Chicago Bears

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.

Why the Bears are feeling optimistic about their 2017 defense

Why the Bears are feeling optimistic about their 2017 defense

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- The general vibe given off by defensive end Akiem Hicks and linebacker Jerrell Freeman -- the two Bears defenders made available to the media on Wednesday -- was of low-key optimism. 

A Bears defense beset by injuries last year ranked 24th in points allowed and only managed 11 turnovers in 2016. But Hicks and Freeman both see bigger things for this defense after general manager Ryan Pace retooled it with a number of veteran free agent signings. 

Specifically, Hicks believes the Bears' defense has enough been-there, done-that players to be the catalyst for victories. 

“Sometimes, it’s like a second nature, something that you have inside you,” Hicks said. “You just want to be in that situation. But it’s also something you can develop through a lot of reps. You know what I mean? A guy who comes in and has 5,000 reps over his career, he’s going to be able to get in that situation and play it with just a little bit more confidence than a guy in his first, second or even third year. 

“Because once you’ve gotten to a point where you’ve gotten enough snaps, you’ve seen everything. You felt disappointment, you’ve felt that feeling of victory at the end of the game when you’re walking off. I think that’s what bringing veteran guys to a team does. They’ve seen it all already.”

The Bears added four possible-to-likely starters to their defense in free agency: defensive end Jaye Howard, safety Quintin Demps and cornerbacks Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper. Those four players have a combined 24 years of NFL experience, and the Bears only have one rookie (safety Eddie Jackson) competing for a starting role. 

Couple the expected Year 1 to Year 2 growth of Leonard Floyd and the potential for a healthy Eddie Goldman with those veterans, and the Bears see enough players with the right mindset to build a sturdy defense. 

“I hope everyone on my defense wants to be the best player at their position,” Freeman said. “That’s the mentality I would want, and that’s the mentality I would want the rest of my defense to have. Getting better, lead a defense to one of the top defenses, just help my team in any kind of way to get some wins.”

Hawk Harrelson believes John Lackey is 'full of shit'

Hawk Harrelson believes John Lackey is 'full of shit'

Hawk Harrelson isn't buying John Lackey's explanation of innocence.

The Cubs right-hander plunked four White Sox batters in Tuesday's Crosstown throwdown at Wrigley Field, earning the on-air ire of the White Sox longtime broadcaster. Lackey said after the game that he did it on accident but understood the White Sox later retaliation.

Wednesday, a day after all those HBPs, Harrelson stuck to his guns, not believing the veteran pitcher for a second.

"He's full of shit, and you can print that," Harrerlson told the Tribune's Colleen Kane. "He's full of it. He always has been."

OK then.

"I was hoping that they would drill his ass big time because he's an idiot," Harrelson told Kane. "At that point, the game was not the issue. It was Lackey. He's in the pennant race. This is a big-boy game. There's no bullshit here. He's putting (Kris) Bryant and (Anthony) Rizzo in jeopardy."

[WHITE SOX TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

Harrelson, of course, is known for getting heated in the booth and historically has had little issue with expressing his anger on air. You'll remember past rants directed at umpires Mark Wegner and Joe West.

Lackey stirred up plenty of controversy with his four hit batsmen in Tuesday's White Sox loss, plunking Jose Abreu twice as well as Matt Davidson and Yoan Moncada. Harrelson made his displeasure known during the broadcast and implied there would be retaliation. Chris Beck hit Ian Happ with a pitch after Lackey pegged three White Sox in the fifth inning.

Lackey's an old-school type himself, much like Harrelson, so it makes sense the two would be right in the middle of such a situation involving baseball's unwritten rules.