Cubs Have Finger Hovering Over Panic Button

Kyle Hendricks

You know I’m going to write about the positive takeaways in the Cubs 3-0 loss to the Rockies. You know that I’m going to send raves Kyle Hendricks way even though he was charged with three earned runs.

“Just one of those days for us,” Hendricks said.

That about sums up the Cubs woes this season. In fact, it’s been an up and down year for the North Siders. It could be the World Series hangover affecting their season or other teams have caught on to their system. I don’t know.

“You saw the more awkward swings against Kyle today,” Maddon said. “You saw the taken strike, the swing and miss, so he was looking a lot more normal today than he has in a while, and especially here against this team. I thought he was outstanding.”

For the most part he was but in the end, the Cubs are 17-17. I can’t help but feel frustrated for Maddon and the Cubs. For the players that are struggling, he puts them in the leadoff. Last year they had Dexter Fowler. Yesterday, they switched up Kyle Schwarber for Jon Jay and the result was less than stellar. Jon Jay went 0-4. I feel they should just stick with one batter but the problem is that the batter in question is Schwarber. He’s not a lead off hitter. I like the guy and he struck playoff magic after almost a year off from the game. He’s destined for the American League.

“[Ben] Zobrist would be the likely candidate,” Maddon said. “Then you start stacking lefties, which is what I don’t want to do. It feels good this way. It’s not about Schwarber hitting leadoff, he’s just not hitting like Schwarber yet. That’s all.”

Will the real Schwarber show up? Listen, I’m not trying to be hard on the team but their .500 showing so far is not indicative of the kind of numbers this team is capable of putting up. We all know that. Or is it?

There’s a new kid in town Jeimer Candelario and he’s hitting cleanup. The kid went 0-4 which is to be expected until he finds his legs.

“He was playing that well in Triple-A,” manager Joe Maddon said. “It’s not an anomaly. We’ve seen him in Spring Training, we saw him last year. He can be a very, very good player. I’m very comfortable with him in the cleanup spot. Switch-hitter; his OPS is 1.000 on both sides, or better. He’s off to a good start in the season, so why not?”

Why not? The Cubs might have to mix it up and be unpredictable. Sure, I’d love for them to head back to the big game but I’d love even more to see them just as competitive as last year and provide the kind of awesome baseball that they’re capable of playing.

“This is our worst baseball right now,” Kris Bryant said. “Not hitting the panic button at all. We know the talent we have here. It’s exciting. We’ve had a tough schedule here, long games, rain delays, that can affect you, but excited to have an off day and get back to it.”

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Cubs Rockie Road in First Game. Lackey Dominates Second Game

John Lackey

The Chicago Cubs played a double header yesterday and despite the win in the second game, it was the first game that struck the ire of me. The Cubs lost game one by a score of  10-4. It was a mess. Before I go into detail, the Rockies are really good this season which hasn’t been that way in a long while. That being no excuse, the Cubs are in a whack load of trouble in 2017.

“They hit some balls really well, others they dropped it in front [of the outfielder],” Joe Maddon said. “You have to play such a big outfield here, it’s so large. They just have good at-bats. They’re really good offensively.”

The Cubs lost four in a row after that first game. They’re no strangers to slumps but their dominance is showing cracks in that World Series winning machine. The normally sure footed Javier Baez threw the ball away during one play and Jake Arrieta got lit up.

“They’ve got one of the better offenses in all of baseball, especially at Coors Field,” Arrieta said. “They hit for a significantly higher average here. That’s just a testament to their ability to play to their home park and have a good approach. I wanted to come into this game and establish strikes with all my pitches. I did it pretty well — almost too well with too many hittable pitches, really.”

Then there was the second game…

John Lackey looked like John Lackey in the game. It was almost cringe worthy having Lackey follow Arrieta’s performance but Lackey rolled back the clock, dug his heels into the mound and delivered one of his finest performances. He struck out 10 and had seven goose egg innings in a Cubs rout 8-1 over the Rockies.

