<![CDATA[NBC Chicago - Sports]]>Copyright 2016http://www.nbcchicago.com/news/sports http://media.nbcnewyork.com/designimages/5-Chicago-Blue.png NBC Chicago http://www.nbcchicago.comen-usSat, 01 Oct 2016 18:02:20 -0500Sat, 01 Oct 2016 18:02:20 -0500NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Chicago Cubs Playoff Opponent Watch]]> Sat, 01 Oct 2016 10:29:07 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/chicago+cubs+GettyImages-611683788.png

Safely entrenched into the top spot in the National League, the Chicago Cubs are merely playing out the season as they wait to find out who their first round playoff opponent will be when the postseason begins next week.

That opponent will be whichever team wins the National League wild card game, and the race to be involved in that contest has boiled down to three teams: the New York Mets, the St. Louis Cardinals, and the San Francisco Giants.

With that in mind, we will be keeping tabs on the race throughout the final week of the regular season as the three teams vie for two spots and an opportunity to play the top-seeded Cubs at Wrigley Field beginning on Oct. 7.

Where Things Stand:

The Mets moved one step closer to nailing down the top wild card spot in the National League with a 5-1 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies. The win guarantees the Mets no worse than a tie with the Cardinals in the race, and it also means that if they win one more game they will guarantee themselves a spot in Wednesday’s wild card game.

Meanwhile the Giants beat the Dodgers 9-3 at AT&T Park behind a solid effort from Madison Bumgarner on the mound. He gave up three earned runs in the game, and Brandon Belt smashed a three-run home run as the Giants maintained a one-game lead over the Cardinals for the second wild card spot.

The Cardinals did keep pace with the Giants in the race as they shut out the Pittsburgh Pirates 7-0 at Busch Stadium. Jedd Gyorko, Brandon Moss, and Matt Holliday blasted home runs for the Cardinals, who remain one game behind the Giants with two games left to go in the regular season.

What’s Next:

All three teams will play afternoon matinees on Saturday, with the Mets getting things kicked off when they battle the Phillies in the City of Brotherly Love. Bartolo Colon will take the hill against Phil Klein, and if the Mets win they will guarantee themselves a playoff spot.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals will play the Pirates in the second game of a three-game series at Busch Stadium, with Michael Wacha making the start. The Cardinals do not have their own destiny in their hands, so they’re going to need to win and get some help if they’re going to catch the Giants in the standings on Saturday.

Those Giants will be in action against the Dodgers, and they’ll be facing a very tough opponent as they’ll be squaring off against Clayton Kershaw in the middle game of their series. The Giants will counter with Albert Suarez, and if they are victorious in the game they will clinch no worse than a tie for the second wild card spot.

If the Giants and Cardinals end up tied in the standings at the end of the season, the two teams will play in a one-game playoff at Busch Stadium next week to determine which one of them would play the Mets in the wild card contest.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Cutler, Langford Doubtful for Sunday's Game vs. Lions]]> Fri, 30 Sep 2016 16:23:50 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/180*120/GettyImages-610473600.jpg

The Chicago Bears haven’t beaten the Detroit Lions since 2011, and when the two teams face off at Soldier Field on Sunday, it’s highly likely that they will once again be short-handed as they try to end that streak.

The Bears’ final injury report of the week came out on Friday afternoon, and there were plenty of names on it once again. Headlining the list of doubtful players is quarterback Jay Cutler, who didn’t practice on Thursday as he continues to deal with a sprained thumb. It’s widely assumed that Brian Hoyer will get his second consecutive start at quarterback, with Matt Barkley serving as his backup Sunday afternoon.

A pair of running backs are also on the list of doubtfuls, as Ka’Deem Carey and Jeremy Langford are both unlikely to play on Sunday. Carey is still dealing with a hamstring injury that kept him out of the Bears’ Week 3 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, and Langford has an ankle injury that he sustained in that game.

A pair of defensive players were also listed as doubtful, as it appears to be a virtual certainty that Danny Trevathan (thumb) and Eddie Goldman (ankle) will both miss Sunday’s game.

A slew of Bears players were listed as questionable on the injury report, including wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, who is still nursing a knee injury, and Josh Sitton, who has a shoulder ailment that has been dogging him all week. Rookie defensive end Jonathan Bullard is questionable with a toe injury, and Willie Young and Tracy Porter are both listed as questionable with knee ailments.

In a rare bit of good news for the Bears on the injury report, safety Harold Jones-Quartey has been cleared through the NFL’s concussion protocol and is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Rainbows Shine Before, After Arnold Palmer's Funeral]]> Fri, 30 Sep 2016 16:05:30 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/IMG_0997-rainbow.jpg

Arnold Palmer’s family spread his ashes at his country club in Pennsylvania on Thursday and locals took solace in several rainbows, which they said reminded them of the golf great. 

Palmer died on Sept. 25 due to heart complications. His former assistant Doc Giffin said that a rainbow appeared at 9:55 a.m. at Latrobe Country Club, one hour before his intimate funeral.  

Steelers Radio Network host Gerry Dulac tweeted a photo snapped by a friend to commemorate the moment.

“When Arnold Palmer wants to play through, you let him,” Dulac said in the caption. 

That wasn't the only rainbow connection on that day. At 3:50 p.m., Duane Stein captured another image of a rainbow, this time framing Palmer’s statue where he works at Laurel Valley Golf Club, in Ligonier, about 11 miles southeast of Latrobe.

