Bears’ #1 Receiver Likely Out for Season

Chicago looked sharp Sunday as they went on to beat Tennessee 19-7 to complete week three of the preseason, but unfortunately the victory did not come without an expense.  Cameron Meredith, who was just coming off a breakout year last season, most likely suffered a torn ACL during the second quarter of yesterday’s game.  Meredith, a 6’3″ 207 lb. wideout, was very successful under an offense run by Jay Cutler, making 66 receptions for 888 yards and 4 touchdowns.  This 24-year-old has a very bright future with this Chicago Bears franchise, but with a severe injury like this, one can’t help but wonder how effective he will be when–or if–he returns.

Cameron Meredith, though his stint in the game was brief, performed very well, catching 2 passes for 44 yards and moving the chains on both receptions.  No doubt this will be a blow to an already revamped Chicago offense, but the question is how much of an impact will this injury really have to a new wide receiver squad.

Don’t forget, the Bears have three completely new quarterbacks:  Mike Glennon, a 6’6″ pocket presence from Tampa Bay who tends to target his big tight ends; Mark Sanchez, an 8 year veteran looking not only to right his wrongs from the past but also fit the void of a leader, which this team needs so badly; and Mitchell Trubisky, the #2 overall pick from this year’s NFL draft, known for his effective rollout tendencies and at the same time tremendous composure in the pocket.  As you can see, this is a complete change from the Cutler-Hoyer-Barkley combo they had last year, and naturally, these quarterbacks now have to adjust to the Bears’ ever-evolving offensive playbook.

My point is this is a new and improved quarterback squad, who have each been in a unique and interesting predicament in the past.  This injury is not particularly new to them; rather, they will simply learn to move on and find a different weapon throughout the season.  So, now that Cameron Meredith is gone, who are the Bears’ main weapons?

1.  Kevin White

Now I understand that Kevin has had a string of injuries in the past that has prevented him from playing in his first two years as a professional, but the stage has pretty much been set for him.  White has the talent to be a big time receiver, has the right players alongside him, and has learned quite a bit about the game’s pace from the sideline.  But now is the moment we see his true colors and what he can truly do on the field.  And if it’s anything like his heyday back at West Virginia, we are in for a treat.

2.  Markus Wheaton

Markus has not played a whole lot during training camp nor the preseason after fracturing his left pinkie and, in addition, recuperating from an appendectomy.  But like Brandon Marshall, Santonio Holmes, and most recently Victor Cruz, Markus has played alongside an elite quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger; he’s had playoff experience, he knows how to win, and most importantly, he knows how to keep himself composed.  Yes this is a new environment, but I don’t see this to be as big of an adjustment as expected.

3.  Victor Cruz

Cruz, a former New York Giant, was acquired from the Bears shortly after the Draft.  Though he himself has battled injuries in the past as well, he provides the leadership role to this young receiving squad.  Yes, he’s not as quick as he was, say, five years ago, but he knows exactly where to be at the right time and is not afraid to perform in the clutch.  Cruz is expected to play from the slot this year, something he is not quite used to, but in the long run will be beneficial to everybody.

4.  Kendall Wright

This is the receiver I am most excited to see play this season.  We saw Sunday him catch key third down passes from Mike Glennon, and it seems like these two have started to click together.  Take note that the Titans team they face the other day just missed the playoffs by a game last season, and they have only gotten better since.  A performance like that of Kendall Wright is very promising to see, and hopefully he can be the guy to look to on third downs, just as Golden Tate is for the Detroit Lions.

5.  Tanner Gentry

Gentry is by far the biggest surprise out of the gate for the 2017 season.  An undrafted 6’2″ receiver from the University of Wyoming, there have been many doubts in regards to whether or not he would make it past the cuts.  Well Tanner has buried all those doubts. He has exceeded all expectations in practice and put nothing but 100% effort into his craft.  It all reached a peak Sunday when he beat his man, streaked 45 yards downfield, and caught a perfectly thrown ball from Mitchell Trubisky over his shoulder.  He may not see a whole lot of playing time this season, but come next season, provided he keeps improving, he will be yet another dangerous weapon.

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Giancarlo Stanton’s Pursuit to 62

The home run has always played a pivotal part in the game of baseball; there is no greater feat of strength or power than connecting that ball on the “sweet spot” of the bat and watching it go over 400 feet.  And each and every year, many if not all baseball fans are captivated by the year’s home run chase.  This year, one man has set the standard for all home run hitters so far:  Giancarlo Stanton.

