Cubs Sweep Braves, Head Home To Face Cardinals

Mike Montgomery

So, there’s been a dramatic change in the second half and the Chicago Cubs have been leading the way. Yesterday, the Cubs swept the Atlanta Braves in an 8-2 victory. Yeah, the Cubs are feeling pretty darn good about themselves after sweep. It’s six games in a row and have become baseball’s hottest team next to the Dodgers, who by the way have extended their streak to 11 games.

What?

“We won six in row, and we have this momentum,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “I guess, synonymously, the vibe has been different. The vibe and energy has been great, and I want to see that continue.”

Of course you want it to continue. As fans, we want it to continue. If this were say like four years ago, this would be an amazing season, we’d be rejoicing that they’re four games over .500 and 1 1/2 games back of first in the Central Division, but this is the Cubs circa 2017, World Series Champs, so no, we’re not settling for that mediocre first half. Right now, at this time, the Cubs are playing like champs.

All right, so Mike Montgomery hit his first home run. I love it when the pitcher goes yard.   It validates the importance of pitchers hitting in the National League and adds that extra excitement to the game.

“I was happy about that. I got done pitching and came back in here and the ball was at my locker,” Montgomery said with a smile before getting serious. “The All-Star break was great for us. Since we’ve been back, there is a great vibe around here. We’re not too worried where we are in the standings, but we’ve been playing really good baseball.”

On a down note, the Cubs are worried about Kris Bryant after he left the first inning with a strained pinky finger sliding into third base. The good news is he’s listed Day-To -Day so he’ll be back in no time.

“I was kind of scared to look at my finger, and I was like, ‘Uh-oh,’ as this never ends up good,” Bryant said. “I don’t think anyone slides into someone’s foot and walks away from it. That was my initial reaction.”

The Cubs have an off day today but head home tomorrow to play heated rivals, the Cardinals. It’ll be their first home series since the break and a chance to unwind. They have momentum going into the series.

“We’re all on the same page,” Addison Russell said. “We’re all-in. We’re back to playing some Cubby baseball. Aggressive, having some fun and winning some ballgames.”

Perhaps that was the problem of the first half, they were missing the “Fun” part of the game.

“It is going to be great to get back home, and it is probably going to be hot,” Cubs outfielder Kyle Schwarber said. “It is going to be a lot of fun, as the bleachers are going to be packed, I’m sure.”

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Cubs Continue Their Winning Ways

Chicago Cubs

Chicago Cubs’ Willson Contreras (40) celebrates with third base coach Gary Jones as he rounds the bases after hitting a three-run home run during the third inning of the team’s baseball game against the Atlanta Braves on Tuesday, July 18, 2017, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

It’s inevitable that the Cubs will catch up to the Milwaukee Brewers. After their 5-1 win over the Atlanta Braves, the Cubs are only 2 1/2 back of the Brewers but still 5 1/2 out of the Wild Card spot.

Last year was a breakout year for Addison Russell and while he’s slipping into a groove, it’s been Willson Contreras that’s having a banner year and last night he contributed once again with another home run proving he’s a tour de force with the Cubs.

“[Contreras] is really turning into a leader,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “He was very upset with himself when he hit into that double play his first time up. But he comes back and hits a three-run homer after that. He is definitely turning into a force.”

There’s been some concerns over John Lackey‘s pitching but last night he proved yet again why after 15 years in the League, he’s going to finish on his own terms, which is exactly how he plays the game. Last night, he went five innings only giving up one run. Not bad and definitely not warranting a trip to the bullpen where aging pitchers go to graze.

“I like having him out there for those reasons,” Maddon said. “The stuff is still really good, but the heart is even bigger, and that is a benefit to us.”

That’s where the difference is with Lackey. He gives it everything he’s got when he’s on the mound. From his opinion to his fast ball, he lays it all up there and I believe that this season the Cubs need him more than ever. He’s anchoring that pitching staff who aren’t so young anymore but he’s a battler and that’s what the Cubs are going to be doing for the remainder of the season.

