The Cubs Are Happ-Y With Maddon’s 1000th Win

Ian Happ

There are those kind of people that you’d like to invite over for a BBQ have a few drinks and listen to their stories till the birds start their chatter in the early morning. Joe Maddon is one of those folks on my bucket list of invites to come over for that BBQ. Yesterday, the Cubs helped him achieve that 1000 win milestone in their 9-5 dismantling of division rivals Cincinnati Reds. The Cubs looked like the Cubs and the bats were in full home run mode as Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell, Ian Happ and Kyle Schwarber each contributed large in honouring their manager’s big accomplishment.

“To the players who have been a part of this, I want to say, ‘Thank you,'” Maddon said. “You don’t do it without the players.”

The weather and the mood was both right for the win. Wrigley Field with the wind blowing out was all it took. A thought occurred to me during last night’s game. Is the Cubs uneven spring due to the kid’s nervousness of just winning a championship?  It could be just that and as the summer moves on, it’ll sort itself out.

I hope.

Then there’s Ian Happ. The kid with the old school style name. He sounds like a call up that would have fit nicely in the 1908 World Series team. His home run last night was his second home run in just three games.

“Two walks and two strikeouts today,” Happ said. “Can still get better, but for me, being disciplined, swinging at strikes … is part of my game, especially in that situation — with Wrigley bumping like that.”

So yesterday the Cubs played like they were defending champions. The good news is that they’re finding their ground. Kyle Schwarber is hitting again and Willson Contreras has been incredible this season. However, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t a hint of worry in the minds of those guys who sit in the back offices or sipping craft beer from the suites.

“There’s no panic, but there’s also a lot of guys in there who care about playing up to our capabilities, which is one of the reasons I have so much trust in this group and a lot of confidence that we’ll get it straightened out,” Epstein said.

He’s right. There’s no need to panic. I look at it this way, Cubs fans are used to losing. So, while the Cubs are going through their growing pains, us fans can relax a bit knowing that there’s been a lot of years between championships. This is the year that there’s no “Always next year” Judging from last night’s victory, I agree with Epstein. Things will be ok.

“That’s not going to last at all,” Epstein said of the club’s slump at the plate. “We have a ton of supremely talented offensive players, and they’ll reach their level by the end of the year and the back of their baseball card will look like they always do.”

Perhaps I’ll fire up the grill just in case Joe drops by.

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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 Bring The Bats, Help Lackey

Chicago Cubs

The Chicago Cubs are somewhat of an oddity this season. They’re not overly good like last year, but they’re not too bad either. If that makes sense? Yesterday, they evened the series against Boston with a 7-4 victory. Then there’s the connection with the World Series teams with John Lackey, Koji Uehara and Dustin Pedroia. That’s quite a connection between these two franchises.

Out of all the pitchers on the Cubs staff, the one I’m worried about the most is John Lackey. Yesterday, the Cubs bared their teeth at the plate, but in the true John Lackey fashion of unpredictability, it was the pitcher that bit the hardest.

“If it’d been the first time to leave somewhere, it would’ve been a little different,” Lackey said. “I was just trying to win a game.”

The game worn face of the veteran hurler argued a call to the umpire. In a move that would likely have thrown every other pitcher out of the game, there seems to be a certain respect (or is that fear) from the umpires for Lackey.  In the end, it wasn’t a pretty game that Lackey threw, giving up four runs and eight hits but the Cubs earned him the win. That’s the kind of game you’re going to get from Lackey.

On the other end of the plate the Cubs have Miguel Montero. I like Montero and he’s kind of stepped up into the David Ross role on the team. Although, he complained about the way he was used in the playoffs, and I totally disagree with him; he hit a grand slam for Pete’s sake! Montero is a good hitter who comes through in the clutch. Yesterday, he did just that with a game tying home run in the seventh inning.

