, putting up a 2.68 ERA and a 0.984 WHIP to go with 254 strikeouts in 211-plus innings. At a time when a $10 billion industry is reassessing the value of high-leverage relievers, Strop will make $5.5 million this year before hitting the open market.

“You never know,” Strop said. “I would love to repeat the championship season and win another one here before I hit free agency. Hopefully, they want to bring me back. I really like the city of Chicago. I love the fans and I love my team and the coaches.

“After this season, it’s going to become business, so hopefully we can put something together.”