As Packers keep winning, Bears need 'A' game from Campbell

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As Packers keep winning, Bears need 'A' game from Campbell

SAN FRANCISCO Call it Jason Campbells unfinished business, time to show that living well is the best revenge.

And right now, the Bears are in real need of some living well. The Green Bay Packers won their fifth straight game on Sunday, winning at Detroit, and will move past the Bears in the NFC North, by virtue of beating the Bears in Green Bay, if the Bears fall to San Francisco. The Minnesota Vikings went to 6-4 by beating Detroit last Sunday and will come to Chicago next Sunday after a week off also with a chance to move past the Bears with a victory.

Not the time that the Bears would have chosen to be without their starting quarterback.

But Campbell is not just any backup.

Campbell is 10-4 over his last 14 starts. He had the Oakland Raiders at 4-2 and on course for the playoffs when he broke his collarbone.

He cant replay the 2011 season even if he wanted to. What he can do, however, is finish the year that ended so abruptly and painfully, and disappointingly when the Raiders gave up on him in favor of mortgaging their future in a deal for Carson Palmer.

Well, the Raiders are 3-6 and behind seven other teams for even the second wild-card spot in the AFC playoffs. And Campbell is on Monday Night Football, starting for the No. 2 overall seed in the NFC going into the weekends games.

Its my first time starting since Oct. 16 last year, when I broke my collarbone. And itll be going back to the Bay Area, Campbell said. It feels good to have an opportunity to get back in there and play.

But you never want to have an opportunity to play because someone is injured, but we understand that we play and those things occur sometimes.

Its the third straight year that this has occurred for the Bears, losing Jay Cutler for at least a game to an injury. That raises questions for the organization long-term with Cutler heading into a contract year in 2013 and GM Phil Emery satisfied that Cutler is a franchise quarterback when he is healthy.

Fittingly perhaps, the San Francisco game could be a one-game (if Cutler returns from his concussion next Sunday) audition for Campbell. He signed a one-year deal with the Bears for 3.5 million when interest in him was tepid during free agency because of the collarbone injury.

I think everything happens for a reason, Campbell said. I think when the time is right, that will take care of itself in the right place and time.

The bigger concern

But those are issues that are a long way from the Bears thinking going into a game that, if they lose, would drop them from second only to the Atlanta Falcons in the interim NFC playoff seedings to trailing the Packers in the division.

The bigger issue remains an offense that have yet to reach its 2011 levels despite additions like Brandon Marshall, Michael Bush and Gabe Carimi, whose rookie season ended after six quarters, plus the elevation of Mike Tice to offensive coordinator.

We have to maintain good energy, Mike Tice said. We have to maintain a positive approach with the fact that were working at it, were churning at it, were putting in the time at it and at some point were encouraged that it should it better break in our way and start playing with some rhythm.

The Campbell Factor

An intriguing thread running through the San Francisco game is whether the offense might actually run better under Campbell than it has been with Cutler.

For one big thing, Campbell directs an offense that has rookie Alshon Jeffery back from a broken hand. Jeffery is a big target who had become a starter and the Bears No. 2 receiver before his injury.

Campbell is a timing-based quarterback vs. Cutlers style of waiting a shade longer in a play and then having the arm power to still get the football where it needs to be. Campbell is possibly less apt to force a bad situation.

As a quarterback, you got to not try to dictate the game but do everything you possibly can to get your own rhythm, by not forcing things and everything like that, Campbell said.

But, at the same time, just have fun. You got to let it hang out in a game like this.

Cubs conserving Jake Arrieta for October and see another Cy Young push coming

Cubs conserving Jake Arrieta for October and see another Cy Young push coming

SAN DIEGO – West Coast atmosphere, late August, almost no-hitter stuff for a Cubs team riding a wave of momentum. Jake Arrieta might be reentering the zone that made him the hottest pitcher on the planet last year. Get your onesies ready.

It felt that way on Tuesday night at Petco Park, where Arrieta shut down the San Diego Padres, allowing only two hits across eight scoreless innings in a 5-3 victory, making another statement in his Cy Young Award defense.

For all the questions about Arrieta’s fastball control and mechanical tweaks – and times where he’s admitted he’s felt a click off – this is still a top-of-the-rotation guy who leads the league with 16 wins and has a 2.62 ERA.

“He should be” in the Cy Young discussion, manager Joe Maddon said. “The only thing that’s been amiss is a little bit of command issues on occasion. Otherwise, stuff is the same. Numbers are fabulous. It’s hard to replicate what he had done last year, because he just nailed it.

“If he gets hot over these last couple weeks…”

It will be up to Arrieta to complete that thought in a World Series-or-bust season for baseball’s first team to 80 wins this year, one that’s now 35 games over .500.  

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This didn’t feel like a perfect game or create any no-hitter drama. The Padres are already 20 games under .500 and years away from being a serious contender. And Arrieta had to bounce back from last week’s ugly win over the Milwaukee Brewers – when he walked a career-high seven batters – and work around a first-inning walk to San Diego leadoff guy Travis Jankowski.

