Chicago White Sox

NFL Network giving Lovie motivational fuel for Cutler, Marshall?

770836.png

NFL Network giving Lovie motivational fuel for Cutler, Marshall?

Coach Lovie Smith has long been adroit at finding motivation in disrespect -- media, public, whoever -- for his teams. He may have been handed something to get Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall fuming and its being provided by none other than NFL players themselves.

Neither Cutler nor Marshall are among the Top 100 players compiled by NFL Network and being revealed in blocks of 10, now down to its final 10.

The motivational fuel here is that its drawn exclusively from voting by current NFL players, so media and fan popularity are factored out.

That should make it arguably the most credible of all the Top-Whatever rankings (one recently listed the top 10 NFL Jerks according to one media member; Im not sure Id like to see the players rating of Top 10 media jerks but thats for another story).

So Cutler, who endured a tsunami of doubt and criticism after his knee injury in the 2010 NFC Championship game, has been dissed again by his peers.

Tim Tebow is on the list (No. 95); Joe Flacco is on the list (74); Cutler is not. Not among the 10 quarterbacks already revealed and not including Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers, presumably in the Top 10.

Cutler may not be a Top-10 quarterback yet. But Tim Tebow?

And Marshall, who ranked No. 61 last year, caught 81 passes for 1,274 yards and 6 TDs last year, is off the list entirely.

Hakeem Nicks is on the list (No. 90). Marshall has never caught fewer than those 81 passes in any of his last five seasons; Nicks has never caught more than 79 in any of his three seasons.

Jordy Nelson is on the list (80). Nelson never caught more than his 68 of last season. He scored 15 TDs in 2011 after three straight years with 2.

But Marshall is not.

Could be that player voting is every bit as a popularity contest as fan voting is, something that Steve McMichael and others have espoused.

So the players conclusion is that there are at least 13 quarterbacks better than Cutler (Tebow, Romo, Flacco, Vick, Rivers, P. Manning, Stafford, Newton, E. Manning, Roethlisberger, plus presumably the Big Three).

Vick is on the list but told a Philadelphia sports station that he considered his No. 70 spot a joke.

Eli Manning hasnt scoffed at his No. 31 ranking but teammate Justin Tuck has, and used the same four-letter word to describe Mannings spot.

Manning was left off the 2011 Top 100 list altogether, so maybe peer disrespect is a mighty motivator.

Best guess is that Lovie Smith will find out with Cutler and Marshall.

Avisail Garcia's 'big head' isn't getting in the way of defensive improvements

usatsi_10219511.jpg
USA TODAY

Avisail Garcia's 'big head' isn't getting in the way of defensive improvements

Avisail Garcia's "big head" almost cost the White Sox on Friday night. At least, that's Reynaldo Lopez's humorous theory. 

With the game on the line and the Royals' tying run dashing for the plate, Garcia slipped a bit before making a clutch recovery to nail Whit Merrifield. The craziness continued after the tag as Narvaez caught Lorenzo Cain drifting off first base to seal a win. 

"I was watching the game on the TV here," Lopez said, "and then when I saw the hit from Cain, and I saw that Avi fell down because he has a big head, I was concerned but at the same time I saw that his throw, he has a good arm and he made a very good throw." 

Just your average 9-2-4-6 double play to end a game on the South Side, right? 

"Obviously, when he slipped we took a little gasp," Renteria said. "But we were talking about his body control to be able to maintain himself enough to get up and make the throw that he did. Unbelievable. It's pretty exciting finish to a ballgame that kind of got a little ugly early on."

Ugly is an apt way to describe the first few innings. Tim Anderson and Yoan Moncada both made errors in the Royals' six-run third inning, and Lopez capped it off with a wild pitch that allowed Eric Hosmer to score. But it went from an eyesore loss to an overzealous "we could make noise in 2019" rebuild win from there, and Garcia's defense -- of all things -- played a significant role. 

Garcia's outfield assist in the ninth was his second of the game. The first, an absolute strike to cut down Alex Gordon in the sixth, didn't involve a slip, though. 

And while much has been made of Garcia's breakout year with the bat, he believes his defense is hugely improved, too. 

