Cubs Bring The Bats, Help Lackey

Chicago Cubs

The Chicago Cubs are somewhat of an oddity this season. They’re not overly good like last year, but they’re not too bad either. If that makes sense? Yesterday, they evened the series against Boston with a 7-4 victory. Then there’s the connection with the World Series teams with John Lackey, Koji Uehara and Dustin Pedroia. That’s quite a connection between these two franchises.

Out of all the pitchers on the Cubs staff, the one I’m worried about the most is John Lackey. Yesterday, the Cubs bared their teeth at the plate, but in the true John Lackey fashion of unpredictability, it was the pitcher that bit the hardest.

“If it’d been the first time to leave somewhere, it would’ve been a little different,” Lackey said. “I was just trying to win a game.”

The game worn face of the veteran hurler argued a call to the umpire. In a move that would likely have thrown every other pitcher out of the game, there seems to be a certain respect (or is that fear) from the umpires for Lackey.  In the end, it wasn’t a pretty game that Lackey threw, giving up four runs and eight hits but the Cubs earned him the win. That’s the kind of game you’re going to get from Lackey.

On the other end of the plate the Cubs have Miguel Montero. I like Montero and he’s kind of stepped up into the David Ross role on the team. Although, he complained about the way he was used in the playoffs, and I totally disagree with him; he hit a grand slam for Pete’s sake! Montero is a good hitter who comes through in the clutch. Yesterday, he did just that with a game tying home run in the seventh inning.

If Miggy Montero is a great clutch player, the one player who might finally get his due this season is Anthony Rizzo. The unofficial leader of the team hit his sixth home run of the season in a two run shot in the fourth inning. Rizzo is overdue for an MVP season and I believe this year is his year for that to happen.

The tandem of Rizzo and Kris Bryant is a throwback to a bygone era like Ruth and Gehrig, Mantle and Maris. There will always be the debate of who’s better but there’s no denying that with Bryant and Rizzo at the corners for the Cubs, they’re the ones laying the foundation for Chicago’s now historic 2016 team. The image is forever engraved in the minds and imaginations of baseball and Cubs fans everywhere the final out in game seven of the World Series. They are the Tinkers to Evers to Chance of a new millennium. The smiling face of Bryant and the ball tucked in the back pocket of Rizzo. That’s what baseball is all about. The culmination of a year’s worth of hard work, team spirit and camaraderie. Anthony Rizzo should win MVP as sure as God made green apples.

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Cubs and Red Sox Share a Common Bond

Kris Bryant

If Yankee Stadium is the house that Ruth built, then both Fenway Park and Wrigley Field can be dubbed, “The House that Theo Built” It’s always a moving experience watching a game at Fenway Park. There’s so many types of fans from all walks of life strolling through the turnstiles on Yawkey Way. There’s the kind that want to be a part of the experience of “So I can say I saw a game at Fenway Park” then their are fans  who have to see the Cubs and the Red Sox before their buckets are kicked and finally, there are fans like me and you who live and breath these two historic franchises, seeing them play each other brings us back to a time and place when things were a lot more simpler than they are today.

The Cubs lost last night 5-4 from the team that brought you Ted Williams and David Ortiz. Even though the Cubs lost, there was an awesome moment in the 1st inning when Kris Bryant crushed one over the Green Monster. It was his first home run of his career at baseball’s oldest park.

“It was probably one of my favorite home runs, considering my family is from this area and my dad [was drafted by the Red Sox] and all that,” Bryant said. “It felt really good.”

It was fun watching him hit the blast. These two storied franchises have a lot of fans. The chorus of “Go Sox Go! was hard to distinguish from “Go Cubs Go!” add to the fact that the two teams share an historic drought shattered by a Harvard grad, and you’ll have a Cooperstown bond like no other sports teams in history. When these teams get together, it’s almost like a family reunion.

“I’m definitely a Bostonian,” Theo Epstein said. “You only have one hometown. This is my hometown. It’s more than that to me too. I fell in love with baseball here, my parents and brother still live here. I spent 10 years working in this ballpark every day, My first son was born here, I met my wife here. I’ll always have a real affection for the Red Sox.”

