Budzien's record day lifts Northwestern

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Budzien's record day lifts Northwestern

EVANSTON The Northwestern Wildcats are figuring out their identity during their non-conference schedule.

At this juncture, the identity is incomplete.

The Wildcats have yet to play a complete game, and Saturday they had trouble scoring touchdowns.

Despite racking up 560 yards of offense and going 4-for-5 in the red zone, Northwestern scored just one touchdown in its 22-13 victory over Boston College on Saturday afternoon at Ryan Field.

The Wildcats (3-0) are the lone college football team to beat three BCS teams, but they kicked five field goals before scoring their touchdown on their 100th and final offensive play with 1:37 left.

At the end of the day, weve got to get six points instead of three, quarterback Kain Colter said. A lot of that comes down to me. A lot of that comes down to a bunch of guys, but weve got to go out there and execute. At the end of the day, were 3-0 and were not nearly playing our best football. Thats the encouraging thing. We can go out and play a lot better. I can play a lot better. Thats something to look forward to.

Jeff Budzien tied a school record kicking five field goals, from 19 yards to 42 yards, but the offense struggled to finish drives, losing two of their three fumbles.

At the end of the day, weve got to turn those threes into sevens, coach Pat Fitzgerald said. Weve got to finish drives. A lot of those issues we had on drives were self-inflicted by drops, by penalties, by not hitting guys who were open. So, were still a work in progress on both sides of the ball.

Northwestern hung on without its top play maker. After fumbling in the third quarter, Venric Mark left the game with an ailment described only as a lower body injury by Fitzgerald and never returned. He rushed for 77 yards on 18 carries. But Mike Trumpy stepped up to rush for a team-high 106 yards on 16 carries and scored on a 27-yard run.

He did great, Colter said. Thats what we expect out of all our running backs. They do a great job. Everybody is in competition. Everyone wants to play. When one guy goes down the other guy gets his opportunity.

The Wildcats continued with a two-quarterback system, as Colter and Trevor Siemian finished with almost identical statistics. Colter started and finished, completing 16 of 20 passes for 144 yards and rushing for 66 yards. Siemian went 14 for 20 for 123 yards.

Fitzgerald said using two quarterbacks is a good situation, and both have shown they can be effective.

Im not in the business of keeping people happy. Im in the business of winning football games and doing it in whatever way we can, Fitzgerald said. I would say both guys are happy because were winning. I would say going 30 for 40 and the way we didnt score touchdowns, I would say both guys are not satisfied with the way they played.

Both quarterbacks lost fumbles. As the offense sputtered overall, Budzien enjoyed a milestone day. He has nailed eight field goals this season, two more than all of last season. But even he wants to see touchdowns.

Its great to get field-goal reps. I work on that quite a bit in practice, Budzien said. Its nice to put that in a game aspect and help the team out like that. But in a time like that we need touchdowns, (and) its great to see the team put seven points up. Its a great job by Mike Trumpy and the offense closing the deal.

After Boston College (1-2) was forced to punt on fourth-and-10 with under three minutes left, the Wildcats drove 44 yards on four plays to set up Trumpys 27-yard touchdown for a 22-13 lead.

But after outgaining the Eagles 293-25 in rushing yards and finishing with 560 total yards to Boston Colleges 316, the Wildcats feel unsatisfied. Northwestern will have a chance to improve with a favorable schedule for the rest of the month, as the Wildcats will face South Dakota and Indiana in home games.

It was frustrating for us because were thinking were moving the ball at will, and we just get down to the red zone and hit a brick wall, center Brandon Vitabile said. So, for us, it was very upsetting. We kept saying, Weve got to finish, weve got to finish because thats what we build our program on, but we werent able to do that today until the end.

Weve got to take a look at it and get better and move on.

Cubs preparing to hire new translator after Aroldis Chapman’s rocky start in Chicago

Cubs preparing to hire new translator after Aroldis Chapman’s rocky start in Chicago

The Cubs are in the process of hiring a new translator for Aroldis Chapman, sources said, trying to smooth things over after a rocky introduction to Chicago that left the superstar closer feeling frustrated by his portrayal in the media.

