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.

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Cubs Win Thriller in Ten Innings

Cubs 5, Brewers 3 (10 innings)

There’s less than thirteen games left in the regular season. The Cubs know what they have to do to get geared up for the post season. There’s a big rivalry heating up between the Brewers and North Siders, especially in this division race. Last night, the Cubs won a nail biting 5-3 in the 10th inning on a home run by Kris Bryant.

“Just an incredible baseball game,” Cubs starter Jake Arrieta said after the Cubs stretched their lead over the second-place Brewers to 4½ games with 10 to play. “Two teams battling for a division. … This is really an awesome time to be in an organization like this and a division like the NL Central where there are a couple teams who have playoff aspirations in mind. Just a tremendous start to the series.”

He’s right, despite the Cubs not playing a stellar first half to the season, the Cubs have really picked it up in the second half and come together. It’s a tight Central division and although I’m being biased, the closeness of the Central, unlike last season’s runaway lead, this year’s been good because the Cubs have to fight for their title. I like that a lot.

“We’ve done that so many times — I guess it is experience,” Kris Bryant said of the late comeback. “Our heartbeats aren’t going too fast when the game is on the line there. It kind of plays to our advantage.

“This is really showing us what we’re made of. It was nice — their fans were loud, our fans were loud. It’s always nice to play here. We get a nice draw from Chicago. Keep ’em coming.”

Even last season was exciting for the now historic 2016 autumn. Since Joe Maddon was handed the reigns of the Cubs, the team has fought hard in a lot of games. They’ve kept it close and well, won the World Series but most importantly, he’s changed the culture in Chicago. The fact that you have guys like Arrieta pitching so well coming back from injury and heading into the final days of the season is a bonus.

“That was really encouraging to all of us,” Maddon said of Arrieta’s start Thursday. “I did not know what to expect. An injury like that, taking some time off and then coming right back into the swing of things, I thought he was really sharp. I thought his command was really good.

“The delivery looked good, the finish looked good. I was really surprised — and I don’t mean that as a negative [toward Arrieta] — at how good he looked.”

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Professor Hendricks Lectures Cardinals

The Cubs may not be as dominate as they were last season, but quietly they’ve done Cubs things that have pushed them passed the 80 win mark and are moving away from the rest of the National League Central. Take for example, yesterday’s 4-1 win over the St. Louis Cardinals.

This has been an interesting, if not crucial series against the Red Birds. There was John Lackey‘s rightful outrage against Umpire Jordan Baker that led to both Lackey’s and Willson Contreras‘s ejection. That was the Friday afternoon game and the intensity carried forth into yesterday’s game.

If you’re a loyal Canuck Cubbie follower, it’s no secret that Kyle Hendricks is my favourite player in baseball. His style has been compared to Greg Maddux, and yet I think it’s something entirely different. The fact that Hendricks pitches in this modern era of the game is a really special thing indeed. Nothing over 90 MPH and a very rare fast ball. Yesterday, Hendricks pitched his longest game of the year.

“It’s good to feel strong, even at that last pitch,” Hendricks said. “I still felt good. I still had plenty in the tank. That was my takeaway from today.”

Yet, he’s not always a lights out kind of pitcher. Sometimes he has his bad games but since he’s come off the disabled list, his confidence is growing and since his debut own 2014, Hendricks is becoming a team leader and perhaps someday we might see him at Cooperstown. It was a huge contrast in styles between John Lackey’s wild outing and Hendrick’s cool demeanour.

“We’re somewhat aware of where the teams are at,” Hendricks said, “but it’s not what we’re focused on. We’re focused on the field, what needs to be done, pitch to pitch. That’s really where our focus is and where it’s stayed. So two games, five games, whatever it is, it is. We have to win ballgames down the stretch. Period.”

It’s the right poise and confidence at the right time of the year.

“Everything was working from the side,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of Hendricks, who has a 2.42 ERA in 11 starts since coming off the disabled list. “They were having bad takes. They were taking pitches that were called strikes. His fastball was the best he’s had all year. … His confidence could not be higher.”

