Cubs dont want to hear about next year

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Cubs dont want to hear about next year

Alfonso Soriano has heard Cubs fans loud and clear, the cheers and the boos, and always shows up the next day with a smile on his face.

When asked if they will be patient enough for a long-term rebuild, the 136 million man sort of shrugged his shoulders and gave a look that said: Eh.

I dont say long-term, man, because in baseball, you never know, Soriano said. We have very good young talent. If everybody stays healthy, were going to compete every game. The group that we got is hungry to win. Who knows? Well see what happens.

That pretty much sums up the team that will stare down Stephen Strasburg and the Washington Nationals on Thursday at Wrigley Field. They are on one side of the parallel tracks baseball czar Theo Epstein likes to talk about.

So much of this season figures to be about identifying core players for the future, pushing Starlin Castro to the next level, figuring out what to do with Matt Garza and integrating Brett Jackson and Anthony Rizzo.

But after Opening Day, the Cubs think they can give the ball to a credible starting pitcher 161 more times this season. They are banking on bounce-backs from Ian Stewart and David DeJesus and breakthroughs by Bryan LaHair and Jeff Samardzija. They think Dale Sveums no-nonsense DNA will transform the clubhouse.

Were going to have to have a lot of things go our way, Epstein acknowledged. Were going to have to earn a lot of victories in close games in order to put us in a position where we look up in the middle of the year and were in this thing. So nothing will be given to us.

If you listen to the prognosticators, if you look at it on paper, its probably an uphill battle. But that doesnt mean were giving anything away. The goal here is to get in the playoffs and win the World Series and we start out on equal footing. Well make our own way this season.

Over the winter, the Cubs didnt import any new stars. The front office clipped coupons during the industrys wild spending spree on impulse buys. Garza has Carlos Zambranos old locker, while Carlos Marmol moved into the space once occupied by Aramis Ramirez.

The Cubs say they are going to improve incrementally, that it will all add up across the course of a six-month marathon. Kerry Wood couldnt remember doing this much work on the back fields during spring training.

Its something that they wanted to address and something they wanted to clean up, Wood said. It wont be because of lack of effort and lack of work in spring, Ill tell you that. Weve gone out and at least addressed it the way we should have, which is working at it (and) trying to get better.

Sveums Straight Talk Express rolled through Arizona, pounding away at fundamental play, and maybe this time it really will carryover into the season. His body language doesnt say first-year manager.

Its a little more purpose-driven now, utility man Jeff Baker said. Its one of those things where (when Sveum) actually says were going to focus on this stuff during the year, I think were actually going to do it. In times past, (with) some of the things that are emphasized, its like as soon as you leave spring training, theyre kind of gone.

Unfortunately, thats kind of the way it goes, but I dont think its going to happen with him.

He already has that instant credibility from his baseball card, what hes done. Hes coached on some winning teams and hes been around winning players and winning organizations and I think guys are excited here to be a part of the next winning thing.

How soon will that happen? A front office driven by data will cling to the outliers. General manager Jed Hoyer thought back to 2010, his first season as general manager of the San Diego Padres.

We had no expectations, Hoyer recalled. Las Vegas thought we were going to be under 70 wins and I think we had the best record in baseball in mid-August and we ended up winning 90 games. To say I expected that would be a lie. The most important thing you can do is be prepared every game, have a team that plays hard every game. If you have that, anything can happen.

Every single year there are teams that are going to surprise people, teams that are going to prove the experts wrong. If that doesnt happen, if that isnt our script, I certainly hope that throughout the course of the year we continue to add talent to our organization and build for a great day in the future. But I would never give away any one season.

So a Cubs organization that has grown colder and more corporate will wake up on Opening Day, quiet the talk about processes and information-management systems and think: Why not us?

Fire fail to hold another lead at home, but reason why was different

Fire fail to hold another lead at home, but reason why was different

Holding onto leads at home has not been a strong suit for the Fire this season.