“That was outstanding,” Maddon said. “He really picked us up. We needed that kind of a start. We’re used to getting that kind of starting performance from our entire staff, so hopefully he’s going to set the tone moving forward. It was really fun to watch. He had a really, really good breaking ball, slider today and commanded everything.”

The one thing I’ve learned is that pitching is everything. It’s my favourite part of the game and yesterday’s double header showcased the best and the worst of the craft. Yeah that’s right, pitching isn’t a sport, it’s a craft. A goaltender can stop pucks on sheer will and reflects but a pitcher can control a game based on the history of each individual standing before them.

The two games were polar opposites of each other. No matter what kind of positive spin Joe Maddon can put on the Cubs this year, there’s no “We don’t quit” or “You go, we go” anymore. The honeymoon phase is over for the Chicago Cubs. They need to win the World Series this season and have to right the ship or both Epstein and Maddon will not see the end of their contracts. I’m not being cynical or anything but there might be a new curse on the horizon, “The Chicago Cubs will never win back to back World Series again”

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Cubs Stay Up All Night

Wrigley Field

In trying to gain internship into the Bryzzo Souvenir Company Kyle Schwarber leapt into the crowd to attempt a thrilling catch and give Anthony Rizzo a run for his Rizzo Wrap prize. That was just one of many thrilling plays in the epic 18 inning marathon heartbreaker which resulted in a 5-4 loss for the Chicago Cubs.

“How about that play? It was very Derek-esque [Jeter],” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “I’m just worried about him hitting the wall. That’s all I was worried about. Of course, you’d like to see the guy make the play, but you also want to see him walk back to his position. Tremendous play.”

It was a tremendous play but in the end, the Yankees ended up with the sweep. Another thrilling moment occurred when Javier Baez fouled a ball off of his foot. It looked like he was in a lot of pain but then the amazing happened and next pitch he sent it into the bleachers to tie up the game in the third inning.

The ballgame set an MLB record with 48 combined strikeouts, for the uninitiated, that’s a lot. Yet, despite the game which rivalled the World Series Game 7 thriller, it’s worrisome to think that the Cubs are struggling so much this season. After last season, the club looks mortal. Sure, their bullpen has settled into a nice groove but where’s the dominance that was so prevalent in their historic 2016 season?

“A crazy game. It would have been nice to have won it. We lost two crazy games against these guys on this homestand. What are you going to do, man? Just move it forward.” Maddon said.

They have nothing left to do but move forward. The Cubs sent the game into extra innings in the ninth against Aroldis Chapman. It gives me a little satisfaction to see that after all the negativity after last fall’s classic.

“To come back and get those [runs] against Aroldis, bully for us,” Maddon said. “That was some really great at-bats right there culminating in a hit by pitch. That’s not easy to do, to get three runs against that fella under these circumstances.”

It’s easy to say, “Let’s move forward” or put whatever other spin the team puts on it but the truth is that the team is struggling. They’re keeping their heads a float and for the most part it’s great they’re getting this slump out of the way now but I have this nagging feeling that the chances of a repeat are going to prove very difficult.

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Cubs Need To Pour A New Cup of Coffee

Anthony Rizzo

We all get into habits and ruts. This daily routines that we feel quite comfortable in  doing, and sometimes are very good at doing. Take for example my coffee making abilities. My culinary skills are reduced to canned baked beans, grilled cheese, Kraft Dinner and having Gabriel’s on speed dial. That’s it, that’s all. What I’m very good at is making coffee. I am locally renowned in having the unique ability to take a generic Costco brand 2lb bag of organic java and turning it into roaster’s paradise.

For years, I’ve been using those throw-a-way paper filters. The coffee’s been great with those filters with the exception of the hit and miss batch of brew. One morning, I ran out of filters and scrambled around looking for something to use in the interim. I was panicking! As I frantically tossed around those useless items in the cupboards, I found the mesh cone filter that came with the Cuisinart machine. When the beeping sounded on the machine, what I poured into my Chicago Cubs mug the one my son made me that is so awesome, was the best coffee I ever had. It was rich and flavourful and filled with all the goodness java has to offer.

