Welcome Home, Chicago Cubs

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There was a huge difference in the attendance between the White Sox and the Cubs home opener. The noticeably empty seats at the White Sox(ok, ok, it snowed and was cold) compared to the 40 000 + soaking up the sweet cold air at Wrigley Field to cheer on their North Side heroes. The good news is they played a game, the bad news is they lost 8-5 to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Javier Baez kicked off Opening Day in style with two home runs. Along with Ben Zobrist, the two have quickly become the players to watch this season.

“To be honest, I was trying to hit the ball on the barrel and not get jammed because of the weather,” Baez said. “I stayed short to the ball. The second at-bat [in the fifth], I came back to the old at-bats against him. He got me, but I got him back again.”

The Cubs are playing .500 ball so far and that won’t sit too well in most fans books, I mean you can make all the excuses in the world but excuses won’t change the score. The Cubs have missed opportunities and yeah, Anthony Rizzo is injured for a bit but there’s plenty more baseball to come. I’m just happy Opening Day arrived and baseball is officially back at Wrigley Field.

“I felt I had really good stuff today and they were able to foul it off rather than get weak contact outs or something, so they did a good job of that,” Tyler Chatwood said. “They’re hot right now. It seemed like whenever they put the ball in play, good things happened for them. You’ve got to be able to get out of that.”

He’s right about that. Pittsburgh is playing extremely well and could give the Cubs a run for the National League Central title.

“We didn’t play badly,” Joe Maddon said. “They hit the ball well today. They’re swinging the bats really well right now this early in the season, so you have to give them credit.”

So, I think it’ll take some juggling the lineup, warm weather and a healthy lineup to change the Cubs’ course. .500 ball isn’t bad, but then again in a season where the Blue Jays are 8-2, the Cubs record isn’t all that great.  Last season, the team kicked it up a notch in the second half, but we know that they ran out of gas in the playoffs. Maybe it’s just the optimist in me but I think the Cubs will be just fine. Once they get their swing, it’ll be lights out. Nobody said they were going to win over 100 games this season.

Baseball’s back!

Believe it!

 

Cubs Ready For Home Opener

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Two things happened in yesterday’s 3-0 shutout of the Milwaukee Brewers. One, Jose Quintana emerged as a solid ace in training and Ben Zobrist is the best Cubs player this year, he could become the David Ross of 2018.

“You look on paper and [the Brewers] have predominantly right-handed hitters against him,” Maddon said. “That doesn’t bother ‘Q.’ If ‘Q’ is executing his stuff, righties or lefties, he’s pretty good. The guy is so focused going into the game. His work is so good. He likes being here, he likes pitching here. I think you’re seeing the best side of Jose.”

We are. It can only get better.

“We have really high expectations,” Quintana said of the Cubs. “It’s really good when you start winning at the beginning. We talked a lot before games. We want to do good things this year. We know it’s a long season but this month is really important.”

So far, the Cubs have looked a little weary from being on the road, so it’s exciting anticipating their return to Wrigley Field today. It’s fitting that they’re the last team in the majors to roll out their home opener, hey with a place nicknamed the “Windy City” it’s no wonder, I mean April baseball isn’t always the most heartwarming thing on everyone’s mind.

It is one of the most exciting days of the year. It’s an opportunity to sit back and enjoy all that’s good. Sure, it’s going to be cold but for me, there’s very few things that are up there with baseball at Wrigley Field.

“It’s just different when the game starts and you have the adrenaline going, sometimes you don’t notice how cold it is,” Kris Bryant said. “We have plenty of heaters and hand warmers and all the other stuff. We should be fine.”

Anthony Rizzo wants to play in the opener. In fact, it feels almost not the same that he might not be ready today. He’s the Cubs’ Micky Mantle and their leader. So, I’m going out on a limb to say that there’s a good probability we might see him sneak in an At Bat today.

“I want to play (Monday),” Rizzo said. “But at the same time, you’ve got to be smart. You can’t play (Monday) and set myself back five to six days. We’ll see how it goes. (Sunday) will be a big day to see how it really feels.”

The past few years have been night games and it’s made the home opener much different. Today, it’s at 2:20 EST and let’s face it folks, baseball is best played during the day.

“Don’t let anyone say that it’s just a game, I’ve seen other teams and it’s never the same. When you’re born in Chicago, you’re blessed and you’re healed the first time you walk into Wrigley Field

—Eddie Vedder

I wasn’t born in Chicago but walking onto Wrigley Field takes lines off faces and replaces them with smiles. It truly is a magical place. We’re watching from Canada but we’ll be there in spirit cheering on the Cubs while clearing the BBQ for the year’s first taste of glorious Italian sausages with peppers and onions.