“Really, I had one bad start in my last five as I got beat up pretty good in Washington,” Lackey said. “I felt like I made some adjustments in the last few weeks, and hopefully that can translate to the rest of the season.”

The Cubs still have a long way to go to be where they were last season. Sure, a five game winning streak is something special but on the West Coast there’s the frustrating LA Dodgers and their 10 game winning streak. For me, the NLCS was one of the greatest series I’ve ever seen. I’d love to see a rematch. Of course, I’d love to see the Cubs beat them again but right now, they’re not in the Dodgers league. If the Cubs sneak into the post season, they’ve got a tough road. Fortunately, there road is getting smoother, it almost feels like the first half was part of an extended Spring Training and the Cubs are finally building off of last season’s success and with Kyle Hendrick‘s return next week, it’s looking really good.

“I felt so much more comfortable than in my first start,” said Hendricks. “I felt right out there facing hitters, and felt mechanically right. My rhythm felt good, and I executed many more pitches. Now I feel confident and ready to go.”

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Cubs Chase The Blues With Jon The Revelator

Jon Lester

The Chicago Cub’s fourth win in a row could be classified as the equivalent of a do over. After their 4-3 victory over the much maligned Atlanta Braves(I don’t know what it is about that team that I despise but I do) the Cubs have been almost forgiven for their ugly first half of the 2017 campaign.

Let’s talk about Jon Lester for a moment. He didn’t pitch a gem like Jose Quintana but compared to his last start, which will not be mentioned again at the Canuck Cubbie, it was a beauty of a game and restored his reputation as one of today’s great pitchers. There’s an old blues classic, “John The Revelator” by Blind Willie Johnson that’s as much of a biblical tale as it was awesomely featured in Sons of Anarchy. If the Cubs can manage to turn it around, it would be  of biblical proportions.

“There have been some things in the last couple of starts that haven’t felt right, but I was able to get my body to repeat better tonight,” Lester said. “My stuff had a little bit more crispness to it than in the last couple of starts. That is a positive and I will build off of that.”

The guy even notched a stolen base!

So the Cubs are in a good place right now. last year in a way, they weren’t really challenged by anyone but at this point in the season, the Cubs are 5 1/2 back of the wild card behind Colorado. It’s more exciting to see them play catch up then to dominate, all though my finger nails are down to the nibs.

“I like where we are at right now, and I think we are coming into the second half rested,” Maddon said. “Guys are getting over injuries, and we haven’t run anybody into the ground, as the pitchers are in good order, too. It is a lot to like right now, and every team goes through that good moment. Hopefully we have gone through the bad one and we have a lot to look forward to [for the remainder of the season].”

As the Cubs look towards their fifth straight victory, John Lackey will take to the mound and man, I don’t feel all too confident about this start. We know Lackey’s reputation. The guy makes me nervous.

“He is a guy that, even if he struggles early in a game, he gets better as the game progresses,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “Beyond any physical number that you can look at, don’t underestimate how competitive he is, and that is what I am really looking at.”

Yeah he’s competitive but has that inane ability to implode in a game when things aren’t going his way. I wish it were Kyle Hendricks coming back tonight.

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Quintana Delivers The Goods in Cubs Debut

Chicago Cubs

In the Chicago Cubs quest to reclaim the National League Central title, they went out and made a splash for Jose Quintana. Well, he didn’t disappoint in his Cubs debut with an 8-0 series sweep over the Baltimore Orioles.

Sometimes a change does a player good and in this case, Quintana struck out 12 and in a way, recharged the Cubs. Leave it to Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo to send the balls into orbit, each contributing two run homers to pad the lead over the Orioles.

“He could really be a big boon to us,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “We grab a lead, and he pitched really well with the lead. There’s no messing around, there’s no walks, there’s no bad counts. He made them put the ball in play, and he’s punching guys out. He was burying the curve and elevating the fastball. He was doing everything well.”

