Cubs Go On Fishing Expedition

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It’s no secret that this season when the Cubs have been bad, well, they’ve stunk but when they’ve been good, they’ve been red hot. Last night, the Cubs weren’t just red hot, they were on fire beating the Miami Marlins 11-1.  On the same day that fan favourite, Kyle Schwarber got sent down for a little bit of adjustment, the Cubs young bats became red hot with Addison Russell, Willson Contreras and Kris Bryant each chipping in for the Home Run Department.

“A night like tonight where we we pitch well and score 11 runs, it looks easy. But it’s about consistency and trying to build off of a night like tonight. We’ve got the guys necessary to do so. So it’s a matter of collectively as a group building off of a night like tonight.” Jake Arrieta said.

Which is easier said than done. I’m not a big fan when players say all the “right things” when it comes to the need of winning ballgames. Eleven runs won’t happen every night, we know that but it’s also the kind of thing that won’t always ballgames when teams hit too many home runs. I’m a big fan of small ball. Get a hit, move the runner and steal a bag. Of course, score some runs.

The key player for the Cubs right now is Addison Russell. He’s been having a sloppy year so far but if he connects like he did last night, then I see a Cubs turnaround. What I mean by turnaround is not just squeaking in by a wild card spot; Nope, a bona fide National League leader.

“Addison looks really comfortable. I know you see it up there also,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “And Happ, when he starts making contact, he keeps making contact. And I like it from the right side. That’s very large that he’s starting to do it from the right side.”

Sending Kyle Schwarber down is something I would have done a lot sooner. He’s not a lead off guy (Not really an outfielder either, but not as bad as I imagined) He needs to get adjusted and time to refocus his fundamentals.

“We think this is best for him right now,” Maddon said. “We know he’s gonna be back, and obviously just look forward to it. I really personally love having him here, too. It’s just even when he’s struggling, whenever he walks up to the plate, everyone expects something good to happen. So let’s just get him right for him and for us.”

Look what happened last year after missing all but two games? There’s no question the kid can hit but I really didn’t think that last season’s success was an indication of what Schwarber can do. Hopefully with some time to get adjusted, there might be something waiting when he gets back.

“It’s tough for our team, because he’s such a good guy,” Anthony Rizzo said. “But he’s gonna go down and be able to exhale a little bit as far as being in the limelight all the time and hopefully smooth things out. We’re all confident he will and just do his best down there to get back here and get back to being the Kyle Schwarber we know.”

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Rizzo Does It Again

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Anthony Rizzo is on a 14 game hitting streak. He’s hit three Leadoff home runs since his movement to that position, the Cubs just beat the San Diego Padres 4-0 and they’re a half game back of the Central Division lead.

Yeah, the season isn’t going the way that Cubs fans would like but the excitement of Rizzo in the leadoff spot doing this well is giving the fans something to cheer for. Is he the greatest Leadoff hitter in the game? Numbers don’t lie. He’s batting  1.000 in the leadoff spot.

“It’s funny,” said Rizzo. “I’m sure my teammates are starting to get a little tired of it because I’m constantly in their ears, nonstop, telling them to make sure you don’t miss it or ‘Watch this.’ It’s all in good fun and I’m having fun with it.”

We know his luck will eventually run out but while it lasts it’s fun watching him carry the team on his back during their rough patch. So, let’s talk about the Cubs being a half game back of Milwaukee and just shy of a wild card position. With the All Star game in a few weeks, it’s still early to pick playoff positions, we know there’s plenty of baseball left to go but last season the Cubs were not doing well heading into the All Star break. They were in the middle of a losing streak and it was that game at PNC just before the break that served as the turning point in their season. Will Rizzo’s success be the key to a turnaround?

“As long as we keep winning, I have no problem with it,” Rizzo said. “I have no problem going back to third or fourth or wherever Joe feels is best for the club. The main thing is we keep winning.”

That’s the kicker. They keep on winning, whatever it takes. You see, the magic of the game is these individual efforts and I think it extends back, way, way back when we got our news from the papers and read about individual accomplishments in sports. Now, I’m starting to show my age mentioning newspapers, but it’s true. Reading about sports and these milestones was a lot more intriguing because there was all day to talk about them. The games were blacked out. The game is still as exciting but in a different way.

Nah, I’m just getting older.

“On a nightly basis, he’s ready, he’s chirpy, he’s ready to go, and he’s loving this,” Maddon said. “He’s helping us out incredibly.”

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Cubs Slide By Padres

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When the going gets tough…Anthony Rizzo surprises again with a lead off bunt on route to a 3-2 win over the Fighting’ Friars. The Cubs looked good in last night’s victory. Not last year scary good but a more controlled and balanced good with Willson Contreras kicking in with a home run on the anniversary of his first big league hit.

“His growth from getting thrown into the fire last year of the best team in baseball to now being the starting catcher for us, for the defending [World Series] champions, that’s a lot of responsibility,” Jon Lester said.

It is a lot of responsibility, but the young catcher always brings a positive work ethic and a smile to every game. Especially when he’s catching Jon Lester, Contreras has shown a certain maturity.