If Miggy Montero is a great clutch player, the one player who might finally get his due this season is Anthony Rizzo. The unofficial leader of the team hit his sixth home run of the season in a two run shot in the fourth inning. Rizzo is overdue for an MVP season and I believe this year is his year for that to happen.

The tandem of Rizzo and Kris Bryant is a throwback to a bygone era like Ruth and Gehrig, Mantle and Maris. There will always be the debate of who’s better but there’s no denying that with Bryant and Rizzo at the corners for the Cubs, they’re the ones laying the foundation for Chicago’s now historic 2016 team. The image is forever engraved in the minds and imaginations of baseball and Cubs fans everywhere the final out in game seven of the World Series. They are the Tinkers to Evers to Chance of a new millennium. The smiling face of Bryant and the ball tucked in the back pocket of Rizzo. That’s what baseball is all about. The culmination of a year’s worth of hard work, team spirit and camaraderie. Anthony Rizzo should win MVP as sure as God made green apples.

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Despite Cubs Loss, Rizzo Keeps The Streak Going

Chicago Cubs

The Chicago Cubs couldn’t play “Comeback Kids” again as the Cincinnati Reds defeated the North Siders 7-5 yesterday. They put on a good show and Anthony Rizzo keeps his streak alive with three home runs in his last three games.

“You just play baseball really,” the Cubs’ first baseman said. “You just hit balls where they’re not standing. You go through the process. It’s no different than not getting any hits.”

As we all know, baseball is such a streaky sport.

In a strange game which showcased the aging talents of John Lackey versus Bronson Arroyo, the elder Lackey pitched a frustrating game

“Yeah, I don’t care about the series right now; I’m pissed,” said Lackey. “I felt like I definitely pitched a lot better than the numbers are going to show. Two of the first three runs were a couple of balls that kind of fell in on me. And I really didn’t give up a whole lot of hard contact. What are you going to do?”

This was his third start that he lost. I don’t know, I think Lackey needs to move down in the order but he’s so competitive that I wouldn’t want him to get mad about that.

Even though the Cubs won the series, it’s good that they’re finally coming around but they should have controlled that game better. The Reds had an aging pitcher.

The Cubs won the series but now head to Pittsburgh to face the Pirates. The last time these two teams faced each other, the Pirates swept them.

The Pirates don’t have Starling Marte (much to my annoyance in my Keeper League) so the Cubs should be all right.

“I have nothing to complain about. You go into another city and win the series. We’ll take it.” Joe Maddon said.

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Cubs Come Roaring Back, Dominate Reds and Take First Place

Willson Contreras

I’m not bragging here, but yesterday’s 12-8 victory over the Cincinnati Reds was the kind of win I’m talking about. That dominating offensive juggernaut from the North Side came roaring to life with home run contributions from Wilson Contreras, Jason Heyward and Anthony Rizzo.

“The ball was absolutely flying,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “These balls were well-struck, don’t get me wrong, but the ball was definitely in the air and it was gone.”

What really stood out in the win was contributions from guys like Heyward and Contreras, heck, even Jake Arrieta hit the ball well. The Cubs can’t always leave it up to Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Ben Zobrist to get the job done.

During the offseason, Heyward worked hard on his swing and so far this season, it’s working.

“His whole setup is different, how he’s starting the bat,” Joe Maddon said. “He is much more active with his hands throughout the swing process, and that’s why you are seeing harder contact. Less arms, more hands, that’s how I look at it. It’s been very effective.”

We know how good he is in the field but with the absence of Dexter Fowler, Heyward has to lead a young outfield but he also has to replace the bat of Fowler as well.

“The good signs are getting hits, being able to be aggressive in the strike zone,” Heyward said. “Solid contact, consistent. Home runs are going to happen, but it’s not going to happen if you’re not doing that stuff.”