The photo he shared on social media was unfiltered and unedited, as Stein isn’t especially tech-savvy, he said.

"It’s a moment you’ll never forget," Stein said. "Kind of like he was looking down on us."

He was one of many to pull out a phone and flash a pic there.

Chris Mcknight, head golf professional at Laurel Valley, took a nearly identical image to Stein's that was shared on Twitter by the Tri-State PGA as an homage to Palmer. 

Photo Credit: Duane Stein]]>
<![CDATA[Americans Sweep Europe to Start Ryder Cup ]]> Fri, 30 Sep 2016 20:48:02 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-611641990.jpg

The United States had the lead. Rory McIlroy made sure that was all it had Friday in the Ryder Cup.

The American sweep of the opening session of matches at Hazeltine was all but forgotten when McIlroy rolled in a 20-foot eagle putt, took a bow on the 16th green and delivered a defiant message to the crowd and to the U.S. team desperate to win back the cup.

Europe isn't going anywhere.

"I'm not fazed by anything that is said by the crowd," McIlroy said. "And I'm not fazed by anything that the U.S. team throws at us."

The Americans threw a haymaker with the first opening-session sweep in four decades. Europe battled back from that 4-0 deficit behind its best tandem, Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose, and its best player. McIlroy buried the eagle putt, calmly bowed twice to the crowd and then punched the chilly Minnesota air with his fist.

U.S. captain Davis Love III at least could take consolation in a 5-3 lead, though the Americans wasted a chance to put Europe in a big hole.

"It's frustrating not to come out a little bit more ahead," Love said.

McIlroy had heard enough after some 10 hours before what he described as a hostile crowd. He and Thomas Pieters never trailed against the previously undefeated tandem of Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar. McIlroy finished it with his eagle putt, and he a chance to give something back to the fans.

"Even before I hit that putt, I wanted to put an exclamation point on that session for us," he said. "I actually thought about the celebration before I hit the putt. I knew it had a good chance of going in. ... I just wanted everyone that's watching out there to know how much this means to us, how much it means to me personally and obviously, us as a team. We've pulled it back a good bit. And we plan to pull it back even further going into tomorrow."

Love could not have scripted a better start — a symbolic one, too.

To honor Arnold Palmer, who died Sunday, Ryder Cup officials placed on the first tee Palmer's golf bag from when he was captain of the 1975 Ryder Cup team. Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed then set the tone with a 3-and-2 foursomes victory over Stenson and Rose, and the Americans delivered the first sweep of the opening session since that 1975 team at Laurel Valley.

Phil Mickelson, feeling more pressure than usual because of his influence on changes and on this team, also produced big shots. His wedge into 5 feet that Rickie Fowler converted was key in the Americans winning three straight holes for a 1-up victory over McIlroy and Andy Sullivan.

It just didn't last.

The Americans still had the lead. Europe headed into the second day loaded with momentum.

"It would definitely say it's better to have a small deficit with some momentum," European captain Darren Clarke said. "Because we didn't have much at lunchtime."

Beaten for the first time, Rose and Stenson went right back out against Spieth and Reed and handed the American duo its first Ryder Cup loss. The Europeans made nine birdies in 13 holes for a 5-and-4 victory in an afternoon session in which the board was filled with European blue.

Sergio Garcia teamed with fellow Spaniard Rafa Cabrera Bello to dismantle J.B. Holmes and Ryan Moore. McIlroy and Pieters never trailed against Johnson and Kuchar, handing them their first loss in four Ryder Cup matches.

The lone American point in the afternoon came from Brandt Snedeker and Brooks Koepka, who had no trouble against Martin Kaymer and Danny Willett.

Willett had a little trouble with the crowd, especially when they lampooned him around Hazeltine with references to hot dogs and his brother, Pete, who had written a column in a British publication disparaging American galleries.

"It was anticipated," Willett said. "Coming to America is a tough one, just like when the Americans come to Europe. They gave me a little bit more. I think it was exactly what we thought it was going to be."

It wasn't just directed at Willett, however.

The crowd was loud and boisterous from the opening tee shot in misty conditions. There were a few rude comments, not unusual in America for a Ryder Cup. Most striking was how quickly the crowd cheered bad shots for Europe. Typically, there is the slightest delay. Not on Friday. Sullivan, one of six rookies for Europe, hit his tee shot into the water on the 17th that put Europe 1 down and effectively ended the match. The crowd cheered before there was a ripple.

That's what inspired McIlroy in the final match of the day.

The question for Saturday and another round of foursomes and fourballs matches is how the Americans respond.

"They had some fun this afternoon," Love said. "We had some fun this morning. And we have two more fun days coming up. I'm sure we'll see some more of that."

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Maddon Responds to Players' Criticism of Managing Tactics]]> Fri, 30 Sep 2016 13:16:44 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/180*120/GettyImages-609380772.jpg

The Chicago Cubs are merely biding their time until they can get their postseason started next week, and after a couple of players criticized manager Joe Maddon’s strategy in the season’s final week, the skipper responded on Thursday night.

Maddon, who has been giving his regular players rest and has been utilizing relievers in scripted roles to help get the team ready for the playoffs, was criticized by Jake Arrieta and Miguel Montero after a loss Wednesday, and he was questioned about his players’ comments after Thursday’s tie against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

“My answer to that is we’re 7-2 in our last nine games,” Maddon said. “I don’t see any kind of real negative patterns right there. They all knew what was going to happen before that game. There were no surprises. And there has been no surprises.”

