Even after Pujols, Cardinals still running like a machine

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Even after Pujols, Cardinals still running like a machine

ST. LOUIS After Paul Maholm gave up a bomb to Albert Pujols in spring training, he joked that there was a reason why no American League West teams were on his wish list as a free agent.

The Cubs werent in the market for a megadeal last winter. They bought low on guys like Maholm, a veteran left-hander who had spent his entire career in the Pirates organization.

The plan was to collect enough starting pitchers so that the 2012 Cubs could have a chance every night, while Theo Epsteins front office built the infrastructure for a perennial contender.

With Sundays 10-3 loss at Busch Stadium, the Cubs are 3-7 after two turns through the rotation. Pujols wasnt here for the banner raising or ring ceremony over the weekend, part of a power play by the Angels to gain ground in Southern California.

But its clear that the Cardinals are still running like a machine, even with a first-year manager (Mike Matheny) replacing a legend (Tony La Russa).

Maholm didnt have to face Pujols whos 22-for-39 (.564) for his career against the left-hander or World Series heroes Lance Berkman and David Freese, who both sat out on Sunday.

Instead, Maholm watched Yadier Molina hammer a 3-2 pitch 359 feet beyond the wall in left for a three-run homer that made it 6-0 in the third inning. The Cubs dont have the lineup to win those high-scoring games often.

Maholm hit two batters, walked another and gave up six runs in four innings, running his ERA to 13.50.

Yeah, obviously, Id much rather be 2-0 with a zero right now, Maholm said. But thats not how it is. Im going to learn from it.

Its a long season. Im going to get it going. And all these guys in here are busting it and expecting to win and thats how were going to do it.

Or, as manager Dale Sveum said, It wasnt real pretty again.

Maholm will make 4.25 million this season (the Cubs hold an option for 2013). He hasnt won a game since July 10 of last season, when he beat the Cubs (a streak skewed in part because he was shut down with a shoulder issue).

The Cubs took a game on Friday against Adam Wainwright, the Cardinals ace still recovering from Tommy John surgery, but were outscored 15-4 the next two games in front of sellout crowds.

Its such a great baseball atmosphere, said Cubs utility man Joe Mather, who came up through the Cardinals system. You cant deny that, no matter what team youre on. Even once the games over, you go try to get some food and theres red everywhere.

Coming into St. Louis, where were not fan favorites, its always nice to come in and play close games. I think were probably just a little more disappointed we arent playing as competitive a game as we think we can.

The Cardinals (7-3) didnt have a problem with the back end of the Cubs rotation Maholm or Chris Volstad and they exposed the gap in the National League Central.

We just got to do things a little bit better, Sveum said. We got to make our pitches when we have to and stay away from slugging percentage. We didnt do that too well in this series. Even though they didnt hit a lot of home runs, there were a lot of doubles and triples with guys on base.

Even without Pujols, the World Series champs are going to defend their title.

Bears quarterback Connor Shaw reportedly suffers broken leg in preseason loss

Bears quarterback Connor Shaw reportedly suffers broken leg in preseason loss

A little over a year ago Connor Shaw suffered a season-ending injury during a preseason game with the Cleveland Browns.

Unfortunately, history has likely repeated itself.

According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, Shaw endured a broken leg right above his left ankle in the Bears' 23-7 preseason loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday afternoon. After connecting with wide receiver Josh Bellamy for an 18-yard completion in the fourth quarter, the Bears quarterback had his left leg folded by Chiefs defensive lineman Rakeem Nunez-Roches. Shaw stayed on the grass for a few minutes, writhing in pain, before having his left leg put in an air cast and leaving Soldier Field on a cart. 

Following the game, Bears head coach John Fox said that Shaw's injury is "very serious" and that he was on his way to the hospital for further examination.

[MORE BEARS: Bears severly outplayed in another home preseason game]

The devastating injury comes at inopportune time for Shaw who has arguably been the best player in a Bears uniform this preseason.

Before leaving Saturday's game, Shaw was 5/6 for 68 yards with a QB rating of 153.5 including a 16-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Cameron Meredith. Shaw also showed an ability to make things happen with his legs as he had two carries for 15 yards. It was the second consecutive eye-opening performance for Shaw. In last week's preseason loss to the New England Patriots, Shaw was for 4/6 with 42 yards and a touchdown pass.

Shaw had already surpassed David Fales as the Bears' third-string quarterback, and was starting to push Brian Hoyer — who coincidentally suffered an injury to his ribs against the Chiefs — for the backup job behind Jay Cutler. At worst, Shaw would have been a practice squad candidate.

"I've known him since his rookie year in Cleveland and he's really worked hard," Hoyer said. "He's done a good job and to see that, it's really heartbreaking obviously for him, and for a guy that's watched him develop and grow you just really feel for him.

"He's a tough and resilient kid. He's going to be back, but now it's going to be a dark time. That's just the way it is. That's part of football and unfortunately happened to a great kid."

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Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, who played with Shaw at South Carolina, has no doubt Shaw's will bounce back from the injury.

“It’s a tough break,” Jeffery said. "He was having a hell of a camp. He was doing a hell of a job out there. You hate to see any teammate go down, but I know him personally being with him in college. He’s a fighter. He’s going to come back.”

Bears severly outplayed in another home preseason game

Bears severly outplayed in another home preseason game

It's easy to dismiss preseason games, but they can't be ignored when a team is severely outplayed in every sense of the word.