“The sky’s the limit for this kid,” Cubs starter Jon Lester said. “He’s stuck with me and I’m stuck with him for the next three or four years, so hopefully he keeps getting better.”

The Cubs struggles are real with even Lester giving up a couple of home runs early and throwing 111 pitches before leaving the game in the 6th inning. So what can return the Cubs to their dominance?

Anthony Rizzo

It is often said that when a team is struggling, their leader is the one who’ll carry them on their backs. Anthony Rizzo has been that guy this year, always digging deep and finding ways to score runs and continue to push the Cubs despite their record. Even last night when he was running home with Matt Szczur throwing a rocket home, Rizzo crashed into Padres’ catcher Austin Hedge in a questionable play depending on which team you’re cheering for.

“I went pretty much straight in,” Rizzo said. “He caught the ball and went toward the plate. It was a hard slide. I play this game hard for 162 games-plus, every day. I pride myself on it, running the bases hard, doing everything hard. I can’t see that being dirty.”

I don’t think there was any intention to hit Hedges at all. It was a collision with no room to maneuveur around him. Everyone is thankful that Hedges wasn’t hurt.

“I loved it, absolutely loved it,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “That’s part of the game. If the catcher’s in the way, you hit him.”

Which makes a valid point because if Rizzo avoided Hedges, he might have been safe but in the end, he was thrown out and nobody was seriously hurt.

“It’s a fairly egregious violation of the rule,” Padres manager Andy Green said. “The rule exists to protect that catcher. … I think it’s a cheap shot. I’m not saying [Rizzo] is a dirty player at all. No one is saying that. But he clearly deviated from his path to hit our catcher and took our catcher out. The rule exists to protect him.”

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Cubs Make it An Extra Special Father’s Day

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Chicago Cubs starting pitcher John Lackey delivers in the first inning of a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Pittsburgh, Sunday, June 18, 2017. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

The Chicago Cubs were out in their finest Father’s Day blue uniforms and they didn’t disappoint in their 7-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Cubs haven’t won a road series since April and the season so far, has had their share of ups, downs and set backs. Yesterday, with Anthony Rizzo in the leadoff yet again, the Cubs sent Father’s everywhere home smiling.

“It’s crazy, it’s weird, it’s funny but it’s great,” Rizzo said. “The game can’t start until I get in the batter’s box. The objective is, the pitcher is going to throw strike one, they want to get in a groove, and I have to be ready to hit.”

It is crazy to think about Rizzo in the leadoff, but in the midst of a 12 game winning streak, yesterday, Rizzo crushed a two run homer and collected three hits. The Cubs haven’t been doing their best this year, it’s no secret about that and everybody has a different theory on it. It’s exciting when a guy like Rizzo does this well in a position that he’s unfamiliar with and gives us reasons to cheer.

“You look at him, he’s a middle-of-the-order first baseman,” MVP Kris Bryant said. “He’s the last guy you would expect to hit leadoff. He’s on base all the time now. It’s nice to get to the pitcher with that first at-bat of the game. Hopefully he can keep that up.”

There’s no question about him keeping that up. Yeah, he’ll have his good days and bad ones too but I can guarantee that with Rizzo in the leadoff, it’ll be, “You go, we go!” situation and Dexter Fowler is smiling in St. Louis.

Someone else who’s smiling is John Lackey. The Cubs’ veteran pitcher has had his struggles this season and although I’m a fan of his style, he’s a difficult pitcher to gauge because you never know who’s going to show up on the mound until that first pitch. Will it be the lights out, wily grizzled hurler? Or the frustrated, mad at every guy in the game, tired, past his prime, Everyone has that one last pitch kind of warrior? Yesterday, it was the wily veteran doing nothing fancy but allowing few runs and getting the job done.

“I’m just going to try to do my job,” Lackey said. “It was really cool to pitch on Father’s Day as a dad.”

The Cubs may be onto something now. Last year, it was in Pittsburgh just before the All Star Break when the tides turned and the Cubs fell out of their slump. Could this be the great Father’s Day slump buster?

“Gosh, the way Rizzo started the game again and got the momentum rolling,” Maddon said. “I think he likes doing it. He likes the idea of getting that extra at-bat.”

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Cubs Have Wild Win. Rizzo’s Chance At History Recalled

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The Cubs put on a show yesterday but almost gave up the hitting performance in the ninth with a rally by Pittsburgh. In the end, it was the Cubs overcoming the Pirates 9-5.  The festivities got off to a thrilling start after Anthony Rizzo launched what could have been his third lead off home run in as many games, but after a video review it was called foul.

“Now the burden of proof came back to whether or not it was fair or not,” Maddon said. “If it had been confirmed foul, I’m fine. But the play stood. If we had gone right to replay immediately after this thing was hit, and they said it was foul, I would’ve been in that game for nine innings. But the way it came down procedurally, I totally disagree with. There’s no argument you can give me. You have basically neutered instant replay by the way it was handled tonight.”

Joe’s got a point. The ball was clearly foul but the evidence was inconclusive and yet, they still called foul. The way I look at it, the game’s in the beautiful PNC Park so chalk it up to hometown advantage. Joe was ejected and the always even tempered Anthony Rizzo even looked a little hot headed.

