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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Cubs Get Embarrassed By Braves

Chicago Cubs

There’s no other team in baseball that’ll be glad for the All Star Break then the Chicago Cubs. They’ll be thankful for the much needed rest. Last night in a makeup game against the Atlanta Braves, the Cubs lost 4-3 in extra innings.

Some might say, “They played a hard fought game” or “It was close” but of course, they’d be fooling themselves into thinking the Cubs were in the game. They didn’t stand a chance against the Braves. The Cubs were down 2-0 until the 8th inning when both Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo got hit and took their respective bags. After Ben Zobrist connected with an RBI double and Willson Contreras lined a triple, the Cubs were back in business taking a 3-2 lead.

This is the Cubs remember?

Atlanta bounces back to tie it and send it into extra innings. Folks, there’s no way the Cubs should have lost that game. They’ve now lost three in a row and dropped 7 of their last 8. There’s certain teams you can’t lose to. The Reds, Braves and let’s throw in the A’s (Ok, let’s not say the A’s because I like them but you get what I mean.) There’s something terribly wrong with the Cubs right now. They’re not a bad team but the cracks in the cement at Wrigley Field are getting bigger and bigger, so much so that my mother’s back is getting sore.

It’s frustrating because Jason Hammel pitched extremely well but left the game in the 6th inning due to a hand problem. The Cubs are still the Cubs but I’m starting to think that maybe this mighty 2016 team hasn’t paid their dues just yet. They got off to an incredible start and it seemed like every other team has caught on to their dominance and figured them out.

“It was a tough game. We fought back and did the little things. We have to think about tomorrow now. This is in the past, it’s over. We have to think about Pittsburgh.” Willson Contreras said.

Well Willson, you should have blown out the Braves. You should have went in with the attitude of,”Welcome to Wrigley Field this is how we get things done now go back to hot freakin’ Atlanta you don’t belong on the same diamond as our amazing team”

The Cubs aren’t going to be thinking about Pittsburgh. They’re going to be thinking about the long ride and encouraging words from manager Joe Maddon. Hell, they might have a pyjama day on the plane and when they get to Pittsburgh there might be some magic tricks and some Lemurs to pet.

My family and I are making the trek down from our nook in Canada to Pittsburgh for Sunday’s game. We’ll be 20 rows back of third base. The slump will end.

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Cubs Get Help From Bill Murray

Bill Murray

Just as the Chicago Cubs lost horribly to the Atlanta Braves on Friday, on Saturday they showed the pure power and strength of the team in their 8-2 victory.

Their big guns were out in full force as Miguel Montero hit a three run crusher, Anthony Rizzo bombed one out for a souvenir and Jason Heyward destroyed the corked leather. Let’s not forget Kris Bryant‘s two runner as he displays his (much in the future) Hall of Fame resume.

Who were they behind?

Jake Arrieta. Yeah that’s right, he collected his 10th win of the season and that wasn’t all. Arrieta also showed off his hitting with two hits.

Oh yeah, he struck out 12 too.

“I wanted to come out today with a conscious effort to be aggressive early because I know teams are taking against me early in the count, hoping to get ahead and make me come into their zone,” Arrieta said.

Sure, personal accolades are always cool but in the end, baseball’s a team sport and no matter how well Arrieta or the other players do this season racking up homers, strikeouts and other stats, the only column that will count in the end is the win.

The great news is that Anthony Rizzo is getting his game back with a home run. When he’s in the lineup and healthy, the team captain is one heck of a game changer.

“Just read the lineup — it’s like when you read a novel, when it’s missing a paragraph or a chapter,” Joe Maddon said. “When you put his name in the lineup, everything looks different. … The other team looks at it differently, so it’s very important to have him in the lineup.”

It’s funny that although Arrieta and Ben Zobrist lead their respective categories in Wins and OBP, the Cubs are at the top of the pack with their 42 victories. It shows right there how well this team has gelled and makes for a potentially long October month.

It’s no secret that Bill Murray is probably the most famous and disputably biggest fan of the Cubs so perhaps his attendance in the dugout yesterday contributed to the victory.

“Obviously, he’s a good luck charm,” Maddon said. “Murray is so into what we’re doing. I think the players grabbed some energy from that. It’s definitely not a bandwagon situation. These guys are legit.”

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Cubs Stunned By Braves

Dexter Fowler

There are days when a 41-18 team look mighty invincible, and then there are days when they’re mere mortals. Yesterday was a day that the Chicago Cubs looked “Normal” after a sting defeat to the Atlanta Braves 5-1.