On the offence, the Cubs have finally been putting up big numbers. They’ve put up 24 runs in the last three games with two shutouts. With an easier second half to the season, are we more likely to see these big numbers continue? It’s no time to roll out the parade because even though the Cubs stymied the always dangerous Orioles, they have too much ground to make up on their quest too reclaim the throne.

“It’s not just me, but I think everyone needed it, the rest was needed,” Willson Contreras said. “Everybody looks focused, everybody looks like they have a plan and an approach. We’re not wasting time, we’re attacking pitches.”

If this is a sign of things to come in the second half, then the Cubs are in a prime position.    Their one game over .500 may be temporary especially if they don’t get the pitching back from their rotation but the Cubs showed some brilliance in their series with the Orioles.

“I feel happy when I get run support,” Quintana said. “Every time, it’s good for us, good for a starting pitcher. Mentally today, the last game [of the series], it was good to sweep the series and just keep going. We have to keep going and stay hot.”

That was the problem during the first half, either the pitcher dominated or there was runs but hardly ever did the two meet in each game. We witnessed in the last series, the melding of the two and suddenly, the Cubs are looking more like last year’s winners.

“He was really good,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “I really liked his routine on the mound. Did you notice the big breath and then the delivery begins after that? Tremendous focus per pitch. That’s what I took away from it. And then he’s able to execute. He had a really good curveball, was not overusing it, using it at the right time. More than anything, I liked the method. Deep breath, then he goes into his delivery. He has a nice method.”

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Cubs Wake Up From Hibernation

Chicago Cubs

There’s no denying it, the Cubs needed the rest going into the All Star break. They had to restart their batteries, regroup and do whatever they had to do to propel themselves into the second half. Last night’s 9-8 offensive output over the Baltimore Orioles was a welcomed relief and a much better indicator of what the team can do but it was also a sign of what they lack.

“It would’ve been very difficult to lose that game, I will not deny that, but we didn’t; we won it,” Maddon said. “You take a break, you play catch a little bit, and they’ve been throwing a lot in the first half. It’s one of those catch-22 moments. We got through it.”

It’s been a busy week for the Chicago Cubs. Some of it not so good when it came to the All Star game. Not only was Joe Maddon on the losing side but Wade Davis ended up giving up the winning run. If anyone was keeping score, Davis not only was the only representative of the Cubs but he wasn’t even on the 2016 World Series winning team! After the All Star game, I joked to my wife about the Cubs curse continuing almost like Sianis was calling down from the skies,”All right that last curse didn’t count so here’s another one!”

Then the Cubs made a huge trade in acquiring Jose Quintana from their crosstown rivals the White Sox, the Cubs gave up some minor leaguers. Quintana is expected to be in the lineup tomorrow and folks, I don’t know yet whether I’m excited about this or not?

“It’s over and that’s good,” Quintana said of the trade rumors. “It’s a fresh start. I just want to do my job and make the playoffs. I’ve never been to the playoffs and I have a good chance here.”

It’s a chance for both teams to make a fresh start. Last night’s five home run attack was the start of something special. In fact, what made it so special was the guys who hit them. Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist, Addison Russell and Willson Contreras. With the exception of Contreras, the other guys have been either injured or having a less than stellar season. I’m confident that Addison Russell has replaced Dexter Fowler in the, “You go, we go” department. He’s the kid the Cubs need to bolster the offence.

“The first half is a wash for me,” Schwarber said. “It’s just [a matter of] going out there and getting back to competing and focusing on my at-bat and focusing on the team at-bat and focusing on the team, period. We started off on the right foot — this is a big one for us, right there. We faced a little adversity and we were able to come through and it’s a great feeling.”

Like last season’s game against the Pirates going into the break, this one’s going to be the turning point of the season.

Now, if they can just tweak that ability to hold a lead, we’ll all be fine.

