Bears offense fails with division at stake

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Bears offense fails with division at stake

Once again the Bears offense that spoke of itself all offseason and preseason as explosive is every bit of that -- except in the way that a firecracker is particularly explosive and destructive when it blows up in your own hand.

In another game in which the Bears scored exactly one touchdown, losing 21-13 to the Green Bay Packers, the offense has no one to blame but itself. The Bears netted 190 total yards, converted none of nine third-downs and did to itself whatever the Packers couldnt.

Center Roberto Garza killed a third-and-1 with a flinch on a snap that effectively ended a superb drive at the Green Bay 30 on the first drive. One possession later the offense netted nothing on a drive starting at the Chicago 48.

The offense even occasionally handed the Packers the dagger. The turning point was also an offensive disaster with Devin Hester and Jay Cutler combining for an interception on either a wrong route or wrong throw on a first-down play from the Chicago 37 in the second quarter. Cutler responded by throwing an apparent fit on the sidelines to take care of any remaining composure

The poor plays came from everywhere. Alshon Jeffery was flagged for a push-off on an apparent touchdown on a fourth-and-one. It was fourth-and-one because Matt Forte and the offensive line couldnt get the ball into the end zone from a start of first-and-goal from the Green Bay 5.

No position group was exempt from the follies.

QUARTERBACK D

The onus for the second-quarter interception that was a game-changer will be on Devin Hester but Jay Cutler may have made the mistake in throwing the ball to Green Bay rookie defensive back Casey Heyward. Exact responsibility is difficult to assign but the ball came out of Cutlers hand, as he himself said, and not every poor pass play is on the receivers.

Cutler finished with 12-of-21 passing for 135 yards, a TD (to Brandon Marshall) and the interception, for a passer rating of 72.5, actually a little better than his career mark (60.5) against the Packers. But he again contributed to sacks (four) by holding the ball too long into plays and failing to get throws to receivers on time.

RUNNING BACKS D

Matt Fortes failure to get into the end zone for a touchdown in the third quarter was anemic. He carried three times, the last two for no gain. Forte finished with 20 carries but for a mediocre 69 yards, 3.5 per carry, and that average was 2.5 without one 22-yard run.

Michael Bush was a curious no-show. He was limited in practice with lingering pain from a rib injury but if a player dresses, it is assumed he is ready to play. Or maybe the Bears just already had a full complement of inactives due to injuries.

Forte gave something to the passing game with five catches and a team-high 64 yards. But lack of consistent impact and not getting into the end zone on three tries from the five-yard line in is not elite.

RECEIVERS F

Devin Hester appeared to foul up a route in the second quarter, leading to an interception that turned the game. It was a two-man route and in any case, quarterback and receiver were not on the same page, to use the words of one of them.

Brandon Marshall caught six of the seven passes thrown to him in one of the few games where he was not the No.1 Jay Cutler target (Forte was). He accounted for the Bears one touchdown on a 15-yard catch behind good blocking by Hester to take out two defensive backs.

But the story of the game became Alshon Jeffery, who caught none of the four passes thrown (not always accurately) to him. Jeffery was called three times for pass interference after he himself committed a face-mask grab on cornerback Sam Shield with Shields inexplicably drawing the penalty.

One of Jefferys infractions cost the Bears a touchdown. The last cost them a 36-yard completion to the Green Bay 20 late in the fourth quarter on what was a potential drive for a tying score. Jeffery said afterwards that he needed to see the film of the game to assess what was happening, which says that he needs to work on in-game analysis quite a bit if he wants to solve problems at the time when they matter most.

OFFENSIVE LINE F

The inability to punch in for a score in the third quarter was not all on Matt Forte by any means. The offensive line started the game strong with a solid opening drive running the ball but was thwarted by Green Bay adjustments almost immediately.

James Brown remained as the starter at left guard over Chris Spencer and handled himself well in the first quarter before being beaten on a stunt for a sack in the second. Spencer then replaced Gabe Carimi after Carimi committed a holding penalty to nullify a Matt Forte run late in the first quarter.

Roberto Garzas flinch on a third-and-one was a major setback in a game where the Bears could not afford many. Or any.

Brown was benched in the fourth quarter in favor of Edwin Williams for making too many mistakes. Carimis mistakes got him benched although he said afterwards that the plan was to rotate with Spencer; that appeared to be news to Spencer.