Chapman told Comcast SportsNet Chicago’s Siera Santos that he requested a new translator on Thursday, while a Cubs official said the team had made the offer earlier this week, responding to all the negative coverage from a press conference that made a bad first impression and national headlines for the wrong reasons.

The Cubs understood trading for Chapman – who began this season serving a 30-game suspension under Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy – would immediately spark controversy.

But the Cubs still didn’t seem completely prepared for the moment, or quite as thorough as advertised, watching Chapman look disengaged on Tuesday, not remembering anything specific about what chairman Tom Ricketts had told him over the phone about off-the-field conduct – a precondition that president of baseball operations Theo Epstein sold as an essential part of the deal with the New York Yankees.

With a large group of reporters gathered before a Cubs-White Sox game, Chapman sat in U.S. Cellular Field’s visiting dugout next to Henry Blanco, the quality-assurance coach and former big-league catcher who’s approved under the new joint program between MLB and the players’ union that requires every team to have a full-time, Spanish-speaking translator this year.

Blanco has built-in credibility and communication skills after playing for 11 different teams across 16 big-league seasons, but he found himself in a difficult position, given the sensitive nature of the questions and what’s at stake for a World Series favorite and an image-conscious organization.

Chapman later did a one-on-one interview in Spanish with ESPN’s Pedro Gomez. The team’s public-relations department circulated that transcript, with Epstein saying Chapman had been nervous and something got lost in translation.

But the damage had been done, with a visibly upset Chapman initially refusing to speak to the media on Wednesday night after making a spectacular debut in a Cubs uniform, unleashing 13 pitches from his left arm that registered at least 100 mph on the big Wrigley Field video board.

It became an awkward scene after what was supposed to be a feel-good 8-1 victory over the White Sox, creating a new tension in a laid-back clubhouse. Chapman showered, listened to his associates and ultimately agreed to two minutes of questions, with catcher Miguel Montero becoming his translator.

“What I’m trying to do right now is to really build a relationship with this guy so he starts trusting me,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I believe once that occurs, I’m really going to be able to understand exactly what he’s about and what he’s thinking.

“I know there’s been some reticence or pushback regarding him to this point. However, understand where he’s coming from right now. We don’t know him. He doesn’t know us. And he really doesn’t even know the language.”

Chapman – who grew up in Cuba and is now in his seventh season in the big leagues – should be motivated to acclimate given the possibility of a World Series ring and a big free-agent contract this winter.

“I’ve spoken to him only once, at length, just trying to get him to relax,” Maddon said, “(and) have him understand me and what we’re all about here.

“As we all develop better relationships with him, the conversation’s going to flow a lot more easily and you’re going to maybe get the kind of information you’re looking for. But to put myself in his shoes, coming into a new venue, a new city, new everything, it’s a pretty heavy moment to immediately be scrutinized that way. I can almost understand why it’s been difficult for him.”

With Aroldis Chapman in the fold, do Cubs now have a bullpen that rivals world champion Royals?

With Aroldis Chapman in the fold, do Cubs now have a bullpen that rivals world champion Royals?

Aroldis Chapman firing 103 mph fastballs past hitters is going to send the sellout crowds at Wrigley into a frenzy on a nightly basis in the season's final few months.

It also gives the Cubs bullpen a completely different look, something Joe Maddon has referenced several times since Theo Epstein's front office pulled off the blockbuster for the most dominant closer in the game.

With Chapman slamming the door in the ninth, Hector Rondon and his 1.89 ERA now move up to the eighth inning. Pedro Strop — who is having arguably the best season of his career with a 2.79 ERA, 0.82 WHIP and 11.4 K/9 — now slots in as a seventh-inning guy.

It has the look of a trio of relievers that could rival the dominant Kansas City Royals bullpen over the last two World Series runs.

Cubs second baseman/outfielder Ben Zobrist got a firsthand look at the back end of the Royals' bullpen last fall, watching Kelvin Herrera, Ryan Madson and Wade Davis combine for only one unearned run against the New York Mets in 12 World Series innings.

Zobrist isn't ready to crown the Cubs' bullpen in the same category, but he could see how the comparisons could be made.