The thing to with these teams is if you’re a baseball fanatic, there’ll always be a special part of these teams in you. Whatever walk of life you come from, unless you’re a Yankee fan, you’ll find something deep down inside to cheer for these teams. When we visited Boston a couple of years ago, these Bostonians live and breath baseball. What made it even more special was they’d tip their caps my way. At that time there was a drought, they felt the suffering and acknowledged it.  Last night, even though the Cubs lost, there was a celebration and a homecoming.

“Red Sox baseball is ingrained in the fabric of this whole region, so when you’re part of it, you feel a greater obligation. To have that exact same level of passion and same experience in Chicago, I feel fortunate. I don’t know if I could go anywhere else and work, because it would feel like work. In Boston and Chicago, it doesn’t feel like work, it feels like a privilege and you’re part of the family.”

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Cubs’ Hendricks Shuts Out Pirates

Chicago Cubs

Kyle Hendricks could make open heart surgery look simple, that’s how confident he is in his abilities. Last night, the Cubs shutout the Pittsburgh Pirates 1-0 in what folks deem as Hendricks’ “Comeback game”. We’ve seen him pitch better but we’ll take it.

“It’s just one start but definitely a lot better,” Hendricks said. “I got away with some pitches early. It almost clicked the second time through the order, like about the end of the third inning. My fastball command got better, I could mix it in and out, up and down a lot better. My changeup kind of followed from there, I started throwing better curveballs. … We’ll take it. One step, one step.”

One step for sure, but what was interesting about this game is Hendricks kind of had a #TBT moment with his style. Nothing flashy, just letting it all happen. That’s the best part about his game. He gets it done.

Sure, there are people who believe his drop in velocity is a reason to voice some concern but I’m not convinced that last season was a fluke. He’s not quite a seasoned veteran where he can lock in his pitches at will like Jon Lester, so perhaps there needs to be a warming up period and this could be it.

“Something in my mechanics clicked, or maybe I fell into the flow of the game or something,” Hendricks said. “I was closer. It’s one start but definitely better.”

So, all right, what if last season was his season for batters to get used to his style of pitching and this season is their chance to understand how he works because I can guarantee that teams across the nation were sitting in the office studying the way Hendricks pitches. In an era used to fastballs and heat, along comes Hendricks and changes things up. See what I did there?

“I always talk about the way hitters take pitches against him and you can see it kind of surprises them,” Joe Maddon said. “When you get that kind of look from a hitter, then I know the pitch is there. More than anything, an uptick velocity-wise, and a little more separation between the numbers on his fastball and his changeup — that’s the one item that will make him take off quickly.”

He isn’t perfect. He needs to get his speed up a bit and that’ll happen. Until that happens, it’s a relief to have the old Hendricks back on the mound doing what he does best which is getting batters out.

“I’m not in the zone dialed in the way I was at the end of last year,” Hendricks said. “That was a completely different feeling and sensation.”

That sensation wound up earning them a World Series.

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Cubs Prove Too Much For Pirates

Jason Heyward

Baseball can be a lonely game. I’m not talking about the player staring at the pitcher in a game 7, bases loaded, two out, bottom of the ninth type of loneliness. No, in last night’s Chicago Cubs 14-3  blowout of the Pittsburgh Pirates, there was a loneliness that crept into the beautiful PNC Park around the mid innings when you can practically hear every fan that was left to watch the onslaught. The heckling and the whistling were on full display like ancient Greek theatre’s call and response.

Last night was the kind of game the Cubs should be playing on a regular basis. Jason Heyward won’t crush the ball the first time he sees the plate everytime, but guys like him and Addison Russell, who had a career high four hits, need to be consistent in every game.

“It’s great but it’s not over,” Heyward said. “It’s one game at a time. This game is hard, it’s not easy, and you’re always going to be humbled. It’s great to see hard work pay off but I have to keep going because that’s the way the game goes.”

It isn’t easy when you’re the player who makes a Gajillion dollars and underperforms. So I’m glad to see Heyward doing well this season. As for Russell? Well, one of baseball’s under appreciated players is consistent. He’s turning into the guy who someday could win an MVP.

