Should fans continue booing the Bears at home?

964855.png

Should fans continue booing the Bears at home?

The Bears have dropped five of their last six games, culminating in a fall from grace as the No. 2 seed in the NFC to currently on the outside looking in at the conference's playoff race.

And Bears fans are none too happy about it, as evidenced by the loud boos cascading from all corners of Soldier Field during Sunday's loss to heated rival Packers.

Many in Chicago took to Twitter or Facebook or the nearest water cooler in calling for head coach Lovie Smith's head, demanding the mild-mannered field general be fired and replaced with the likes of Bill Cowher or Jon Gruden.

And while fans are certainly justified in their despair and frustration, is booing the team at home really something that should continue?

Brian Urlacher, who has spent his entire career in Chicago, was visibly miffed after the game at the fans' reaction.

"Two of the people I don't care about -- fans or media," Urlacher told Lou Canellis on WFLD after the game Sunday night before defending Smith for a while.

"Our crowd was pretty good today for the most part. They were loud for a minute there -- the boos were really loud -- which is always nice. The only team in our division that gets booed at home is us. It's unbelievable to me."

Urlacher has a point. And this isn't the first time a member of the Bears has had an issue with the Soldier Field faithful this season. Just ask Jay Cutler.

But there's also the opposite side of the coin.

Chicago is a city divided in the summer, but united in the fall and winter. It's always Cubs-Sox in June and July, but when the Bears start getting into the thick of their season, it brings Chicagoans together.

This is a city that has grown weary with disappointment by the sports teams over the past year.

The Cubs may have a brand new front office, but they still approached the franchise record for losses in a season with 101 defeats in 2012.

The White Sox led the AL Central for most of the '12 season before collapsing down the stretch and giving way to the Detroit Tigers.

The Bulls held the best record in the NBA during the 2011-12 regular season, but saw superstar Derrick Rose go down to a torn ACL in the first playoff game at the United Center.

The Blackhawks are in the midst of a nasty NHL lockout that has extended more than 90 days and has hockey fans legitimately concerned that there may, in fact, not be a season at all.

And then there's the Bears. They rode a five-game win streak to a 7-3 record last season before an injury to Cutler knocked them all the way out of the playoff race. A similar occurrence is taking place this year, as the Bears have fallen to 8-6 after a 7-1 start.

But it still begs the question, should fans continue to boo the Bears at home, or should they be more like the home crowd at Lambeau Field for Packers games or at Mall of America Field for Vikings games? (I find it hard to believe the Lions are not booed at home given the struggles of that franchise over the past decade or so.)

Or are the fans in the right, especially considering the Bears have dropped six straight games to the Packers, their heated rivals?

Cubs: Is Joe Maddon turning Kyle Schwarber into a platoon player?

Cubs: Is Joe Maddon turning Kyle Schwarber into a platoon player?

LOS ANGELES – Joe Maddon doesn’t want to put the platoon label on a young hitter who became a World Series legend before his 24th birthday. But the Cubs manager also isn’t planning to start Kyle Schwarber against left-handers anytime soon. 

“If people want to say that, I can’t avoid it,” Maddon said Friday at Dodger Stadium, where Schwarber sat against lefty Alex Wood, who took a 20.1-inning scoreless streak into this National League Championship Series rematch. “I’m going to do that until I feel good about him, because I don’t want to lay too many at-bats on him in a negative situation.

“If he’s not swinging the bat well against righties, it’s a bad assumption that I’m going to think he’s going to swing it well against lefties. Then I’m just putting him in a deeper hole by throwing him out there, just based on really bad logic.

“I’m just trying to pick his spots right now to get him going. Once he goes, he can play against anybody.”

[MORE CUBS: The 'friendly rivalry' between Theo Epstein and Andrew Friedman]

Schwarber – who’s hitting .181 with a .656 OPS and 55 strikeouts in less than 200 plate appearances this season – will start Saturday against Dodger right-hander Brandon McCarthy. But even with Clayton Kershaw looming on Sunday, Maddon didn’t want to give Schwarber the entire weekend off, the way Jason Heyward mentally reset last August at Coors Field.

“I don’t think it’s there yet,” Maddon said. “I’ve had good conversations with him. I think it’s a different set of circumstances.”

For the Cubs, this doesn’t really change their overall evaluation of Schwarber as a core player and potentially one of the most dangerous left-handed sluggers in the game. But Maddon has been backing away from the idea of Schwarber as a leadoff hitter, trying to reboot the player who had been such an intimidating postseason presence.

