Cubs Keep It Entertaining And Almora Goes Airborne

Willson Contreras

Nobody can ever say that the Chicago Cubs don’t ever quit. In just about every game that they come up short, there’s been some reminder of that. Last night, the Cubs came up short against the San Francisco Giants 6-4 but it wasn’t for a lack of trying.

“If we keep playing that game, it’ll make me a happy person. I thought we played really well. We had really good at-bats, played our defense. That’s what I’m looking for, more of that. When you lose a game like that, my thought has been if we keep playing like that, we’ll win plenty.”Joe Maddon said.

My problem with games like that is they’ll have a difficult time winning any of those games if they can’t follow through and win them. If the Cubs were the team they were a few years ago, then “fighting back” and “never quitting” were great terms to apply to them because they were an up and coming team. Not now, they’re the freakin’ World Series Champions!

“Obviously, we’re not tired of saying that we never quit,” Javier Baez said.

Of course there were a lot of positives to take away from the game like Ian Happ. The guy’s hitting .357 with seven extra base hits. They’ll find a way to keep the rookie in the lineup.

“It’s not easy to do,” Jason Heyward said. “Some guys come up and there are a lot of questions or whatever … He does what he’s asked.”

It wasn’t just about Happ either. The resurgent Javier Baez and the ultimate team player , Ben Zobrist each served up souvenirs for excited Wrigley attendees but all that amounts to nothing when it comes to actually winning the games. It’s easy for me to say that the Cubs need to get out early and stay ahead or if they’re coming from behind to actually win the game. Oh wait, there was Albert Almora‘s awesome Kevin Pillar impression in the first inning when he went airborne.

The true indication of the Cubs turning the corner will come with Ben Zobrist in the leadoff spot. He’s a great hitter and if he continues, they will win a lot more games.

“That first at-bat, you kind of feel like, ‘Well, maybe I should be patient,'” Zobrist said. “But then again you don’t want to let a ball right down the middle go by.”

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Bryant Hits Two HR’s In Take Down Of Brewers

Chicago Cubs

Amid the controversial decision to postpone Saturday’s game at Wrigley due to inclement weather, the Cubs came roaring back yesterday to thump the Brewers 13-6. I’m still scratching my head on the game being called when there wasn’t a drop of rain anywhere. The two teams have been trading barbs recently after suspicions that Brewer’s Eric Thames is taking PEDs. True or not, it’s an ongoing controversy that hopefully gets resolved.

Yesterday’s event  saw the Cubs sending four souvenirs home with those lucky fans. The reigning NL MVP Kris Bryant hit two of them.

“This is where we made our hay last year, at Wrigley. We have not played that well here yet this year. I anticipate, expect that we will. We’ve done better in this homestand, but we’re still not playing our best baseball. I mean that was a nice, 13-run game, whatever, but my perfectionism comes into fundamentals of the game. That’s what I like to see.”

Thirteen run games are hard to come by, but yesterday’s double digit event marked the rare occurrence of the Cubs showing signs of their former selves; and they did it in style.

“I feel like the name of the game now is get on base any way you can,” Bryant said, starting to crack a smile. “Getting hit with two pitches is just as good as any other walk.”

It was the first Cubs player since 1913 to get two home runs and hit by two pitches. Now, if that isn’t a cool baseball statistic or what?

Jake Arrieta is pitching better lately. It wasn’t a Cy Young caliber performance but the stoic hurler is taking a page out of Kyle Hendricks book by “just getting batters out”

“I think we’ve picked it up in pretty much every aspect of the game,” Arrieta said. “Playing a little better defense, throwing the ball a little better as a staff. Obviously, we’re starting to click offensively from top to bottom. We’ve got a lot of guys who are contributing up in the order, and that’s what we’re doing when we’re at our best.”

If last season showed the baseball world of the power behind what the Cubs can do, then this season is a test of how good the Cubs can be when faced against opponents who are more prepared to how good the Cubs play.

“If you look at it to this point we just haven’t hit. We haven’t had … even one hot hitter for an extended period of time. We haven’t pitched to our [capabilities],” Maddon said. “We just haven’t played our game yet.”