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Cubs Sweep Mets With Monster Runs

The Chicago Cubs 14-6 victory over the New York Mets signalled two things. How bad the Mets are or who potentially awesome the Cubs could have been all season long. Oh, the other thing signalled was how frustrating two back to back 14 plus runs games are when your fantasy league schedules you for a bye week and the majority of your players play for the Cubs. Yeah, I’m pointing my finger right at you Albert Almora.

The Cubs swept the Mets which is exactly what they needed to do at this point in the season. They open up a somewhat crucial series against the St. Louis Cardinals, who are vying for that coveted playoff spot as well.

“I probably shouldn’t take Clark [Street]. Just go down Lake Shore [Drive]. It’s a good thing, I love it. It’s good for the city, it’s good for baseball. It’s good for your growth moments as a baseball person in the National League. It’ll be exciting. One at a time. Try to get a nice one-game winning streak going tomorrow and move on from there.” Joe Maddon said.

If the Cubs haven’t really dominated this season the way that the Los Angeles Dodgers have done on the west coast, they do have a chance to turn those tides heading into the post season. It’s true that there are probably some cliches out there that veer towards not mattering how you get into the post season, but how you get out of it, is probably going to be on Maddon’s next T-Shirts that he issues to his players.

“It’s up to us to maintain what we’ve earned up to this point,” Maddon said. “We’re very capable of doing that. The Cardinals have done it for many years, in terms of winning championships, the level they’ve played at. I think it’s interesting, entertaining, great. I love being part of it.”

The Cubs certainly have the tools to get the job done(sorry, that one slipped out) and Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant are hitting, it’s going to be an interesting post season. Realistically, the Cubs have a slim chance but they do have a chance.

“Familiarity,” first baseman Rizzo said. “We’re really familiar with them. We see [Carlos] Martinez, [Michael] Wacha and [Lance] Lynn all the time. We know what they have. We know their bullpen. On the other side, they know what we have.”

Geez, it seems like this St. Louis Series is a playoff matchup or something?

“We have to beat better pitching to win this thing,” Maddon said after Thursday’s win. “You have to score runs with outs. We’re scoring runs without homers, sometimes, which is nice to watch and see, execution-wise.”

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Cubs Clawing Their Way Down The Stretch

The thing with professional sports is that it’s thrilling to cheer on a team or individual going for records or championships. Whether it’s last year’s Cubs or this season’s Cleveland Indians going for their 21st straight victory, heck, you can throw in Giancarlo Stanton’s home run quest. We love to see underdogs break records. In many ways, this year’s reigning World Series Champion Cubs are the underdogs going into the playoffs.

They won 8-3 over the New York Mets but truthfully, the Cubs should have had a better record this past month.

“This time of the year, it’s fun to be us right now,” said Kyle Schwarber, who tied a season high with three hits. “We’re being chased. There’s not a better feeling than playing some really good baseball games down the road.”

Well Kyle, there is a better feeling and that’s having clinched the division at this point in the season. We all know that the Cubs have had an up and down season. They haven’t been playing at their peak level like last year. I think on paper, they’re a bit better team then they were last season but as in professional sports, there’s a certain degree of luck attributed to their success.

“It’s unrealistic to believe these other teams aren’t going to press you a little bit. They’re good. Milwaukee has gotten better and St. Louis is St. Louis. It’s a bad method or thought process to think they’re going to fold. … You’ve got to play the games and you’ve got to win. It’s not about anybody else. Cubs win, none of this other stuff matters.” Joe Maddon said.

Perhaps that the Cubs have had to struggle more this season as Schwarber said about being chased, which last year they weren’t being chased but I suspect that other teams were unprepared with the Cubs staggering offence.

“I think it’s good for baseball,” Maddon said. “I think it’s good for us. It’s good for us to find out what we’re all about now and in the future. So there’s nothing wrong with a solid pennant race.”