Mug

The point is that yesterday’s 11-6 loss to the Bronx Bombers was ugly. There’s no denying it or putting a positive twist on it. It was bad. How did the World Series champions go from last season’s dominance to this year’s borderline mediocrity?

“We need to get in a groove,” Miguel Montero said. “I think the whole team needs to get in a groove. For the hitters, for the most part, we’ve been coming from behind. First inning, they score some runs and it’s hard to come back all the time.”

What the Cubs need to do is have Jason Heyward pull them aside in their new Wrigley digs and give them a pep talk. Change it up a bit. If they can put Miguel Montero in to pitch, there’s room for that special kind of creativity that Maddon is so inclined to pull out of his New Era.

“Whenever the backup catcher gets more outs than you, it’s not positive,” Brett Anderson said. “You need to figure some things out and get healthy and get some more people out going forward. It’s as simple as that.”

Yeah, that’s how awful a situation the Cubs were in yesterday. The Cubs rotation has to go deep into the games. That’s all there is to it. If it’s a cliche to say that they have to start playing Chicago Cubs baseball, then that’s what they’ll have to do. Deep into games, move the runners and change up the order. Then again, if that was the simple recipe, then every team would be playing well.

It’s a lot like the simple routine of brewing coffee. I changed filters and discovered a whole new richness to my morning cup of coffee.

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Cubs Treat Castro Like a Starlin

Chicago Cubs

The Cubs were one out away from winning the ballgame. It was a game celebrating the contributions of Starlin Castro and the presentation of the rings to Aroldis Chapman and Adam Warren but like I said, the Cubs were one out away from sealing the deal. Instead, the Cubs lost in the ninth to the Yankees 3-2 off a home run by Brett Gardner.

“We were short in the bullpen,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “That was [Rondon’s] game. From the side, it looked like really good stuff. It’s an unfortunate choice where he threw it. That’s probably the only pitch that Gardner could’ve hit out, and we gave it to him, and that’s what happens in our game sometimes. Otherwise, I thought he had a good fastball and made some good pitches.”

If there ever was a game that got away from the Cubs, it was yesterday afternoon’s heartbreaker. Kyle Hendricks pitched a beauty of a game going scoreless after five innings. It was the kind of game Hendricks needed in order to get back on track after a slow April lowering his ERA to 3.51

On the other side of the ball, Jason Heyward turned a couple of double plays in the first inning and the sixth inning. Heyward is one of the elite players in the league with the glove.

“You try to do what you can,” Heyward said. “You try to be in the right spot at the right time, and expect the worst out there.”

But the day belonged to Starlin Castro. A standing ovation and a chance to honour the shortstop that ushered in the new generation of Cubs players. Sure, he might not have won the World Series with the club, but his contributions (sometimes gaffes) cannot be denied.

“I think it’s a really emotional day for me to come back here, to play against the team that gave me my first opportunity to be a baseball player,” Castro said. “I feel happy to get here and compete against them.”

Castro has blossomed with the Yankees. That makes me feel good because I remember that home run he got at his first At Bat all those years ago. He’s a true example of a player that just didn’t fit into a team’s plans.

“I’m a big Starlin fan and really enjoyed our time together,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “I was really impressed with him based on how he was so accountable. I love that in any player, any human being. When we took him out of the shortstop role without any specifics, he didn’t cry, didn’t blame anybody.”

Not putting the blame on anybody has put Starlin Castro in a tie with Mike Trout for most hits in the American League.

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Cubs Never Quit

#ThatsCub

With their tenth come from behind victory of the season in a 5-4 13th inning thriller at Wrigley Field, the Chicago Cubs may not win over a hundred games this season, but their resiliency is charging a path through the league. Albert Almora Jr. whacked a double in the extra innings and then ran home when Phillies Freddy Galvis committed an error.

“When Szczur hit the ground ball, you have in the back of your head, like, what if something happens?” Almora said. “He could beat it out and if the first baseman’s not paying attention, I could score. It was in the back of my head.”

It wasn’t just Almora but Miguel Montero hit a clutch home run in the eighth inning to tie the game.