The impetus behind the criticism of Maddon was the manager’s handling of pitching and catching duties in Wednesday’s game. Arrieta got the start in the game, but ended up giving up seven runs in the outing. Midway through the start, Montero was removed from the game and Willson Contreras was inserted, giving him one final opportunity to work with Arrieta before the end of the regular season.

Both players criticized the decision after the game, with Montero citing the team’s desire to win games as a reason for being against the move.

With the team trying to stay sharp before the playoffs begin, Maddon recognizes the difficulty in finding a balance between keeping players fresh and avoiding disrupting their routines, but he has no intention of changing his tactics as the Cubs enter their final series of the season against the Cincinnati Reds.

“It’s still going to be scripted. They’re still going to get their at-bats,” he said. “It’s hard to replicate fighting for a playoff spot if you’ve already clinched it and you’re playing against a team that is not playing for anything either.

“There are all mind games you have to play with yourself in order to replicate what you want,” he added.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Put a Ring On It: Cavs' Arena Staff Get Championship Rings]]> Fri, 30 Sep 2016 10:32:09 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/dan-gilbert1.jpg

Like the old adage, “It takes a village to raise a child,” the same could be said about the staff that supported the 2016 NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers.

Cavaliers’ owner Dan Gilbert has announced that the entire staff of Quicken Loans Arena will receive a championship ring, along with the team.

Typically, the rings are only for the winning team’s players and coaching staff, but the franchise wants to acknowledge "The Q" staff. From vendors to seat ushers and security guards, those behind the scenes of the team for every home game of the season are getting to partake in the glory.

The arena has over 1,000 full and part-time employees. The conservative estimate for distributing the rings to all employees is over $1 million. 

The report was confirmed by the Cleveland Plain Dealer earlier this week. The paper reported that the rings received by the arena staff will not be the same diamond-covered rings that are given to the Cavs team, but they will nonetheless be tokens for the staff who can say they worked for the 2016 champions.

This idea follows the Lake Erie Monsters' announcement to award all employees rings after they clinched the American Hockey League's Calder Cup in June. The Monsters also play at Quicken Loans Arena. 

The Cavaliers rallied from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors to win the series in June. They were the first team to ever come back from a three-game deficit to win in seven. It was the first championship win for the franchise and the first win for a Cleveland-based team since 1964.

Photo Credit: NBAE/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Arrieta, Montero Question Maddon's Decisions in Cubs' Loss]]> Thu, 29 Sep 2016 16:33:18 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/cubs+arrieta+GettyImages-611028744.jpg

The Chicago Cubs are preparing for the postseason and have been trying to give guys enough rest as the playoffs near, but two prominent members of the team aren’t exactly thrilled with how things have been going over the season’s final week.

In separate interviews after Wednesday’s loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates, Jake Arrieta and Miguel Montero questioned Joe Maddon’s strategy during the team’s games this week, with Arrieta upset at a decision to switch catchers mid-game against the Pirates.

“The feeling of the game, from the first pitch, just wasn’t there,” the pitcher told the media after giving up seven runs to the Pirates. “Switching catchers just felt like we were trying to do a little too much instead of win a ballgame. But I didn’t throw well, no way around it.”

Arrieta wasn’t alone in criticizing the decision to switch catchers mid-appearance, as Montero also weighed in on the subject in an interview with CSN Chicago’s Patrick Mooney.

“Did it feel like spring training? I do believe that,” he said. “And that’s not a good feeling for a pitcher, for a player, to go into a game knowing that you’re going to play just four innings or five innings. This game is still important for all the players. It’s still important for every single guy.” 

Maddon has been cautious about not overusing his players as the season has wound down, and amped up the protective measures in the season’s final week. With home-field advantage already sewn up, Maddon has routinely rested several starters at a time and has been hesitant to use regulars as pinch hitters or in standard bullpen roles, and clearly there are players irked by the moves.

Arrieta will not get another start before the end of the regular season, but even amidst his critique of the decisions in Wednesday’s game, there is still one message that he wants to send to the Cubs’ first playoff opponent next week.

“I’ll throw sides, I’ll prepare. And whoever I face first round – they’re going to be in trouble,” he said.

The Cubs will open the postseason on Oct. 7 at Wrigley Field, and it is widely assumed that Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks will pitch the first two games of the series. John Lackey and Arrieta are also expected to be playoff starters, but their pitching order has yet to be determined.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Ryder Cup: Heckler Sinks Putt McIlroy Missed]]> Fri, 30 Sep 2016 08:43:45 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/214*120/GettyImages-611393266.jpg

The Ryder Cup is known for rowdy galleries. A vocal heckler walked the walk after talking the talk during the practice round on Thursday.

Rory McIlroy and Andy Sullivan took multiple cracks at a 12-foot putt on No. 8 and missed every time. David Johnson, of Mayville, North Dakota, let them know about it, saying he could make the putt. Henrik Stenson pulled Johnson from the gallery and Justin Rose laid a $100 bill right next to the ball, daring Johnson to make it.

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After wisecracking that the putter he was handed was too short, Johnson muttered, "home soil, right?" Then he drilled the putt, eliciting a roar from the crowd. Johnson pumped his arms wildly and earned high fives from the entire Euro foursome as they exited the green.

"Has the Ryder Cup started already?" McIlroy tweeted while linking the video.

Photo Credit: Getty Images
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<![CDATA[2016 Chicago Marathon Strives for Sustainability]]> Wed, 28 Sep 2016 18:47:54 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/214*120/GettyImages-128040712.jpg

As the 2016 Bank of America Chicago Marathon nears, plans for a more sustainable race day are well underway.