No, there isn’t. For fans wanting to see their once dominant team struggle to get into the post season, there’ll be a lineup at the manicurist after the season’s over. This is the time of the year when all logic has to be thrown out the window. Switch up the leadoff hitter or the pitcher not hitting last but they have to pull out all the stops. The Cubs need to move the runners and get creative.

“People always make suggestions, but then you look at the names,” Maddon said about Javier Baez. “For me, where do these names fit best for that day based on 1 through 8? For me, I still like him there. … If he’s eighth for you, that’s pretty good. That’s kind of a nice thing too. You like to have that scariness all the way down 1 through 9.”

Scary.

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Cubs Swept By Brewers

I guess the best part about the weekend series against the Milwaukee Brewers was, in fact, the return of Willson Contreras.  The Cubs were swept yesterday with a score of 3-1. It was a crucial series with both teams vying for the lead in the National League Central division. With the Brewers sweep, the Cubs only have a two game lead.

“We’ve been in so many different ballgames and so many different situations between this year and last year. We know what we need to do. As far as attitude, team demeanor, grinding pitch to pitch, we’re doing what we can.” Kyle Hendricks said after the game.

Having Contreras back at this time of the year will hopefully pay huge dividends for the team. They have a day off today and then face the New York Mets, a great chance to make some of those wins back. Pittsburgh will play the Brewers and they’re on a five game losing streak.

Do the Cubs need retooling or some inspirational speech going down the stretch?

“There’s nothing I could say to them that would make a difference right now,” Joe Maddon said. “They need to see consistency from me.”

It’s true, at this stage of the game, the Cubs know what needs to be done and no manager’s cliched speech filled with, “We need to get runners on base, score or execute pitches” isn’t something the team needs to hear or hasn’t heard before. Of course, when Jason Heyward delivered his now legendary locker room soapbox chant sermon, the Cubs hadn’t had a championship in over a hundred years. This year it’s different. The Cubs know what it takes to win.

“You go over and ask that [Brewers] clubhouse what happened when they got swept by Cincinnati — it’s the way the game goes,” Heyward said. “It’s baseball. I’m not saying, ‘So what?’ but that’s part of the game. Teams will pitch well sometimes, sometimes you’re not going to hit well, sometimes balls will go at people, sometimes it’ll be what it is.”

That’s true also, otherwise it wouldn’t be a sport. Some folks might say, “Well, at least they won.” However, I’d like to see last year’s dominance take hold during the post season and the Cubs march on to a dynasty.

Take that Yankees

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Cubs Hang In Against Pirates

The Cubs keep it close and scratch out a 1-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates. It came down to a pitching duel between Gerrit Cole and Jose Quintana. Quintana struck out six over six innings of action, while Cole pitched a goose egg over eight solid innings, the Cubs hung on.

“Cole pretty much had no-hit stuff today,” Alex Avila said. “The way he was locating with 97 (mph fastballs), slider, curveball, changeup, he was excellent. You just had a feeling we weren’t gonna have too many opportunities against him. And if he made a mistake, we weren’t able to capitalize on it. He had unbelievable stuff. It was like, try to outlast him, keep the game where it was until we got to their bullpen.”

Speaking of Avila, he’s been a solid player for the Cubs since Willson Contreras went down with an injury. He’s been a key player for the Cubs second half turnaround.

“He’s not overwhelmed by the situation,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Been there, done that. He’s able to slow the game down really well. … Had a couple punchouts before that [the triple], so kind of a tough night before that, but hung in there. Give him credit for maintaining.”

The Cubs are hanging on to their first place spot in the National League Central with a four game advantage over the St. Louis Cardinals. It’s not really a place they’d like to be with expectations for this season running on an all time high, but they’ll take it.

“We’re in first place,” Avila said.

The Cubs will finish out this series today before meeting the Brewers in a crucial series. It’s going to be a tough month with the rest of the Central playing spoiler to the North Siders. I’m hoping for a Cleveland/ Chicago rematch in the World Series but with Cleveland riding a 14 game winning streak, things could take a turn for the worse if the Cubs expect to repeat as champions.

Although stranger things have happened.

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