Cubs Take It On The Chin In Pittsburgh

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The Chicago Cubs have had a couple of games where they racked up the score in the double digits against the opposing team, so yesterday’s 12-0 shutout victory was maybe karma coming back to bite them in the behind. The real nail biter was an early exit from Jake Arrieta with a hamstring injury.

“He felt pretty good afterwards,” Joe Maddon said. “He started to loosen up. He was able to go through the delivery motion like he was unable to out on the field.

“Even when he was apparently hurting a little bit, he was still going through all the stuff, stuff I can’t do. He’s putting his nose on his knees, doing other things, and I thought, ‘OK, it might be a cramp.'”

Otherwise the game went from bad to worse.

You know things are bad when position players fill in to pitch, just ask newly acquired Leonys Martin.

“I was afraid to hit somebody,” Martin said. “I was trying to throw the ball over the plate.”

It’s not like it hasn’t happened before, there was the John Baker game where it was a success but more times than not, it’s because of some catastrophe or a bullpen saving thing.

It goes to show you also what happens when guys like Javier Baez sits out and how much they mean to the team.

“My thumb is kind of jammed a little bit, so I’m taking a day off and I’ll be ready to go [Tuesday],” he said before the Cubs played the Pirates. I told the doctor about my thumb, but we were obviously worried more about the head, the contact. So today it’s pretty swollen. I’ve been icing it. Hopefully I’ll be ready [Tuesday].”

I’ve been harping on the easy schedule thing for a while and while I’m not trying to be negative but I’m leery about them heading into the post season. The Cubs should, in a perfect world, be able to handle teams like Pittsburgh even without their regulars playing. The Dodgers and the Nationals are going to prove to be too much for the Cubs to handle. Of course I could be wrong, the Cubs are known to provide some playoff magic.

Today, Kyle Hendricks gets the nod on the mound, and North Side’s favourite Professor hopes to not disappoint. He’s been playing exceptionally well and maybe, just maybe he might be the spark for the Cubs heading into the post season.

“His velocity is back where it needs to be, and now there’s a difference between fastball and changeup,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s looked every bit as good as he did last year [when Hendricks was 16-8 with a Major League-best 2.13 ERA].

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Cubs’ Baez And Lackey Roar In Victory

I’m going to get a lot of flack for saying this, but John Lackey is not a great pitcher.

Anymore.

The one thing he is good at, in fact he’s down right awesome at is coming through when it counts. He’s a tough Texan and we all know how tough those Texans are, that he probably sat in the dugout or the locker room or in rush hour traffic and thought to himself, because he would never, ever give one of those locker room speeches a la J Hey. No, Lackey would simply say a four letter expletive tied in with a “If I have to carry these SOB’s on my back to win another trophy, damn it that’s what I’ll do”

Even the Umpire’s reconsidered an outside pitch after Big John shook his head at them because they fear him too.

Yesterday, the Cubs beat the Braves 2-0, they’ve won five straight and are 9-1 when Lackey starts.

“You definitely feel that what you’ve been working for is around the corner, but you have to keep working, keep pushing,” Lackey said. “It’s not there yet.”

What? This is exactly the reason the Cubs brass brought Lackey into the fold. When it counts, he wins ballgames.

So does Javier Baez. He got off to a rough start early in his career but has matured every season. Take yesterday’s dash to home after a Kyle Schwarber hit; it’s those kind of plays that are going to help the Cubs a lot going down the stretch. Baez has turned into one of the most dynamic players in the league.

“To be a good baserunner, you have to anticipate in advance,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “You have to see things. I’ve compared it to a good running back in football. They talk about how he sees his blocking schemes, he sees his holes. [Baez] sees things that most other guys don’t see in advance of the moment. He just has that quickness about his mind when it comes to a lot of things on the field.”

He sees things and acts quickly. It’s a gift that is a refreshing change from the hitter’s game of about 15 years ago. I’ve always stressed that in the playoffs, small ball reigns supreme. Baez’s ability to move on the bag will someday earn him accolades.

“He’s got all of that in his bag of tricks,” Kyle Schwarber said. “It’s fun to watch — you see him make the backhand in the hole or steal home or whatever it is. It’s a lot of fun. I know it’s fun for everyone else to watch. We’re wowed as well.”

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Cubs Win Fourth Straight. Bryant Sets Franchise Record

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I don’t know what it is about the Atlanta Braves that I find so unappealing. I guess there’s one team that every sports fan doesn’t like. In the NFL, it’s the New England Patriots and in the NHL, it’s the Anaheim Ducks. So, it gives me great pleasure to see Kyle Hendricks and the Cubs defeat the Braves 6-2 but most importantly, Kris Bryant is now the first Chicago Cub to hit 25 homers in his first three seasons.

