Cardinals not the only Bears hurdle in Arizona

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Cardinals not the only Bears hurdle in Arizona

To their credit, members of the Bears defense have pretty well stayed the loyal course this season as their offense has effectively turned a playoff gimme into NFL survival-reality TV in which the Bears no longer control their own post-season destiny.
 
But the frustration issue is there and can still fester and split the Bears without a turnaround.
 
I think thats a question you have to ask me at the end of the year, said linebacker Lance Briggs. We win these next two games, and we get into the playoffs, and make a run That question is hard to answer right now.
 
The fact that it is, is an answer in itself.
 
We just focus on what weve got to do, said defensive tackle Henry Melton, likely out of Sundays game with a chest injury that has him listed as doubtful. When were out there, we dont really focus on what the offense is doing. Its always great when you hear the crowd go crazy and they put up points, but we play versus the other teams defense. Were trying to outplay them. Thats what we go into the game trying to do.
 
Low-impact offense
 
The Chicago offense will have its problems with a very good Arizona defense. Indeed, this may be a game decided by whichever defense outscores the other.
 
The Arizona Cardinals do not do anything especially well when they have possession of the football one of the few offenses worse than the Bears at this point of the 2012 season.
 
They dont run well (32nd, 80 yards per game). They dont pass well (30th, 184.2 ypg.). Best of all for the Bears purposes: They dont score (16 ppg., 30th).
 
The Bears have not lost to an offense ranked lower than 17th in scoring (Minnesota).
 
All of this has gone down with a coach (Ken Whisenhunt) from the offensive side of the football, the Pittsburgh offensive coordinator when the Steelers reached the AFC Championship (2004) and won a Super Bowl (2005) and who coached the Cardinals to the 2008 Super Bowl.
 
Whisenhunts Cardinals opened the 2012 season with four straight wins in which they scored no fewer than 20 points. Then came nine straight losses in which they scored 20 in none, bottoming out with a 7-6 loss to the New York Jets and 58-0 pasting by the Seattle Seahawks, both on the road.
 
Weve had our share of injuries, and have had to play different players, and I think thats contributed to where we are, Whisenhunt said. Certainly, continuity is a big part of it for us.
 
Troubled position
 
So are problems at quarterback, where Whisenhunt is on his third different starter (Kevin Kolb, John Skelton, Ryan Lindley) and now is faced with salvaging something from the season with Lindley, a sixth-round pick in this years draft.
 
Lindley has started four of the last five games and been woeful: 45.0 passer rating, sacked 10 times, thrown six interceptions and is yet to throw a touchdown pass. The best thing he may have going for him is that the Bears havent seen a lot of him.
 
We prepare for the quarterback position,said coach Lovie Smith. It hurts you if youre playing an option team or something like that, but when youre playing a prototype NFL quarterback, most of them are in the same area.
 
Arizona has failed to convert at least 30 percent of third downs in eight of its 14 games and are converting a league-worst 25.6 percent. The Cardinals are the only team worse than the Bears on first downs (4.2 yards).
 
The clear implication is that the Bears defense is being presented with a chance to get healthy, literally and figuratively. The Cardinals have lost time of possession in six of the last seven games, which bodes well for a defense that has overall played well but needs to have something in its tank to get past the Lions in Detroit next weekend.
 
We have to build on things weve done well, Briggs said. And defensively weve made some plays. Weve done some good things. We need to have more consistency in some of the things we wanted to do. But we know how were going to approach this game.

Scott Boras fires back at Jake Arrieta’s critics and makes another Max Scherzer comparison

Scott Boras fires back at Jake Arrieta’s critics and makes another Max Scherzer comparison

LOS ANGELES – Scott Boras waved a Cubs beat writer over toward the VIP section behind home plate at Dodger Stadium. Holding a smartphone in hand, the super-agent started rattling off data points on Saturday afternoon, making the case for Jake Arrieta once he hits the free-agent market after this season.

Boras pushed back on the idea that Arrieta is something less than an elite pitcher and compromised by diminished velocity, launching into a defense that lasted roughly 15 minutes and drew in two more Chicago reporters before a security guard told the media to clear the field because it was an hour before first pitch.

Once again, Boras used 2014 Max Scherzer as a reference point, detailing five of six starts between May 21 and June 17 in which a Cy Young Award winner gave up seven runs, five runs, four runs, four runs and 10 runs. That didn’t stop Scherzer from making another All-Star team, going 18-5 with a 3.15 ERA, leading the Tigers to another division title and jumping to the Nationals for a seven-year, $210 million megadeal.

“I just remember going through this,” Boras said, “because when Detroit came to town, I got the ‘Oh my God, the ship is sinking.'"

The night before, Boras sat in a front-row seat with his entourage watching Arrieta during a 4-0 loss that saw aging Dodgers Chase Utley and Adrian Gonzalez crush fastballs over the center-field wall. One theory – floated by the media and essentially confirmed by manager Joe Maddon – is that Arrieta (4.92 ERA) will have to learn how to pitch in a new reality where he can’t automatically unleash a 95-mph fastball.

“That is so far remote from the truth,” Boras said. “To create a voice to your fan base to suggest that Jake is not Jake – Jake is throwing at frankly better levels than what Scherzer did. And the reality of it is that Jake has this history.

“He’s got a great history that goes on, like (Clayton) Kershaw does, like (David) Price does, like (Zack) Greinke does. These guys have not done this for one year. He did it ’14, ’15, ’16.”