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No Joy In Wrigleyville

Rain

Rain in any other sport takes on an almost beautiful spectacle to watch. Football for example, has had some historical games played in the elements some have been baseball games. More likely than not, baseball sucks in the rain. Mudville was born.

Yesterday, through the rain the Cubs lost to the Milwaukee Brewers 6-3. I think baseball depends so much on pinpoint accurate catches that it makes it nearly impossible to play in wet conditions. What looked like a simple catch for Kyle Schwarber in the end was like playing catch with an ice cube.

“That was a very awkward day to play baseball,” Joe Maddon said. “When a play like that occurs, it also points in the direction [that] the conditions weren’t baseball-esque.”

No , they weren’t. Eddie Butler had a rough game too, giving up five walks. He could blame it on nerves but a true test would be ideal conditions.

“That’s unacceptable to do that out there,” Butler said. “I have to go out and give them five innings and keep them in the game. I just have to throw strikes.”

If every pitcher can go out and give at least five innings, then the odds of winning increase. Maybe I’m just looking for excuses but yesterday it was the weather that contributed greatly to the loss. A lot of those plays would have happened if the conditions were more ideal.

“Today, it just wasn’t happening,” Maddon said. “We walked at least 10 guys overall, and that was a big part of the game.”

The good news is that Jason Heyward should be returning today.

“I just needed to swing, I did not need to walk,” Heyward said. “I needed to go up there and swing the bat and make sure I could do that worry-free.”

So, with the great weather (hopefully) and a great outfielder and now a star rookie Ian Happ, the Cubs should be rising to the top toon.

“It just seems like they’ve nailed every pick for a while now,” Kris Bryant said. “I think there’s a trend there with position players. I think when you go to college and you get to experience that type of level of competition under an environment like that, I just think that it certainly helped me become a better player and be more responsible, mature, make good decisions. So it’s no surprise to me that Ian’s doing what he’s doing, and the rest of the guys are doing what they’re doing, too.”

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Cubs Slam Reds in Series Sweep

Chicago Cubs

Chicago Cubs’ Javier Baez hits a grand slam during the first inning of a baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds in Chicago, Thursday, May 18, 2017. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

It’s hard to believe that the Cubs just notched their first series sweep of the season. It’s mid May and it finally happened. Yesterday, the Cubs beat the Cincinnati Reds 9-5 to get the job done. The Cubs have now won three in a row and appear to be showing that dominance again.

Javier Baez connected with a grand slam in the first inning, which saw five runs scored. It was great to see Baez connect for that grand slam. He needed it in order to silence his critics.

“You see the at-bats, and see him grow each at-bat. We knew coming in two years ago about his swing and miss and all that stuff, and he’s made the adjustments to stay around. Obviously, his defensive side of the game helps that. You see him grow every day as a hitter and see him make adjustments and have good at-bats and do things in a game that can really change the game for us on a positive side.” Jon Lester said.

Although the Cubs have gotten off to a shaky spring, their record isn’t all that different than last season. They were 29-11 last year at this time compared to 21-19. Now, before you scratch your head with this kind of logic, let me explain; Teams are way more prepared going into the games against the Cubs. So this year’s record is more indicative of the team’s true performance. Ok, maybe it isn’t all that logical, but it sure makes me feel better thinking that way.

So now with the Cubs bats finally swinging and the rotation moving well, there’s the nagging question of what to do with Ian Happ. It’s a good problem to have but with Jason Heyward coming back soon, the Cubs are going to have to make some hard decisions.

“There’s still the ability to balance it,” Maddon said. “I like the idea that we have enough really good players that you can rest guys. Somebody gets hurt, you have somebody good to put in their place. Baseball normally takes care of that.”

There’s no talk of the kid’s brought up too early or anything. He’s played really well since last Saturday’s call up. I still believe that the toughest decision the Cubs will make this season is deciding what to do with Kyle Schwarber. The option the Cubs have right now is using two utility players.

“We have these young guys that are really good, are willing to do this, and now’s the time to do it with them,” Maddon said. “If you wait a couple years and ask ’em to start moving around, that’s when it becomes more difficult. But when you’re doing it young and it’s part of their landscape, it becomes part of their landscape, it becomes easier. It’s good for them, and it’s good for us.”