“He’s been playing through all kinds of nagging injuries,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of Bryant, who has dealt with ankle, wrist and hand injuries this season. “Give him credit. He’s an everyday player and he comes to play. Even if there’s no hits on a particular day, there’s been good defense, great base running, all the other stuff he can do to help you win a baseball game. That ball was really killed [for his homer] — that wind was firm.”

That’s the kind of player Bryant is. He plays through the pain and has quietly become a co leader with Anthony Rizzo to be the faces of the team.

The thing that was so impressive with the victory was that the Cubs didn’t feel like they were playing their best ball. Take Hendricks for instance, his last victory was that 17-2 shredding of the Phillies, but last night he felt a little “Weird”

“From the start today it was one of those days,” Hendricks said. “Uncomfortable. Felt weird. Command was terrible. My timing was off. I wasn’t staying over the rubber well. Today really the guys just made the plays behind me and scored enough runs.”

That’s what the game is about too. Sometimes it’s the pitcher doing all the work and other times it’s the team backing them up or in the rare cases, it’s both working together to pull out perfection. One of the cool things that Hendricks has in his repertoire is his ability to throw to first. He’s quick and accurate. I like that a lot about his style.

“He’s one of those guys who’s able to hold the ball and throw accurately to first base with quick feet,” Maddon said. “It might sound simple, but it’s not. It’s hard to get pitchers to hold the baseball sometimes.”

The Cubs are in a good spot right now with their fourth straight victory. Will we see the Champs cruise to another World Series?

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Cubs Set Franchise Record in Anhilation of Pirates

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Part of me wants to end the post right here. A 17-3 humiliation of the Pittsburgh Pirates is a rare feet but scoring 17 runs in two games less than a week apart, well, that’s just down right weird and awesome. Let’s just get things a little clear here too; when Cubs pitchers start getting RBI’s, good things happen. Jose Quintana did just that and look at what happened?

Then there’s Ian Happ, the rookie who now has 20 home runs and joins the club along with Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant Javier Baez, Kyle Schwarber and Willson Contreras. It’s a tired old cliche, but the Cubs record doesn’t reflect their play since the All Star break. Well hold on now, that doesn’t make sense because they’ve been getting the wins but they’ve been playing like they should have 90 wins, if they played this well before the break.

“We have a lot of good hitters here, a lot of young guys who have learned a lot and are putting good swings on the baseball, especially on a night when we get 20 hits and score 17 runs,” Happ said. “We had a lot of good [at-bats].”

I think too that last night’s victory showed that the Cubs can do all the right things on the bags when they want to. Stealing home, Happ attempting that triple, although caught and more at home in a Little League game but that’s the kind of things the Cubs need to do if they hope to recapture that crown again.

Then there’s Baez stealing home, wasn’t there a film made of that? It’s probably one of the most thrilling plays in the game and none other than Baez could pull that off with flair.

“We had a safety squeeze,” Baez said. “It was the same error as last year [in the NLCS]. We practiced today in early work, and even doing the early work I was going to the plate too fast and breaking to the plate pretty fast. I think on the play [Quintana] squared the bunt too early. I reacted early, too. I was making sure that didn’t happen again and it did.”

Is Happ a rookie contender? I think he should be in the conversation. No other Cubs player has hit that milestone in fewer games.

So, what about the player’s weekend jerseys? my wife and I agree that they should replace their current third jerseys with those from the player’s weekend. They’re sharp looking and heck, why not keep the nicknames on the back?

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Cubs Dominate Pirates

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The Cubs are coming alive at the right time of the season. It may seem like a broken record to say that and perhaps it’s true, but after last night’s win over the Pirates 4-1 at Wrigley Field. Jake Arrieta did a workman like approach to the game, not his greatest but  not his worst.

“There was a little bit of frustration in the first half with the way things were going. I might have focused on the results a little too much rather than just focusing on trying to execute and refine my repertoire. Now, where I’m at, I feel confident that even if I don’t have my good stuff and if I’m without two pitches, the two pitches I do have are more than enough to get the job done.” Arrieta said.

Of course there was a little frustration with the first half of the season. All around the Cubs weren’t getting the job done. In fact, the National League Central is the weakest in the National League. A division which last year was a powerhouse, has fallen on hard times with its uneven play this season.

Things have changed in the second half of the season, although much of that success is attributed to a weaker schedule, the Cubs find themselves 11 games over .500 and a possible berth in the playoffs.

Guys like Ben Zobrist and Alex Avila are coming through when it counts.