Stanton hit his 50th home run of the year Sunday, becoming the first person to do so since Chris Davis in 2013 and the fastest to 50 since Barry Bonds in 2001.  The dinger came in the bottom of the eighth off Clayton Richard to give the Marlins a 4-2 lead.  Miami would go on to win 6-2.

Giancarlo, for all his career, has pushed the home run ball beyond what we thought possible.  With several 450 foot home runs, even some pushing 500, this 6’6″ right fielder has sprayed baseballs all around Miami Stadium, hitting some onto the concourse, some off the back glass, even breaking panels on the scoreboard.  He has appeared in multiple home run derbies, including this year’s, and had come out on top in 2015.  We have not seen a baseball travel that far that fast off a baseball bat since Mark McGwire, and Stanton continues to do it with style.

They say that your swing is often different when going into the Home Run Derby, and it can be tough adjusting back to regular season games the second half of the season.  This man has proved us wrong.  Ever since the All Star Break, Giancarlo has been tattooing baseballs at an unbelievable pace.  To give you a bit of perspective, New York Yankees star Aaron Judge was leading the race, belting 30 before the break; Stanton hit 27.  Since then, he’s hit 23, including 17 in August and 9 in the last 9 games, while the next 3 contenders have hit 29 home runs combined.

Now sitting at 50 home runs for the season, the question lingers:  what is Giancarlo Stanton going to shoot for this season?  Will he go for the record of 73, set by Bonds in 2001?  His answer has surprised some reporters, but to many baseball fans like myself, it makes sense.  In a statement, courtesy of MLB.com, Stanton has said “When you grow up watching all the old films of Babe Ruth and [Maris] and those guys, 61 has always been that printed number”.

Let me explain.  Going back to 1961, a 27 year old New York Yankee named Roger Maris was on the brink of reaching the 60 home run milestone, a feat that only the great Babe Ruth had achieved in 1927.  Maris, so it was said, was so nervous and overwhelmed with the pressure put on him to break this record that he actually began to lose his hair midway through the season.  With the tension mounting as the season reached the end, Maris crushed one over the right field fence on the very last game of the season to surpass the Babe.  61, the first player ever to do so.

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Then there was 1998, the year of the long ball.  The infamous home run chase in 1998, featuring Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, and Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr., captivated the entire country; never before had three men display this much brute strength in a single season.  Griffey finished with 56, but stuck with Sosa and McGwire for most of the year.  Sammy Sosa finished with 66, bringing all of Chicago on their feet.  But Mark outlasted all of them as he not only surpassed Roger Maris’ 61 homers, but was the first to reach 70 home runs, something that beforehand seemed incomprehensible.  The record wouldn’t stand long, however, as Barry Bonds would later top the record by hitting 73 in a ballpark that favors left-handed hitters.  It almost seemed too good to be true for fans everywhere.  Unfortunately, it was. In 2007 going into 2008, the MLB began a 20 month investigation towards players using human growth hormones (HGH) and other performance enhancing drugs across the league.  In total, 62 players were investigated and found guilty upon use of PEDs, including Sosa, McGwire, and Bonds.

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Technically, the record of 73 home runs in a year still stands, but many fans can’t help but think how much of that miraculous year was impacted from HGH.  Which is why to many, 61 home runs still remains the main milestone to reach.  Stanton, I believe, is well aware of the circumstances that surround this record and the pressure that ensues.  He takes the game with tremendous respect and wants to leave it as such; that’s just the type of man he is.

At this point, it is definitely possible that Giancarlo Stanton can reach that milestone:  provided he stays on this pace, he is actually projected to hit 63 at the year’s end.  And I can’t imagine a player that is more deserving of this number than this man here.

 

 

The Start of Big Changes for Bulls Franchise

On Friday, one week after the infamous Jimmy Butler trade, the Chicago Bulls have decided to waive Rajon Rondo from the team after just one season.

According to ESPN, Rondo, 31, had a team option for just over $13M that would be guaranteed if the Bulls decided to keep him.  However, after a dismal season and an early exit, the Bulls have finally decided to get younger and rebuild.

Rondo’s performance this year was subpar, averaging about 7.8 points per game and 6.3 assists per game.  He managed to get in double digits in back-to-back games just five times this season, and none of those streaks went for more than three games.  His inconsistency on the court grew incredibly blatant as the season went along, and even though he helped the Bulls in the playoffs, his injury could not have come at a worse time.

