Chicago Cubs

Irish improve to 10-0 with win over Boston College

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Irish improve to 10-0 with win over Boston College

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- Notre Dame's national title hopes gained steam Saturday, and it had far more to do with the proceedings in Tuscaloosa, Ala., than what happened just outside Boston's city limits.

Texas A&M's stunning 29-24 win over No. 1 Alabama dropped the Tide from the ranks of college football's unbeatens, meaning Notre Dame will move up to at least No. 3 in tomorrow's BCS standings, pending the outcome of Oregon's contest against Cal. No. 2 K-State beat TCU 23-10 and will likely be No. 1 on Sunday.

Oh, and Notre Dame beat Boston College 21-6 to improve to 10-0.

"We heard it before the game," cornerback Bennett Jackson said of Alabama's loss. "There were a few guys that had it on their phone. But we had our minds focused on what we had to get done, and we weren't really too concerned about it."

Among the things Notre Dame could control, Everett Golson completed 16 of 24 passes for 200 yards, rushed 11 times for 39 more yards and accounted for three touchdowns (two passing, one rushing) while Theo Riddick rushed for 104 yards as Notre Dame once again managed an easy win away from South Bend.

Notre Dame set the tone early, with Golson engineering a 95-yard drive -- the longest of the season for Notre Dame -- that ended when he rushed two yards for a touchdown. That was key, given how Notre Dame's first drive against Pittsburgh petered out into a field goal, setting the stage for poor offensive play until the fourth quarter.

"Everett Golson played the way he needs to play, especially in the red zone," coach Brian Kelly said. "I think we said once he starts playing at the level that we need him in the red zone, we'll start scoring touchdowns and not just field goals."

The Irish tacked on a second touchdown at the end of the first half, with Golson leading the Irish on an eight and a half-minute drive to increase Notre Dame's lead to 11 after 30 minutes. The third quarter saw Notre Dame again march downfield with ease, and Golson found a wide-open John Goodman to put the Irish up by 18. All Boston College could muster was another field goal the rest of the way.

The game was another step in the right direction for Golson, who was efficient but not flashy running the Irish offense. Notre Dame's three scoring drives totaled 18:25, with the Irish wearing down a BC defense that couldn't get itself off the field. Those long drives -- Notre Dame converted its first 10 third down tries -- wound up helping the team's defense, which put together a fantastic effort after allowing a season-high 26 points last weekend.

"It definitely helps us physically and helps us get the corrections we need from (defensive coordinator Bob Diaco) and the rest of the defensive coaches," linebacker Manti Te'o, who recorded his sixth interception of the season in the fourth quarter, said. "A lot of instruction. None of the defensive players are watching the game going on. We're all getting instruction, getting the corrections needed for the next drive."

That instruction paid off, as Chase Rettig and the Boston College offense threw the kitchen sink at the Irish.

"You thought you were at Disney World," Te'o said. "There's Mickey Mouse plays everywhere, just reverses, screens -- that was the most screens I've ever defended in one game. But our guys came out, they flew to the ball and when something happened, somebody was there. I'm just proud of our guys."

The only blemishes on Notre Dame's stat line were a pair of fumbles, one by George Atkinson and the other by Riddick. A week after being pushed to the brink by Pittsburgh, the Irish were able to cruise to a much less heart-pounding victory.

"I thought or kids understood that we have to play really hard, and we did," Kelly said. "We played physical, we ran hard. Like I said, the only thing I'm not happy with is the turnovers. We have to take better care of the football, but they played hard and they played physical for four quarters."

Still, Notre Dame's win wasn't stylish, and those two fumbles curbed the Irish's margin of victory. But at this point, all Notre Dame needs to do is win and hope for attrition.

Both those things happened Saturday, and because of it Notre Dame is one step closer to playing for a championship -- even if they aren't paying attention to that goal as a team.

"You can't really look forward to anything like that, or you'll kind of drop the ball and not stay to the course," Golson said. "My head is down, just sticking on just trying to get prepared and trying to get the next win."

With or without Justin Verlander, Jake Arrieta expects Cubs to stay in first place: ‘We have the pieces’

With or without Justin Verlander, Jake Arrieta expects Cubs to stay in first place: ‘We have the pieces’

The Cubs already have a Cy Young Award winner, someone who was transforming into the hottest pitcher on the planet around this time in 2015, and then beat the Cleveland Indians twice on the road in last year’s World Series.

