Cubs arent hitting the panic button

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Cubs arent hitting the panic button

Dude, its only two games.

That pretty much sums up the mood inside the Cubs clubhouse. Outside those walls, people are free to overreact and have fun with small sample sizes.

First-year manager Dale Sveum projected a strong sense of calm after Saturdays 7-4 loss to the Washington Nationals. The 40,102 fans at Wrigley Field booed Kerry Wood, Carlos Marmol and another late collapse. Just like Opening Day, the Cubs were four outs away from victory.

Its not a panic situation, Sveum said. Theyve done this before. They know its part of the gig when you have small leads like that. Anything can happen with one swing of the bat. A couple inches here, a couple inches there, can change the whole thing.

But its hard to ignore the trend line, trading away Sean Marshall and Andrew Cashner during the offseason and plugging Jeff Samardzija into the rotation. Theo Epsteins front office knew that would create a huge void.

The bullpen already has two meltdowns, and everyone knows how damaging it can be psychologically when youre blowing games late.

This time, Wood couldnt protect a two-run lead with two outs in the eighth inning. Danny Espinosa finished off a 10-pitch at-bat by launching a 96 mph fastball into the left-field bleachers. Wood then gave up back-to-back singles, setting the stage for Marmol.

The Cubs closer walked Jayson Werth on five pitches one fastball buzzed his head and dropped him to the dirt to load the bases.

Pinch-hitter Chad Tracy played the hero again, sneaking a ball past diving second baseman Darwin Barney for a two-run single, making it 5-4. Roger Bernadina then lined an RBI double into right field, and Marmol had to answer the same questions.

I made a couple mistakes I paid for it, Marmol said. I cant grip my slider right now.

This was more hard luck for Matt Garza, who wanted back the 95 mph fastball Adam LaRoche hammered off the right-field foul pole for a two-run homer in the fourth inning. Garza stormed off the mound, screaming and flexing his muscles, but thats all the offense the Nationals could generate.

Its my job to finish what I start, so all the blame its on me, Garza said. My job is (to) go as long as I can. Six innings isnt something that I like bragging about.

Between Garza and Ryan Dempster, the top of the Cubs rotation has allowed three runs in 13 23 innings, and gotten two no-decisions. Those losses were charged to Marmol and Wood. But, really, theres nowhere else to turn late in the game.

You stay to the plan, even when it gets a little rocky or gets a little rough, utility man Jeff Baker said. We still put our faith and our confidence in those guys. Theyve done it for a long time and hopefully this is just two games and well get in that situation tomorrow and get them the ball. They can right the ship and then this will be a memory.

Two-game losing streaks dont stand out in July. But for all the optimism sparked by Epsteins new way of doing business, its easy to be cynical about this team after an 0-2 start. People have wondered just how patient this city will be for a rebuild.

We understand whats going on, Baker said. Were not oblivious to it. Its a new gig here and everyones trying to see the changes. Youve seen the changes off the field (and) everyone wants to see the changes on the field. Sometimes, it just doesnt work that way. Its baseball. The games hard and some days you go out there and you get beat.

The guy who has to talk to the media before and after every game didnt get defensive or dismissive and wasnt planning any major shakeups. The manager will be pointing toward Wood and Marmol, not listening to the noise.

The thing that quiets all that is a win and coming back and showing what youre made out of, Sveum said. (Its) character (and) doing it right again the next day. Because theyre going to get the opportunity to do it tomorrow.

White Sox snap scoreless streak early, cruise past Indians

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USA TODAY

White Sox snap scoreless streak early, cruise past Indians

The White Sox quickly ended their 23-inning streak of offensive futility and didn't look back. 

A three-run first inning propelled the White Sox to avoid getting swept with a 6-2 win over the Cleveland Indians in front of 24,444 at Guaranteed Rate Field Sunday afternoon. 

Tim Anderson led off the bottom of the first with a double, and after Tyler Saladino dribbled a ground ball through the left side, he came around to score on Melky Cabrera's sacrifice fly. The White Sox last run before that came in the fourth inning of their 9-1 loss to the New York Yankees on Wednesday. 

After Cabrera's flyout, Indians right fielder Abraham Almonte made a mess of Jose Abreu's line drive single, allowing it to skip past him to the wall. That error brought Saladino home and allowed Abreu to reach third, and Abreu later scored on Leury Garcia's two-out single to tag a third run on Cleveland starter Danny Salazar. 

Salazar was shaky over his five innings, striking out nine but allowing seven hits and issuing three walks. The White Sox struck again in the fifth inning when Avisail Garcia launched an RBI double off the top of the center field wall. 

Cleveland's inability to catch the ball helped the White Sox push across another run in the sixth inning. After Omar Narvaez drew a leadoff walk, Jacob May put down a sacrifice bunt and hustled to first, where second baseman Michael Martinez — covering for charging first baseman Carlos Santana — had to awkwardly stretch for Santana's underhand toss. Martinez dropped the ball, allowing May to reach.

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Following strikeouts by Anderson and Saladino, Cabrera lined a single to left, and Narvaez was aggressively waved home (a common practice with two outs in an inning). Brandon Guyer's throw easily beat Narvaez to the plate, but Indians catcher Roberto Perez dropped it, allowing Narvaez to score the fifth run of the game.

Another Indians defensive miscue led to the White Sox sixth run in the eighth, when an Abreu ground ball kicked off Santana's spikes and into center field, allowing May to score.  