This year’s race will introduce several new initiatives as the marathon aims to receive a gold sustainability rating from the Council for Responsible Sports — an organization that certifies environmentally responsible event production practices.

The initiatives being introduced this year include water filling stations in Grant Park to reduce the need for single use plastic water bottles and an active presence of Green Team volunteers and sorting stations throughout the runner refreshment area.

Locally sourced food and beverages, including apples from Michigan Apple Committee and Goose Island beer brewed in Chicago, will also be available.

“The commitment to sustainably producing an event the size of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon has broad impacts,” said Shelley Villalobos, certification director at the Council. “The Council is grateful for the dedication of the Marathon to being a global leader in the movement towards greater responsibility in sport.”

Certifications from the Council can be awarded on three levels — bronze, silver and gold. The marathon qualified at a “basic” level of sustainability in 2010 and 2012 and received a silver-level event sustainability certification in 2014, according to the Council’s website. It’s the largest marathon to have earned certification from the Council since the organization was founded in 2008.

Leading up the Oct. 9 event, the Abbott Health and Fitness Expo will also see revamped changes with efforts to reduce the event’s carbon footprint.

The expo will be held in McCormick Place, the world’s largest convention center to be a certified sustainable venue under the APEX-ASTM standard, which judges venues based on their ability to hold sustainable events.

Free shuttles to the expo will be provided for participants in order to reduce carbon emissions associated with picking up race packets and all paper, plastic and aluminum waste generated at the Expo will be recycled.

“As an event, we realized early on the responsibility we have to the environment and the communities that our race runs through,” said Carey Pinkowski, executive race director. “It has been rewarding to see the positive impact of our sustainability initiatives and the enthusiasm put forth by our volunteers, sponsors, runners and spectators to make the Bank of America Chicago Marathon as sustainable as possible.”

Photo Credit: Getty Images/SuperStock RM]]>
<![CDATA[14 Marathon Tips From Olympic Runners]]> Sat, 01 Oct 2016 10:38:11 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/171*120/GettyImages-589476692.jpg

When you have three Olympic marathon runners in your presence, it only makes sense to squeeze them of all the advice possible in hopes to reach your goal.

Last weekend, that's exactly what happened when three running standouts gave advice to runners at an event organized by Fleet Feet Chicago and Zamst.

Who were the Olympians?

Meb Keflezighi, the American long-distance runner who took home the marathon silver medal at the 2004 Olympics. And he took home the 'W' at the 2014 Boston Marathon.

Highlight: Pay attention to your posture, wear compression pants, keep food next to your bed-- and by the way he plans on retiring after next year.

Desiree Linden, the American long-distance runner who finished in seventh place at the Rio Olympic marathon. She finished second place at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trails.

Highlight: Pre-race. Have breakfast with the funniest person you know. Mantra - Calm, calm, calm. Relax, relax, relax.

Amy Cragg, as in the track and field long-distance runner who won first place at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials. She was the ninth runner to cross the finish line at the Rio Olympic marathon.

Highlight: Her system to “prevent and attack injuries” is that she travels with Zamst’s portable ice system for a quick fix to nagging ankle injuries.

Here are 14 tips from the pros that will help you successfully cross the finish line.

1. Mindset - I'm going to finish this race even if I'm the last one.

2. Don't be afraid to adjust.

3. There are good miles and bad miles.

4. Have realistic expectations.

5. When it comes to food days before marathon, stick to what you know.

6. Practice your pre-race meal before one of your weekly runs or before your last long run.

7. Give yourself wind down time before bed.

8. Use your phone sleep alarm.

9. Focus on details, break the race down.

10. Ninety percent of races don't go the way we've planned.

11. Make your race plan about you. 

12. Dedicate each mile to something different.

13. There's always a good mile ahead.

14. Remember why you signed up.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Chicago Blackhawks Drop the Puck on Preseason vs. Penguins]]> Wed, 28 Sep 2016 17:20:33 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-510721542.jpg

It’s been a long summer, but the Chicago Blackhawks will finally be back on United Center ice Wednesday night as they open up their preseason schedule against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Blackhawks, who fell in the first round of the playoffs to the St. Louis Blues earlier this year, will be looking to integrate some new, young faces into the mix in the upcoming season, and Wednesday night will be the first game action for many of those players.

In fact, the top two lines for the Blackhawks will be loaded with players looking to take over a top-six spot on the roster. College standout Nick Schmaltz will be one of those players, as he’s slated to skate on the top line along with Vincent Hinostroza and Richard Panik.

Meanwhile, Tyler Motte and Ryan Hartman, also potential candidates for a big-time role with the Hawks, will skate on the second line, with Tanner Kero at the center position.

Here is the Hawks’ full lineup against the Penguins:

Nick Schmaltz – Vincent Hinostroza – Richard Panik

Tyler Motte – Tanner Kero – Ryan Hartman

Alexandre Fortin – Luke Johnson – Jordin Tootoo

Martin Lundberg – Dennis Rasmussen – Mark McNeill

The Blackhawks will bring a couple of big guns to the mix on the defensive side of things on Wednesday night. Free agent signing Brian Campbell will be in the lineup for the Hawks as their preseason begins, and he will be skating with new free agent acquisition Michal Kempny. Kempny, who was a standout player for the Czech Republic during the World Cup of Hockey, is hoping to make the Hawks’ lineup as a top-four defenseman, and that process will begin on Wednesday night.