This is the year that the Cubs are going to win the World Series at home in the place where it belongs.

Believe It

 

Cubs Shut Out Brewers In Style

Cubs 8, Brewers 0

Nobody can say that, “It’s only April” anymore, the Chicago Cubs and the rest of the league are well into the 2018 season. Even though the Cubs/ Brewers series seemed a little lopsided on paper, the Cubs weren’t going to take anything for granted, especially their newish arch rivals. Last night, the Cubs opened the series with an 8-0 destruction of the Brewers.

“When you make mistakes on defense and the other team takes advantage, it normally does hit you in the solar plexus a bit,” Maddon said. “Javy’s had that kind of experience on the bases. He’s always heads up. If you watch him, he’ll look behind as he’s running to see what’s going on. Going back in the day, you’d see [Willie] Mays do that a lot. [Baez] has got extraordinary instincts on the bases.”

There were a lot of miscues and mistakes that the Cubs took advantage of especially Javier Baez who can read plays like very few can in the MLB. It helped a bit when the Brewers committed error after error. I’m not saying they played poorly but the Cubs capitalized on just about every opportunity brought their way.

“Javy never ceases to amaze people with what he’s able to do on the basepaths, let alone everything else,” Jon Lester said. “He’s always going to play the game aggressively, and it’s always going to work out for us. I think the slide was more impressive than him reading that ball and getting home. That’s always a nice thing to have on your side.”

The run for home is something Cubs fans would love to see more of this season.

“I had a good jump and the ball took a little bit to get to him and he speeded up a little bit,” Baez said. “Right before I stepped on third base, I turned and [Cain] bobbled the ball, so I kept going. They let me run the bases how I want to. I obviously have fun out there. If you pay attention to where you need to be and wherever the sign’s coming from, you know everything. At that moment, I was reacting to the play and hustling down the line.”

Last night’s win was an excellent chance to dust the dirt from the pants and get back in form. I loved the lineup last night and seeing Ian Happ back at lead off was a welcome return. The other player that looked really good was Ben Zobrist. Maddon has a thing for Zobrist and last night showed why.

“He’s been seeing pitches,” Maddon said. “He’s been hitting the ball hard. Putting him and (Ian) Happ in front of KB and (Anthony) Rizzo, I thought it might help a little bit to feed those two. And then you move everybody else down, which isn’t a bad thing. Zobrist has really looked good at the plate so I thought it was wise to get him back up near the top.”

It was a very wise decision. The other decision is what to do with Jason Heyward?

Believe it

 

 

Extra!, Extra! Cubs Win It In Ten

Chicago Cubs v Miami Marlins

The importance of starting pitching was never more on display than in last night’s extra inning 10-6 all nighter win by the Chicago Cubs over the Miami Marlins. In this case, the hot ticket free agent signing of Yu Darvish came up short lasting just a mere 4 1/2 innings. Call it stage fright or just plain Opening Week jitters, but Darvish looked mortal in his Cubs debut.

“He wasn’t really sharp overall,” Joe Maddon said. “A lot of pitches for 4 1/3. He showed glimpses where the command was good. His fastball command was off a little. I would say, overall, he didn’t have his best stuff tonight.”

Five runs on five hits, that’s a big, “Whoops, sorry about that guys.” moment. I hope he bought his teammates a round or two afterwards.

When you think about it, Darvish has a lot of pressure put on him being the big money man that he is for the Cubs.

“It seems like every time I pitched the first game in Japan things went not so well,” Darvish said through his interpreter. “I don’t know why that happened. … It could have been a location problem with my pitches. I don’t think I was able to command whatever I wanted to, in terms of fastball.”

So, to show the depth in the Cubs this year, and this is why they’re going to be scary good,  the offence picked up the pieces with Kyle Schwarber, Ben Zobrist and Kris Bryant contributing in big ways for the team.

Schwarber’s monster blast combined with Bryant’s 4 run 10th inning was just what the Cubs needed to bring the fireworks and put on display their ferocity and endurance especially after Friday night’s epic outing.

“We did some really nice stuff,” Maddon said. “How about Zobrist? He’s swinging the bat as well as anybody on the team right now. Schwarber hits a big bomb, and [Bryant] continues to have good at-bats. It’s almost like some of them are trying way too hard. Let’s just back it off a little bit, see the ball, don’t try to do too much. Get back to the whole field — we’re getting too pull conscious too early.”

Don’t forget that Mike Montgomery appeared in his third straight game. I don’t think people imagined that this was the kind of start to 2018 they had in mind for the North Siders.

