Cubs Down 2-0 in NLCS. Head Back To Wrigley

If the Chicago Cubs go on to lose the NLCS then it’ll be on Joe Maddon’s shoulders. There I said it. I say this after the Cubs were downed by the Dodgers 4-1 and now the Dodgers have a two game lead going to Chicago on Tuesday.

Sure, Kris Bryant‘s bat has gone silent, in fact, the rest of the team has been quiet in this series. Nobody can blame it on stellar pitching because both rotations have been in a state of flux. The fact is that Jon Lester should have stayed in for another inning or even a couple more outs. Carl Edwards was good for another few outs and well, Brian Deunsing was pitching really well, so I don’t quite understand what went wrong there? Oh wait, I’m sure everyone’s scratching their heads over the use of John Lackey. The guy has never pitched back to back games in his life.

“I really just needed him for the save tonight,” Joe Maddon said. “He had limited pitches. It was one inning only, and in these circumstances, you don’t get him up and then don’t get him in. So if we had caught the lead, he would have pitched. That’s it.”

Now, I’m glad Wade Davis wasn’t used, he’ll be fresh for Tuesday at Wrigley Field. Here’s hoping it’s cold in Chicago and Yasul Puig’s tongue sticks to the bat. Any recommendations of a rule change to aluminum?

“It’s their guys versus our guys,” Addison Russell said. “We’re playing to win. I feel like the competition just steps up a little bit because each pitch is more crucial, each swing, each play. An error can be the deciding factor of winning or losing. A bad pitch can be the decision of winning or losing. That’s really what I like about it.”

It’s really going to come down to the Cubs scoring more runs and Maddon not playing hot potato with his bullpen. Kyle Hendricks gets the start on Tuesday. He’s well rested and he needs to put up a performance for the ages, at least seven innings. Carl Edwards Jr relieves him and then it’s Wade Davis’ turn to shine.

“All you’re focused on is making pitches,” Hendricks said recently. “That’s my job and it never changes — no matter regular-season game, postseason game, no matter who you are facing on the other side of the mound. My focus is to go out there, make good pitches, rely on my preparation which I’ve done all year long. But when it comes down to it, when those lights turn on, you just have to execute pitches better than the other guy.”

The Cubs have been down in a series before and fought back, we know this and we know the results. They needed that win in LA, but not all is lost. They win three at Wrigley and take one back in LA. Easy Peasy, right? Bill Murray will be there to cheer them on and the momentum is clearly in the Cubs corner.

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Exhausted Cubs Take One On The Chin, And A Bill Murray sighting.

We knew going into the NLCS that it wasn’t going to be a cake walk. The Los Angeles Dodgers had an amazing season and of course, if it wasn’t for the first half, the Cubs would have given them a tough go at first overall. Last night’s exhaustive 5-2 loss came as no surprise.

“[The Dodgers] won 100-plus games for a reason,” the Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo said. “They have a really good bullpen. It’s just about bringing those guys into the strike zone. They don’t really have guys who give in.”

Neither do the Cubs. There is good news about yesterday’s game. If the Cubs play their cards right, they probably won’t have to face Clayton Kershaw again, although we know that nothing is written in stone.

Two things that did the Cubs in was the play at the plate where Willson Contreras allegedly blocked the plate, it was the right call but it wasn’t done intentionally. Both players were doing their jobs. Unfortunate yes, but the Cubs should rebound tonight.

Why?

Jon Lester.

“I have all the faith in the world,” Joe Maddon said. “You have to trust your guys. You have to trust the conversation and I do. Jonny said he feels great, so Jonny’s pitching. And furthermore, this time of the year, these kind of battle-tested guys under these circumstances — they look for these moments.”

I do too. The Cubs were beat because of their thrilling series to the Nationals. They were exhausted beyond compare and up against the well rested Dodgers, it was inevitable that the Cubs lost game 1.

“Right now, I think the biggest difference is we have to get our bullpen in order,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “That’s probably the biggest difference between both seasons — that we have to be able to hold small deficits or small leads in the middle and then hopefully get to [Wade Davis] in a positive situation. I think standing out right now, their bullpen is pretty firm, and we have to really get our feet back on the ground.”

Tonight is what I’d call a do over. Lester is a competitor and a pro. A big difference in the outcome.

Oh, that other thing that beat the Cubs was the weirdness of Yasiel Puig. His bat flip was justified but I think he’s a pariah to the Dodgers. In a post game interview, Puig said it wasn’t his first career post season home run, when in fact, it was.

Ah well.

Hey, recognize this guy?

Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling, people standing

He was spotted near where I live in Kingston. The pizza joint is called The Pizza Place    Now, it’s always thrilling seeing Bill Murray in the crowd at Wrigley and I’m assuming that he’ll be there when the series returns home.

Tonight, 8 O’Clock the tides will turn in the series.

“It’s a series, so we just have to come at it the same way and just not panic, really. Just go in with the same mindset and just be ready [on Sunday]. I think we’re going to come in here with clear minds and an upbeat attitude and ready to get after it.” Addison Russell

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National League Central Division Champions!

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For the second straight year, the Chicago Cubs are National League Central Division Champions. Of course, nothing means more than the World Series but this is huge because it’s their third straight year into the post season and as any Cubs fan will tell you, that doesn’t happen that often. After beating the St. Louis Cardinals 5-1, the Cubs popped the corks off of the champagne, and as has become a tradition in our family these last few years, we’ve binge watched the Chicago Cubs in October.

“We had a lot of things that were not easy about this year, starting with guys naturally being fatigued, but you also have the fact that every team in our division played well this year,” Jason Heyward said. “It’s one of those years when you have to do everything right to get it done. We had a lot of growing to do this year.”

Sure, the blame was put on to World Series hangover during the first half of the season, but I’ve maintained that they struggled during the first half because other teams studied them hard and adapted to the Cubs style of play. That’s how they got beat. The second half revealed that the Cubs were just a good ball team and guys like Javier Baez, stepped up his play and really plugged up the middle while keeping his mighty bat going.

“Without Javy being here when Addy got hurt, it would not look the same right now,” Joe Maddon said of the Cubs’ position in the standings. “I promise you it would not look the same. The ability to plug up the middle of the field the way Javy has done in the absence of Addison, we would not be in this position right now.”

If the Cubs took everyone by storm last year, then this season was learning how to keep the momentum going and adapting to winning ballgames. If you look at the statistics, there’s no leaders this season, it’s been a total team effort.

“We’ve created a culture here where it’s win or bust,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said as he got splashed in the face with beer. “We’re not supposed to be here. I know on paper we are, but after a championship season, the numbers, the studies, the stats show we shouldn’t be here. People don’t do this. We’ve done it, and it feels good. And we’re in a good spot going into the postseason. We’re rolling.”

I’d love to see a dynasty forming with a repeat winner that isn’t named Yankees.

It’s exciting times to be a Cubs fan. There’s even a film coming out based on David Ross’s book, “Teammate” where none other than Bill Murray is tapped to play Joe Maddon. I mean come on, who else could do that role justice? The only question that remains is, who is going to play Bill Murray?

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Cubs Magic Number is 1

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The Chicago Cubs magic number is 1. It’s awkward that the Cubs are late to the party,  being the last team to clinch their respective division but that’s where they sit after cruising to a 10-2 victory over heated division rival St. Louis Cardinals.

“This team is a proud, wonderful organization with one of the best histories in all of Major League sports,” Joe Maddon said of the Cardinals. “There’s nothing that will come easily when you play against St. Louis, especially when you play here.”

When the Cubs play in St. louis, you can bet that it’ll always have that special playoff atmosphere.

Jon Lester looked better in last night’s win, he’s looked off since coming off the DL but last night, the Cub’s ace was sharper.

“I felt better,” Lester said after the game. “Command could have been a little bit better, but I’ll take the good out of that game. Little bit sharper today than it has been in a little while. That’s good. Moving in the right direction.”

The direction the Cubs are looking will be their third straight season in October. Now, if you haven’t been following Chicago’s famous North Siders, this is a big thing. Three straight seasons playing October baseball and oh yeah, you can throw in a World Series in the mix there as well.

“It’s starting to smell like playoff baseball. I know these guys are amped up. You can see throughout the night, it seems we were pretty aggressive in the zone. It’s definitely feeling like playoff baseball, and Jonny Lester was great tonight.” Addison Russell said.

Speaking of Russell, the Cubs star shortstop almost got a tip for delivering a fresh tray of nachos after up ending a fan’s snack when he dove into the stands after an errant ball.

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“You don’t get in front of a man and his nachos,” Russell said.

So, with playoffs just around the corner, the Cubs are looking to hone their skills before the post season begins next Tuesday. The Cubs are defending champions and there’s a lot of teams gunning for their title. Teams like LA Dodgers and Cleveland whose still hurting from last October’s thriller.

“We’re excited,” Lester said. “We’ve been playing good baseball since the break. Everybody in here is excited, everyone is playing well, everyone feels good about themselves. This game is such an up-and-down game, you think you’re going good one day and the next day you can be brought back down. Everybody’s feeling good now, riding that wave. Hopefully, we can continue to play good baseball as we move toward the postseason.”

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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 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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