"I don't know; it just started," Zobrist said before Thursday's Crosstown finale. "I'm not gonna say it's exactly like it. It's different. It's different guys, but it's the same type of makeup.

"You got really hard-throwing guys that know how to spot their pitches and they're really tough pitchers. That's the way it felt last year in Kansas City. 

"When you get a guy like Strop or a Kelvin Herrera or whatever that's coming in in like the seventh, you're going, 'This guy can be a closer on just about any other team and yet he's coming in this early in the game.'

"That spells doom for other teams. It's tough to overcome that later in the game."

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With all the days off built into the posteseason, teams can roll with their best relievers on a nightly basis. 

Maddon likes to play matchups and ride the hot hand, but come October, he will have three very good options, as Chapman's presence has a domino effect on the rest of the relievers.

"That shortens the game," Zobrist said. "For the other team, when they're going up against that, they know that they only have so much time before the game is over in their minds mentally. 

"If we have a lead going into the sixth, seventh inning, they're in trouble because they're going to have to face some of the best relievers in the game the last few innings.

"What [Chapman] does to our bullpen is just takes it to that next level where the game is at least an inning shorter."

Cubs fans got to see that play out in front of them at Wrigley Field Wednesday night as Rondon came in to throw a perfect eighth before Chapman blew the Sox away in the ninth.

"They just know that it's hard to come back from a game when you're winning late in the game like that," Zobrist said. "Even if it's 3-1 like it was last night [before the Cubs tacked on five insurance runs], it seems like an insurmountable lead when you got a couple guys at the back end of the bullpen like that."

Robin Ventura isn't convinced White Sox will sell at deadline

Robin Ventura isn't convinced White Sox will sell at deadline

There’s been plenty of smoke and trade rumors this week, but Robin Ventura doesn’t get the sense a deal is forthcoming.

The White Sox manager acknowledged on Thursday afternoon his role in trade dealings is minimal as general manager Rick Hahn and his staff have fielded all the phone calls, with Chris Sale and Jose Quintana believed to have drawn the most interest. Jon Heyman reported Thursday the New York Yankees are the latest team to have inquired about Sale’s availability.

As busy as Hahn has been this week, his phone apparently ringing off the hook, Ventura isn’t convinced the White Sox will be sellers come Monday’s 3 p.m. deadline.

While it could simply be another round of posturing as teams angle to best position themselves, the White Sox headed into Thursday’s finale against the Cubs 50-51 with at least a pulse when it comes to the postseason.

“This week probably led to some more phone calls, of people calling just to see what's going on with us,” Ventura said. “I think our guys should look at it as a nice thing that people are calling and asking about you because that means people want you. But I don't want to see anybody go out of here. I don't think that's going to happen.”

[SHOP: Get your White Sox gear here]

The White Sox managed to stay afloat even though Sale was gone for five games with a 4-1 mark in his absence. That included two walkoff victories over the Detroit Tigers and a pair of wins against the Cubs on Monday and Tuesday. Ventura acknowledged a win behind Sale on Thursday would be a big boost as the club heads into a three-game series at the Minnesota Twins on Friday.

The run comes almost a year after the White Sox rolled off seven straight victories to inch their way back into the wild-card race in 2015. That week of victories convinced the White Sox to hold off from trading free-agent-to-be Jeff Samardzija. The next four games could very well decide the fate of several players as Hahn said last Thursday the club is open-minded in trade talks and sick of being “mired in mediocrity.”

“I hope we do it again,” Ventura said. “That decision isn’t mine and I’m not taking or making any phone calls. For me I hope we do it again.”

Last year the White Sox collapsed after they didn’t trade Samardzija, who fell apart and went 1-8 with a 9.24 ERA in his first eight starts after the deadline. The White Sox rotation is in much better shape than last season’s with the recent success of James Shields and Miguel Gonzalez. The team also is hopeful Carlos Rodon could return on Sunday to accompany Sale and Quintana.

Though the offense has been inconsistent, the group has improved and finally has another much-needed left-handed hitter for the middle of the order in Justin Morneau. So while the White Sox bullpen is beat up pretty good, Ventura thinks his club is better prepared for the stretch run.

“We’re probably better situated of sustaining that than last year,” Ventura said.