“That was absolutely a home run,” Rizzo said. “There is no way it could have gone over the pole foul because this is one of the shortest right fields in the league. I hit it too hard for it to have time to go foul. I respect the umpires and I never like to criticize them because I know they give their very best but they got that one wrong. At least, we won the game and that’s all that really matters.”

The ninth inning took on a life of its own after the Cubs plated six after bench all star Jon Jay got things going with a go ahead single and the rest was history.

The problem I have with the win is that the Cubs could have done a better job in the ninth holding off Pittsburgh. Yeah, they got the win but showed some of the cracks that have formed in the World Series champs. I’ve got a good feeling though with Rizzo in the lead off. Three games. Almost three home runs.

“Anthony probably had a chance to go into the record books, with three leadoff home runs,” Maddon said. “Our game is based on that stuff [statistics]. The first-base umpire was demonstrative that baseball was fair … Why change it?”

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Cubs Topple Mets

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Somehow, the Cubs bats woke up and stunned the New York Mets 14-3. Was it a fluke? Could it be that having Anthony Rizzo in the lead off spot sparked the carnage or was it the grand slam from Ian “Kid” Happ that added to the victory. Either way, the Cubs played like they meant business, and business was good.

“The thing is, he’s not impacted by that,” Maddon said of Rizzo. “He kind of has fun with it. He doesn’t look at it in any other ways except it’s going to be fun.”

If Anthony Rizzo has fun with hitting in the leadoff spot, then who knows? this could be the start of something great. With the win, Jon Lester earned his 150th victory while striking out 10.

So, although the Cubs dominated the Mets with their offensive prowess, Cubs fans shouldn’t reserve their seats at the victory parade just yet.

“You know what?” Rizzo asked. “Let’s go on a run now. That would be great. Just keep winning. Hopefully, this can be the start of something, but it’s just one game.”

It’s one game. A great game, but even though the Cubs 9 game road drought has ended, there are still concerns going forward such as the return of Kyle Hendricks being put back due to more pain from his tendinitis.

In a lot of ways, last night’s win proved that the 2016 team is still intact and their offence can hit long balls at will but the caveat is clear;

Home runs don’t necessarily win ball games. The Cubs were 6 for 10 with RISP, not a terrible number but looking at their LOB numbers at 8, the Cubs still have a long road to travel before coming out of the mediocrity column in the standings. While Jon Lester’s 150th is great, he feels there’s even more to come.

“Personal stuff is always cool, whatever, but at the end of the day, you play for the Cubs and want to win for the Cubs,” Lester said. “That was a big one for us tonight on a lot of levels — pitching, offense, baserunning, defense. It was a good night for us.”

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Cubs Stop Making Excuses

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It’s obvious that there’s something amiss with the Chicago Cubs. Last night, they lost 6-1 to the New York Mets in a game which saw John Lackey get walloped by home runs. There’s no excuse for the way the Cubs year is shaping up, when they win, there are flashes of the great team of 2016 but when they lose, all that’s left are question marks and little room for excuses.

“I’ve given up a bunch of homers. I need to do a better job of keeping the ball in the yard, for sure,” Lackey said.

To be fair to Lackey, he normally gives up a lot of home runs. The fact though that he’s almost reached his home run total of last year (23) is a little alarming. The Cubs are at a point where they have to decide what they’re going to do with him.

“We can’t keep using that as an excuse that the other team’s pitcher is good. We’ve got to start beating some better pitchers, period. You don’t get to the promised land winning games like that — 3-2, 4-3. Obviously, the double play hurt us. [deGrom] was good, but at some point we have to start figuring out how to put some things together to beat those guys.” Joe Maddon said.

So for the Cubs , they’ve reached their breaking point. With the All Star break one month away, the Cubs have to make changes. I’m sensing that little frustration in the normally glass half full Maddon. He’s probably feeling the heat from the brass.

“The believability that we can do something like that was earned that year (2016), and I think that bled into the following season obviously,” he said. “Now, even though we’re not playing like we’d like to on a daily basis, there’s still a strong believability among us that we can do that again based on what we have done in the past. I think more than anything, the lesson learned is you can do this and then you know what it takes to do this. You finally learn how to win, what does that mean? On a daily basis, regardless of who you’re playing or where, if you play the game properly and you play nine innings hard, you’ve got a shot. That’s all that was learned in that year.” Maddon said.

There’s no denying they earned it last year and in flashes you can still see that team poking its head through the ivy but the Champs are just on the other side of .500 where they’ve been floating all season. In any other year they’d be considered good but given their recent accolades, I’m talking about that spiffy thing flapping over by that old scoreboard, the Cubs have fallen to mediocre.

The Toronto Blue Jays have the same record as the North Siders and are last in the American League East. That pretty much tells you how bad the Cubs have become, or how so-so the NL Central division is, however you look at it.

“Of course I’d like to be 10 games over .500, but we’re not. We’ve earned it. We’ve earned the right to not be 10 games over .500 right now, but we’re capable of doing it.” Maddon said.

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