Of course, what he lacked on the court he made up with a go-get-em mentality in the locker room, right?  Wrong.  In fact, his attitude in the clubhouse was arguably worse than his playing.  Let’s not forget this is the same man who posted the following statement on Instagram in the middle of the season:

“My vets would never go to the media. They would come to the team. My vets didn’t pick and choose when they wanted to bring it. They brought it every time they stepped in the gym whether it was practice or a game. They didn’t take days off. My vets didn’t care about their numbers. My vets played for the team. When we lost, they wouldn’t blame us.

“They took responsibility and got in the gym. They showed the young guys what it meant to work. Even in Boston when we had the best record in the league, if we lost a game, you could hear a pin drop on the bus. They showed us the seriousness of the game. My vets didn’t have an influence on the coaching staff. They couldn’t change the plan because it didn’t work for them.

“I played under one of the greatest coaches, and he held everyone accountable. It takes 1-15 to win. When you isolate everyone, you can’t win consistently. I may be a lot of things, but I’m not a bad teammate. My goal is to pass what I learned along. The young guys work. They show up. They don’t deserve blame. If anything is questionable, it’s the leadership.”

A clear blow to Dwayne Wade and Jimmy Butler, who were deemed the “leaders” of the team by the city of Chicago.  And the one piece the Chicago Bulls had that kept the veterans and the rookies together, the one veteran who brought his A game each and every time he stepped on the court, Chicago traded away in the OKC trade:  Taj Gibson.  After that trade, you could visually see the Bulls begin to fall apart.

 

The way we see it now, here will be the starting lineup for the Chicago Bulls this season (Below, you will find the players’ names, notable statistics from last year, and their age.):

PG:  Zach Lavine (18.9 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 3.0 APG), 23

SG:  Dwayne Wade (18.3 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 3.8 APG), 35

SF:  Paul Zipser (5.5 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 0.8 APG, 33.3% 3 pt.), 23

PF:  Bobby Portis (6.8 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 33.3% 3 pt.), 22

C:  Robin Lopez (10.4 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 1.4 BPG), 29

Just looking at this starting lineup right now, of course, nothing looks too good; however, the Bulls are in a really good spot, because now they have time to tinker with this roster. Chicago has gotten rid of some key components of their team, yes, but think of this as a clean slate.  They now have 5 point guards (Grant, Carter-Williams, Payne, Lavine, and Dunn), 3 of which can easily move to shooting guard.  Backing up Wade they have Morrow, who didn’t really receive a whole lot of playing time, but has the potential to step up when given the opportunity.  There’s also Valentine, who again didn’t get much time on the court, but provided very productive minutes.  Moving to the 4 position, there’s Niko Mirotic and 1st round pick Lauri Markanen behind Bobby Portis.  Niko is a free agent as of now, so it is completely up to Garpax as to whether or not to pursue him for another year.  We all know about his potential danger beyond the 3 pt. line–well, we could say the same thing about Markanen–and if they were to work even harder at his post game and rebounding, they can be huge weapons in the near future.  Last but not least, there’s the center position.  Behind Robin, we have Christiano Felicio and Joffrey Lauvergne.  Both have provided valuable minutes, and, depending on what Garpax does with Niko, Felicio might find himself working as power forward for the majority of the season.

Whew.

So as you can see, the Bulls can go in many different directions with the talent that they have.  Let’s just hope it’s in the right direction.  And as bad as this may sound, releasing Rondo and trading Butler may be a small step towards the goal for Chicago; it will provide a whole lot more opportunity for our guards and allow them to start fresh.  This team is young, and this team is hungry.  Let’s hope it translates to good basketball.

As for Rajon Rondo, thank you for the time you put in for Chicago, and we all wish you the best of luck wherever you go.  Regardless of where you end up, we hope that your game gets better as you move along.  Just take a second thought before you say anything.

Chicago Devotes Week to #56

With Mark Buehrle’s number being retired on Saturday, the White Sox, along with their fanbase, have taken this week to reminisce on his achievements throughout his career.  And so will we.

214 wins.  1870 strikeouts.  Career 3.81 earned run average.  5 All-Star appearances.  4 Gold Glove awards.  2 no hitters.  And 1 World Series ring.  Needless to say Mark Buehrle stands as one of the greatest pitchers in White Sox history, along with the most accomplished.