“I expect to hit every first inning,” Russell said. “We have guys that grind out at-bats from their first at-bat until their last at-bat. Guys will get on somehow, some way. And guys with big knocks along the way.”

So the Cubs haven’t digressed this season but rather matured a little bit perhaps and the style of play isn’t always, like last night, going to knock out of the park every game. The more I watch them this year, I’ve decided that the wins might not always be pretty but they’ll win.

Kyle Schwarber will have to get used to the outfield. Even though he certainly wasn’t a weak spot in the Cubs lineup last fall, he might just be the weakness in the field this season. I think he’ll be better than us bleacher bums think he’s going to be but the growing pains will still be there.

“It’s not easy to just move people around,” Joe Maddon said. “The ball always moves toward the line, whether it’s a righty or left-handed hitter. It’s a different method of thinking on the other side of the field. Can he do it? Of course, he can do it.”

With the order pretty much solidified for the season, I’m hoping for Kyle Hendricks to showcase his stuff for the season. Perhaps the spring training wasn’t enough. Once the warm weather kicks in.

“Overall, still just need to kind of find that groove and lock it in,” Hendricks said. “My mechanics have been a little off, I’ve noticed, the last two weeks or so. I ramped up my throwing, so maybe throwing more has caused that. I just got to find the right balance right now. I just don’t feel strong out there, so I got to get my arm strength and feel like I can step on it (and) get the velocity back. And then from there, my changeup will just play off it.”

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Despite Cubs Loss, Rizzo Keeps The Streak Going

Chicago Cubs

The Chicago Cubs couldn’t play “Comeback Kids” again as the Cincinnati Reds defeated the North Siders 7-5 yesterday. They put on a good show and Anthony Rizzo keeps his streak alive with three home runs in his last three games.

“You just play baseball really,” the Cubs’ first baseman said. “You just hit balls where they’re not standing. You go through the process. It’s no different than not getting any hits.”

As we all know, baseball is such a streaky sport.

In a strange game which showcased the aging talents of John Lackey versus Bronson Arroyo, the elder Lackey pitched a frustrating game

“Yeah, I don’t care about the series right now; I’m pissed,” said Lackey. “I felt like I definitely pitched a lot better than the numbers are going to show. Two of the first three runs were a couple of balls that kind of fell in on me. And I really didn’t give up a whole lot of hard contact. What are you going to do?”

This was his third start that he lost. I don’t know, I think Lackey needs to move down in the order but he’s so competitive that I wouldn’t want him to get mad about that.

Even though the Cubs won the series, it’s good that they’re finally coming around but they should have controlled that game better. The Reds had an aging pitcher.

The Cubs won the series but now head to Pittsburgh to face the Pirates. The last time these two teams faced each other, the Pirates swept them.

The Pirates don’t have Starling Marte (much to my annoyance in my Keeper League) so the Cubs should be all right.

“I have nothing to complain about. You go into another city and win the series. We’ll take it.” Joe Maddon said.

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Cubs Come Roaring Back, Dominate Reds and Take First Place

Willson Contreras

I’m not bragging here, but yesterday’s 12-8 victory over the Cincinnati Reds was the kind of win I’m talking about. That dominating offensive juggernaut from the North Side came roaring to life with home run contributions from Wilson Contreras, Jason Heyward and Anthony Rizzo.

“The ball was absolutely flying,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “These balls were well-struck, don’t get me wrong, but the ball was definitely in the air and it was gone.”

What really stood out in the win was contributions from guys like Heyward and Contreras, heck, even Jake Arrieta hit the ball well. The Cubs can’t always leave it up to Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Ben Zobrist to get the job done.

During the offseason, Heyward worked hard on his swing and so far this season, it’s working.

“His whole setup is different, how he’s starting the bat,” Joe Maddon said. “He is much more active with his hands throughout the swing process, and that’s why you are seeing harder contact. Less arms, more hands, that’s how I look at it. It’s been very effective.”

We know how good he is in the field but with the absence of Dexter Fowler, Heyward has to lead a young outfield but he also has to replace the bat of Fowler as well.

“The good signs are getting hits, being able to be aggressive in the strike zone,” Heyward said. “Solid contact, consistent. Home runs are going to happen, but it’s not going to happen if you’re not doing that stuff.”