“I was not expecting to get in there today,” Montgomery said. “In the eighth inning, all we had left was Strop, and the Marlins tied it up. When we didn’t take the lead in the ninth and the 10th comes around, everybody said, ‘Hey, can you go?’

The Cubs had better dial back these extra inning nail biters and save them for October because we all know what extra inning Octobers can do for these Cubs.

Believe it

 

Cubs Get It Done Again In 10 Innings

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The Chicago Cubs magic number is 5 after another thrilling extra innings victory over their division rivals Milwaukee Brewers 5-4.  This will be the second year in a row if the Cubs can hang on to crown the division.

It came down to Tommy La Stella‘s drawn up walk in the tenth inning and let me tell you,  just speaking on Milwaukee’s behalf, there’s no worse way to lose a game then an extra inning walk.

“He has not played in a bit and he goes out there, not too eager,” Maddon said. “Slowed everything down. Accepted his walk. Young players today, many are not willing to accept their walk.”

Just having those empathetic feelings for the Brewers.

It wasn’t just La Stella’s play but the bullpen, normally an iffy spot for the Cubs, pulled it together when Carl Edwards Jr. pitched in the extra innings. The big thing that was impressive about his appearance was the coolness on display. The Cubs might have to call upon him soon in the post season and these last games of the year are the warm up to that post season magic.

“That’s what we have to do,” Edwards said. “In order for us to all get what we want to get and do what we want to do in life, everybody has to step up, and the good thing is everybody is stepping up so we can go to anybody in the bullpen at any time to get us out of a big inning or just stop the bleeding.”

Today is another important game because Kyle Hendricks is pitching and he’s coming off of his longest outing and looks to continue that success into the post season. He’s in his groove and the Cubs have quickly forgotten that dreaded first half of the season.

“It’s always different, every team is different and you find a new way,” Ben Zobrist said. “You have to find a new way to win and a new way to make it interesting. There’s a lot of the same characters as last year [on the Cubs], but with new characters, it changes the mix a little bit. It’s the same intensity and want to win as those other teams but in a different way.”

It’s true that the Cubs have to win in a different way. If last season was all about not quitting, then this season is about honing what they’ve learned in that post season and fine tuning their skills so they can come back in those extra innings. Are they a better team than they were last year? It’s difficult to say because they’re a different team.

Believe it

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 Roar Back To Defeat Reds

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The Cubs are on a streak. Yes, they’re having a four game winning streak after their 13-9 take down of the Cincinnati Reds but their post all star break record is 23-12. Not too bad especially being their mantra has been to find ways to win. It’s especially convincing.

Even after Ben Zobrist was late to the party and having to rent a car to get to Cincinnati but when Zobrist showed up, man, he showed up.

“I should have been here a lot earlier,” Zobrist said, managing a half-smile after the game. “I was told I make enough money and should have booked a [private jet], which is probably true, but I guess I’m cheap. I learned my lesson.”

In fact, it was such an unusual game that Anthony Rizzo played third after Kris Bryant injured his wrist after an errant pitch.

“He’ll put that on his Twitter bio: Third baseman,”Kris Bryant said.

The Cubs are back to playing Cubs baseball, loose, fun and precise. This is the time of year when teams that don’t stand a chance in the standings, their home park is an empty mess. It’s so empty that like last night in Cincinnati, you could hear the ball echoing off of the seats after each home run.

No, the Cubs are in great shape heading into the final push for the playoffs. After the Reds, it’s the Phillies with a season ending playing their division rivals who will be very difficult to overcome. The National League Central has been such a tight race this year that a Cubs spot in the playoffs might not seem solidified.

In reality, the Cubs are pacing for an 87 win season. We all know that predictions and stats don’t necessarily mean a thing when it comes to the sport. Anything can happen and the Los Angeles Dodgers, despite owning a record of 89-35, can still collapse in the post season. It’d be nice to have the Cubs dominate again this year, but that’s not reality. Guys like Zobrist are just hitting their stride at the right time.

“I keep telling him, ‘I wanted to keep you rested for this time of the year. This is your time coming up, September/October,'” Maddon said. “This is his time of the year. He’s trending properly right now. Even if he’s not hitting, he’ll accept his walk for the next hitter. Putting him in the middle, he’s surrounded by guys that will drive him in.”

He’s the reigning World Series MVP and that has to count for something, right?

“I think the best of my season is ahead of me,” he said. “I have been feeling a lot better, so I’ve been doing a lot more work in the cage and stuff that I hope starts showing up on the field a little more. It’s been coming.”

Believe it