That was the case for the Bears on Saturday afternoon as they were dismantled by the Kansas City Chiefs, 23-7, in front of a crowd of 48, 377 at Soldier Field to remain winless on the preseason.

The Bears starting offense compiled a net of 65 yards as they couldn't find a rhythm against a Chiefs defense playing without Pro Bowlers' Justin Houston, Eric Berry and Tamba Hali.

Bears quarterback Jay Cutler was able to stay upright for most of the game as the starting offensive line allowed just two sacks, but Cutler was plagued by a few drops from his receivers and was off target for most of the afternoon, finishing 6/15 with 45 yards and a passer rating of 47.9. The Bears starting wide receiving tandem of Alshon Jeffery and Kevin White registered the same amount of drops (three) as they did receptions. The lone highlight from the starting offensive unit came from second-year running Jeremy Langford who twice turned broken plays into positive gains, showing a remarkable improvement in that facet from his rookie season.

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While the starting offensive unit will draw much-deserved criticism for their performance against the Chiefs, the defense didn't fare that much better.

The starting 11, playing without Pernell McPhee and Kyle Fuller, allowed 239 total yards in the first half. The starting unit also lost their only proven cornerback when eight-year veteran Tracy Porter entered the NFL's concussion protocol after taking a knee to the head by teammate Harold Jones-Quartey in the second quarter. 

Despite Saturday's mediocre play by the defense, there were some positives including the first NFL interception by Bears rookie cornerback Deiondre' Hall who looks to be squarely in the mix for a starting cornerback job with the abundance of injuries at the position. Rookie defensive tackle Jonathan Bullard also continued his strong preseason play with another sack. First-rounder Leonard Floyd suited up but didn't play due to a hamstring injury.

The Bears finally broke a near 55-minute scoring drought when third-string quarterback Connor Shaw connected with wide receiver Cameron Meredith for a 16-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. Shaw suffered a left ankle injury on the next series and had to leave on a cart. He finished the game 5/6 for 65 yards and a touchdown, also adding 15 rushing yards on two carries.

In two preseason home games the Bears have been outscored 45-7. They were blanked by the Denver Broncos back in Week 1 on Aug. 15.

The Bears will look to avoid going winless for the first time in franchise history in preseason when they close out their exhibition slate against the Browns in Cleveland next Thursday.

Bears great Jay Hilgenberg to new C Cornelius Edison: “You deserve to be there”

Bears great Jay Hilgenberg to new C Cornelius Edison: “You deserve to be there”

The storyline has already been formed: If the Bears are forced to go with undrafted Cornelius Edison as their center, the 2016 season is lost.

“I mean, how ridiculous to think that an undrafted free agent could be the starting center for the Chicago Bears, and they win,” deadpanned Jay Hilgenberg, making less than no attempt to mask the irony in his voice.

With very good reason.

Because Hilgenberg himself came into the NFL as an afterthought, undrafted out of Iowa in 1981 and then going on to an 11-year career with the Bears, capped by a Super Bowl ring in 1985. Seven Pro Bowls, five All-Pro selections.

Ridiculous.

Edison may come nowhere near the heights reached by Hall of Fame nominee Hilgenberg. Or of Hall of Fame Miami center Jim Langer, also undrafted. But Hilgenberg has a strong bit of advice for Edison, who started Saturday in the Bears preseason game vs. Kansas City and could be their starter on Opening Day, depending on health elsewhere on the interior of the Bears offensive line.

“I would say to him, ‘You’re in an NFL camp because you can play football,’” Hilgenberg told CSNChicago.com. “Don’t let how you entered that camp take anything away from you. You deserve to be there. You just need to prove it a little bit more than the first-rounders.’”

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It may not always be easy, of course.

Hilgenberg, who fought his way onto the final roster in 1981, once famously turned to then-teammate Revie Sorey on the bench during a blowout of the Bears in Hilgenberg’s first season, and said, “Revie, we’re the worst team in the NFL.”

Sorey, never one to duck the truth, nodded.

Hilgenberg added, “And I’m the worst player on this team.”

Again, no disagreement from Sorey.

“So that makes me the worst player in the NFL, doesn’t it?” Hilgenberg concluded.

Silence from Sorey.

Hilgenberg turned out to not be the worst player in the NFL, but not without epic struggles, and he knows what Edison will be going through. And how the young center can make it.

[MORE BEARS: Rookie class making much-needed impact]

“To be honest there is always a little insecurity in you,” Hilgenberg recalled. “I had confidence that I belonged but I had to fight every day. And the truth is, I wanted it more than anything else in the world. I was going to make it.

“I didn’t have Plan B. I didn’t want to go back to Iowa then, so I didn’t have Plan B.

Hilgenberg used teams’ not drafting him as motivation, and Bears teammates recalled him savoring facing supposed elite defensive linemen, No. 1 picks, and handling them. Beyond his attitude, however, was a method.

“I played against a lot of big, strong guys in the NFL, and I wasn’t going to back down from anybody,” Hilgenberg said. “As soon as you learn how to play with the right fundamentals, you learn that there’s no Supermen out there. If you can play fundamentally and with good technique, you can block anybody… .

“Offensive line play is honestly all about how bad you want it. How much are you willing to do? How important is it to you? What does it mean to you?”

Edison is in the process of answering those exact questions.