So, let’s shift over to the pitching of Jake Arrieta. If last season was a come down period for the former Cy Young winner, then this year is his comeback season. The rotation as a whole has been a little shaky but so far, Arrieta is 3-0 and yesterday’s victory he pitched five innings striking out 8 batters. It wasn’t pretty but,

“We’ve had some hiccups, but we’ve been picked up by our offense,” said Arrieta, who gave up five runs in six innings. “As starting pitchers, we have to take advantage of our offense.”

If they’re taking advantage of their offence, then the Cubs are back in first place in the National League Central where they belong, the Cubs could be on the roll that they need. John Lackey will take to the mound today before the Cubs go to Pittsburgh in another key divisional matchup.

 

So here’s your chance to jump on the Cubs bandwagon don’t worry, there’s plenty of room for everyone. It’s hard to figure out how folks can suddenly cheer for teams. It could be birthright, you know, generations of long suffering fans. It might be that of location and hometowns.  I’m the Canuck Cubbie, I wasn’t born in Chicago but came across the Cubs while watching WGN when it was available in Canada. That was many moons ago. When WGN ceased to exist up here, I subscribed to MLB.TV. We’ve been to Wrigley Field and followed the team whenever they play near us.  We try to have Opening Day parties when we can and celebrate everything that is good about the Cubs and great about baseball. If you are new to the game, I encourage you to read up about the history and most importantly, take a trip to Wrigley Field, it’s a 12 hour drive for us but it was so worth it. Cubs fans are amazing. A Chicagoan we talked to a couple years ago was amazed that we drove so far to see them. He lived around the corner from Wrigley! “You came all the way from Canada?”

Yes, we did.

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Bryzzo Souvenir Company Adds Another Gem To Collection

Albert Almora

The Chicago Cubs certainly have a flair for the dramatic. In extra innings, the Cubs defeated the Cincinnati Reds 6-5 after an Anthony Rizzo 3 run long ball to tie it in the ninth. Their, “We do not quit” motif is some serious stuff this season being their third straight victory in a come from behind way. If it was Anthony Rizzo in the ninth, then it was Kris Bryant with the sacrifice in extra innings.

“You never think home run,” Rizzo said. “These guys do pitch me up-and-in a lot. Off the bat, I thought, yeah, but the wind was kind of strong. I thought it might be a long single if it hit the top of the wall.”

Have the Cubs turned a corner after a not so awesome start to April? I hope it’s true, but how much longer can they sustain their, “Comeback Kids” moniker?

“That’s what we always say, the comeback kids,” Rizzo said. “In the ninth, we’re saying here comes the comeback. It’s a good feeling to know none of these guys quit. It’s a cliché, but it’s true. We know we can score at any given time.”

I have to admit, I do like the entertainment of watching them comeback in late innings, although nerve racking in many ways, it gives it that post season vibe, I just get the feeling that they won’t be able to sustain the momentum for long. Awe shucks, perhaps it’s just my inner pessimistic Cubs fan rearing its ugly head.

The are many things I’m certain of but when it comes to the Chicago Cubs, these are the best days to be a fan. They’re exciting, thrilling and of course the World Series team of 2016 have a seat reserved in Cooperstown. Now, the team could be better than last season only because of the close games and the “Bryzzo” factor. These Cubs have personality just not one or two superstars but an entire team that contributes each game.

Speaking of the Bryzzo factor, catch David Ross’s last adventures as an intern with the Bryzzo Souvenir Company

In many ways though, the Cubs got lucky in those come from behind victories. Their pitching hasn’t been solid, Lester gave up 5 earned runs. It’s not hard to figure out that if the pitching isn’t there, then no matter how many hits the team gets (unless of course, they score runs) the teams not going to win. The Cubs have to get their rotation going.

“Would like it to go the other way, being up early, but a win is a win,” Cubs starter Jon Lester said. “When you come back, it always makes it a little bit better.”

You can tell through Joe Maddon’s thoughts on the “Comeback Kids” that he too would like to see a more viable and solid play of his squad.

“I’m OK with that identity, but I’d rather do it in more conventional means,” he said with a smile. “It’s what we talk about. We just don’t quit.”

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