Swept by White Sox, Cubs look to shake things up

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Swept by White Sox, Cubs look to shake things up

Maybe the White Sox will use this as a springboard in a division that appears to be wide open. But for the Cubs, this was a lost weekend at Wrigley Field.

The Cubs are going back to the drawing board. It was 91 degrees at game time on Sunday, and you got the feeling this could be a long, hot summer at Clark and Addison.

The White Sox climbed back to .500 with a 6-0 win in front of 38,374 fans. The sweep dropped the Cubs to 11 games under, a new low point, even if everyone knew this was going to be a bridge year.

A six-game losing streak had manager Dale Sveum thinking about making changes to the top of the order, moving Starlin Castro out of the No. 3 hole and lobbying for top prospect Anthony Rizzo to be called up from Triple-A Iowa.

Getting swept by the White Sox at home is about as low as youre going to get through a seven-day stretch, Sveum said. You hope that the fans understand and stay patient the rest of the year.

If the city learned anything from this three-game series, it could be that these two teams are heading in opposite directions.

Kerry Wood stole the show with a calculated two-day retirement announcement, and an unexpected, heart-warming moment with his son, hugging Justin and carrying him down the dugout steps.

Chairman Tom Ricketts kept a very low profile after the details of his fathers political activities were leaked to The New York Times. The security concerns about the NATO summit were unfounded.

The rivalry left a mark around Paul Konerkos left eye, but no bad blood between Jeff Samardzija and the White Sox captain. The beanball war never really escalated. Check back next month on the South Side.

We are very disappointed, Alfonso Soriano said, because the way that we play against them is not acceptable.

Soriano is playing through the pain in his left knee, and the Cubs had already made 10 moves on their 25-man roster in four days. They couldnt take advantage of the conditions and tee off the way the White Sox did against Paul Maholm.

We had a lot of opportunity to score a lot of runs with the wind, Soriano said. But sometimes we see the flags like that and were not concentrating and seeing the ball and hitting it. We see the wind and we forget that we have to hit the ball first.

Maholm had spent his entire career in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization until signing with the Cubs last winter and breaking the news on his Twitter account.

Maholm (4-3, 4.73 ERA) watched the White Sox take shots at Waveland Avenue Gordon Beckham, Adam Dunn and Tyler Flowers each homered. Welcome to Cubs-Sox.

Well, obviously, it sucked because we lost three games, Maholm said. When I went out there, I didnt worry about a big rivalry series or whatever. I was trying to make pitches, and I did early. I missed some pitches and they hit home runs.

So hopefully whenever we re-up the crosstown cup, we can sweep em at their place. Its kind of like kissing your sister and just go for a tie.

A lot will happen between now and then. Though the schedule eases up a bit with a trip through Houston and Pittsburgh, the Cubs will play 16 of their next 19 games on the road.

Whether its moving Castro up, rearranging David DeJesus and Tony Campana, giving more at-bats to Joe Mather or throwing Rizzo into the fire, Sveum is looking to shake things up.

We need some production, Sveum said. The bottom line is two months into the season we have to start producing, or were going to have to start making some changes.

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Bears DL Akiem Hicks making the most of a chance the Saints never gave him

Bears DL Akiem Hicks making the most of a chance the Saints never gave him

Living well is indeed the best revenge, and sometimes nothing feels sweeter than proving doubters wrong. Akiem Hicks is savoring that exact feeling.

When the New Orleans Saints made Hicks their third-round pick in the 2013 draft, they typecast their big (6-5, 318 pounds) young defensive lineman as a one-trick pony.

“There were people in New Orleans that said, ‘You can’t rush the passer,’” Hicks recalled after the Bears’ win Sunday over the San Francisco 49ers. “They told me from my rookie year, ‘You’re going to be a run-stopper.’”

This despite Hicks collecting 6.5 sacks and 3 pass breakups as a senior at Regina in Canada. The Saints forced Hicks into the slot they’d decided he fit – nose tackle – then eventually grew disenchanted with him and traded him to New England last year – where he collect 3 sacks in spot duty.

Interestingly, Bears GM Ryan Pace was part of the Saints’ personnel operation. Whether Pace agreed with coaches’ handling of Hicks then isn’t known, but when Pace had the chance to bring Hicks to Chicago for a role different than the one the Saints forced Hicks into, Pace made it happen.

Pace likely saw those New England sacks as a foreshadowing or a sign that the New Orleans staff had miscast Hicks. The Bears defensive end now is under consideration for NFC defensive player of the week after his 10-tackle performance against San Francisco. Signing with the Bears last March 13 as a free agent was the career break Hicks has craved. For him it was a career lifeline.

“They have given me the ability to go rush the passer,” Hicks said. “So I love this organization – [GM] Ryan Pace, coach Fox, Vic [Fangio, defensive coordinator] – for just giving a guy the capability to put it out there and do what you feel like you can do.”

[MORE BEARS: Back from scary concussion, Leonard Floyd playing like franchise pass rusher Bears craved]

Hicks has been showing what he can do, to quarterbacks. For him the best part of win over the 49ers was the two third-quarter sacks of 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Those sacks gave the massive lineman, who the Saints said couldn’t rush the passer, 6 sacks for the season – more than any member of the Saints defense this season. It has been a classic instance of putting a player in position to maximize his skills, not jam someone into a bad fit.

“Akiem has been in a couple of different types of packages before with New Orleans and New England,” said coach John Fox. The Patriots switched from a long-time 3-4 scheme to a 4-3 but “we’re more of a New England-type style. But we’re playing him more at end; he played mostly a nose tackle [in New Orleans]. He’s fit really well for us as far as his physical stature.

"But he does have pass rush ability. It shows a little about his athleticism. So he’s got a combination of both.”

That “combination” has been allowed to flourish at a new level, and the Bears’ plan for Hicks was the foundation of why he wanted to sign in Chicago as a free agent. The Bears do not play their defensive linemen in a clear one-gap, get-upfield-fast scheme tailored to speed players. Nor do they play a classic two-gap, linemen-control-blockers scheme typically built on three massive space-eaters on the defensive line.

They play what one player has called a “gap and a half” system, which requires being stout as well as nimble.

One Hicks rush on Kaepernick featured a deft spin move out of a block, not the norm for 336-pound linemen. He got one sack with a quick slide out of a double-team.

“I’m not freelancing,” Hicks said. “But I’m rushing ‘fast.’ There’s a portion of the defense where you have the [run] responsibility and don’t have the freedom or liberty [to rush]. It’s a great system for me and I love what they’ve let me do.”