Green Bay had four sacks, of which some were Cutlers fault for failing to get the ball off. But at least two were directly on the protection. Where the Bears turn now for a starting five is an unsolved question.

COACHING F

The plan to attack Green Bay with the run worked early as the Bears controlled the line of scrimmage. The Bears had opportunities and simply did not execute on those.

But the rash of game-changing penalties is laid at the feet of the coaching staff. Those were occurring in every area, from Cutler taking delay penalties or time outs because plays were slow coming in; Jeffery was pushing off over and over; or the line was committing penalties and mistakes that had coaches scrambling for answers.

Sale looks to stop the slide as White Sox face Royals on CSN

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Sale looks to stop the slide as White Sox face Royals on CSN

The White Sox take on the Kansas City Royals on Sunday, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins with White Sox Pregame Live at 12:30 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on White Sox Postgame Live.

Sunday’s starting pitching matchup: Chris Sale vs. Edison Volquez

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.  

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— Latest on the White Sox: All of the most recent news and notes.

— See what fans are talking about before, during and after the game with White Sox Pulse.

Why Cubs believe in Kyle Hendricks and his sneaky-good potential

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Why Cubs believe in Kyle Hendricks and his sneaky-good potential

Maybe Kyle Hendricks would inevitably be overshadowed in a rotation featuring the National League’s reigning Cy Young Award winner (Jake Arrieta), a $155 million All-Star lefty (Jon Lester) and a Texas cowboy who also has two World Series rings (John Lackey). Not to mention a Cubs team identified with zoo animals, dance parties and an explosive offense.

The low-key personality, sense of calm and sharp focus that’s allowed Hendricks to survive in The Show – and also earn an economics degree from Dartmouth College – certainly plays into that perception as well. 

But there’s no denying what Hendricks means to the Cubs as an extremely reliable fifth starter for the team with the best record in baseball – in what’s shaping up to be a very shallow market for pitching at this summer’s trade deadline and this winter’s upcoming class of free agents.  

Hendricks had to become a huge part of the story after almost throwing a complete-game shutout during Saturday afternoon’s 4-1 win over the Philadelphia Phillies in front of 41,555 at Wrigley Field. 

“What you saw today – that’s what you could get out of him,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s 88-89 (mph) with the really good changeup and he broke out the hooks a couple times. But he’s good against lefties and righties when everything’s working. And he can keep the ball on the ground, which is really important in this ballpark. 

“Right now, what you’re seeing, to me, is not a reach by any means. This is what he can look like very, very consistently.”

Hendricks needed only 104 pitches to throw his complete game, allowing five hits and finishing with seven strikeouts against zero walks. The Phillies (26-23) scored their only run in the ninth inning, after second baseman Ben Zobrist and right fielder Jason Heyward lost a flyball in the sun. Freddy Galvis got credited with a double and later scored on the throw to first base to complete a Ryan Howard strikeout, taking advantage of the extreme defensive shift against Philadelphia’s fading slugger.   

Hendricks (3-4, 2.93 ERA) has thrown at least five innings in each of his nine starts so far this season. He made 32 starts last year and finished with a sub-4.00 ERA and a very good strikeout-to-walk ratio (167:43). He’s 26 years old and can’t become a free agent until after the 2020 season.

“Now his confidence is back on, because he knows he can use the curveball as well,” catcher Miguel Montero said. “There were so many ways to go, because everything was working.

“It’s huge (when) it’s not just fastball-changeup. He’s got another weapon to go to sometimes. And, obviously, as a hitter, you know it’s three pitches (now in play). It’s a little bit more uncomfortable for a hitter. You don’t know what you’re going to look for.”  

Hendricks beat Zack Greinke and the Arizona Diamondbacks in his first start this season – and lost a 1-0 decision to Madison Bumgarner and the San Francisco Giants in his previous start. Not that Hendricks is about to start pounding his chest on the mound or running his mouth in the interview room. 

“I’m pretty confident, but it doesn’t really matter much,” Hendricks said. “All that matters is going out there and making pitches. It’s back to work this week, (throw) my bullpen, stay where I’m at in my lane and keep the ball down with some angle.” 

Seven-run ninth inning dooms White Sox in loss to Royals

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Seven-run ninth inning dooms White Sox in loss to Royals

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- What an implosion.

A day after they inexplicably gave away one contest, the White Sox outdid themselves on Saturday afternoon.

