Bears-Vikings preview: Bears ball

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Bears-Vikings preview: Bears ball

In the Rollerdome get ahead and stay there
Perhaps more so in this game than any other this season, if the Bears fall behind against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, more than just their quarterback could be in true jeopardy.
The reasons are compounded.
First, the overall: The Bears in general are not a team with the passing offense to play well from behind. They are 14-45 under coach Lovie Smith when trailing at halftime and a dismal 1-9 over the past two seasons, and just 2-10 when trailing after three quarters.
Jay Cutler has not played well from behind over his career. His 134.9 fourth-quarter passer rating is the NFLs best, but has involved just three from-behind games all year (Green Bay, Carolina, Seattle) and he has fewer career fourth-quarter comeback wins than Eli Manning had last season alone.
Cutler connected with Brandon Marshall for a 56-yard completion to set up a tying field goal at the end of regulation. But in two previous possessions, with chances to put the game away, the offense had first-and-10s at the Seattle 48 and 44 and failed to get even a field goal try.
Sounding off
The issue this Sunday, however, is that the Bears are not against the Panthers or Seahawks in Soldier Field. They are in the Metrodome where they allowed seven sacks, 3.5 by defensive end Jared Allen, in a Week 17 win last year.
Minnesota, a dome, its going to be loud, Cutler said. Jared Allens a little bit of a different player in that dome compared to Soldier Field. A lot to deal with, a good team, very similar to our defense. Its going to be a challenge.
It will be a particular challenge for the offensive line, which is playing its first road game with three starters changed from the last time the Bears saw the Vikings.
Left tackle JMarcus Webb is still the spotlighted figure because of his assignment to neutralize Allen. That was accomplished in the first Minnesota game by scheme as well as personnel.
Were going to try to mix it up, offensive coordinator Mike Tice said. Different Minnesota defense at home on that field turf with that crowd noise, and we just have to make sure that were smart about the calls and how were helping JMarcus out.
Matchup styles
Tices plan, as it was in the Bears 28-10 win two weeks ago, is to run at defensive ends Allen and Brian Robison as a means of slowing the pass rush. The Bears are 30th in sacks allowed per pass play but 10th in rush yards per game. The Vikings are 16th in sack percentage and Allen and Robison have a combined 14 on the season.
Minnesota had just one sack in the first game when the Bears averaged a very modest 2.9 yards per carry but ran 39 times vs. 32 pass plays.
Weve got to be able to run the ball efficiently like we did last time; keep ourselves in manageable third downs, said offensive coordinator Mike Tice. I think thats the key to the game.
Indeed, with Gabe Carimi and Edwin Williams at guard and Jonathan Scott at right tackle, the Bears have three players still learning each other. Carimi is a converted right tackle, Scott is the right tackle, and they work well together on combination blocks, a key in the run game.
A Marshall Plan?
Marshall caught tied his season high with 12 catches against the Vikings, for 92 yards. Notably perhaps, his average of 7.7 yards per reception was more than three yards less than his previous low. The Vikings were not going to let Marshall beat them deep and he had no catch longer than 17 yards. Only against Green Bay (14) and San Francisco (13) was he held to that short a long. Both of those games were Bears losses.
The Minnesota plan was not necessarily to let him make catches but to hit him very hard when he did.
The thing that stood out the most to me when we played them two weeks ago was, as soon as you catch the ball, they are right on you, Marshall said. Those guys are rallying to the ball, they play together and theyll hit you. You have to be tough out there, especially against that secondary because theyre an aggressive group and theres not a lot of separation out there.
Its going to be another grinder I think.

Preview: White Sox aim for 20th win in series finale vs. Red Sox on CSN+

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Preview: White Sox aim for 20th win in series finale vs. Red Sox on CSN+

The White Sox aim for win No. 20 in their series finale against the Boston Red Sox tonight on Comcast SportsNet Plus. Coverage begins with White Sox Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on White Sox Postgame Live.

Today’s starting pitching matchup: Henry Owens (0-0) vs. Erik Johnson (0-0)

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

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David Ortiz paces Red Sox past Carlos Rodon, White Sox

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David Ortiz paces Red Sox past Carlos Rodon, White Sox

Carlos Rodon hasn’t been too far off the mark in his outings early in 2016.

His April 18 start aside, the team’s 2014 first-round pick has thrown the ball very well. Yet six starts into his sophomore campaign, Rodon has a 1-4 record.

The young White Sox left-hander made only one big mistake on Wednesday night and Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz took advantage. Ortiz’s fifth-inning home run off a Rodon fastball got the Red Sox on track and they tacked on several runs late to snap a three-game winning streak for the White Sox, who fell 5-2 in front of 14,383 at U.S. Cellular Field. Jose Abreu homered, but that was all for the 19-9 White Sox, who were stymied by seven sharp innings from Clay Buchholz.

“Just one pitch, and that’s the name of this game I guess,” Rodon said. “One pitch changes the game pretty dramatically. That’s why people love baseball I guess.”

Rodon has discovered the importance of one pitch several times this season.

He threw an outstanding game in his first start at Oakland on April 6 only to be felled by an opposite-field homer by Mark Canha. In his last turn in Baltimore, Rodon was on cruise control before his defense did him in. Later in the contest, Rodon allowed another opposite-field blast to Nolan Reimold, which sealed the southpaw’s fate.

On Wednesday, Ortiz taught him a lesson after Rodon issued a two-out walk to Xander Bogaerts with the White Sox leading 2-1 in the fifth. Rodon left a 1-1 fastball over the plate and Ortiz turned on it and drove it 397 feet to right on a windy, cold night.

“Don’t throw a fastball down the middle to Big Papi,” Rodon said.

It was the sixth homer of the season and 509th of his career for Ortiz, who is set to retire after the season ends.