Wednesday’s 2-2 draw against the LA Galaxy was the fifth time this season the Fire have been unable to get a win at home in a match they led. In four of those, including Wednesday, the Fire had leads in the second half.

In the previous cases, the Fire dropped deep defensively and tried to simply hold onto the lead or hope David Accam could score on a one-man counter.

“I think once we’re up in the result I think we have to make sure that we kill the game off because there’s been too many times where it’s that 1-0 or that 2-1 and we’re kind of holding there and the next thing you know they’re tying the game at the end of the game,” midfielder Arturo Alvarez said. “We got to keep pushing for that third goal to make sure that we kill things off.”

The game against LA was different. The Fire had multiple quality chances to score a third goal and take a two-goal lead. One opportunity featuring Accam, Luis Solignac and an open net seemed like a sure goal as it was developing.

However, the Fire didn’t find that two-goal lead and LA managed to come back.

“I think we created a lot of chances,” Alvarez said. “We went up 2-1 and unfortunately that third goal didn’t want to go in at the right time and then LA got that bounce.”

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Even though the result didn’t show it, the Fire may have actually turned a corner in terms of how to play with a lead. In the win at Montreal on Saturday, the Fire scored that extra goal to take a two-goal lead, something the team hadn’t done all season in an MLS game.

Against the Galaxy, the Fire actually had more possession in the second half (56 percent) than the first half (46 percent). LA’s only shot on goal in the second half was the tying goal while the Fire put three shots on target in the second 45 minutes.

The Fire did fail to close out another match at home that they had a lead in, but the way it happened was different and maybe that’s a positive sign going forward.

“I think it’s starts from the offense,” Accam said. “If we could have scored then we could have killed the game. The defense did really well. We just need to keep finishing chances and then opponents won’t have the chance to attack us.

“I think we played one of the best games we played this season, but we need to take our chances and today I would say we are disappointed that we dropped two points at home. For me also we created so many chances that on another day we could have taken it. It’s kind of a mixed feeling for me.”

Hunter Jr., McGlinchey, Onwualu, Rochell ready to lead Notre Dame as captains

Hunter Jr., McGlinchey, Onwualu, Rochell ready to lead Notre Dame as captains

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — As Notre Dame breaks up the scar tissue from a weekend that saw six players be arrested, it named four players to an official leadership role.

Coach Brian Kelly announced four captains following practice on Wednesday: Redshirt junior wide receiver Torii Hunter Jr., redshirt junior offensive lineman Mike McGlinchey, linebacker James Onwualu and defensive end Isaac Rochell. 

“I can't think of a higher honor that I've received in my life,” Rochell said. 

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Those players, plus a group of other upperclassmen that includes quarterbacks DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire, will be counted on to lead the Irish through the fall. Those players all saw the importance of leadership last year, when Notre Dame — complete with an avalanche of leaders headlined by five team captains — was able to navigate an unprecedented string of injuries to a 10-win season and berth in the Fiesta Bowl. 

Each of these guys learned from captains and/or leaders at their position in 2015. For Hunter, that was Chris Brown. McGlinchey learned from the Martins, Nick and Zack, who combined to spend four years as Irish captains. 

“We’re going to be okay without the Martins,” McGlinchey smiled, “though it does stink without them.”

On defense, Rochell picked up plenty from Sheldon Day, a two-time captain himself who was one of the more vocal leaders on the Irish last fall. And Onwualu started alongside Jaylon Smith and Joe Schmidt for two consecutive years, with both of those players earning captaincies in 2015.

Onwualu is also the answer to a good trivia question, given he has the most starts at wide receiver (four) of any current Irish player. 

“I’ve been trying to convince (Kelly) to let me go back,” Onwualu quipped. “I want a couple more catches.” 

Notre Dame probably doesn’t have the leadership depth it did in 2015 or 2012, when rosters stocked with a good mix of vocal and lead-by-example players powered the two best seasons in the Kelly era. But all these captains are in Year 4 in the program and said they’re excited for the challenge ahead of them. 