White Sox starter Derek Holland was solid in his six innings, allowing only a solo home run to Francisco Lindor with three walks and six strikeouts. His toughest test came in the top of the fifth, when he issues a two-out walk to Santana to load the bases but struck out Lindor to end the frame. Holland lowered his ERA to 1.99 with his six innings of one-run ball Sunday. 

The Indians tacked on a late run when David Robertson threw a wild pitch that allowed Lonnie Chisenhall to score with two out in the ninth.

Quality more important than quantity for Bears in 2017 NFL Draft

Quality more important than quantity for Bears in 2017 NFL Draft

NFL teams typically wants as many draft picks as possible. The theory: The needier the team, the more picks required for those needs.

Not sure that this is the true situation confronting the Bears in 2017, however. In fact, something nearly the opposite, a variation on a less-is-more theme, is truer.

For the Bears approaching the 2017 NFL Draft, quality is more important than quantity. “Best available” player is fine, but for a team in major need of true impact difference-makers, a “best-possible” player is paramount. How GM Ryan Pace and his personnel posse accomplish that will be one of the most closely watched and far-reaching dramas of this draft. Because it may require some creativity on the clock, with a dizzying array of scenarios popping up in front of them by virtue of possible picks by the Cleveland Browns at 1 and San Francisco 49ers at 2.

Pace already has been about the business of giving himself the option of going after best-possible rather than simply waiting, staying with the draft board and selecting best-available.

The Bears were among the NFL’s most active teams in free agency. That has taken care of some “quantity” issues (cornerback, wide receiver, tight end), with an eye toward freeing the draft for the pursuit of true excellence, something too few Bears drafts have managed to secure (which is how teams miss playoffs nine times in 10 years and find themselves on third different GMs and coaches in the span of six years).

As he has always had within the context of the overall direction of the football franchise, Pace has a draft plan. More specifically, he also has a structure within which to execute that plan.

Draft “bands”

Besides an overall top-to-bottom ranking of players, the Bears establish various “bands” of players they identify as being worth a pick at a certain spot. Not all players in the band are graded equally, and the Bears may move to trade up if a significantly higher-graded players in the band is within reach, or if they fear other teams leap-frogging them to grab a targeted player.

But the bands allow the Bears to weigh trading back and still being able to select one of the talents in that band. With the Bears sitting at No. 3 this year, the first band in this draft will be a small one.

“We’ll have an elite group of names that we’re confident will be there [at No. 3],” Pace said at the recent owners meetings. “Three names, yeah. But beyond that, [we say,] ‘OK, there’s some pretty good depth in this draft, too, so are there scenarios’ — and it’s easier said than done — ‘where we can trade back.’ Those things’ll be discussed.”

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They’re being discussed right now. The phone in Pace’s Halas Hall office has been increasingly active the past couple weeks — calls ingoing and outgoing — and will become more so this week as the Bears and most of the NFL take the temperatures of trade ideas going into the start of the draft Thursday night. It happens every year about this time: general managers looking to satisfy sometimes-conflicting objectives, one of adding draft picks via trades down where possible, and the other of adding best-possible players, sometimes necessitating trades of picks or players to move up.

For the Bears, this year is a bit out of the ordinary, if only because they hold the No. 3-overall pick in a draft considered extremely talent-rich at certain positions and extremely less so at others. Loosely put, a position such as cornerback is rated deep enough that quality starters can be had even down into the fourth round, so teams likely need not trade up to land a blue-chipper. Conversely, the quarterback position, the one most often targeted for round-one trades up, is short of consensus elites, so again, teams are less likely to trade up to secure one.

The Bears are in position to select a franchise quarterback but opinions vary widely on whether there are clear ones to be had as high as where the Bears draft, as the order now stands. Pace, who established last year his willingness to trade up for what he considers “elite,” is like any other personnel executive in wanting more selections.

The Bears do not want to slip out of a band entirely. When they sat with No. 7 in the 2015 draft, the Bears identified a quiver of eight players deemed worth the seventh-overall pick. Those ranged from quarterback Marcus Mariota to wide receiver Amari Cooper to defensive lineman Leonard Williams, and included Kevin White, one of two from the eight not already selected by that point.

Because the goal was a player judged to be elite, trading down was not a realistic option because of the risk of getting none of their targets and instead settling for the next, lower tier of prospects.

Dealing with market forces

But what will the market allow this time? 

“Yeah, and based on the talent of the guys in those bands, what it would require for us to go back?” Pace said. “Those things are all being talked about and studied now, and we’ll keep on fine-tuning it.

“But you’ve got to have a partner willing to do that, too.”

Pace has been a willing partner for trades either up or down, sometimes in the same draft.

Last year, holding the 11th pick, the decision was made to trade up to No. 9 because of their grade on Georgia edge rusher Leonard Floyd, and the concern that either the New York Giants would take Floyd at No. 10 or another team would leap-frog the Bears and grab him. The Bears wanted a pass rusher and the falloff from Floyd was viewed as significant. Clemson’s Shaq Lawson was the next edge rusher taken (No. 19), he was less the speed player that Floyd was, and concerns about Lawson’s shoulder issues proved valid, requiring offseason surgery that cost him most of his rookie season.
 
On day two, Pace traded down twice with an eye toward landing one of his top second-round-band talents: Kansas State offensive lineman Cody Whitehair.