Cubs Are Lovable Losers Again

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The tale of the Cubs this season has been very different depending on what team shows up. In yesterday’s 5-4 win over the Washington Nationals, the Cubs used the ninth inning to stage a comeback.

“A win’s a win — it doesn’t matter how it looks, how we get there,” Chicago starter Jon Lester said. “We’ll take two of four from a really good team. Hopefully, this can build a little momentum for us.”

The funny part about momentum building victories is that it doesn’t always happen. Yes, they took two of four from a really good team but in the wake of Miguel Montero‘s DFA, the Cubs have probably revealed the cracks in the organization. Nobody ever accused Montero of not speaking his mind. This time however, it cost him his gig with the Cubs.

“I reminded [Montero] of the standard we try to hold our players to when it comes to being supportive of one’s teammates and being accountable for one’s play and for being a good teammate,” Theo Epstein said Wednesday. “I reminded Miggy that we expect when something goes wrong on the field, we expect our players to take the blame and step up and proactively assume the blame, even if it’s not their fault.”

This season has suddenly felt like a “Do Over” because of all the injuries to key players like Ben Zobrist, Jason Heyward and now Kris Bryant. Last season at this time, the Cubs were running away with the title but this year is different. The Cubs are six games out of a Wild Card spot and truthfully, all negativity aside, the Cubs won’t stand a chance of even getting the Wild Card position if they continue to split series against teams like Miami and the Nationals.

Why?

Those two teams are on opposite sides. If the Cubs can’t really beat the best and can’t really beat the worst baseball has to offer, then what does that say about the Cubs? It says it’s a team that is struggling.

“I don’t think we’ve established our identity yet. I don’t think we’ve found our edge yet that we’ll need to play with to win games,” Epstein said. “Wins don’t just happen because you’re talented and you show up. You have to come to the park with an edge every day and come together as a team and play together to win and play with a certain edge. We’re going to find it.”

There you have it. They’ve got a good team in there somewhere but in a way, the team was dismantled last season with the losses to Aroldis Chapman and Dexter Fowler. It was inevitable with those two but what it’s shown baseball fans is that the team of 2016 was a magical one. If suddenly, the team can turn it around and go on a tear after the All Star break, then miracles do happen. It’s poignant that that the Cubs find themselves struggling. The perennial underdogs continue to be in that position despite a World Championship. #ThatsCub

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Is There Trouble In The Cubs Locker Room?

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Is there trouble in the ranks of the Chicago Cubs clubhouse? After a horrible 6-1 loss to the Washington Nationals, the team needs to regroup badly. Jake Arrieta allowing 6 walks is unacceptable. However, I’m starting to believe that there might be a rift forming within the Cubs team.

“It really sucked because the stolen base goes on me,” Miguel Montero said. “When you really look at it, the pitcher doesn’t give me any time. It’s like, ‘Oh, yeah, Miggy can’t throw anybody out.’ Yeah, but my pitchers don’t hold anybody on. It’s tough. … I don’t get a chance to throw. That’s the reason they were running left and right. They knew he was slow to the plate, simple as that.”

There you have the fatal flaw of Jake Arrieta. He’s slow to the plate. Now, I like Miggy. Yeah, he was a little but whiny during their playoff run, but if you remember, he hit a grand slam. He comes through in the clutch. In many ways, he’s their outspoken leader. He’ll say everything that needs to be said on the team. Yeah, he’s a part time player but even still he comes through.

“I can pitch at his level,” Arrieta said. “I just haven’t done it consistently. He’s been very good throughout his career. I’ve had a couple good ones, a bad one, a couple good ones. I’d like to be more consistent throughout.”

So where do you find that consistency? Is it trading for pitching? We know the Cubs are in the market so that’ll be addressed soon.

Do you blow up a World Series team and start again? We know that’s not the answer but we also know that the team has suffered key losses in the off season that has contributed to this fluctuating season.

“That’s the million-dollar question right there. If I knew the answer, I’d be talking to the guys to figure it out and get it going. It’s tough. It’s one of those days, you get beat and go home. We played sloppy — we all did. You go home and you think about it, and it’s going to be hard to sleep on it. It was just a bad game. I respect Scherzer. I’ve known him for a long time and he’s a great pitcher, but I felt the game could be a little bit closer.” Montero said.

Big changes are coming, that’s for sure. Whether the Cubs need a break and regroup during the All Star game on July 11th, we’ll have to wait and see. What they can’t do is shrug it off saying “We have to go home and think” No, the Cubs have raised the bar this year and now it’s time for change. Truthfully, I’m betting on Montero not being around at the deadline.

