Cubs, Jackson will live with the ups and downs

837435.png

Cubs, Jackson will live with the ups and downs

SAN DIEGO The last time the Cubs were at Petco Park, chairman Tom Ricketts was still gathering information for a decision that could define his familys legacy as owners of this marquee franchise.

On the final day of the 2011 season, Ricketts agreed to an interview with the beat writers. He was vague about the executive search that would end with Theo Epstein who would be universally praised as a home-run hire but he did talk about expectations.

Ricketts stood in the visiting dugout and pointed to the worst-to-first Arizona Diamondbacks as an example.

One thing youve seen in baseball over the last few years is that turnarounds can happen pretty quickly, Ricketts said last September. I dont think its meaningful to describe a year as a rebuilding year or a reloading year or any of that.

You get the right players on the team and they all stay healthy and they play hard, the team can go from 70 wins to 90 wins. It happens pretty frequently.

Things turn around fast. Thats the way we look at it for next year.

Epstein has flipped the roster since taking over at Clark and Addison, but the Cubs (43-64) long ago braced for the growing pains and have now decided that its no longer about wins and losses.

There are 55 games left after Mondays 2-0 loss to the San Diego Padres, and that space will essentially become a laboratory. There will be nights where Brett Jackson goes 0-for-4 with four strikeouts.

Thats just where we are in the organization, manager Dale Sveum said. We knew going in there was a good chance this was going to happen and that day has come.

Now we get to develop at the big-league level the Brett Jacksons, the (Josh) Vitters, the (Alberto) Cabreras, the (Brooks) Raleys, Travis Woods. All these guys its time to develop and take those extra steps to be a major-league player on an everyday basis.

The day after going 2-for-4 with a walk and a run scored in his major-league debut at Dodger Stadium, Jackson had to answer questions about the one part of his game that didnt look ready at Triple-A Iowa.

Thats the nature of the business, Jackson said. Its never fun to strike out four times. Thats something Im working on cutting down. Im going to keep working with (hitting coach James Rowson) and Dale and improving the swing. Theres no doubt in my mind were going to get the ability out of me.

The Cubs like Jacksons overall game enough the speed, the athleticism, the power that they promoted him after 158 strikeouts in 407 at-bats with Iowa.

Hes going to be in there, Sveum said. That was part of the deal. Hes going to be here to develop and make adjustments. But bottom line, it doesnt matter if youre not swinging at strikes.

This isnt to single out Jackson, who is one of several players with something to prove between now and Oct. 3.

Raley will be the 15th rookie the Cubs have used this season when he debuts on Tuesday night at Petco Park. This is a spot start in place of Matt Garza, whose stiff right elbow wont allow him to pick up a ball for at least two weeks and leaves him in the limbo of being reevaluated each homestand.

Trades and attrition have wiped out the pitching depth Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer built up last winter. Jeff Samardzija whos already blown past the innings total he reached last season as a reliever now has the most stature in the rotation in his first year as a big-league starter.

Wood (4-8, 4.77 ERA) who limited the Padres (47-64) to two runs across six innings is one of four starting pitchers who have spent time on the Triple-A level this season.

Were a very young team, but I think we can use that to our favor, Wood said. Were energetic. We got fire. We just need to start playing and get after it.

On Sept. 28, 2011, Mike Quade sat in the managers office and Hoyer was the Padres general manager who had made Anthony Rizzo the face of the future in San Diego. That day, Ryan Dempster gave up nine runs and lost his 14th game and Rizzo went 0-for-3 and finished with a .141 batting average.

The Cubs stuck around in the clubhouse afterward and pulled beers from the cooler, watching the fantastic finishes on side-by-side televisions, the Boston Red Sox in agony and the Tampa Bay Rays in celebration.

Epstein has total control over baseball operations, and a mandate to build this team from within. At this stage, players like Jackson are going to find out what theyre made of, while the Cubs live with all the ups and downs.

Notre Dame sorting through safety options after Max Redfield's dismissal

Notre Dame sorting through safety options after Max Redfield's dismissal

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Brian Kelly had to chuckle a bit when asked what he could tell a larger-than-normal media contingent about Devin Studstill, the true freshman and presumptive favorite to replace Max Redfield at free safety Sept. 4 against Texas. 

“We’ll have a true freshman on the road playing against a talented team,” Kelly said with a bit of a laugh that, given the circumstances, sounded a bit nervous.

No matter how confident Notre Dame players and coaches are in Studstill, there’s still that unknown part of leaning on a safety who will play his first college football game in front of an exected sellout crowd of about 100,000 people in primetime at Darrell K. Royal Stadium in Austin. 