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Cubs End First Half The Right Way

Chicago Cubs

There’s always something unfair in sports. There are winners and losers. It’s definitive and decisive in the results and yesterday, the Chicago Cubs had their definitive ending to the first half of the 2017 season in a 14-3 loss to their division rivals Pittsburgh Pirates. It was a poignant score at the end of the first inning, a 10-0 inning chasing exit for Jon Lester.

“I think people just want to get away, get away from this, get away from the grind. [The Cubs’ record] is not for a lack of effort, it’s not for a lack of preparation. It is what it is. Take four days to regroup, refresh and show up Friday ready. I think the big thing for us is to play good baseball, play solid baseball. Forget the record, forget the batting averages, our ERA, and just get back to playing good sound baseball. The talent on this team will speak for itself.” Lester said following the game.

This is true. of course their record doesn’t fully represent what this team can do. Just like any other sports cliche but that one applies to the 2017 Cubs. They’re good, we know it and they know it. So what happened to them in the first half? Well, lets’ see:

These are just a few of the low lights that have occurred so far this season with the Cubs. If this were any other season or any other Chicago team, fans would be staying away from Wrigley’s sacred ground. The truth is that people still believe in them.

“I’m still very confident,” Maddon said. “I believe in our guys and I’m eager to see us coming out of the break.”

If this were any other year, big changes would be happening. Maddon would be out of a job, trades would happen but this is the Chicago Cubs. They’re World Series Champions and possibly poised to be World Series Chumps if they continue playing the way they’re doing.

The fitting end to the first half couldn’t be better. Last year, the Cubs faced the Pirates in the series before the break, and it signalled a turnaround to their mini slump. They went on a tear after the All Star break and never looked back. Could this be the same?

Of course it’ll be one of the greatest turnarounds in professional sports history. I can read the headlines now:

“The Chicago Cubs Win The World Series After Posting Sub .500 first half” It certainly can happen with someone like Joe Maddon in the dugout. They have an easy schedule. Perhaps Cubs fans were so used to losing that we forgot how to get used to winning?

“If I had a reason, I would’ve fixed it out there,” Lester said. “Unfortunately, it’s never a good time to have a bad start. I really don’t know — I don’t know what to say to make it better, to give you a reason. It kind of speaks for itself. It’s embarrassing.”

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Cubs Split With Rays

Jon Jay

Yesterday’s game continued to show the good and the bad of this year’s Cubs. In their 7-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays, it was the Cubs rookie Ian Happ hitting a two run single that boosted the Cubs past a tie.

“It was a more complete game,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “We were down 3-0, but I felt good about it. It’s just that things weren’t going our way. That batted-ball-in-play statistic has to come back to us at some point. The ball’s been hit hard but at people. We’ve got to keep fighting through it.”

Then along comes Jon Jay with his second home run in, well, a long time. The Cubs have struggled all year for reasons that have become perennial head scratchers after the success last year. The two things that haven’t been struggling is Happ and Jay. Now, I’ve got this theory that it has something to do with Joe Maddon. He’s been great with the young guys, especially last season but this year the team isn’t quite so young. They’re veterans now and perhaps that’s Maddon’s achilles; he’s not as good with veterans. Perhaps the Cubs shouldn’t have won last season.

So the All Star break is coming up and unlike last season, the Cubs are kinda watching from the dugout. Wade Davis the only representation besides Joe Maddon and Kris Bryant might get the vote in but in reality the Cubs haven’t deserved the right to appear in the annual classic and I’m all right with that. It’s not as much a popularity contest as it is showcasing the best of the best. While Anthony Rizzo is putting up decent numbers, the Cubs just aren’t there this season.

“I cannot dispute that,” Maddon said. “So many went last year. The last two years have been long years. Our guys have been going after it pretty hard. I’m not disappointed in regards to that.”

The Cubs had seven players in the classic last year. So maybe this is a good thing that will build momentum in the second half. There’ll be some key players returning from injuries, Jason Heyward is back and Kyle Hendricks is poised for a return soon. Whatever happens to the Cubs in the second half, the results will be good. This year is kind of like a team building season. How would they deal with a championship or is this the beginning of another century drought?

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