Here’s how Brooks Baseball’s online database has tracked Arrieta’s average velocities across the last three-plus seasons:

2014

Four-seam: 94.59

Sinker: 94.49

2015

Four-seam: 94.93

Sinker: 95.21

2016

Four-seam: 94.32

Sinker: 94.44

2017

Four-seam: 92.64

Sinker: 92.50

Here’s the Brooks Baseball analysis of Scherzer’s fastball from 2012 through last season’s Cy Young Award campaign: 94.97, 94.46, 93.88, 94.67, 95.23.

[MORE: Scott Boras doesn't believe Jake Arrieta is feeling pressure of free agency]

Boras dismissed a question about Arrieta’s inconsistencies at the beginning of his career as he shuttled between the Orioles and their Triple-A affiliate and how that could impact the perception of a 30-something pitcher.

“I’m looking at a three-year window coming into ’17,” Boras said. “When you’re elite, you have not done it once. You have not done it twice. You’ve done it three times. Jake has had three premium years. He’s in the Cy Young voting three years in a row. That puts him in a class of all these people.

“(One) comment is: ‘Oh my God, he’s dropped in velocity.’ Fair observation. My point is they all drop in velocity. All the elite pitchers drop in velocity, because they come in the league, they’re throwing 96, they’re throwing 95, then they’re down. But what are they all doing? They’re all (within) the ranges, probably close to 92 and 93.5.”

The Boras Corp. pitch to owners and executives this offseason will also revolve around durability, advanced stats and postseason experience. Arrieta has made 25, 33 and 31 starts across the last three seasons, ranking second in the majors in WHIP (0.97) and third in soft-contact percentage (22.6) and pitching in six playoffs rounds.

Where Kershaw and Price have repeatedly had to answer questions about their big-game performances, Arrieta can cue up the highlights from the 2015 wild-card game in Pittsburgh and show off his 2016 World Series ring.

Boras clearly has an agenda, but all this is worth remembering amid all the instant analysis and overreactions to how the defending champs are playing now. It might also reinforce why Theo Epstein’s front office could view this as a bad investment and keep rolling the dice with change-of-scenery guys and trading from their surplus of hitters. 

“We’re going to sit here and evaluate a player on a 60-day moment or a 10-start moment when he has three years of his history?” Boras said. “Don’t do it. That’s not fair. It’s not an evaluation, because all their velocities drop.

“All these guys are all still doing well and all their velocities dropped. The key thing is they were able to do what they did three years running. What does Jake have an advantage over all of them at? What does Jake do better than anybody? He wins big games.”    

After getting shut down by Buck Farmer, White Sox ninth-inning rally falls short

After getting shut down by Buck Farmer, White Sox ninth-inning rally falls short

The White Sox offense waited just a little too long to come to life in the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader.

The bats were silent for eight innings before a jolt of a ninth-inning rally that saw the South Siders shave a 4-0 gap down to 4-3, only for back-to-back strikeouts to strand the would-be tying run 90 feet away and send the White Sox to a 4-3 loss at Guaranteed Rate Field.

Buck Farmer made his first big league start of the 2017 season for the visiting Detroit Tigers, and he kept the White Sox quiet, striking out 11 hitters in his 6.1 shutout innings of work. He allowed just three hits and two walks, preventing the White Sox from doing much of anything.

“Farmer certainly had a lot of action on his pitches,” White Sox manager Rick Renteria said, “so it was tough to get anything started while he was in there.

“Farmer kept us from being able to string things together. His ball had a lot of action. He hid the ball well. … He was able to contain and continue to throw strikes and move the ball out of the zone.”

It wasn’t until the ninth that the White Sox were able to string some things together. Jose Abreu led off the final frame with a double and moved to third two batters later when Matt Davidson singled. Tim Anderson’s base hit up the middle brought home Abreu to end the shutout. Then Yolmer Sanchez tripled into the right-field corner to plate both Davidson and Anderson and make it a sudden one-run game.

But Todd Frazier and Adam Engel struck out, leaving Sanchez standing at third base.

[WHITE SOX TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

White Sox starting pitcher Derek Holland had a solid outing, allowing just one run and striking out eight batters in six innings of work. He did allow seven hits and four walks, but he worked out of most jams, the only run coming on a solo home run off the bat of John Hicks in the fourth inning.

The Tigers’ offense did the rest of its damage against the White Sox bullpen, a change from Game 1 of the doubleheader, which saw the relief corps throw four scoreless innings in a 3-0 win. But in Game 2, Gregory Infante allowed two seventh-inning runs on a sacrifice fly and a Michael Ynoa wild pitch after Infante departed. Victor Martinez smacked a solo homer off Juan Minaya to give the Tigers a 4-0 lead in the top of the ninth.

It’s been a long couple days on the South Side. Friday’s scheduled day-night doubleheader turned into a lot of waiting around and just one game that didn’t get started until after a rain delay. Then came Saturday’s straight doubleheader, two games played one right after the other.

While Holland dismissed any fatigue for the White Sox — who before these long days at home came off a 10-game road trip — but whether related to fatigue or not, these two teams struck out a combined 47 times and stranded a combined 35 runners in Saturday’s two games.

That being said, the White Sox had enough left in them to come 90 feet away from erasing a four-run deficit in the ninth.

“Look how we battled into the ninth inning,” Holland said. “We were still going strong. Definitely no fatigue over here, that’s for sure.

“This was a tough one today. We had two back-to-back games and long games. They played hard. That’s what it’s all about. Those guys were battling out there.”