Cubs Winning Streak Continues

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The phrase, “Turn at the right time” is synonymous throughout the sporting world. It’s a term associated to a team or a player that does all the right things going down the stretch of the regular season. You can attach that phrase to the Cubs but the only caveat being they’re playing teams that are struggling more than the Cubs.

Does it count?

In last night’s 9-3 massacre of the Cincinnati Reds, the Cubs extended their winning streak to five games. With home run contributions from Kyle Schwarber and Tommy La Stella, the Cubs are doing all the right things at the right time, if you wanted to through cliches around.

“You can struggle in the second half or you can learn from your mistakes and get better,” winning pitcher Mike Montgomery said after the Cubs moved 11 games over .500 for the first time this season. “Now it’s all about getting into the playoffs. We’re completely over last year.”

Hey Mike, I was over last year in April. All right, I still get a little choked up every time I see this:

 

What got me is that there is no other team in professional sports that triggers emotions quite like the Cubs. Their championship brought a nation together in a common unspoken bond. There were nods as we passed people on the streets, a few fist bumps and the, “I was rooting’ for your Cubbies”

Yeah Mike, I’ve put last year behind me too.

This weekend is Player’s Weekend. It’s a weekend where players across the league can have a little fun and celebrate everything that is awesome with the game that is woven in a nation’s fabric. There will be tributes from players to those that helped them throughout their careers and they’ll wear funky jerseys displaying nicknames such as “Cutch” , “Joey Bats” and “KB”. With all the excitement, I’m disappointed that Kyle Hendricks will be wearing “Hendo” as his nickname. I figured it might be “Prof” or Professor but seeing that these nicknames are representing the Little League spirit, I can see why they chose “Hendo”

“The fans will get to know more about you this way,” Javier Baez said. “They can find out why or how you got the name. I’m sure it’ll be a fun weekend.”

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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.”

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Cubs Go Back To Back To Back But Come Up Short

Trying to put a positive spin on yesterday’s almost come from behind thriller is proving to be a difficult task. The Cubs were down by eight runs but connected on 4 home runs in the 4th inning to climb back but eventually were downed by the Reds  13-10. Those are the kind of losses that are hard to take. On one hand, you have to applaud the Cubs on their comeback attempt but also have to shake my head that they couldn’t crank out the win after whacking all those home runs, even going back to back to back!

“We lost the game,” Alex Avila said. “It would’ve been great if we would’ve won that game. A game you’re not supposed to win, you end up winning is a better story. It’s a loss.”

That’s exactly what it is against a division rival that just happens to be in last place. After Jon Lester left the game giving up 9 runs, the Cubs went to work.

“When a pitcher of his stature is potentially injured, of course, you’re concerned,” Joe Maddon said. “Let the doctor see him and go from there. Right now, I’m not going to jump to any negative conclusions.”

It could just end up being related to heat tightness or cramps but hopefully it’s nothing more than that.

It was great to see Ian Happ have a multi homer game. The Cubs rookie is having a great season, if not under the radar as compared to others around the league, he’s fit into the lineup well.

“When you’re playing at Wrigley and the wind is blowing out, you always feel like you have a chance, especially with our lineup,” said Happ, who notched his third career multi-homer game. “To go back-to-back-to-back there and put us back in it, we gave ourselves a chance.”

Today is a big day as the Cubs begin a weekend series against the Toronto Blue Jays, who are struggling but are only three games out of the Wild Card spot. It’s an afternoon series with Jake Arrieta kicking it off today.

“I’ve gotten on that plane many times after a loss, still good food, but there’s no doubt you want to leave feeling good,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. “The lows in this business last longer than the highs, I know that for a fact. But we have to turn around, day game [Friday] … quick turnaround, but there will be energy there with the World [Series] champs. It’s a great place to play.”

Oh, and @LenKasper ‏ don’t forget to ask Don Cherry who is favourite hockey team is, I bet it’s the Bruins.

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Baez Walks This Way In Cubs’ Victory

 

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The other day the Cubs presented Rick Renteria, Dale Sveum and Jim Hendry World Series rings. A nice gesture seeing how those individuals were cornerstones to what the team has become today. Last night’s 7-6 victory over the Reds was perhaps a payback for their generosity. From Anthony Rizzo‘s grand slam to Javier Baez‘s walk off, the Cubs have positioned themselves well going into the playoffs.

“It’s a good win for us — we haven’t walked off in a while,” Rizzo said. “Tucker Barnhart was really good behind there. He’s a really good blocker. [The ball] didn’t get fully by him, but that’s a great read by Javy there to score that run.”

The Reds are a peculiar team. They’re not that exceptionally good but they’re also not that terrible. They come through when you least expect them too and Joey Votto is a beast. The Cubs could have ran away with the victory but the Reds hung in tough throughout and kept it close.

I feel bad for John Lackey. It would have been nice to see him get the win but he’s been pitching so well since the break that I know that if the Cubs should reach the playoffs, he’s going to prove to be tough to beat. Should he retire at the end of the season, he’d be going out in style.

“I haven’t said anything about retirement,” he said. “I’m just playing baseball. Taking it one start at a time. That will be a family decision at the end of the year.”