“I hit the ball good, but the wind was really weird,” Montero said. “I didn’t know what to expect and next thing I know, the ball is in the basket. Basket — amazing basket when I hit, but when I’m catching, I hate it. As soon as the ball hit the basket, I slowed down. I never thought I had a chance to hit it out. I got lucky.”

The Cubs got lucky the whole game. How long can they maintain these come from behind victories? It seems to be working for them now but in the dog days of summer, it’s going to be a different story altogether. Injuries will happen and teams will adjust.

This weekend marks the New York Yankees return to Wrigley Field. It is therefore fitting that the “Love them or hate them” duo of Aroldis Chapman and Starlin Castro will make their return to the Friendly Confines. It’s also fitting that the duo play for the much maligned Yankees.

Listen, I like Starlin Castro. He was my son’s favourite player for the longest time. I remember watching the game and when my son was playing something around the house and Castro would hit one of his memorable home runs, I would yell and my son would come running from wherever he was playing. Castro just didn’t fit into the Cubs plans and that happens. I’m glad he hitched onto the Yankees. By The Way, my son likes the Yankees now.

“I can’t wait to go over there and hear from the fans the first time they announce me,” said Castro.

Aroldis Chapman is another entity unto himself. The hard throwing hurler may not be the nicest individual off of the field and Cubs fans, myself included, took exception to his off field incident which is unacceptable behaviour. That being said, when the Cubs honour him with his championship ring it will be well deserved. He delivered on the field for the team and should be honoured appropriately for it.

On the subject of Chapman, I want to applaud the efforts by the Canadian Football League recently in their handling of Justin Cox. In a statement issued by the CFL,  Commissioner Jeffrey Orridge implemented zero tolerance on domestic violence for Cox. This is a tremendous stance and a first for a professional sports league.

Well done,

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Cubs’ Contreras Comes Through in Sixth

Willson Contreras

Just like their amazing World Series run, the Cubs came from behind this time to shock the Philadelphia Phillies 5-4.  Despite the Cubs uneven April, they’re starting May off with a different kind of poise.

“That was the theme last year — that we never quit,” Cubs starter Jake Arrieta said. “If we still have outs left, if we’re looking at a deficit, we still feel confident we’re not completely out of it. With our lineup and the ability to string three, four, five quality at-bats together at one time, there’s a chance to score multiple runs in one inning. Us establishing that we can come from behind early in the season in April, moving into May is a big boost for us.”

It’s not a matter of never quitting, I don’t think. The Cubs are a talented group of players that just find ways to utilize those talents and move forward in games. Whether it’s the youthful exuberance of Willson Contreras or the mostly stoic Arrieta, the Cubs have those soft skills to go along with the mechanics of the game.

“You plug into this guy,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “As he learns to play with his hair on fire — maybe not a forest fire, maybe just the burning bush or something, I don’t know — he’s going to learn how to control all that.”

Of course he was talking about Contreras’ two run double that fuelled the comeback.

“Willson is savvy enough to know a ball hit up the middle like that to the shortstop’s left, he was anticipating a throw to first base and he continued to come around,” Maddon said. “We got lucky — that ball hit right on the back of the mound.”

Now, there are two kinds of managers in the game. There are the kinds that would shun a heads up daring run that Contreras did in the sixth, opting more to play it safe and keep Contreras at third but with the speed of Willson it was a no brainer. The other thing to think about is he could have easily been out at home. It all came down to luck.

“By the time I was going to home plate, I saw the catcher going for the baseball and I tried to get around the base, and I did,” Contreras said.

So, John Lackey takes to the mound this afternoon to try and win the series. We all know that the rotation’s struggles are showing cracks. It’ll be up to the order to pull out the stops. With every game, I’m convinced more and more that other teams have finally caught on to the Cubs. If Chicago’s going to do any damage this year, they’ll have to dig down deep and show just how good they can be.

“Our guys are good, they’re well, they’re going to continue to pitch better,” Maddon said. ” … They’re going to pitch very similar to what you’ve seen the last couple of years. I really 100 percent believe that. In the meantime, let’s keep moving it further along.”

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