But Big Papi wasn’t done yet.

He followed a pair of one-out singles in the seventh inning with one of his own against Zach Duke. Ortiz beat a White Sox shift and dribbled a single through an open spot on the left side of the infield to drive in run No. 22 on the season and put Boston ahead 4-2. The Red Sox added another run in the eighth.

Ortiz, 40, is hitting .311/.404/.633.

“He comes up big in certain situations,” White Sox leadoff man Adam Eaton said. “Ortiz is a heck of a hitter, and he’s gonna make you pay.”

The White Sox couldn’t do the same with Buchholz, who entered the game 0-3 with a 6.51 ERA. Eaton said the right-hander kept them off-balance by using all five of his pitches. Buchholz appeared to have trouble keeping the ball down in the first as Eaton flew out deep to left ahead of a Jimmy Rollins single and Abreu’s two-run homer, his first since April 19. Abreu’s fourth homer snapped a 61-plate appearance drought and put the White Sox ahead 2-0.

But Buchholz settled in and retired 19 of the last 22 batters he faced, including 10 in a row.

He limited the White Sox to two runs and three hits while striking out six.

“We got off well there, Jimmy getting on and Jose hitting a homer, but we can’t stop there,” Eaton said. “You know as an offense you can’t stop there.”

A lack of run support has also been an early theme in Rodon’s starts.

The team has scored a total of 10 runs with Rodon on the mound in six starts. Entering Wednesday, his 2.1 run support average per nine innings ranked 67th among 73 qualified starters, according to baseball-reference.com.

The limited backing has often left Rodon -- who minus his April 18 start against the Los Angeles Angels has a 3.03 ERA -- susceptible to one mistake costing him the game.

“I think he learns something every time out there,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “There's something to be gained from it and for him, he's going to be better for it. He's got great stuff, a competitor and all that, but you always learn stuff as you're going through this. Even looking at Sale or Quintana, they're still doing things and you learn something every time you're out there. Carlos is no different.

“We know he's a good pitcher, but even the good ones run through tough stretches.”

Jose Abreu's hot streak a good sign for White Sox

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Jose Abreu's hot streak a good sign for White Sox

Jose Abreu made it official on Wednesday night -- he’s on fire.

Everyone around the White Sox has known this hot streak would soon arrive. They saw signs in Toronto and again in Baltimore as he began to drive the ball to right with authority. They heard the sounds his lumber produced when he smacked another pitch.

But the first baseman confirmed it in the first inning Wednesday when he snapped a 61-plate appearance homeless streak with a towering two-run homer to left. And the idea that the White Sox have played as well as they have without consistent production from Abreu has the club very optimistic about its chances to contend this season.

“It’s awesome,” leadoff man Adam Eaton said. “You know it’s going to happen. He’s never not going to get going and be the type of hitter he is.”

“You’ve seen the month we’ve had and realistically without him producing a tremendous amount, without really the hitters producing a tremendous amount. The pitching staff has really carried us.”

Abreu has been a dominant force in the lineup in each of his two previous seasons. The 2014 American League Rookie of the Year has produced 9.3 Wins Above Replacement in his first two seasons, according to baseball-reference.com.

But until this last week, Abreu hasn’t been himself.

He hit .229/.303/.354 in April with 13 RBIs, the fewest he’s ever had in the opening month of the season. He chased pitches that weren’t his and got away from his game, rifling inside fastballs to right field. Yet the lengthy slump from a player who hit .303/.364/.540 with 66 homers and 208 RBIs in his first two seasons hasn’t dramatically hurt the White Sox, who entered Wednesday with the best record in the AL.

Abreu said the stretch reminds him of 2009 when he got out to a slow start and his team, the Elefantes de Cienfuegos, continued to play well in the Occidental Division of the Cuban National Series. Despite Abreu’s early slump, Cienfuegos finished in second place in the division and earned a postseason birth as it did in each of Abreu’s final eight seasons.

“I’ve had this moment before in Cuba,” Abreu said through an interpreter. “I was struggling and the team was winning games.

“We won that year. That’s the same kind of feeling as I’m having right now because we’re getting all together, working hard and pulling in the same direction and that’s probably something God has for us for the season and I’m happy.”

Manager Robin Ventura might like similar results from this situation. Abreu finished the 2009 season hitting .399/.555/.822 with 30 homers and 76 RBIs in 393 plate appearances. Projected out to 600 plate appearances, Abreu would wind up with 45 round-trippers, or nine more than his career high.

No matter what kind of numbers Abreu produces, it’s clear he’s in a better position to do it after a slow start. From April 25 through Tuesday, Abreu hit .406/.486/.531 with nine RBIs in 37 plate appearances. While he hadn’t gone deep in that span, Abreu walked five times and struck out only three.

Abreu said it’s a function of improved timing. He feels right when he drives the ball on a line to right as he did throughout a four-game series in Baltimore. Those are the signs Ventura has seen plenty of lately.

“It sounds better,” Ventura said. “His hands work better. It just seemed like he could pull the inside pitch a little better and drive some more to right field. He was working on it, probably gave up a couple of at-bats trying to find it, knowing it might not look right. We could tell what he was trying to do, and I think it has helped him as we got home, how it feels for him.”

Eaton looks forward to what it can mean for the White Sox. The offense entered Wednesday with 45 runs in the past eight games after it produced 62 in the first 21.  

“He stays inside the ball really well, he goes the other way really well,” Eaton said. “That’s where his power is and somebody hangs one, he’ll pull it

“When he starts doing that and barreling balls the other way, and they throw a 95-mph heater on the inside part of the plate, he shoots it to right with authority and that’s when you know Jose is going.

“It should be interesting once he gets going and gets in a rhythm.”