In the desert, some good stuff and a lot of bad facing Bears


In the desert, some good stuff and a lot of bad facing Bears

First the bad news (and theres a lot of it):

A team that spiraled down a nine-game losing streak is usually a doormat. If the Bears regard the Arizona Cardinals as such, they will spend Sunday night explaining a sixth loss in the last seven games.

Arizona bumbled away a 4-0 start because of problems on offense, not defense. Kind of like the Bears. The Cardinals are not in the Bears class at stopping points but they are 11th in scoring defense (21.6 per game). And the Bears have only managed to score that number in one of the past six games, which goes a very long way toward explaining why they lost the other five.

Of some significance possibly is that the Cardinals play a 3-4 defense, and the Bears have scored six (Houston), seven (San Francisco) and 13 (Green Bay) points in their last three games against that scheme.

They show a lot of different looks, theyre not afraid to blitz you and have talented guys in the secondary and linebackers, quarterback Jay Cutler said. They create turnovers, theyre really good on third down so weve got our hands full.

More bad stuff

Some specifics bode ill, or at least challenging, for the Bears.

The offense, what there has been of it, has run through Brandon Marshall. The Packers (twice) and 49ers in particular gave him problems and the Bears lost all three games in dismal offensive performances.

Arizona has an elite cornerback in Patrick Peterson, whose matchup with Marshall rates on the interest scale with Charles Tillman vs. Calvin Johnson.

I got a text message from my college coach that also coached at LSU when he was there and he said, This is the best athlete youre going to go against this year, Marshall said. Ive got my hands full this week. I know hell follow me around a little bit.

I heard some comments he made a week or two ago about how hes playing the best at the position. I agree with him. Watching film now, he really is backing it up. Unfortunately their record doesnt show that. That kind of put a damper on his play right now but hes playing at a high level. This guy is going to be another Pro Bowler.

A little more bad stuff

Defensive end Calais Campbell is 6-8, 300 pounds and has 4.5 sacks, and he likely will be facing off against struggling Gabe Carimi. The second-year right tackle lost his job over failures to block a speed rusher (San Franciscos Aldon Smith); the hope is that other end of the size spectrum is a better matchup.

JMarcus Webb has the task of staving off three-time Pro Bowl selection Darnell Dockett on the other side. Not a good matchup for the Bears.

But the rush nightmare for the Bears is inside linebacker Daryl Washington, who leads the Cardinals with both 120 tackles and 9.5 sacks. Bears' guard play has been spotty at best and rookie James Brown played so badly against Green Bay that he was benched in-game.

We have some guys in place that we think were going to go with, said offensive coordinator Mike Tice. Theyre from the group of guys that played in the game the other days. So well have five guys out there.

The Cardinals, fourth in takeaways with 32 (vs. the Bears 37) have intercepted 13 passes in the last five games, including the three that doomed Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions. They rank No. 1 in the NFL in interception percentage and fourth in sacks per pass play, meaning they are precisely what a shaky Bears offensive line and quarterback need with playoff hopes hanging by a thread of a thread.

The last two Bears losses and the one to Houston arguably turned on Cutler interceptions, which has helped quell any ripple of Cutler-for-MVP sentiment that appeared briefly when the Bears were 7-1.

For purposes of comparison, the Bears defense has held opposing quarterbacks to a combined passer rating of 71.4. That is very good.

The Cardinals have held quarterbacks to a combined 68.0. That is even better.

Now, a little good stuff

But for all that the Cardinals have done against the pass, they rank 28th in rushing yards allowed per game and 19th in yards per carry. In six of the losses in the nine-game swoon, opponents rushed for 165 or more yards.

The problem is that the Bears have been as inept running the ball as they have throwing it. They have scored a rushing touchdown (two) in only one of the last six games and the guy who scored those two Michael Bush went on injured reserve this week with a rib injury.

The Detroit Lions lost to the Cardinals last week when they rushed for only 84 yards. The Bears lost to Green Bay and San Francisco with sub-85 rushing totals and the tipping point clearly will be the run game.

Were all searching right now, Tice acknowledged. Theres a lot of what-ifs, is-it-him? but thats the way it is when youve lost a number of games in the last six.

In Game 1, Jon Lester doesn't quite live up to his World Series reputation: 'We got a long ways to go'

In Game 1, Jon Lester doesn't quite live up to his World Series reputation: 'We got a long ways to go'

CLEVELAND – While the Cubs came into this World Series as the heavy favorites, the team with the global following and baseball’s best roster on paper, Jon Lester understood the challenge ahead. The Cleveland Indians would counter with their own Game 1 ace, a dynamic reliever changing the way we think about bullpens and a future Hall of Fame manager.

That’s how it played out in a 6-0 game that felt a lot closer, Corey Kluber pitching like a Cy Young Award winner, Andrew Miller handling the seventh and eighth innings and Terry Francona improving his record to 9-0 in World Series games.     

Welcome to “Believeland,” where the Fourth Street bars on Tuesday were buzzing more than seven hours before first pitch. That night, LeBron James and the Cavaliers would get their championship rings and watch the banner-raising ceremony at Quicken Loans Arena, just up the street from Progressive Field.

By the first inning – when pitching coach Chris Bosio had to walk out to the mound to talk to Lester – the red video ribbons lining the stadium said: “CLEVELAND AGAINST THE WORLD.” With the bases loaded, Lester had just drilled Brandon Guyer with a pitch, forcing in a second run, a sequence set in motion by walks to Mike Napoli and Carlos Santana and Jose Ramirez’s soft infield single up the third-base line.