Finally, goaltender Scott Darling will be in net for the Hawks as they welcome the Penguins to the United Center. Darling is the likely backup for Corey Crawford this season, and with the Hawks’ main goaltender still in Canada as the World Cup wraps up, Darling is expected to play the full 60 minutes on Wednesday night.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Langford Out, Cutler Limited in Wednesday Practice]]> Wed, 28 Sep 2016 16:37:03 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/bears+jay+cutler+GettyImages-610473600.jpg

The Chicago Bears practiced on Wednesday for the first time during their preparations to face the Detroit Lions this weekend, and their injury report reveals that the team still has plenty of healing to do after three consecutive losses.

Five different players missed the practice, including running back Jeremy Langford, who is dealing with a sprained ankle. Early reports are that he will miss four to six weeks for the Bears, and he was not on the practice field at Halas Hall Wednesday.

Langford was joined on the sideline by fellow running back Ka’Deem Carey, who is still dealing with a hamstring injury that kept him out of Sunday’s loss to the Dallas Cowboys. Linebacker Danny Trevathan (thumb) and defensive lineman Eddie Goldman (ankle) both missed Sunday’s game as well, and neither player participated in Wednesday’s workout.

Safety Harold Jones-Quartey was also a no-go on the practice field, as he remains out with a concussion that he suffered in Sunday’s loss.

Even the coaching staff isn't immune to the injury bug, as head coach John Fox wasn't at the facility on Wednesday as he deals with a stomach ailment.

The Bears also had a slew of players that were limited in the team’s first workout of the week. Defensive linemen Jonathan Bullard (toe) and Mitch Unrein (knee) were both limited, as were linebackers Jerrell Freeman (ribs) and Willie Young (knee).

Cornerbacks Sherrick McManis (hamstring) and Tracy Porter (knee) were also limited participants in the workout.

On the offensive side of the ball, quarterback Jay Cutler remains limited with a thumb injury, and he was joined by offensive linemen Kyle Long (shoulder) and Josh Sitton (shoulder) on the injury report. Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery is also limited with a knee injury.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Cubs Opponent Watch: Teams Hold Steady With Wins]]> Wed, 28 Sep 2016 15:36:20 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/chicago+cubs+javier+baez+GettyImages-610594772.jpg

Safely entrenched into the top spot in the National League, the Chicago Cubs are merely playing out the season as they wait to find out who their first round playoff opponent will be when the postseason begins next week.

That opponent will be whichever team wins the National League wild card game, and the race to be involved in that contest has boiled down to three teams: the New York Mets, the St. Louis Cardinals, and the San Francisco Giants.

With that in mind, we will be keeping tabs on the race throughout the final week of the regular season as the three teams vie for two spots and an opportunity to play the top-seeded Cubs at Wrigley Field beginning on Oct. 7.

Where Things Stand:

The New York Mets and San Francisco Giants went into Tuesday’s action in the top two wild card spots in the National League, and that’s where they continued to be after both clubs won their games.

The Mets rebounded after a Monday loss in Miami with a flurry of offense, scoring 12 runs to give Noah Syndergaard an easy day at the office in a 12-1 victory over the Marlins. Meanwhile, the Giants also took care of business in blowout fashion on Tuesday, beating the Colorado Rockies 12-3 at AT&T Park.

The St. Louis Cardinals needed to win to keep pace with the two teams, and that’s exactly what they did in a 12-5 win over the Cincinnati Reds that saw Aledmys Diaz blast a grand slam just days after travelling to Florida to comfort the family of close friend Jose Fernandez, who was killed in a boating accident over the weekend.

With those results, the Mets remain a half-game ahead of the Giants in the wild card race, with the Cardinals trailing San Francisco by a game for the second spot.

What’s Next:

All three teams will be in action again on Wednesday night as the race to the end of the season continues. The Mets will take on the Marlins in Miami, with Seth Lugo taking the hill against Jose Urena as the team looks to take one step closer to securing a playoff spot.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals will send Mike Leake to the hill against the Reds, with Anthony DeSclafani opposing him. Finally the Giants will play their second game in a three-game set against the Rockies, with Jeff Samardzija looking to show that he’s ready for a big-time stage as he battles Tyler Chatwood in the Bay Area.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Cubs Sign Theo Epstein to Contract Extension]]> Wed, 28 Sep 2016 15:34:19 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/cubs+theo+epstein+GettyImages-583818024.jpg

The Chicago Cubs have become one of the premier franchises in Major League Baseball, and the leading architect of that success is getting a fresh contract extension as a reward.

That executive is Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein, who has reportedly agreed to a five-year contract extension with the organization, the team announced Wednesday.

According to Bob Nightengale of USA Today, the new extension will pay Epstein more than $50 million over the life of the contract, more than double what his previous pact was worth.

According to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, the Cubs also agreed to contract extensions with General Manager Jed Hoyer and Minor League Director Jason McLeod.

Epstein, who was hired by the Cubs after the 2011 season, had a contract that was expiring at the end of this season, but team owner Tom Ricketts insisted that a deal would get done at a proper time. Now, with the Cubs safely in the playoffs and looked at as a prohibitive favorite to win a World Series title, Epstein will get the new contract extension that has been talked about for so long.

After three years of missing the postseason under Epstein, the Cubs have made the playoffs in consecutive seasons, reaching the NLCS in 2015 and winning a Major League-high 101 games en route to their first division title since the 2008 season.