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Cubs Narrowly Escape Game 1

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Chicago Cubs’ Javier Baez, bottom right, steals third during the eighth inning of a baseball game against Anthony Rendon, Monday, June 26, 2017, in Washington. The Cubs won 5-4. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

It was a highlight reel of everything that was great about the Chicago Cubs this season and everything that was not so great about the North Siders in their 5-4 victory over the Washington Nationals. From Javier Baez‘s spectacular catch to Wade Davis’ 9th inning collapse, it was the best of times and the worst of times.

“I love when we participate with that kind of intensity,” manager Joe Maddon said after the game. “I’m not saying we haven’t, but coming in here against a really good team, under the circumstances, it was kind of fun.”

There it is. Joe Maddon finally admitted that the Cubs haven’t been very good this season. Sort of. The Washington Nationals are a very good team and the Cubs meanwhile, are in a division that isn’t the strongest division in the game. So the test of how good the Cubs are isn’t all that accurate. In fact, the Cubs are still in the hunt to win the National League Central but compared to the rest of the league, Chicago isn’t doing too well.

“It’s nice before you play [Max] Scherzer — it’s always nice [to win]. To play so well and not win that game, that would’ve been awful, that would’ve been tough. Honestly, every night to me is the biggest game of the year. Tonight, playing a good team like that, playing in Washington, we have our youngest pitcher pitching against a guy who is pretty darn good. Butler beats Gio tonight … I think that’s pretty good stuff.” Maddon said.

Eddie Butler did a spectacular job last night allowing no runs in his five inning stint. If last night was a wake up call for the struggling team, then they looked no further than to Javier Baez’s leadership abilities. This is the time of the season to rally the troops and take stock of where the team is heading. They must accept the fact that they’re not the team they were in 2016. That was a fluke and admitting to it being the lightning in the bottle season, will give them the dose of reality they need moving forward.

“Games like this are what we need right now,” Baez said. “The Nationals are like St. Louis. Always good competition. … Before the game, everyone was into it. Go out there, and play hard.”

The good news is that guys like Jason Heyward, Kyle Hendricks and Kyle Schwarber won’t be out too much longer and the Cubs can go back to winning ball games.

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Solving The Mystery of Chicago Cubs

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Trying to find the reasons behind the Cubs fluctuating results this year is a perplexing issue. The Cubs lost yesterday 4-2 to the Miami Marlins. Could it be nagging injuries? Yesterday, Addison Russell left the game after the fourth inning due to “discomfort” in his shoulder. I’m not disputing anything but the Cubs have been racking up the injuries this season at a frantic pace. Trying to solve the “Mystery of the Cubs” should be a title in the next Sherlock episode but it probably couldn’t be one even the great detective couldn’t solve.

“More than anything, it’s trying to do too much, as opposed to just score one,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I think a lot of times a hitter gets in that situation and the bases are loaded or two guys are on, you want to score three or four. Score one. Score the guy that’s on third base. If you could reduce it to scoring one, mentally, you can have a much better chance of being consistent with it.”

And there you have it. Maddon sums it up, “Trying to do too much” sometimes the toughest questions have the easiest answers. On the other end of the spectrum, the leaders, Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant need to take control of the team and be the guys the other Cubs need. On a team where where nobody can blame it on rookies anymore, the Cubs came into their own last season and now this year is the time where they have to cement the legendary 2016 season.

“Not every year is going to be perfect,” Kris Bryant said. “It’s not going to be an MVP year every year, so that’s how I look at it. … Stick with the same approach. There’s no need to make any situation bigger than it is. No matter if it’s the first or ninth inning of a game.”

He’s got a point. Not every year is going to be perfect. Last season was an anomaly. Yet, the expectations this year are higher for a club that hasn’t won a championship in over a 105 seasons and then ended the drought. This season’s been a reset button like campaign.

Should we have expected more out of this season, the Cubs and a back to back World Series? It’s a difficult championship to win, there’s no question about that. The fact is that the Cubs have been progressively the most watched team in the game. From the way that they draft, their management, and their players. Baseball is a game of statistics and there’s no question that other teams have spent more time studying the “Cubs Way” more then their own team trying to answer the question of, “Why are they so good?” last year, nobody quite knew how to play against the Cubs. This year is different. Every team has one team to study, the Cubs have 29.

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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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