“I’m definitely honored and blessed to be in this position,” Hunter said. 

Here’s what Kelly had to say about each player:

On Rochell: “He’s really taken over that room from Sheldon Day. Been the leader, there’s a lot of young players in that room, he’s been a great mentor. I love the way he handles himself on a day-to-day basis. Really loves Notre Dame, understands Notre Dame and is a great, great ambassador for our football program.”

On Onwualu: “Here’s a guy that has made himself into a great player for us. Started at the wide receiver position, is well-respected by all of his peers, one of our hardest workers and now has put himself in the position to lead our football team.”

On Hunter: “A guy that walks the walk and talks the talk and backs it up both on and off the field and will be a great mentor to a lot of young receivers.”

On McGlinchey: “A guy that is not afraid to speak up, speak his mind. He’s done a great job of really growing into his leadership role.” 

Notre Dame notes: No QB starter yet, McGovern wins right guard battle

Notre Dame notes: No QB starter yet, McGovern wins right guard battle

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Brian Kelly doesn’t have an answer to the question that’s been on everyone’s minds, at least until it was momentarily shoved out of the spotlight by the six Irish players arrested last weekend

Kelly said Wednesday he hasn’t decided who will start at quarterback against Texas between Malik Zaire and DeShone Kizer, though what matters more is how the seventh-year Notre Dame coach uses each player at Darrell K. Royal Stadium Sept. 4. 

It’s been eight days since Kelly informed Kizer and Zaire they both would play against Texas, and while there was initial frustration on the part of each quarterback, Kelly said he’s seen both players warm up to the idea of splitting time in Austin. 

“Since that decision, they really have embraced knowing that both of them will play and they both have to be ready,” Kelly said. “I think what I’ve seen more than anything else is a sharpness in their practice and in particular in their preparation. They know they’re both going to play. They’ve been really sharp.”

[MORE: Notre Dame announces four captains for 2016 season]

More notes from Notre Dame’s last media availability before game week:

— Kelly said both Kizer and Zaire were under consideration to be named captains. “I’m certain that they would have made very good captains,” Kelly said. But Kelly hasn’t named a quarterback a captain while at Notre Dame, though he’s only had one good candidate (Tommy Rees in 2013) before Kizer and Zaire. Wide receiver Torii Hunter Jr., left tackle Mike McGlinchey, defensive end Isaac Rochell and linebacker James Onwualu were all named captains on Wednesday. 

— Redshirt junior Colin McGovern will start over redshirt freshman Tristen Hoge at right guard against Texas, Kelly said. McGlinchey offered an assessment of McGovern, who will make his first career start in Austin: “Colin came into camp ready to play and he was on his assignments, he was kicking some ass, and that’s all it’s about for offensive linemen. He was a sound football player this camp. And it’s really exciting to see Colin step up and get ready to play. He’s very capable of doing the job, a very talented kid, ready to work and he’s got a good head on his shoulders. He’s going to do great things for us this year.”

— Redshirt sophomore defensive end Jay Hayes (ankle) practiced on Wednesday and should be ready to play against Texas provided he’s 100 percent healthy by the weekend, Kelly said. 

— Sophomore running back Josh Adams is back at practice after missing a good chunk of August with a hamstring injury. Running backs were hit in practice on Wednesday and Kelly was pleased with what he saw: “This was the first day where he looked like Josh Adams.” 

— Redshirt freshman receiver Chris Finke, who was elevated from walk-on status and earned a scholarship on Monday, is solidly the No. 2 option behind sophomore C.J. Sanders at slot receiver. Finke held off redshirt sophomore Corey Holmes for backup duties (though Holmes can be moved around to other receiver positions), as the 5-foot-9, 180 pound Kettering, Ohio native “won us over with his consistent play,” Kelly said.