Hoyer joined the Cubs as G.M. when Epstein was hired in 2011, and has been instrumental in some of the biggest moves the organization has made. Under his guidance, the team acquired Anthony Rizzo, Jake Arrieta, and Addison Russell via trades, and also made significant free agent signings like Jon Lester, Ben Zobrist, and Jason Heyward.

Under the supervision of McLeod, the Cubs' minor league system has churned out talent as well. Top draft picks like Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber have already made a big impact at the big league level, and players like Carl Edwards Jr., Willson Contreras, and Javier Baez have blossomed into solid additions to the Cubs' roster.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Emotional Scenes at Jose Fernandez Funeral Procession]]> Wed, 28 Sep 2016 17:15:32 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/092816+jose+fernandez+memorial+3.jpg

Photo Credit: NBC 6]]>
<![CDATA[White Sox to Keep Robin Ventura as Manager: Report]]> Wed, 28 Sep 2016 14:39:34 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/robin+ventura+white+sox+GettyImages-539940796.jpg

The Chicago White Sox have gone through yet another dismal season in 2016, but it doesn’t appear that their manager will take the fall for their struggles, Robin Ventura will reportedly be in charge of the team next year if he wants the job.

A new report from USA Today says the team has privately decided to keep Ventura aboard as manager next season and that they plan to offer him a contract.

Fans may be surprised by that news, considering that the White Sox have now missed the playoffs in eight consecutive seasons, but USA Today's Bob Nightengale has a very succinct reason for why the team intends to keep Ventura:

“The White Sox’s decision to bring back Ventura comes as a bit of a surprise, given the club’s disappointing 76-81 record in a season they expected to contend.

Yet, the White Sox front office refuses to blame him for their woes.”

The White Sox have dealt with plenty of injuries this season, which could potentially play into the team’s decision to keep Ventura if that’s the direction they decide to go. After acquiring Todd Frazier and Brett Lawrie in the offseason, the team got off to a red-hot start, but when injuries began to pile up, the team’s fortunes took a nose dive as they once again failed to reach the postseason.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Tim Tebow Homers in First Instructional League At-Bat]]> Wed, 28 Sep 2016 14:45:02 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/tebow-home-run-0928.jpg

Tim Tebow didn't waste time making an impact in his first professional baseball game Wednesday.

USA Today reports that the former Jets backup and current Mets instructional league player hit a home run during his first at-bat against minor leaguers for the St. Louis Cardinals. 

Video tweeted by a reporter for WPTV, the NBC affiliate in West Palm Beach, shows Tebow smacking the ball over the center field wall as fans erupt in cheers.

Tebow, who has also been working as an analyst for ESPN's SEC Network, signed an instructional league contract with the Mets after working out for several MLB teams earlier this summer. 

The former quarterback, who won the Heisman Trophy while playing at the University of Florida in 2007 and played a central role in national title-winning seasons in 2006 and 2008, failed to find lasting success under center in the NFL.

But he decided to take up baseball, a sport he hadn't played since high school, earlier this summer in a final attempt to play professional sports. 

Photo Credit: AP
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<![CDATA[Bears to Place Kyle Fuller on Injured Reserve: Report]]> Tue, 27 Sep 2016 16:24:24 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/180*120/gettyimages-501238422.jpg

The Chicago Bears' defense has been injury-ravaged in recent weeks, but yet another player has suffered a setback as it appears the team will be without cornerback Kyle Fuller for an extended period.

Fuller, who was injured in the preseason and hasn't played in any of the Bears' first three games this season, reportedly will be placed on injured reserve, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport:

The caveat for the Bears is that they can activate Fuller from IR after eight weeks, and it appears that they intend to do just that with their third-year cornerback. The Bears can only use the "designated to return" tag for a player on IR once during the season, and it looks like that is the direction the team is leaning at this point.

Fuller suffered a knee injury during the Bears' game against the Denver Broncos to open the preseason and reportedly underwent an arthroscopic procedure to examine the damage. Bears head coach John Fox had expressed optimism that Fuller would be ready for the regular season opener against Houston, but he has only been a limited participant in practices and has yet to be active for a game this season.

Fuller's injury is just one more example of an injured player taking longer than expected to return from an ailment in recent Bears history. Second-year wide receiver Kevin White suffered a shin injury during rookie mini-camps last summer, and although the team had been optimistic that he would be able to come back and play, he never did and was placed on injured reserve without taking a single snap in his rookie season.

More recently, outside linebacker Pernell McPhee underwent a knee procedure during the offseason, but he has still yet to return to the practice field and is currently on the Physically Unable to Perform list for the Bears.

Photo Credit: Getty Images
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<![CDATA[Bryant's 100th RBI Leaves Wallet Lighter After Coghlan Bet]]> Tue, 27 Sep 2016 13:15:38 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Chicago+Cubs3.png

The Chicago Cubs got over the century mark in wins on Monday night with a victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates, but one of their star players also hit a significant milestone in his career that made him a little lighter in the wallet.

That player is third baseman Kris Bryant, who went over the century mark in RBI for the season with a two run homer against the Pirates. The long ball gave Bryant 39 home runs and 101 RBI on the season, marking the first time in his short career that he has driven in 100 or more RBI in a single season.

The reason that Bryant’s checkbook took a hit on Monday is because of a wager that he made with outfielder Chris Coghlan. Coghlan batted lead-off in Monday’s game, and Bryant gave him some incentive to be on-base in the contest.

“I told him, ‘if you score on my 100th RBI, I’ll give you all the money in my wallet,’” Bryant told the Chicago Tribune.