“It felt great,” Zobrist said of his homer, No. 10 for the season and his first at Wrigley Field since June 11. “I’ve been driving the ball more the last week or so. It wasn’t cheap either — drive the ball to the middle part of the field and hope that something good happens. Everything felt really good on that.

Don’t forget that home run on Saturday coming off the bench.

I’ve maintained it all along, it’s the guys at the bottom of the rotation that’ll get the work done for a team. The Cubs may not achieve 100 wins this year but if they play their cards right, it’s not unthinkable to reach in the high 80’s.

Would it be a failure?

Naw, last season surprised the experts but every team has crafted their playbook around the Cubs and are prepared. If the Cubs advance to the post season, and there’s no reason they won’t unless they have an epic Red Sox collapse    .

The Cubs will have to maintain their  poise throughout September and into the playoffs.

Believe it.

 

 

Cubs Beat Pirates and Reflecting on Philly

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It could be the easier schedule the Cubs have been playing since the All Star Break but as the old saying goes,” We’ll take it” as the North Siders downed the Pittsburgh Pirates 6-1. Give Mike Montgomery credit for filling in for the injured Jon Lester, they’re big shoes to fill but he delivered big 0 through seven innings.

“I’m going to assume I’m going to be asked to start again,” Montgomery said. “If it changes, it changes. I’ll be able to adjust from there. I let them know, ‘Hey, I’ll do any role.’ I feel comfortable. For now, it’s just coming to the park tomorrow and get my work in and be ready to go.”

The Cubs are in a playoff race and now are 2 1/2 in front of the Brewers. It’s hard to say if they’re on a roll or not and with Lester nearing a return, will they stick Montgomery in the bullpen or add a sixth spot to the rotation?

“I’ve been in different roles this year,” said Montgomery, who subbed earlier this season and was making his 10th start of the year. “You’ve got to look at it and say, ‘Hey, I get to start for the Chicago Cubs and it’s going to be a fun day.'”

So, our family travelled to Philadelphia this past weekend to see Kyle Hendricks and the Cubs demolish the Phillies. It was a great trip, a beautiful city and yes, we ran the Rocky steps.

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The park is really cool and I have a gut feeling that there were just as many Cubs fans as there were Philly fans(no offence, Philly). One of the most special parts was seeing Kyle Hendricks pitch. Throwing eight strikeouts and collecting a couple RBI’s was extra special.

It was dubbed our “Cubs Weekend” because we scooted over to Cooperstown to pay homage to the 2016 champs.

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Of all the trophies, this one has to be that much more special. That was a great moment in history and to see it up close with  2016 World Series Champions chiseled into the base was amazing.

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The Hall of Fame is so great. Whether it’s the drive along the lakes or reflecting on a bench in the gardens of the great hall, it’s like a time warp of those special moments, not just of baseball but in your life.

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Cubs Give Solid Outing But Fall Short

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Sure the Cubs squandered a 2-1 lead going into the eighth inning to eventually lose 4-2 to the Reds but on there were some great signs of life in a performance by Jake Arrieta.

“I felt like I had good tempo, really good sequences,” Arrieta said. “The only trouble I got into, I got out of in the fifth (after the first two batters reached) by making some really good pitches. In the sixth, I tried to do a little too much, tried to overthrow and missed some spots.”

I’ve always been hit or miss with Arrieta. He was brilliant when he won the Cy Young, but faltered a bit the following season. He’s a good if not great pitcher but inconsistent. He’s having a good year, and that’s great for the Cubs but there’s so many better pitchers in the game.

So, the Cubs lost and really it could be tagged onto that attempted steal in the ninth by Jon Jay. It was a poor decision but hey, you have to try, right? Suck it up and come the next game.

“He went on his own,” Maddon said. “He’s thinking they’re playing behind. He’s thinking they’re not going to throw. They did.”

One thing I’ve learned in my years of watching baseball is that they’ll always have those mistakes. It happens.

So, I’ve got these mixed feelings about Player’s Weekend  

Kind of on the fence with this one. I’m not totally convinced it’s going to work, It could be a novelty thing or a marketing grab. It’s for the kids which is great but more likely a marketing opportunity to squeeze out some more cash from us unsuspecting blokes. We’ll be in Philly tomorrow to watch Kyle Hendricks and the Cubs and I’m looking forward to that. We hope to get there early and snag an autograph or two.

Maybe I’m cynical about the whole idea, but in the end it’ll be fun and give fans a chance to be more personable with their favourite players.

“Miami is the city that raised me,” Jay said. “I have a lot of pride in that city. I learned a lot of life lessons there that made me who I am today.” on his 305J nickname.

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