So the Cubs can keep discussing Justin Verlander and trying to figure out the price point where it makes sense, what caliber prospects they would have to give up and how much money the Detroit Tigers would have to kick in to cover a bill that could soar toward $90 million. 

But Jake Arrieta showed why the Cubs might finally start to run away from the division and become a very dangerous team in October, dominating the White Sox on Wednesday night at Guaranteed Rate Field during an 8-3 win that vaulted them into first place in the National League Central.          

“We expect to remain in first place,” Arrieta said. “We know it’s going to be a tough task, but that’s kind of what you deal with at the highest level of sports. You expect to have really good competition from teams that are either equal with you or close behind.

“We feel like we have the group to separate ourselves at this point in time and remain in first place for the remainder of the way.”

The Cubs probably don’t have the blue-chip prospects – and the appetite to raid their farm system again – to blow away the Oakland A’s and win a bidding war for Sonny Gray. The Cubs kick the tires on everything, but Yu Darvish would be a rental and the Texas Rangers are torn over what to do with their Japanese star. 

This is another reason why the Cubs are focusing on adding a veteran backup catcher and strengthening the bullpen before the July 31 trade deadline: Arrieta Watch is back, taking a no-hitter into the fifth inning in front of a sellout crowd of 38,517 before Omar Narvaez drilled a ground-rule double into the right-center field seats.  

The Cubs are 10-2 since trading for Jose Quintana during the All-Star break, erasing a 5.5-game deficit against the Milwaukee Brewers heading into this weekend’s showdown at Miller Park. At 53-47, the Cubs are a season-high six games over .500, and it all starts with pitching.  

“I think we’ve got the pieces to get it done,” Arrieta said. “If there’s a situation where we can get another guy and not lose any key players, it might work in our favor.

“Obviously, when we traded for Quintana, that’s a huge addition to our ballclub. This guy’s really good. He works his butt off. And just seeing how he carries himself in between starts is a really great sign. To have a guy like that who works extremely hard and cares about the team winning ballgames – you can’t replace that.

“That trade right there in itself is one that’s going to pay huge dividends for this ballclub, not only for this year, but for the next couple years. But we’re a great team right now, and I think we have the pieces to get it done.”  

Arrieta was on cruise control until Yoan Moncada launched his 98th and final pitch – an 0-2 curveball – 409 feet over the center-field wall with two outs in the seventh inning. Arrieta only allowed those two hits, giving up two runs and finishing with five strikeouts against two walks, continuing the correction super-agent Scott Boras predicted when the Chicago media and Cubs fans wondered about his flashes of diminished velocity and spikes in hard contact during a free-agency push.

Arrieta has methodically put together 10 wins and three straight quality starts after the All-Star break, chopping his ERA down from 5.44 in the middle of May to 4.03. Ricky Renteria’s White Sox are obviously tanking for the future and there are a lot of conditions attached to this statement: 

But if Arrieta pitches like this, Jon Lester continues to be one of the best big-game pitchers of his generation, Quintana excels in a pennant race and Kyle Hendricks regains his feel and rhythm after six-plus weeks on the disabled list, then the Cubs might have a better playoff rotation than the one that ended the 108-year drought.     

“We’re feelin’ it,” Arrieta said, thinking back to last summer, when Theo Epstein’s front office added 100-mph closer Aroldis Chapman to a team with close to a 99-percent chance of making the playoffs. “I remember last year we were in this clubhouse around this same time, and it’s no different.” 

Look at the competition: The Washington Nationals might be forced into adding a frontline starter now that Stephen Strasburg is headed to the 10-day disabled list with a nerve impingement in his right forearm. The Los Angeles Dodgers are hoping a strained lower back won’t stop Clayton Kershaw from making a few tune-up starts in September before becoming their Game 1 starter in October.

With or without Verlander, the Cubs are ramping up to defend their title.

“I’m going to continue to get stronger as the year progresses,” Arrieta said. “I feel like my best baseball, my best pitching, is still ahead of me. And I’m ready for it.”

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USA TODAY

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