No one at first really expected a lot from Mark.  And many have said watching him pitch is not very entertaining.  He didn’t have a whole lot of velocity, but had a pretty decent curveball and a lot of control.  Something completely out of the ordinary at the time, when the league was run by fastball pitchers like Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, and Pedro Martinez.  And besides, he had proven himself to be a ground ball pitcher, conserving his arm for the later innings.  Nevertheless, Buehrle made his debut in July of 2000, as the White Sox were on the road against the Twins; he threw for seven innings, giving up six hits, two runs, and sealing a win.  Not a bad start for the 20 year old from St. Charles, MO, and it only budded from there.

2005:  A Year to Remember

When people think back to that World Champion team, they think of the offense:  Paul Konerko, Joe Crede, AJ Pierzynski, Jermaine Dye, etc.  Buehrle led the charge on the defensive side, proving to be consistent each time he went on the mound.  A 16-8 record with 142 K’s and 82 runs given up in 236.3 innings; not too shabby for a guy who throws a 90 MPH fastball.  His stats only improved in the playoffs, proving once again he was more than willing to step up when the team needed it most.  He compiled a 2-0 record with 12 K’s and allowed only 1 walk in 23 innings pitched, along with a key save in the marathon Game 3 of the World Series.  He had done his part in the chase, and the team pulled theirs as well.  That hard work paid off, and now they had a ring to prove it.

2007:  27 up, 27 down vs. Texas Rangers

Like I said earlier, Mark Buehrle was known as a ground ball pitcher in an effort to last through all 9 innings.  One clear cut example of this was his performance against the Texas Rangers on April 18, 2007.  Don’t forget, the Rangers had a stacked team back then, with names like Mark Teixiera, Hank Blalock, Nelson Cruz, Michael Young, Ian Kinsler, and Sammy Sosa.  A team who had weapons to go very far into the playoffs.  And #56 retired them all!  8 strikeouts in the game, 11 ground outs, 7 flyouts, and a sweet pick off move on Sammy Sosa took care of Texas and put Mark in the record books.  Of course, he did have a lot of help from his defense, with Joe Crede on the hot corner, and Iguchi chasing down those tough grounders.  That was sure a game to watch, but if you missed it, don’t worry.  Because an encore is just a couple years away.

2009:  History…Again

Mark had accomplished something 22 other pitchers had done before:  throw more than one no hitter.  This time, his culprit was the Tampa Bay Rays, who again were a playoff caliber team.  Carl Crawford, Melvin Upton, Evan Longoria, Carlos Peña, etc.  Once again,  Buehrle was able to retire them all, this time not even allowing a runner to get on base.  That’s right, a perfect game!  And of course most of us remember the game-saving catch by Dwayne Wise in the ninth to help preserve the win.  What did Mark had to say after the game?  “I don’t know (how I’m feeling).  They said that throwing a no hitter was impossible, but I’ve thrown that.  Now I’ve thrown a perfect game…I don’t know, it’s unbelievable.”

2010:  Defense on Display

Sure, Mark Buehrle was known for his consistency on the mound, but what he did fielding was nothing short of spectacular, if not magical.  One such moment was on Opening Day of the 2010 season against the Cleveland Indians.  Mark had a ball hit back to him, glanced off his leg and rolled toward the first base line; he ran after it, back to Konerko, and he ended up flipping the ball between his legs to first base.  Konerko, not expecting it at all, reached out with his bare hand to complete the web gem.  This act of fielding had not been seen out of a Chicago pitcher since the Greg Maddux era, and this play in particular showed how multidimensional and talented Buehrle actually was. Looking back, I still love watching that play, and I remember replaying it again and again in disbelief.

 

Mark Buehrle is by far one of the best left handed pitchers the White Sox have ever seen, and I believe they are right in retiring his number.  The amount of effort he displayed on the field, his flair, and his overall personality as a teammate help shape the role he’s had in this organization.  Again, the ceremony will be held on Saturday at Guaranteed Rate Field, with some of his former teammates coming in attendance, including Paul Konerko and Frank Thomas.  I know growing up, I always aspired to play like Mark; I too was a left handed pitcher with not a whole lot of velocity.  I too relied on my control and fielding abilities, and watching Mark really helped me grow as a player.  I’m just one person who he has had an influence on, and I can guarantee you that hundreds of others around the Chicago area can say the same.  Coming from me, it is sure nice to see him finally get the recognition he deserves from the place it all started.  And I can assure you I will have my face glued to my T.V. screen when the time comes.