Kelly described Studstill as a “natural” as the Florida native took first-team reps away from Redfield during spring practice. Linebacker and captain James Onwualu said Studstill’s transition back into the first-team defense has “gone smoothly” with only a handful of practices left until Notre Dame heads to Austin. 

“He was here in the spring, which helped a lot,” Onwualu. “He came in ready to work from Day 1 and you gotta respect that. He’s been working his craft, working his game and there’s not much of a drop-off. He’s got a lot to learn. He’s still young, obviously, so (we) try to push some knowledge on him and continue to talk the game and show him as many looks (as possible).”

Kelly used “talented” and “confident” to describe Studstill this time around. But it won’t be just him at free safety, Kelly cautioned. 

“I think we’ll have to play a few guys at that position,” Kelly said. “I don’t think he’s going to go out there and take every snap.”

At the top of that list: sixth-year graduate student Avery Sebastian, who broke a bone in his foot in Week 1 against Texas last year and missed the rest of the season. The 5-foot-10, 200 pound Cal transfer, who also missed nearly all of the 2013 season with an injury, started six games for the Golden Bears from 2011-2014. 

In exchange for the experience Sebastian brings to the position, Notre Dame would slide a guy who’s more of an in-the-box strong safety over to free safety. The other options at free safety are freshman Jalen Elliott, a former four-star recruit, and sophomore Nicco Fertitta, who saw action on special teams last year. 

Kelly said there haven’t been any conversations about moving an offensive player to free safety to manufacture more depth.

“We feel like we’ve got enough back there that we’ll be solid,” Kelly said. 

Notre Dame’s defense is peppered with first-time starters, which creates plenty of unknowns heading into the 2016 season. In losing Redfield, a player who Kelly said was starting to put everything together after a few inconsistent seasons, another question mark was added to VanGorder’s defense. 

That doesn’t mean that Studstill and whoever else is back at free safety are destined to fail. Maybe Studstill and/or Elliott clears their first-year hurdles and is a solid player and Sebastian winds up being a reliable option there, too. 

But Notre Dame’s defense very likely was going to be better off with Redfield as a starting safety. 

“Max was an outstanding player, and he was having a great, great camp,” Kelly said. “He had a great spring. He’s athletic, he’s fast. So you’re taking a really good player off your defense. But we’ll be able to plug in a guy there that I think will get the job done for us.” 

CSN Preps Power Rankings: No. 1 Loyola Academy

CSN Preps Power Rankings: No. 1 Loyola Academy

CSNChicago.com preps reporter "Edgy" Tim O’Halloran spotlights 100 high school football teams in 100 days. The first 75 team profiles focus on teams making strides across Chicagoland and elsewhere in the state. Starting Aug. 1, we’ll unveil the @CSNPreps Top 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 26. View Edgy Tim's other football previews here.

School: Loyola Academy

Head coach: John Holecek

How they fared in 2015: 14-0 (4-0) Chicago Catholic League Blue Conference. Loyola Academy made the Class 8A state playoff field. The Ramblers defeated West Aurora, Stevenson, Homewood-Flossmoor, Palatine and Marist to capture the 8A IHSA state football title. 

Biggest storyline in 2016: Can the Ramblers repeat in Class 8A?

Names to watch this season: TE Jake Marwede, DB Ian Swenson

​​​​​[PREPS: Edgy Tim's Countdown to Kickoff series]

Biggest holes to fill: Loyola will need to find answers at a handful of key spots including quarterback and running back.

EDGY's early take: Despite having to replace 14 starters from last year's title team, look for Loyola to reload once again. Holecek has some headliner names in place, along with a very talented and deep roster this season. If Loyola can find some answers early on offense, the defense usually plays at a very high level and can help the offense. 

Ramblers schedule:

Aug. 26 at Milwaukee Marquette (7:30 p.m.)

Sept. 3 vs. Maine South (1:30 p.m.)

Sept. 9 vs. Mount Carmel *at Gately* (7:30 p.m.)

Sept. 17 vs. St. Francis (1:30 p.m.)

Sept. 23 vs. Fenwick *at Triton College* (7:30 p.m.)

Oct. 1 vs. St. Rita (1:30 p.m.)

Oct. 7 vs. Leo (7:30 p.m.)

Oct. 15 vs. Providence Catholic (1:30 p.m.)

Oct. 21 at Brother Rice (7:30 p.m.)

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.”

[SHOP: Get your own Fire jersey here]

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.”