But the Cubs played spectacular defense behind Arrieta, with catcher Willson Contreras make a lightning-quick throw to pick off Jankowski at third base. The Cubs turned three double plays while a thunderous lineup led by Kris Bryant (33rd home run) and Addison Russell (fifth home run in his last five games) lowered the stress level. After Alex Dickerson’s single leading off the second inning, the Padres didn’t get another hit until Christian Bethancourt’s double with two outs in the eighth.

“I really wanted to let my defense work,” said Arrieta, who finished with six strikeouts against three walks. “When you have Addison and (Javier) Baez in the middle of the infield – two of the best athletes in all of baseball – you want the ball to go to those guys.”

At a time when Clayton Kershaw (back) and Stephen Strasburg (elbow) are on the disabled list, leaving potential playoff opponents like the Los Angeles Dodgers and Washington Nationals in scramble mode, the Cubs can see Arrieta building toward October.

The way Arrieta did with that Aug. 30 no-hitter last year at Dodger Stadium on national TV, walking into the press conference in a moustache-covered onesie, Maddon going with the pajama theme again for the flight home after this weekend’s series in Los Angeles.

But the Cubs ultimately paid the price for all that effort poured into the wild-card chase, which explains why Maddon pulled Arrieta after 99 pitches with a five-run lead (leaving Aroldis Chapman to clean up Felix Pena’s mess in the ninth inning and get the final two outs, giving him eight saves in a Cubs uniform).

“Yeah, I was mad at Joe taking me out,” Arrieta said. “But at the same time, he came over to me and he said: ‘Hey, just remember last year and let’s conserve some things for October.’

“That’s our game plan. We want to be as strong and as dominant as we can be, but still in the back of our mind understanding that late September, early October, mid-October is really the most important time for us.

“Could I have finished the game? Yes. Does it play in our favor to maybe conserve that for later? Yeah. Joe’s a really smart guy. He knows what he’s doing. I feel like he makes the right moves in the right situations. And that’s why we’ve been playing as well as we have.”

No doubt, Addison Russell is becoming a star for Cubs

No doubt, Addison Russell is becoming a star for Cubs

SAN DIEGO – On a team bursting with MVP frontrunners and Cy Young Award candidates – and in a clubhouse with louder, flashier personalities – Addison Russell can emerge as an All-Star shortstop and not become the center of attention.

But here at Petco Park last month, Russell drew scrutiny for his spot in the all-Cub infield, patiently answering questions from reporters about whether or not he deserved to be the National League starter the fans voted for in that popularity contest.

Russell might actually be developing into a superstar now, a Gold Glove-caliber defender with legitimate middle-of-the-order power, someone absolutely essential to what the Cubs are doing now. Russell crushed the San Diego Padres again on Tuesday night, opening up a two-run game with a two-run homer in the fifth inning of a 5-3 victory.

“Just watch me over the course of a year,” Russell said. “My numbers may not be great or whatever, but I contribute to my team every single day. I play my heart out for my team.”

Super-agent Scott Boras, posted up at Petco Park to see clients and watch Jake Arrieta pitch, pointed out that Russell is now only one of five shortstops within the last 40 years to have at least 19 homers during his age-22 season, joining Cal Ripken Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Troy Tulowitzki and Corey Seager.

Russell is the first Cubs shortstop to reach the 80-RBI mark since Ernie Banks did it in 1961. For all the comparisons to Barry Larkin, he didn’t make his big-league debut with the Cincinnati Reds until the age of 22, and didn’t exceed 12 homers in a season until five years later.

Russell has homered five times in his last five games, leads the best team in baseball with 23 multi-RBI games and exemplifies a no-panic approach that should translate in October.

“I’ve said all year, we have guys on our team that get on base and it’s my job to get them over or get them in,” Russell said. “I’ve taken that role to heart. It’s a lot of fun out there. I challenge myself whenever I’m in that situation.”

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Russell’s highlight-reel play during Monday night’s victory inspired manager Joe Maddon to give him a bottle of Justin Isosceles wine with a “6-3” written on it. Imagine the reward if Russell wins a Gold Glove.  

“Defensively, it’s as good as there is being played right now,” Maddon said. “It’s getting to the point where there’s nobody else like that right now.”

Whether or not Russell can stay healthy and remain productive enough to become another Mr. Cub – or come close to matching Larkin’s Hall of Fame numbers – you don’t get the sense he will be a one-time All-Star.

“I’m very happy for him, because I know prior to being selected, that was an issue,” Maddon said. “I’m so proud of him, how he came out and confronted it in his own way, very quietly, but in a distinguished manner. That’s who he is.

“Now he’s showing everybody how good he is. And I also believe that event has pretty much catapulted him to the point he’s at right now (with) the status that he felt by being here. In some ways, there was this negative dialogue going on. He’s turned it into a very positive one. Good for him.”

Preview: White Sox try to sweep Phillies tonight on CSN

Preview: White Sox try to sweep Phillies tonight on CSN

The White Sox take on the Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday, and you can catch all the action on CSN. Coverage begins at 7:00 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on White Sox Postgame Live.

Wednesday’s starting pitching matchup: James Shields vs. Jerad Eickhoff

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

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