“My concern when the guy is struggling a little bit is you don’t want him to get him too many at-bats,” Maddon said. “It’s really hard to get yourself out of that mental, physical and numerical hole. By not getting him as many at-bats, it will be easy to get back to a number he’s more comfortable with.

“I don’t care about that – I really don’t. I’m looking at his past, process, what he’s doing for the team in regards to on-base, everything else. But for the guy himself, he looks up at the scoreboard and he sees numbers everywhere and they evaluate themselves based on numbers.

“I don’t want him to do that. I just want him to get back into the process of having good at-bats.”

The ‘friendly rivalry’ between Theo Epstein and Andrew Friedman with Cubs, Dodgers becoming NL superpowers

The ‘friendly rivalry’ between Theo Epstein and Andrew Friedman with Cubs, Dodgers becoming NL superpowers

LOS ANGELES – A man stepped to the microphone during a Q&A session at Cubs Convention and called Theo Epstein and Andrew Friedman “the two boy geniuses.” The fan told Epstein how his friends used to call the Dodgers baseball boss “your Mini-Me,” asking about their personal rivalry and if beating L.A. in the playoffs had any extra meaning.

“We have a friendly rivalry,” Epstein told a packed hotel ballroom in downtown Chicago in January. “First off, didn’t he interview for an internship with us and we turned him down way back in the day?

“And then like nine months later, he was GM of the Rays. When he was with Tampa and I was with Boston, we never spoke, because we were in the same division. It was kind of a heated rivalry. We literally never called each other on trades or anything like that.”

But where it’s so difficult for the small-market Rays to keep up with the ultra-rich Red Sox – and replace Friedman’s vision and Joe Maddon’s star power and survive a string of wasted first-round draft picks and find a long-term stadium solution – the Cubs and Dodgers are positioned to be superpowers for years to come.

That’s what makes this Memorial Day weekend showdown at Dodger Stadium so compelling beyond the National League Championship Series rematch. It’s not just upcoming free agent Jake Arrieta returning to the site of his onesie no-hitter on Friday night, a reigning MVP (Kris Bryant) and Rookie of the Year (Corey Seager), two of the best closers on the planet (Wade Davis and Kenley Jansen) and a classic Jon Lester vs. Clayton Kershaw matchup on Sunday afternoon.

The Cubs eliminated the Dodgers less than a month after Epstein finalized a five-year contract worth in the neighborhood of $50 million, likely surpassing Friedman as the game’s highest-paid personnel executive.

“Jed developed a pretty good relationship with him, because I didn’t like talking to him,” Epstein said, referencing GM Jed Hoyer, another Boston transplant on the Cubs Convention panel that day. “But then when I came out here with the Cubs, a different league and everything, I developed a much better relationship with Andrew and we became friends, so now it’s much more of a friendly rivalry.

“I will say that losing to the Dodgers would have been a bitter pill to swallow on a number of fronts, including that one. But they’re developing a powerhouse out there.

“We see them as a team we have to go through each year to get where we want to be.”

[MORE CUBS: Summing up the Cubs' impressive, potentially season-altering homestand]

Backed by Guggenheim Partners’ financial muscle and flush with new TV money, the Dodgers have won four straight division titles and 90-plus games each season while ramping up a farm system that’s now ranked fourth, fifth or sixth by Baseball America, ESPN and MLB.com.

“Everyone’s got their own style and their own approach,” Epstein said. “Ours was more kind of bottom-up (where) they needed to keep it rolling at a high level in the big leagues while retooling their system and nurturing the talent that was already there.

“We had to go out and transact and bring some stuff in. We were at different points of the success cycle. They’ve done a really nice job of winning while kind of establishing something new at the same time.”

The blue-blooded franchise that produced 17 Rookie of the Year winners last month rolled out Cody Bellinger, a 21-year-old, left-handed first baseman with nine homers in his first 28 games in The Show. Julio Urias – who might be the next Fernando Valenzuela – is supposed to be conserving some innings at Triple-A Oklahoma City for another October where the Cubs could be standing in the way of the Dodgers’ first World Series title since 1988.

“They’ve been producing great young talent for a long period of time,” Epstein said. “If you go back and look at some of the young studs they have in the big leagues that (former scouting director) Logan White and (the previous regime) brought in, some of the guys are still coming.

“They’re stocked and the Dodger tradition runs really deep. With Andrew and his front office, we know they’re going to be dynamic. They’re going to have more resources than anyone. And they’re a big threat to the whole league for a long period of time.”