It didn’t matter that Lester would eventually settle down and pretty much control this Cleveland lineup. (Except for that rocket Roberto Perez launched off the left-field railing for a solo homer and a 3-0 lead in the fourth inning.) Or that the Indians didn’t run all over the bases, with Francisco Lindor going 1-for-2 in stolen bases. (“Whatever, it’s happened all year," Lester said.)

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This is Cleveland’s blueprint for October, maybe its only chance to win its first World Series since 1948.

“It’s always important (to get a lead), no matter what time of year it is,” Lester said. “It makes a manager’s job a lot easier. It makes your job a lot easier. When you give a guy like Kluber – who’s locked in from pitch one – two runs in the first, it makes his job a lot easier. I know the feeling on the other side. You’re just able to attack differently.

“With the bullpens and all that stuff that they’re setting up nowadays, all you got to do is get through six.”

Lester kept it a 3-0 game, but didn’t finish the sixth inning, a rare October night where he didn’t seem to be automatic. Until Tuesday night, he had gone 3-0 in three World Series starts, allowing only one earned run in 21 innings.

Lester won his two World Series rings with the Boston Red Sox, overlapping with Francona and Miller at different points. This is why the Cubs gave Lester a $155 million contract, to set the tone on the mound and within the clubhouse.

Near the end of a 103-win regular season – and even after winning the franchise’s first pennant in 71 years – Lester has offered colorful versions of: We haven’t done anything yet.

But Lester – the National League Championship Series co-MVP after putting up a 1.38 ERA against the Los Angeles Dodgers and watching the Cubs win both of those starts – also doesn’t do overreactions to losses.

“We got a long ways to go,” Lester said. “If we win tomorrow, we’re right back in it. Just like LA – everybody counted us out after Game 3. They said we were the worst best team in baseball. We’re here. We’re not giving up.

“I know my guys. I know my team. And I know that nobody in this clubhouse is giving anything up.”

Andrew Miller's outstanding postseason continues with escape to beat Cubs

Andrew Miller's outstanding postseason continues with escape to beat Cubs

CLEVELAND — Andrew Miller added another impressive chapter to an already legendary postseason performance on Tuesday night.

The Cleveland Indians reliever pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the top of the seventh inning to preserve a three-run lead and help his team achieve a 6-0 victory over the Cubs in Game 1 of the World Series in front of 38,091 at Progressive Field.

Despite putting four men on base, Miller added two more scoreless innings to his 2016 playoff résumé. Miller also struck out more three batters, giving him 24 in 13 2/3 innings this postseason, the second most by any reliever in playoff history. Critical to the effort was the strikeout of Cubs veteran David Ross with a checked swing on a 3-2 slider to strand the bases loaded in the seventh.

“You’re just trying to see the ball as long as you can and stay up the middle,” Ross said. “The 3-1, that’s the one that kinda messed me up. It didn’t break as much, so now you’re like ‘OK, let’s protect and just battle.’ ... Looking back at it, I wish I just stood there and not swung at all. If I could rewind. If it were that easy. I wish it was. And then he’d throw one right down the middle and America hates me.”

Ross has had his share of success against Miller before, though it all came when the left-hander was still a struggling starting pitcher. The veteran catcher is 3-for-5 with a walk against Miller in his career. But that wasn’t the reason Cubs manager Joe Maddon opted to stay with Ross instead of pinch hit for him with either Jorge Soler or Albert Almora Jr. with two outs in the seventh inning and Miller struggling for the first time all postseason.

With a man on and nobody out, Miller took over for Corey Kluber and walked Kyle Schwarber — only Miller’s third free pass of the postseason. Javy Baez followed with a single to load the bases.

But Miller rebounded quickly and retired Willson Contreras on a fly out to shallow center before he struck out Addison Russell. Based on his experience, Maddon thought Ross was the right man for the spot.

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“I thought David could hit him or David would accept his walk more than the other guys,” Maddon said. “David works good at-bats in that moment. So I felt good about him, actually. I felt better about him.

“I think with Soler coming off the bench or Albert they had less of a chance than David because I thought there was a two-fold opportunity to either get the hit or draw the walk.”

Ross worked the count to his favor quickly as he took a fastball for a ball, and after swinging and missing a slider, took two more balls to get ahead 3-1. But Miller dropped a slider in for a called strike and then turned to it once again, getting Ross to commit just enough for the third strike. The strikeout improved the Indians’ chances of winning by 26.5 percent, up to 94.7, according to

“I was trying to throw a really good one because if he hits it, it goes a long way,” Miller said. “That’s David Ross. I think even he would say, you can pitch to him, but if you throw something in his wheelhouse it’s going to go a long way and do some damage. Fortunate that it worked out. I threw a good one that was in a spot that he went after in the situation.”

Miller struggled again in the eighth inning as he walked Kris Bryant and allowed a Ben Zobrist single with two outs. But Miller — who allowed two hits and two walks for the first time all season in 77 appearances — struck out Kyle Schwarber to strand the pair.

The Indians’ key acquisition before the July 31 trade deadline threw 46 pitches, the most he’s thrown in a game since Sept. 8, 2011, when he was still a starter.

Indians manager Terry Francona wouldn’t commit to whether or not he’d use Miller in Game 2 on Wednesday. Francona cited how Miller bounced back after throwing 40 pitches in a Game 1 victory over Boston in the American League Division Series and would have been ready if needed. But any number of factors could keep Miller from pitching, and Francona is happy to have a 1-0 series lead in his pocket.

“I don’t know,” Francona said. “He was ready to come back and pitch the next night. I just think there’s a lot that can happen.

“But we won tonight. I think when you have a lead, you try to win.”