That is exactly what happened, as Coghlan was on-base when Bryant launched a home run over the fence at PNC Park and put himself into the century club for RBI in a season.

Unfortunately for fans, there is one bit of information that isn’t publicly available: how much money was involved in the transaction. With endorsement deals from companies like Red Bull, Adidas, and Express, one would imagine that Coghlan will get something cool out of the deal regardless of how much money Bryant was carrying with him Monday.

<![CDATA[Greg Hardy Arrested on Drug Charges]]> Mon, 26 Sep 2016 19:27:28 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Greg-Hardy-mug-shot.jpg

Former Dallas Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy faces a felony drug charge after he was arrested Sunday night in Richardson, police say.

Hardy, who is an NFL free agent after playing for the Cowboys in 2015, allegedly had 0.7 grams of cocaine in a wallet in his car. It was discovered after a traffic stop for failing to use a turn signal, a police affidavit states.

Hardy was stopped about 11:22 p.m. after turning onto Midway Drive from the 300 block of North Glenville Drive. The officer gave Hardy a verbal warning for the traffic violation but asked for his consent to search his 2010 white Dodge Challenger, the police report says.

He told the officer that he didn't know what the substance was and said he believed he got it while he was at a party Saturday night, according to police. Hardy said he passed his wallet around at the party because he was paying for everybody, and he said that must have been when someone put the substance in his wallet.

Hardy was booked into the Richardson City Jail, where he remained Monday afternoon. Bond was set at $5,000.

Hardy spent the first five years of his NFL career with the Carolina Panthers, before joining the Cowboys in 2015.

Hardy hasn't garnered much attention in free agency since he and the Cowboys parted ways after the 2015 season. He recorded six sacks in 12 games while playing for Dallas.

The defensive end made news stemming from a 2014 arrest for assaulting an ex-girlfriend and threatening to kill her. The charges were eventually expunged from Hardy's record.

Photo Credit: NBC 5 News/Richardson Police Dept.]]>
<![CDATA[Marlins Wear No. 16 for Jose]]> Wed, 28 Sep 2016 04:31:15 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/AP_16270851118909.jpg

No one on the Miami Marlins will ever wear Jose Fernandez’s No. 16 again, owner Jeffrey Loria announced Monday, a day after the star pitcher was killed in a boating accident.

But that will only take effect after Monday night, when Marlins players honored Fernandez by each wearing his jersey number during their game against the Mets, in which he had been scheduled to start.

And second baseman Dee Gordon started the game with an almost unbelievable tribute to his teammate, slamming the third pitch out of the park for a lead-off home run. 

Gordon was overcome as he touched home, hugging his teammates as he walked back to the dugout.

Fernandez and two others were found dead on Sunday morning when the boat they were on, which authorities have said appeared to be traveling very fast, crashed on a jetty off Miami Beach.

That day, the Marlins held an emotional press conference where the players and coaching staff fought back tears remembering the 24-year-old ace. The team also painted his No. 16 on the pitcher's mound and placed flowers alongside the rubber.

Fernandez dazzled on the mound for Miami in his brief career and the team will recognize his achievements in Monday's game.

The Marlins canceled Sunday's game against the Braves following Fernandez's death. Barring a need for that contest in the playoff race, Miami will only play 161 games this season.

The Marlins' gesture to have every player don Fernandez's number is reminiscent of the league's annual remembrance of Jackie Robinson. Every season, every player on every team wears his No. 42 for one day in April.

Fernandez will likely go down in history as the last Marlins player to wear No. 16, besides the players wearing it in his memory. While the team has not announced the plan officially, Monday's gesture points in that direction.

The game Monday night also included a moment of silence.

It's the first time in Marlins history that an active player has died. It is a rare event in sports and one that has no playbook. Miami could opt to hold more tributes for Fernandez next season as well, including at the 2017 All-Star Game.

Photo Credit: Lynne Sladky/AP
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<![CDATA[Cubs Looking for 100th Win of Season vs. Pirates Monday]]> Mon, 26 Sep 2016 17:00:17 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-606521996.jpg

The Chicago Cubs are hitting the road for their final week of the regular season, and if they can get one more victory, they’ll accomplish something that no Cubs team has done in over 80 years.

That achievement is reaching the 100-win plateau, which was last accomplished by the 1935 Cubs squad that won exactly 100 contests. That team ended up losing the World Series to the Detroit Tigers, but this year’s Cubs team is obviously hoping for a better outcome.

To get to that milestone, the Cubs will have to get one victory in their final seven games. They will begin their season-ending road trip with Pittsburgh to take on the Pirates, and then they’ll conclude the season with a three-game series against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ballpark.

Even though there’s no guarantee the Cubs will reach 100 wins, considering that the team will likely rest plenty of players ahead of the postseason, their records against the Pirates and Reds would indicate that they’ll have a great opportunity to hit that plateau.

In 15 games against the Pirates this season, the Cubs have a 12-3 record, scoring 91 runs in those contests. Their numbers are even better against the Reds, with 125 runs scored and a 13-3 record against Cincinnati in 16 games played.

The Cubs will also get two more starts from Kyle Hendricks, including Monday’s game against the Pirates. Hendricks has the best ERA in the National League this season and a 15-8 record, and will be looking to solidify his spot as the second starter in the team’s playoff rotation.