Instead of evening the series with a decisive victory, David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle allowed the Kansas City Royals to rally for seven ninth-inning runs to send the White Sox to a stunning 8-7 loss in front of 31,598 at Kauffman Stadium. Brett Eibner’s bases-loaded RBI single off Kahnle capped an improbable comeback and delivered another crushing blow to the White Sox, who have lost five straight and 13 of their last 17 contests.

“This is a tough one, no matter how you look at it,” third baseman Todd Frazier said. “You saw what happened. You can go back and think about it, game we should have won and didn’t win.”

“We’re all professionals and we’ve seen crazy things in baseball. This is one of them.”

Saturday’s loss ranks as one of the craziest in club history. The White Sox went from a state of joy, cruising toward a pivotal victory, to disarray in a span of 51 pitches.

Leading 7-1, Robertson took over and struck out Paulo Orlando.

Cheslor Cuthbert then singled and Eibner doubled to deep right when Adam Eaton lost the ball in the sun. Robertson walked Omar Infante and Alcides Escobar consecutively to force in a run, which prompted a visit from White Sox manager Robin Ventura.

Whit Merrifield’s grounder then deflected off the glove of Robertson and a potential double play turned into a two-run single and made it a 7-4 contest.

“The worst part about it was looking back and seeing Brett (Lawrie) was right there,” Robertson said. “If I had let it go, I would have got us out of the inning. It’s frustrating when you make a mistake like that.”

Lorenzo Cain’s hustle kept the inning alive as he narrowly beat out a game-ending double play to drive in another run. Eric Hosmer followed with an RBI double to right-center field to make it a 7-6 game and end Robertson’s day.

“It’s a terrible performance on my part,” Robertson said. “Can’t say much else about it.

“It doesn’t matter what the score is, I still have to get three outs. I let the whole team down.”

Drew Butera lifted his team’s spirits. The backup catcher entered in the ninth inning after an apparent knee injury knocked Salvador Perez out of the game. Already on tilt, the Kauffman crowd erupted when Butera ripped a 99-mph fastball from Kahnle for a game-tying double.

The White Sox opted to intentionally walk Orlando. But it didn’t prevent Kahnle from allowing Butera to advance to third as he uncorked a wild pitch. Kahnle also intentionally walked Jarrod Dyson to load the bases for Eibner, who ended a 10-pitch at-bat with the game-winning single under the glove of Sox first baseman Jose Abreu.

“The way games have been going, you go to the guy to close it out, because we haven’t been able to get to him,” Ventura said. “There’s no shot clock. There’s no time clock. If you can’t close it out, that’s what happens. And today we couldn’t close it out.”

The White Sox entered the ninth inning without a care in the world. They had bounced back definitively from Friday’s stunner, when the bullpen surrendered a four-run lead over the final three innings.

An opposite-field approach against Kansas City starter Yordano Ventura took hold with two outs in the fourth inning. Brett Lawrie, Alex Avila and Avisail Garcia all had opposite-field singles, Garcia’s providing the White Sox a 1-0 lead. Tyler Saladino then crushed a hanging 0-2 slider from Ventura for a three-run homer to left field and a four-run lead.

The White Sox offense continued to add on against Ventura. Avila doubled with one out in the fourth inning and Garcia hammered a 2-1 changeup for a two-run shot. Garcia’s homer, his fifth, traveled 428 feet at an exit velocity of 113 mph and gave the White Sox a 6-1 advantage.

They added another run in the fifth as Austin Jackson singled, advanced on a wild pitch and scored on a throwing error by Omar Infante.

And then the Royals happened again.

“They have mojo over there right now,” Avila said. “They just keep coming at you and taking advantage of the fact that we’re scuffling a little bit right now.”

The devastating loss was the third in 18 days in which the White Sox bullpen surrendered a significant lead. The unit, which has a 4.73 ERA this month, also blew a five-run lead in a 13-11 loss at the Texas Rangers on May 10. Along with a blown four-run lead on Friday, the White Sox nearly surrendered a four-run advantage in the opening game of a doubleheader against the Cleveland Indians on Monday.

“It might have a lasting effect,” Frazier said. “There are going to be some guys who are in here who tonight aren’t going to be real happy. Once you get in here and know we start over again, I’ve learned from the best that you start all over like nothing happened and go about your business.”