Cubs Roar Back To Defeat Reds

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The Cubs are on a streak. Yes, they’re having a four game winning streak after their 13-9 take down of the Cincinnati Reds but their post all star break record is 23-12. Not too bad especially being their mantra has been to find ways to win. It’s especially convincing.

Even after Ben Zobrist was late to the party and having to rent a car to get to Cincinnati but when Zobrist showed up, man, he showed up.

“I should have been here a lot earlier,” Zobrist said, managing a half-smile after the game. “I was told I make enough money and should have booked a [private jet], which is probably true, but I guess I’m cheap. I learned my lesson.”

In fact, it was such an unusual game that Anthony Rizzo played third after Kris Bryant injured his wrist after an errant pitch.

“He’ll put that on his Twitter bio: Third baseman,”Kris Bryant said.

The Cubs are back to playing Cubs baseball, loose, fun and precise. This is the time of year when teams that don’t stand a chance in the standings, their home park is an empty mess. It’s so empty that like last night in Cincinnati, you could hear the ball echoing off of the seats after each home run.

No, the Cubs are in great shape heading into the final push for the playoffs. After the Reds, it’s the Phillies with a season ending playing their division rivals who will be very difficult to overcome. The National League Central has been such a tight race this year that a Cubs spot in the playoffs might not seem solidified.

In reality, the Cubs are pacing for an 87 win season. We all know that predictions and stats don’t necessarily mean a thing when it comes to the sport. Anything can happen and the Los Angeles Dodgers, despite owning a record of 89-35, can still collapse in the post season. It’d be nice to have the Cubs dominate again this year, but that’s not reality. Guys like Zobrist are just hitting their stride at the right time.

“I keep telling him, ‘I wanted to keep you rested for this time of the year. This is your time coming up, September/October,'” Maddon said. “This is his time of the year. He’s trending properly right now. Even if he’s not hitting, he’ll accept his walk for the next hitter. Putting him in the middle, he’s surrounded by guys that will drive him in.”

He’s the reigning World Series MVP and that has to count for something, right?

“I think the best of my season is ahead of me,” he said. “I have been feeling a lot better, so I’ve been doing a lot more work in the cage and stuff that I hope starts showing up on the field a little more. It’s been coming.”

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Root, Root Root For The Best Team

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I always get excited when the Toronto Blue Jays get together with the Chicago Cubs. They’ve only played each other a handful of times since the Jays inception but seeing the fans at packed Wrigley shows just how special Wrigley Field is to everyone. This year especially, this series is important to both teams. The Jays are a few back of the Wild Card while the Cubs are out to put distance in the National league Central Division. Yesterday, the Cubs won 4-3.

“The game ebbs and flows all the time. That’s why it is a beautiful game and a terrible game at the same time. You are going to have your good weeks, your bad weeks, good days and your bad days, being able to stay even and keep fighting through it is important,” Ian Happ said.

It’s a must win situation for the Cubs on this stretch where they’re playing last place teams. After the Jays, they’ll play the Reds again before heading to Philadelphia to face the Phillies.

There were a lot of Blue Jay fans that travelled to the game, some from Winnipeg and even Canadian legend, Don Cherry sang the seventh inning stretch. Traditionally, the guest conductor would say, “Root, root root for the Cubbies” but Cherry didn’t want to disappoint Jays fans or get chased out of Wrigley Field so he opted for the safe approach of, “The best team”

“In this ballpark, you have to hit home runs, and we haven’t hit one yet,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. “We pulled it close, another close ballgame — they snuck a ball through to put them on top — but I thought we pitched very well. The bullpen guys came in, and it just wasn’t good enough today.”

It’s also difficult with the inter league games where teams have to adjust their strategies to accommodate the ballpark and it showed with the Blue Jays. Again, the Cubs got stellar pitching from Jose Quintana.

“I thought Quintana was really good today also. It just seemed to me like better command. The last game he had a lot of fastball misses in. He was getting that pitch here today for a strike, curveball was definitely more pertinent today. I didn’t see a lot of changeups. But I saw him pitch with his fastball well and accurately and did a great job,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said.

But the star of the day belonged to Ian Happ.

“Acclimation-wise, he’s done pretty darn good,” Maddon said of Happ. “The thing he’s done well is when he hasn’t played. It’s almost like Javy [Baez]. He observes, he never complains about anything, he stays ready. … He’s like Javy was. Javy would sit and wait his turn, and when it was his turn, he’d be ready for that moment. Happ has done well, really well.”

Today, it’s the Professor’s turn to stymie the Jays.

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Cubs Go Back To Back To Back But Come Up Short

Trying to put a positive spin on yesterday’s almost come from behind thriller is proving to be a difficult task. The Cubs were down by eight runs but connected on 4 home runs in the 4th inning to climb back but eventually were downed by the Reds  13-10. Those are the kind of losses that are hard to take. On one hand, you have to applaud the Cubs on their comeback attempt but also have to shake my head that they couldn’t crank out the win after whacking all those home runs, even going back to back to back!

