Poll watch: Irish move up to No. 3 in BCS

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Poll watch: Irish move up to No. 3 in BCS

BOSTON -- A 21-6 win over Boston College coupled with Alabama's loss to Texas A&M bumped Notre Dame up a spot to No. 3 in the latest BCS standings released Sunday night, as expected. K-State took the No. 1 spot in the BCS, while Oregon sits at No. 2.

Big picture, nothing has changed for Notre Dame. The Irish still need attrition to reach the national title -- although now, they need less. Alabama's loss knocked down the first wall. For Notre Dame to reach the title, they need either Kansas State or Oregon to lose -- and, of course, the Irish still need to win out.

No matter how impressive or unimpressive Notre Dame looks against Wake Forest and No. 18 USC, as long as the Irish win, they'll stay at No. 3. They won't move up unless the No. 1 Wildcats or No. 2 Ducks lose.

Notre Dame received a first-place vote in the coaches poll for the first time since 2006, with that vote courtesy of coach Brian Kelly. While all Notre Dame players can control is winning, Kelly can attempt to influence the system by putting the Irish atop the coaches poll, which is factored into the BCS. But Kelly was the only coach to vote the Irish No. 1, and it won't change Notre Dame's predicament in the long run.

"We've played a tough schedule," Kelly said Sunday. "Obviously wins on the road against Oklahoma and Michigan State and certainly showing how to beat a tough team in Stanford, those wins are big wins for us. I think we're tested, and I like the way our quarterback is developing, and he's getting better and better each and every week. Those are all positive things."

If K-State and Oregon run the table, though, Notre Dame is staring down either a trip to the Fiesta Bowl or Rose Bowl, the latter of which emerged as an option with Stanford's win over Oregon State on Saturday. If Stanford loses to Oregon and the Ducks go to the title (they'd still have to beat Oregon State and the Pac 12 South champion), there's a chance the Pac 12 won't have an eligible team to play in the Rose Bowl. And with the Rose Bowl first on the at-large pecking order, chances are they'd take Notre Dame.

If that's not the case, though, the Irish would almost certainly earn a Fiesta Bowl berth, where they could wind up facing No. 8 Texas A&M, which rocketed into the BCS discussion with its win over Alabama, which appears destined for the Sugar Bowl. No. 5 Georgia or No. 6 Florida would be viable options for Notre Dame to play in Glendale, too.

But the Fiesta and Rose Bowls are just backup options, and ones that Notre Dame may avoid falling back on with one more loss ahead of them. But no matter how well Notre Dame has played, or will play, that's the only route.

"If you look at National Championship caliber football, you've got to look at a defense, and so that's why we feel strongly that our football team has put themselves in the discussion," Kelly said. "We'll let others decide, but I think we've played our way into the discussion."

Cubs not worrying about a thing after split with Marlins: 'We're right there'

Cubs not worrying about a thing after split with Marlins: 'We're right there'

MIAMI – Jon Jay walked into a quiet clubhouse late Sunday morning, turned right and headed directly toward the sound system in one corner of the room, plugging his phone into the sound system and playing Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds.”

The Cubs outfielder whistled as he changed into his work clothes at Marlins Park, singing along to the lyrics with Anthony Rizzo a few lockers over: “Don’t worry, about a thing, ‘cause every little thing gonna be all right.” 

That’s what the Cubs keep telling themselves, because most of them have World Series rings and the National League Central is such a bad division.

“The biggest thing is to keep the floaties on until we get this thing right,” manager Joe Maddon said before a 4-2 loss left the Cubs treading water again at 38-37. “We’re solvent. We’re right there. We’re right next to first place.”

The Cubs will leave this tropical environment and jump into the deep end on Monday night for the start of a four-game showdown against the Washington Nationals in the nation’s capital.

Miami sunk the Cubs in the first inning when Addison Russell made a costly error on the routine groundball Miami leadoff guy Ichiro Suzuki chopped to shortstop, a mistake that helped create three unearned runs. Martin Prado drilled Mike Montgomery’s first-pitch fastball off the left-center field wall for a two-out double and a 3-0 lead. Montgomery (1-4, 2.03 ERA) lasted six innings and retired the last 10 batters he faced.

“Keep The Floaties On” sounds like an idea for Maddon’s next T-shirt. The 2017 Cubs haven’t been more than four games over .500 or two games under .500 at any point this season. The 2016 Cubs didn’t lose their 37th game until July 19 and spent 180 days in first place.

“That’s what was so special about it,” Rizzo said. “We boat-raced from Game 1 to Game 7 with a couple bumps in the road, but this is baseball. It’s not going to be all smooth-sailing every day. You got to work through things.”

As MLB addresses long game times, why Mark Buehrle’s zippy pace is worth highlighting

As MLB addresses long game times, why Mark Buehrle’s zippy pace is worth highlighting

Sometime in the future, near or far, Major League Baseball will probably begin using a pitch clock to penalize sluggish hitters and pitchers.

The sport without a clock will, someday, have a clock. ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian offered that as one of his predictions for what baseball could look like 20 years from now, which would be one of Rob Manfred’s signature reforms as commissioner. 

This kind of change wouldn’t be necessary, though, if more pitchers were like Mark Buehrle. 

“Buehrle was hyper,” pitching coach Don Cooper said. “He wanted to go, go, go.”

No pitcher since 2007 — when Pitch F/X began calculating “pace” — worked faster than Buehrle, who averaged 16.7 seconds between pitches. Only 56 qualified pitchers since 2007 can be considered to work “fast,” i.e. with an average time between pitches of 20 seconds or fewer (it’s a list that includes fellow former White Sox left-handers John Danks and Chris Sale). And that’s only 12 percent of the 473 qualified pitchers in the last decade.

Buehrle’s 99-minute complete game against the Seattle Mariners in 2005 still is the only nine-inning contest to be completed in fewer than 100 minutes since 1984. There was that memorable 1:53 duel with Mark Mulder and the Oakland A’s in 2003, and both Buehrle’s perfect game and no hitter lasted 2:03. 

Of course, Buehrle didn’t just work quick, he pitched well while zipping through innings. Buehrle finished his career with a 3.81 ERA, made four All-Star teams and threw at least 200 innings every year from 2001-2014. He had a .572 career winning percentage, too, so Cooper knew about Buehrle would give the White Sox a chance to win in about six out of every 10 starts.

“But you also know it’s going to be about two hours and 10 minutes, too,” Cooper added. 

A given game’s length isn’t all about the pace of the pitcher, of course. Batters can slow things down by stepping out of the box and calling for time, and games can feel like a slog with replay delays and mid-inning pitching changes. 

Still, how quickly a pitcher works usually dictates the pace of a game and how long it takes to be completed. Cooper wondered why hitters didn’t step out more against Buehrle to disrupt his rhythm, but perhaps the answer is that everyone on the field gets caught up in the quick pace set by the pitcher. 

“Everybody tells me they were so happy when I pitched for a quick game, but every time I was on the bench in between my starts, it was a 3, 3 1/2 hour game and it wasn't very much fun,” Buehrle said. “I think some of these games do get too long. Pitchers take their time, hitters get out of the box. I don't get all that but that's just the way I worked. I just grabbed the ball and went.”

Maybe adding a pitch clock with penalties affecting the count will force pitchers and hitters to find a quicker rhythm. That was one of the hallmarks of Buehrle’s career, and those snappy starts are one of the reasons why No. 56 was such a popular player on 35th and Shields. 

Former manager Ozzie Guillen, in summing up Buehrle's mentality, also offered some free advice for fixing baseball's pace-of-play problem: “Just throw the ball, get people out and have fun.”