Even though Jason Heyward  is an incredible defender, there’s a reason why he’s not up there with his pal, Dexter Fowler in the All Star voting, and that is because you have to be good on both sides of the plate. Heyward went 0-4 with three strikeouts. Now to be fair, the Atlanta Braves, with whom I have such great disdain for which could go back to my days when I was a kid and reruns of Family Matters were pre-empted to bring you Braves baseball on TBS.

I don’t like the Braves.

Cubs’ starter Jason Hammel was out pitched by Braves starter Bud Norris, who pitched a really good game.

“That’s baseball — baseball’s a crazy game,” Hammel said. “On any given night, any team can win. A lot of people say you’re only as good as the starting pitcher on the mound that night, and he was better.”

Or it could be a case of David stunning Goliath which heaped some high praise from Cub’s Manager, Joe Maddon.

“I mean, the guy just pitches really well whenever I’ve seen him,” Maddon said. “I’ve not seen him pitch poorly, ever, I don’t think. He should actually paste my picture underneath the bill of his hat.”

It’s these kind of losses that worry me this season. Yeah, the Cubs are still 9 games in front of their arch nemesis St. Louis Cardinals and well ahead of the pack in the Major Leagues but to lose to a team that has less than half of the wins is not so much embarrassing like Hammel said it’s a crazy game, but they should dominate those games.

Hey, it’s great to see Chris Coghlan back with the team. He made his debut Friday and is a welcome addition to the club. He’s an amazing player who can fill various roles with the Cubs. I remember he was pretty bummed when the Cubs dealt him in the winter.

“When you have relationships with friends and you haven’t seen them for a while, then you see them and you smile and hug and it feels like you haven’t skipped a beat,” Coghlan said.

He was a huge part of last year’s 97 win campaign and now with injuries to Jorge Soler and Tommy La Stella, the Cubs could use the familiar face.

“It’s amazing how things work out,” Coghlan said. “It was crushing for me and my family. The best thing about the whole thing is I get to come back here. It’s the best team in baseball.”

It’s almost like they’re getting the band back together

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Cubs Lose in Extra To Braves

John Lackey

 

That was a close game. Even though the Cubs lost to the Atlanta Braves in extra innings 4-3, it was exciting. You can’t win them all, right?

“We did a lot of things well,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “We had one mistake on defense, and I thought it was a little bit of a tough hop for Addy, but otherwise, they hit some balls well today, and we hit some balls well today without any luck. I appreciate how our guys came back and had a chance to win the game. It was another entertaining game from the fans’ perspective. I like the fight in our group.”

Listen, I’m not a huge Atlanta Braves fan, Never have been and never will. I don’t know what it is about them that turns my stomach, but there’s just this “Blech!”feeling overtime I watch them play. It could be all those years on TBS. I don’t know.

Now that John Lackey is with the good guys, I’ve had more opportunity to take a look at him and man, he’s earned my respect. He’s tough as nails, especially after those few choice words he said to Tyler Flowers in the bottom of the fifth inning.

Ok, so to recap a bit, Lackey threw a high pitch and then there were a some words exchanged that were the equivalent of Potty words that my son would say.

“We had a little discussion,” Lackey said. “It’s still baseball. I’m not a pitching machine. If you want me to throw it over the plate for you, we can go somewhere else. This is the big leagues.”

Lackey’s a big guy. He throws me a pitch, I’m going to say,”Which way would you like me to move, sir.”

The great news was that Kris Bryant was back after a precautionary rest when he sprained his ankle. I got a little worried that he might be out of the Cubs lineup a little longer.

“Felt good,” Kris Bryant said. “I think that was their concern, if I could run down some balls out there. But I felt fine going through all the routes.”

Cubs take to the road and head to Pittsburgh in an apparent theme trip. I’m excited because we head to Steeltown in July to catch the Cubs/Pirates.

Joe Maddon has the players dressed in crazy suits and it’s certainly going to be a crazy series after last season’s Wild Card game and we all know how that ended, didn’t we?

“I think we all enjoy going there because we know we’re going to play a high-quality team,” said Arrieta, who will start Tuesday’s game. “We know that in order to beat these guys, we’ve got to be on top of our game, we’ve got to play good defense because we know their lineup is strong. They’ve got the ability to do a lot of things — they can run, hit for power, they can move guys around. Being able to neutralize that team in Pittsburgh is a challenge.”

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