“We lost the game,” Alex Avila said. “It would’ve been great if we would’ve won that game. A game you’re not supposed to win, you end up winning is a better story. It’s a loss.”

That’s exactly what it is against a division rival that just happens to be in last place. After Jon Lester left the game giving up 9 runs, the Cubs went to work.

“When a pitcher of his stature is potentially injured, of course, you’re concerned,” Joe Maddon said. “Let the doctor see him and go from there. Right now, I’m not going to jump to any negative conclusions.”

It could just end up being related to heat tightness or cramps but hopefully it’s nothing more than that.

It was great to see Ian Happ have a multi homer game. The Cubs rookie is having a great season, if not under the radar as compared to others around the league, he’s fit into the lineup well.

“When you’re playing at Wrigley and the wind is blowing out, you always feel like you have a chance, especially with our lineup,” said Happ, who notched his third career multi-homer game. “To go back-to-back-to-back there and put us back in it, we gave ourselves a chance.”

Today is a big day as the Cubs begin a weekend series against the Toronto Blue Jays, who are struggling but are only three games out of the Wild Card spot. It’s an afternoon series with Jake Arrieta kicking it off today.

“I’ve gotten on that plane many times after a loss, still good food, but there’s no doubt you want to leave feeling good,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. “The lows in this business last longer than the highs, I know that for a fact. But we have to turn around, day game [Friday] … quick turnaround, but there will be energy there with the World [Series] champs. It’s a great place to play.”

Oh, and @LenKasper ‏ don’t forget to ask Don Cherry who is favourite hockey team is, I bet it’s the Bruins.

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Baez Walks This Way In Cubs’ Victory

 

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The other day the Cubs presented Rick Renteria, Dale Sveum and Jim Hendry World Series rings. A nice gesture seeing how those individuals were cornerstones to what the team has become today. Last night’s 7-6 victory over the Reds was perhaps a payback for their generosity. From Anthony Rizzo‘s grand slam to Javier Baez‘s walk off, the Cubs have positioned themselves well going into the playoffs.

“It’s a good win for us — we haven’t walked off in a while,” Rizzo said. “Tucker Barnhart was really good behind there. He’s a really good blocker. [The ball] didn’t get fully by him, but that’s a great read by Javy there to score that run.”

The Reds are a peculiar team. They’re not that exceptionally good but they’re also not that terrible. They come through when you least expect them too and Joey Votto is a beast. The Cubs could have ran away with the victory but the Reds hung in tough throughout and kept it close.

I feel bad for John Lackey. It would have been nice to see him get the win but he’s been pitching so well since the break that I know that if the Cubs should reach the playoffs, he’s going to prove to be tough to beat. Should he retire at the end of the season, he’d be going out in style.

“I haven’t said anything about retirement,” he said. “I’m just playing baseball. Taking it one start at a time. That will be a family decision at the end of the year.”

So, perhaps the key to the Cubs late season success could be attributed to Maddon’s American Legion Week, a week in August that allows players to come to practice a 1/2 hour before game time. There’s been little doubt that this year has been a stressful one for the reigning champs and perhaps taking a week to loosen up, relax and go out and have fun is the key to success.

“Taking 50 swings or 100 swings has nothing to do with our success right now,” Maddon said. “There are so many disconnected thoughts in our game about work and how you work. At some point you have to turn it all down and go out there and play unencumbered. That’s what this week is all about. Play the game of baseball like it was designed, how you grew up with it.”

Which is to have as much fun as possible. The thrill of a walk off, a grand slam or an aging pitcher on the mound for one last season to stare down any batter that threatens a ball leaving the field.

My son’s Little League game is tonight. He wants to play baseball when he grows up, but that’s more of a six year old’s dream than a reality. For the moment right now, this minute is to enjoy the game and all it has to offer. The Cubs are doing right by the integrity of America’s favourite past time.

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School is Back in Session For The Professor

Reds 2, Cubs 1

Life isn’t fair and last night proved this as Kyle Hendricks went 6 and some change innings, striking out six but in the end, the Cubs couldn’t pull one out for their professor as the Cubs fell to the Reds 2-1.

“It was a lot better tonight — all the things I’ve been working on came to fruition,” Hendricks said. “Fastball command, No. 1, was good, and that’s always the key for me. From there, the changeup felt good. I even threw a few good curveballs. The ones I threw were effective. It was a lot of fun today with [rookie catcher Victor Caratini]. He did a good job communicating with me between innings.”

Of course this is great news going down the stretch to see that Hendricks is getting back his swagger. It was so good that he picked off Billy Hamilton at first, now that’s tough! The other good news is that Hendricks’ ERA is 2.00 since coming off the disabled list late last month. He’s had a shaky season (along with the other Cubs) but if the season is turning around, then they’re going to fight to regain their glory.