So, let’s shift over to the pitching of Jake Arrieta. If last season was a come down period for the former Cy Young winner, then this year is his comeback season. The rotation as a whole has been a little shaky but so far, Arrieta is 3-0 and yesterday’s victory he pitched five innings striking out 8 batters. It wasn’t pretty but,

“We’ve had some hiccups, but we’ve been picked up by our offense,” said Arrieta, who gave up five runs in six innings. “As starting pitchers, we have to take advantage of our offense.”

If they’re taking advantage of their offence, then the Cubs are back in first place in the National League Central where they belong, the Cubs could be on the roll that they need. John Lackey will take to the mound today before the Cubs go to Pittsburgh in another key divisional matchup.

 

So here’s your chance to jump on the Cubs bandwagon don’t worry, there’s plenty of room for everyone. It’s hard to figure out how folks can suddenly cheer for teams. It could be birthright, you know, generations of long suffering fans. It might be that of location and hometowns.  I’m the Canuck Cubbie, I wasn’t born in Chicago but came across the Cubs while watching WGN when it was available in Canada. That was many moons ago. When WGN ceased to exist up here, I subscribed to MLB.TV. We’ve been to Wrigley Field and followed the team whenever they play near us.  We try to have Opening Day parties when we can and celebrate everything that is good about the Cubs and great about baseball. If you are new to the game, I encourage you to read up about the history and most importantly, take a trip to Wrigley Field, it’s a 12 hour drive for us but it was so worth it. Cubs fans are amazing. A Chicagoan we talked to a couple years ago was amazed that we drove so far to see them. He lived around the corner from Wrigley! “You came all the way from Canada?”

Yes, we did.

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Bryzzo Souvenir Company Adds Another Gem To Collection

Albert Almora

The Chicago Cubs certainly have a flair for the dramatic. In extra innings, the Cubs defeated the Cincinnati Reds 6-5 after an Anthony Rizzo 3 run long ball to tie it in the ninth. Their, “We do not quit” motif is some serious stuff this season being their third straight victory in a come from behind way. If it was Anthony Rizzo in the ninth, then it was Kris Bryant with the sacrifice in extra innings.

“You never think home run,” Rizzo said. “These guys do pitch me up-and-in a lot. Off the bat, I thought, yeah, but the wind was kind of strong. I thought it might be a long single if it hit the top of the wall.”

Have the Cubs turned a corner after a not so awesome start to April? I hope it’s true, but how much longer can they sustain their, “Comeback Kids” moniker?

“That’s what we always say, the comeback kids,” Rizzo said. “In the ninth, we’re saying here comes the comeback. It’s a good feeling to know none of these guys quit. It’s a cliché, but it’s true. We know we can score at any given time.”

I have to admit, I do like the entertainment of watching them comeback in late innings, although nerve racking in many ways, it gives it that post season vibe, I just get the feeling that they won’t be able to sustain the momentum for long. Awe shucks, perhaps it’s just my inner pessimistic Cubs fan rearing its ugly head.

The are many things I’m certain of but when it comes to the Chicago Cubs, these are the best days to be a fan. They’re exciting, thrilling and of course the World Series team of 2016 have a seat reserved in Cooperstown. Now, the team could be better than last season only because of the close games and the “Bryzzo” factor. These Cubs have personality just not one or two superstars but an entire team that contributes each game.

Speaking of the Bryzzo factor, catch David Ross’s last adventures as an intern with the Bryzzo Souvenir Company

In many ways though, the Cubs got lucky in those come from behind victories. Their pitching hasn’t been solid, Lester gave up 5 earned runs. It’s not hard to figure out that if the pitching isn’t there, then no matter how many hits the team gets (unless of course, they score runs) the teams not going to win. The Cubs have to get their rotation going.

“Would like it to go the other way, being up early, but a win is a win,” Cubs starter Jon Lester said. “When you come back, it always makes it a little bit better.”

You can tell through Joe Maddon’s thoughts on the “Comeback Kids” that he too would like to see a more viable and solid play of his squad.

“I’m OK with that identity, but I’d rather do it in more conventional means,” he said with a smile. “It’s what we talk about. We just don’t quit.”

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