Cubs dont want to hear about next year


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?

Report: Bears looking for Jay Cutler return against Vikings; Matt Barkley on stand-by

Report: Bears looking for Jay Cutler return against Vikings; Matt Barkley on stand-by

FOX insider Jay Glazer confirmed on Sunday that the Bears expect quarterback Jay Cutler will be back from his sprained thumb and able to start against the Minnesota Vikings next Monday night in Soldier Field.

That would put Matt Barkley back where he has been pretty much his entire three-plus-year NFL career. Waiting.

That's the Bears want what every team wants – a young quarterback in the developmental pipeline – is no secret. Ryan Pace is among the NFL executives who speak of drafting a quarterback as much as every year, even if they don’t.

Could the Bears already have that player on their roster?

If Barkley, who was pressed into service when Brian Hoyer went down with a broken arm in last Thursday’s loss to the Green Bay Packers, is in fact that player, he might not be surprised. But the rest of the NFL would be.

"I'm confident that no matter where I am or what the deal is,” Barkley said, after going 6-for-15 with no TD’s and two interceptions, “I can play in this league.”

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

He may be one of the few still holding onto that belief. The Bears picked up Barkley after the Arizona Cardinals discarded him in early September. The Cardinals didn’t see Barkley as even a practice-squad option, which the Bears did and where Barkley was working before Cutler’s thumb injury forced the Bears to sign him to the active roster.

“The [Bears] personnel people thought he was a taller [6-2] guy that stood in the pocket pretty well,” said coach John Fox. “A guy that we thought we could work with, that had some experience and, hopefully, he got a little bit more experience [at Green Bay].”

Barkley has gone from possible No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft to just another touted USC quarterback who failed or were no better than just-OK at the NFL level (Todd Marinovich, Rob Johnson, Matt Leinart, Mark Sanchez), who has thrown 65 NFL passes, none for a touchdown and six that were intercepted, including two in the Bears’ 26-10 loss last Thursday in Green Bay.

The question for Barkley at this point in his career is whether Chicago is his last stop and/or chance. Fourth-round draft picks have played their ways into prominence (Kirk Cousins in Washington, Dak Prescott in Dallas, even Sonny Jurgensen and Norm Van Brocklin if you want to find Hall of Famers), but Barkley has the added challenge of being on his third team and learning yet another offense after beginning this season running Houston and Philadelphia plays for the Bears’ defense.

Barkley offered no excuses for his poor showing (18.3 passer rating). Sort of.

“It definitely would be more beneficial [to have gotten more snaps before Green Bay],” Barkley said. “I’m not going to say what Coach should do; that’s his decision and you’ve got to deal with what you’re dealt.

“Just since I’ve been here, you know, scout-team reps and trying to put our plays into what we’re seeing on cards, you try to do every little thing you can to get better no matter what you’re doing. That’s no excuse.”

Buckeyes not dead by a long shot, but this much is clear: Michigan is Big Ten's top dog


Buckeyes not dead by a long shot, but this much is clear: Michigan is Big Ten's top dog

Make no mistake, Ohio State isn’t out of the championship running because it lost one game on an October night in Happy Valley.

But here’s perhaps the biggest thing we learned on Saturday night: Michigan is the team to beat in the Big Ten.

The Wolverines didn’t prove that all by themselves, of course, because a 41-8 win over lowly Illinois is nothing special to a team in the national-title hunt. But with the Buckeyes falling in stunning fashion to Penn State, a comparison can start to be drawn.

We got a glimpse last weekend, when Ohio State couldn’t turn in nearly the same shut-down performance against Wisconsin that Michigan had two weeks prior. The Wolverines almost completely silenced the Badgers when the two met in Ann Arbor, a 14-7 win for Michigan in which it looked absolutely unbeatable on the defensive side and was a few missed field goals away from holding a much bigger lead. In its matchup with Wisconsin, the Ohio State defense showed up, too, particularly after halftime. But the Badgers still scored more than triple the points they did against the Wolverines and racked up more than 300 yards in the first half alone. The Buckeyes won and looked good doing it, but they looked nowhere near as good as the Wolverines did.

Then came Saturday night, when Ohio State struggled on offense despite some good raw numbers in terms of yardage. And the Penn State defense pressured the heck out of Heisman candidate J.T. Barrett, sacking him six times including on Ohio State’s final two offensive plays of the evening. These Lions are the same that the Wolverines scorched by a 49-10 score in late September. Michigan allowed Penn State to gain just 191 total yards in that game and sacked Trace McSorley six times, all while scoring nearly 50 points on 515 total yards.

Now, a few points.

The main difference when it comes to comparing the two games against Wisconsin and Penn State is that Michigan was at home for both and Ohio State was on the road for both. That’s a big difference, sure.

But the other point is that the Wolverines are doing this to everybody. They are obliterating the competition. Outside of the Wisconsin game — a game against a top-11 team with one of the best defenses in college football — every win has been a blowout. Including the Wisconsin game, the average margin of victory is 38.7. Excluding it, the average margin of victory is 44.

Michigan ranks No. 1 in the country in scoring defense, allowing an average of 10 points a game, and ranks No. 3 in the country in scoring offense, averaging a whopping 48.7 points per game. There doesn’t seem to be a weakness to this team, and there are no “yeah, but” arguments to be found, especially after what Ohio State did against Wisconsin and Penn State, two teams Michigan effectively dominated.

Jim Harbaugh’s crew is barreling toward playing for a national championship, it would seem. Of course, those Buckeyes still stand in the way, and should Ohio State take care of its business between now and the regular season’s final week — easier said than done with undefeated Nebraska still on the schedule — then The Game will be the Big Ten title game play-in we all thought it would be.

That game will still be a clash of the titans. But right this second, there’s a favorite. And it’s Michigan.