“It’s been tough since I’ve come back from the DL,” the right-hander said. “I’ve been pitching in a lot of tight games, so sometimes I lose my aggressiveness just trying to keep the team in the game and stay close and not give in. Today, I think I did a much better job being aggressive, still in the strike zone, even in a tight game, trying to get quick outs so I could keep the pitch count down.”

Hendricks’ style of pitching is difficult. Being not a hard thrower, his control and command has to take centre stage. As we all know, that hasn’t always worked out well this year but if there’s one thing we know of the studious pitcher is that whenever he comes off of a bad outing, he knuckles down and studies the books on being better the next time around. It was a well earned ovation as he walked off the mound.

“That was more typical of Kyle,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said  “He had greater velocity, great location, every pitch was working, [threw his] curveball for a strike, threw the four-seamer really well up to 87 [mph]. Everything was right on.”

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Jon Jay Leads The Way For Cubs

Cubs 15, Reds 5

It’s always hard coming back from a vacation where my family and I did the whole Clark Griswold road trip adventure, and in many ways that’s how I feel about the Cubs late season push for the playoffs. Last night, the Cubs simply pounded division rivals Cincinnati Reds in a 15-5 debacle that saw a few moments where the team just were like the team of last season. Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo with back to back home runs and Jon Jay almost hitting for the cycle.

“Give us credit — offensively, some really good at-bats,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “We have to tighten it up on defense. I don’t want to be ‘Debbie Downer,’ but we’ve got to be tighter on defense.”

I was glad to see Jon Jay in the lead off spot. He’s an underrated player who always comes through and last night felt like a playoff game if only to see Jay hit for the cycle which he came close but just a little short missing on the home run.

“Everyone kind of mentioned it — ‘Take a shot, take a shot,'” Jay said of his teammates’ advice for his last at-bat. “We got the win, so it’s cool.”

It almost feels like Jay’s the David Ross of 2017. The guy you’re cheering for and the feel good story of the year. Let’s just hope he’s not on Dancing With The Stars after the season’s over.

“He’s done a lot of other little things, talking to younger players,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “He does a nice job of mentoring. He wants to play, loves to play and likes what’s going on. He’s definitely stirred our drink.”

The Cubs are in great shape as the season winds up. Their next 13 games are against last place teams, so without explaining the obvious, it’s an important step on the road to the post season.

Their next series in particular is going to be interesting for me because the Toronto Blue Jays are coming to town and my family are divided in their loyalties. During last night’s broadcast, Len Kasper mentioned that Don Cherry of Hockey Night in Canada fame will be singing the seventh inning stretch so it’s going to be pretty cool seeing that. However, there was a little debate on what is Cherry’s favourite hockey team, is it the Toronto Maple Leafs or the Boston Bruins? I say it’s the Boston Bruins. Although he works for the CBC and cheers for the Maple Leafs, his heart is with the Boston Bruins. Cherry is a Canadian icon and I hope Len gets a chance to ask him what his favourite team really is and settle this debate once and for all.

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Cubs Take Over First Place In Central

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There’s no denying the Cubs are on a roll. After last night’s 8-3 victory over the White Sox, the Cubs took over first place in the National league Central, and may I say that is where they belong. Six games over .500 and 10-2 since the break, it seems like everything is going according to plan.

“When we traded for [Jose Quintana], that’s a huge addition to our ballclub as we’ve seen in his past couple starts,” Arrieta said. “Just seeing how he carries himself in between starts is a really good sign.

“That trade right there is one that is going to pay huge dividends for this ballclub, and not only for this year but the next couple years,” Jake Arrieta said. “We’re a great team right now.”

Whether the trade bolstered their rotation or not, the difference in the halves of the season is astonishing. Although, they have a long way to go before catching the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Cubs are feeling more confident as the season wears on.

“We’re feeling it,” Arrieta said about being in first place again. “We expect to remain in first place throughout the rest of the way. We know it will be a tough task, but that’s what you deal with at the highest level of sports. You expect to have really good competition from teams that are either equal with you or close behind.

“We feel we’ve got the group that can separate ourselves at this point in time and remain in first place for the rest of the way,” he said.

With the captain Anthony Rizzo leading the way with a 4 RBI night, the Cubs certainly looked like the Cubs of last year, I was going to say old, but we know what that was like. In a weird way, I’d like a do over of the All Star game and invite a few more Cubs to the party but let’s face it, there weren’t many Cubs All Stars in the lineup.

“It’s always a good feeling to wake up that way. I’ll get to the coffee shop in the morning [on Thursday], I’ll have the headset on, write the lineup, read the New York newspapers and get ready for my day.” Maddon said.

Their next series against the Brewers should prove whether they stay in first place for the rest of the season or not.

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