The magic of baseball and the right way to watch it is to see the game through various match ups. Purists have known this for decades but for the newbie, it looks like paint drying. Managers are always thinking, shuffling and rethinking.

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Cubs Game Under Review

Kyle Hendricks

Kyle Hendricks can let out a big sigh. The Professor stood on his lecture box of a pitcher mound and delivered an old school style performance yesterday recording his first home win of the season, handing out a 7-5 detention to the Cincinnati Reds.

“That was classic Kyle right there,” manager Joe Maddon said. “The velocity was up, you saw the bad takes, the bad swings, the contact wasn’t as hard. I talked to him after, and he was really excited. He knew that he was right tonight, and that’s a great game to build off of. Wind blowing out a gale and pitching as well as he did, there’s a lot of confidence to be derived from that.”

Excited?

“That game was one of my better ones for sure, because I got stronger,” said Hendricks. “My last three innings felt much better, much more under control. When [pitching coach Chris Bosio] came back on the bench, he gave me a good cue and got my tempo going. Getting stronger as the game goes on is always a good sign.”

There was an awkward play at the end of the game when Joey Votto was safe at first but upon review he was called out. Video clearly showed Votto was safe at first so the Cubs got away with that call.

“We should have a definitive shot of how they could overturn that, and we don’t,”Reds manager Bryan Price said. “At this point in time, all we have is a call into the league, and they will or will not come up with a shot that’s going to convince us they made the right decision. Right now, in the moment. Maybe they will, maybe they do. Maybe they have it. I’d sleep better if I knew they had a definitive shot of that.”

I’d have to agree with him on that. Which opens up another debate, or rather just reopening the debate on video review. I was all for it when it was introduced  almost ten years ago but now I’ve changed my mind. It doesn’t work. Oddly enough, it sacrifices the integrity of the game, the umpires and the drama of baseball. Managers are known to take excessive time on plays that shouldn’t be reviewed and if they have reviews why do they need an umpire behind the plate? We know if it’s a ball or a strike on television. I think we should drop the video review rule and go back to the way it was. I kinda loved it when plays would be argued over the BBQ on the back deck instead of New York.

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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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Admit it, The Cubs Are In A Slump

Jake Arrieta

It’s been quite awhile since the Cubs were a sub .500 ball club. Well, really since 2014 but for a Cubs fan it feels like an eternity since they’ve hit this kind of rough patch. Despite a great performance by Jake Arrieta, the Cubs dropped the series with a loss yesterday to their arch rivals Cardinals 5-0.

“We would obviously like to be playing better than we are right now. I don’t think there’s any reason to panic. The talent we have here will correct itself and start to turn itself around. We’d like to win a few more games than we are and tighten things up a little bit, but guys are showing up ready to play and going about things the right way. We’re just not getting the results we’d like.” Arrieta said.

Now, that’s either due to other teams catching on to the Cubs’ tiny quirks and quarks or that could just be the post World Series blues. The fact is the Cubs aren’t looking so mighty right now. They called up Ian Happ, the highly touted 2015 draft pick and he didn’t disappoint with a two run homer on the weekend. In an effort to try and turn things around, the Cubs are willing to move up prospects but is it wise to call them up too soon?

“We needed him and he’s here. How long is he going to stay? I have no idea,” Joe Maddon said. “It could be short, it could be longer than that. I don’t know.”

The problem with the Cubs misfortunes is simple; they need to move the runners. If a team can’t score with runners in scoring position, then they’re not going to win too many ballgames. That’s the simple fact.

“That part of the game, the runs in scoring position, need to come from the middle, opposite field more. It can’t just be a pull, ground ball to third, ground ball to short, popup, try to do too much. Let’s utilize the whole field. We’re working on getting that back into their mindsets now. I do believe RBIs tend to be in the middle of the field more than the pull side. Overall, we’re not doing a good job with runners in scoring position,” Maddon said.

Whether it’s not using the fundamentals or something else entirely but the Cubs need to do something. I’d love to see a back to back championship season. In times where parity is emphasized over dynasties, it would feel great to have the Cubs win it again. Baseball needs it right now. In fact, if the Cubs win this year, it would feel like payback for over a century’s worth of misfortunes and heartbreak. Imagine, the Cubs being the team to beat?

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