If the Cubs can win their 100th game this week, it would be just the sixth time in the history of the team that they have hit the century mark. If they can win five of their final seven games, they would match the 104-win totals of the 1909 and 1910 Cubs. The team did not go to the World Series in 1909, as they finished in second place in the National League, but they did make the Fall Classic in the 1910 season before losing to the Philadelphia A’s.

Two other Cubs squads have reached the century mark in wins, doing it in back-to-back seasons in 1906 and 1907. The team set a club record for victories in that 1906 campaign, winning a staggering 116 games, but they fell in the World Series to the Chicago White Sox in the only crosstown World Series between the two clubs.

Out of the five times that the team has won 100 or more games, they’ve won just one World Series, taking home the championship in 1907.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Cubs Set New Franchise Record With Sunday Win]]> Mon, 26 Sep 2016 13:15:20 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/164*120/cubs+ross+lester.jpg

The Chicago Cubs finished their 100th regular season at Wrigley Field on Sunday, but even after a century at the Friendly Confines, the team had never won 57 games in a single season at the iconic ballpark.

Until now.

With their 3-1 win over the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday, the Cubs set a new all-time single season record for wins at Wrigley, recording a 57-24 record at the venerable stadium this season.

The team’s previous record had been 56 wins, but thanks to a David Ross home run and a dominant pitching performance from Jon Lester, the team was able to set a new mark in what has already been an historic season.

The Cubs swept a staggering 10 series at the Friendly Confines this season en route to their remarkable record, including a four-game sweep over the playoff-bound Washington Nationals earlier in the year.

The team will hope to continue the home-cooking when the postseason rolls around, as they’ve already secured home-field advantage throughout the National League playolfs.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[British Open Organizers Pay Tribute to Arnold Palmer]]> Mon, 26 Sep 2016 09:58:49 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Arnold-Palmer.jpg

Organizers of the British Open paid tribute to Arnold Palmer on Monday for his "immeasurable" contribution to golf's oldest major, a tournament that he won twice in the early 1960s and helped bring to international prominence. 

Martin Slumbers, chief executive of the Royal & Ancient, called Palmer "a true gentleman, one of the greatest ever to play the game and a truly iconic figure in sport." 

Palmer, who died Sunday in Pittsburgh at the age of 87, won seven majors, including the British Open in 1961 and '62. He last played the Open in 1995, 35 years after his first appearance. 

"His contribution to The Open Championship was, and remains, immeasurable," Slumbers said in a statement. "He will be missed and forever remembered by all at The R&A and throughout the world of golf as a charismatic and global champion of our game." 

Palmer first played the British Open in 1960, finishing runner-up in what he later called one of the biggest disappointments of his career. But his appearance invigorated the British Open, which Americans had been ignoring for years. 

"Without question Arnold's participation in The Open Championship in the early 1960s was the catalyst to truly internationalize golf," European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said. "The fact he was loved and recognized by everyone across the globe, whether they be fans of golf or not, is testament to his charismatic legacy that will live on." 

Palmer was made an honorary member of The European Tour in 1995. 

"In this week of the playing of the 41st Ryder Cup in particular, we remember fondly his time as a six-time Ryder Cup player and two-time captain," Pelley said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this sad time."

<![CDATA[Jose Fernandez Remembered by MLB Teams]]> Mon, 26 Sep 2016 10:49:49 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/187*120/GettyImages-610389982.jpg

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Jon Lester Makes History With Victory Sunday]]> Mon, 26 Sep 2016 07:07:43 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/161*120/GettyImages-610471350.jpg

Chicago Cubs pitcher Jon Lester gave his Cy Young Award chances a big boost on Sunday night with a masterful performance against the St. Louis Cardinals, but in nabbing the victory he did something that no other pitcher has ever done in the entire history of the team.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Lester is the first pitcher in Cubs history to give up one or fewer runs in eight consecutive starts. Lester’s streak, which dates back to August 17 against the Milwaukee Brewers, has seen him yield just four total earned runs and he’s walked just 10 batters over that stretch.

During that stretch, Lester has earned victories in seven of those games. The run has allowed him to run his record to 19-4 on the season and has given him a 2.28 ERA on the season.

The start was Lester’s 20th this season in which he’s given up one or fewer earned runs. According to Christopher Kamka of Comcast SportsNet Chicago, that is also a record, tying the 20 such starts that Jake Arrieta had a season ago for the Cubs.

Lester will get one more start during the regular season, meaning that he not only has a chance to extend both of those records but will also have a chance to earn his 20th win of the season, a milestone that he has never achieved in his big-league career.

If Lester is able to win his 20th game of the season when he faces the Cincinnati Reds on Friday night, he will become just the fifth left-handed pitcher in team history to hit the milestone and the first since Dick Ellsworth won 22 games for the Cubs in the 1963 season.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Langford Leaves Game Against Cowboys with Ankle Injury]]> Sun, 25 Sep 2016 22:04:03 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/bears+jeremy+langford+GettyImages-610476820.jpg

The Chicago Bears are already dealing with a plethora of injuries, but another starter is now added to that list, as Jeremy Langford suffered an ankle injury in Sunday’s game against the Dallas Cowboys.

Langford, who was the Bears’ starting running back, left the game in the third quarter and was carted off the field. The Bears termed him as “questionable” to return with what several reports have suggested could be an Achilles tendon injury.

Langford only managed three carries in Sunday’s game, but did rush for 31 yards in the contest. He was relieved by rookie Jordan Howard, who was drafted in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft.

The Bears also lost Harold Jones-Quartey for the game after the safety was injured on a hit in the second quarter. 

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>