"I think 100 percent," he said. "I just try to get better every day with hitting and defense. That’s baseball so get better in everything."

He has 12 outfield assists on the season, up from five a year ago. And despite his overall fielding percentage being down, his strong arm may give him a stronger defensive reputation. 

"Since last year, he's always had an excellent arm," Renteria said. "I think his accuracy is something to be pointed out too because as off balance as he was, he's made some throws to the plate that have been really spot on."

Renteria attributes Garcia's accuracy to the outfielder putting in extra time with Daryl Boston. 

"(Boston) has those guys throwing, and none of you guys are out there watching them work, but they'll throw quite a bit to the bases, especially second base," Renteria said. "They'll get deep and they'll work on doing that, so that's just a part of their routine."

The evolution of Avi carries on. 

Sprinting toward October, Cubs close in on another division title

Sprinting toward October, Cubs close in on another division title

MILWAUKEE – “Yeah, that really killed us, that sweep at Wrigley,” John Lackey said sarcastically late Friday night, dismissing a question about what’s happened to the Cubs since the Milwaukee Brewers made their statement against the defending World Series champs two weekends ago. “Come on, dude, it’s 162 games. Things happen.”

The Cubs are 9-1 since then, but Lackey was in no mood to talk about this finishing kick in the National League Central race, probably because manager Joe Maddon gave him the quick hook in a Big Boy Game, pulling him with a runner on and no outs in the fifth inning. But that’s what’s happening here, the Cubs sprinting away from the Brewers and peaking at the right time.

The Brewers are gasping for air after these pulsating back-to-back nights at Miller Park, the Cubs again coming from behind to win in 10 innings and close in on their second straight division title and third playoff appearance in a row, something this franchise hasn’t done since the run capped by the 1908 World Series title repeat.

After a hard-earned 5-4 win, the Cubs knocked the Brewers back to third place and chopped the magic number to eliminate the St. Louis Cardinals down to five, meaning the clinch party could be in Busch Stadium’s visiting clubhouse next week.

“We played fine that series, actually,” Lackey said, referencing three games where the Cubs lost 2-0, 15-2 and 3-1, allowing the Brewers and Cardinals within two games of first place. “S---, you can lose in this league and still play good. That’s why it’s the big leagues.”

Actually, it looks like the Cubs responded to the challenge from an upstart team, the crowd of 40,116 and a playoff environment.

“It’s been amazing,” Carl Edwards Jr. said. “It actually felt like last year’s World Series when I came in the 10th inning.”

Edwards notched the last five outs this time – with All-Star closer Wade Davis unavailable because he did the same thing the night before – part of a group effort that included a guy whose right elbow hadn’t allowed him to pitch since Sept. 8 (Hector Rondon) and a lefty swingman who took a no-hitter into the sixth inning three days ago against the Tampa Bay Rays (Mike Montgomery).

Lackey’s response when asked about the bullpen’s performance – three runs allowed in 11 innings – halfway through a four-game showdown: “They’ve been asked to do a lot…and they’ve really stepped up and done a great job.”

“In order to win, you’re going to need contributions from non-All-Star players at times,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “You’re going to have to get contributions from players stepping up because of someone else’s bad performance or someone else’s injury.

“You want your best players to play best in these situations. But ultimately that won’t always happen. And when that doesn’t happen, you’re going to need some contributions from other guys.”

That’s been crucial for the 2017 Cubs. The game-winning run scored when Tommy La Stella – the pinch-hitter who had been dealing with a groin injury recently and personal issues that led him to walk away from the organization last summer – drew a bases-loaded walk against All-Star closer Corey Knebel.

If you want to see a grinding approach for October, just look at Jon Jay’s 15-pitch at-bat against Milwaukee starter Brandon Woodruff in the fifth inning, which led to a leadoff single, Ben Zobrist’s two-run single up the middle and a 4-3 lead after Lackey’s slow start.

Yeah, the Cubs look locked in now.

“I’m so proud of the way our guys (respond),” Maddon said. “They get hit a little bit, maybe something to the solar plexus, but we still keep going.”