So, perhaps the key to the Cubs late season success could be attributed to Maddon’s American Legion Week, a week in August that allows players to come to practice a 1/2 hour before game time. There’s been little doubt that this year has been a stressful one for the reigning champs and perhaps taking a week to loosen up, relax and go out and have fun is the key to success.

“Taking 50 swings or 100 swings has nothing to do with our success right now,” Maddon said. “There are so many disconnected thoughts in our game about work and how you work. At some point you have to turn it all down and go out there and play unencumbered. That’s what this week is all about. Play the game of baseball like it was designed, how you grew up with it.”

Which is to have as much fun as possible. The thrill of a walk off, a grand slam or an aging pitcher on the mound for one last season to stare down any batter that threatens a ball leaving the field.

My son’s Little League game is tonight. He wants to play baseball when he grows up, but that’s more of a six year old’s dream than a reality. For the moment right now, this minute is to enjoy the game and all it has to offer. The Cubs are doing right by the integrity of America’s favourite past time.

Believe it.

School is Back in Session For The Professor

Reds 2, Cubs 1

Life isn’t fair and last night proved this as Kyle Hendricks went 6 and some change innings, striking out six but in the end, the Cubs couldn’t pull one out for their professor as the Cubs fell to the Reds 2-1.

“It was a lot better tonight — all the things I’ve been working on came to fruition,” Hendricks said. “Fastball command, No. 1, was good, and that’s always the key for me. From there, the changeup felt good. I even threw a few good curveballs. The ones I threw were effective. It was a lot of fun today with [rookie catcher Victor Caratini]. He did a good job communicating with me between innings.”

Of course this is great news going down the stretch to see that Hendricks is getting back his swagger. It was so good that he picked off Billy Hamilton at first, now that’s tough! The other good news is that Hendricks’ ERA is 2.00 since coming off the disabled list late last month. He’s had a shaky season (along with the other Cubs) but if the season is turning around, then they’re going to fight to regain their glory.

“It’s been tough since I’ve come back from the DL,” the right-hander said. “I’ve been pitching in a lot of tight games, so sometimes I lose my aggressiveness just trying to keep the team in the game and stay close and not give in. Today, I think I did a much better job being aggressive, still in the strike zone, even in a tight game, trying to get quick outs so I could keep the pitch count down.”

Hendricks’ style of pitching is difficult. Being not a hard thrower, his control and command has to take centre stage. As we all know, that hasn’t always worked out well this year but if there’s one thing we know of the studious pitcher is that whenever he comes off of a bad outing, he knuckles down and studies the books on being better the next time around. It was a well earned ovation as he walked off the mound.

“That was more typical of Kyle,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said  “He had greater velocity, great location, every pitch was working, [threw his] curveball for a strike, threw the four-seamer really well up to 87 [mph]. Everything was right on.”

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Jon Jay Leads The Way For Cubs

Cubs 15, Reds 5

It’s always hard coming back from a vacation where my family and I did the whole Clark Griswold road trip adventure, and in many ways that’s how I feel about the Cubs late season push for the playoffs. Last night, the Cubs simply pounded division rivals Cincinnati Reds in a 15-5 debacle that saw a few moments where the team just were like the team of last season. Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo with back to back home runs and Jon Jay almost hitting for the cycle.

“Give us credit — offensively, some really good at-bats,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “We have to tighten it up on defense. I don’t want to be ‘Debbie Downer,’ but we’ve got to be tighter on defense.”

I was glad to see Jon Jay in the lead off spot. He’s an underrated player who always comes through and last night felt like a playoff game if only to see Jay hit for the cycle which he came close but just a little short missing on the home run.

“Everyone kind of mentioned it — ‘Take a shot, take a shot,'” Jay said of his teammates’ advice for his last at-bat. “We got the win, so it’s cool.”

It almost feels like Jay’s the David Ross of 2017. The guy you’re cheering for and the feel good story of the year. Let’s just hope he’s not on Dancing With The Stars after the season’s over.

“He’s done a lot of other little things, talking to younger players,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “He does a nice job of mentoring. He wants to play, loves to play and likes what’s going on. He’s definitely stirred our drink.”

The Cubs are in great shape as the season winds up. Their next 13 games are against last place teams, so without explaining the obvious, it’s an important step on the road to the post season.

Their next series in particular is going to be interesting for me because the Toronto Blue Jays are coming to town and my family are divided in their loyalties. During last night’s broadcast, Len Kasper mentioned that Don Cherry of Hockey Night in Canada fame will be singing the seventh inning stretch so it’s going to be pretty cool seeing that. However, there was a little debate on what is Cherry’s favourite hockey team, is it the Toronto Maple Leafs or the Boston Bruins? I say it’s the Boston Bruins. Although he works for the CBC and cheers for the Maple Leafs, his heart is with the Boston Bruins. Cherry is a Canadian icon and I hope Len gets a chance to ask him what his favourite team really is and settle this debate once and for all.

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Cubs Will Deal Kyle Schwarber At Deadline

Canuck Cubbie

I think I’ve figured out this season’s woes after a somewhat embarrassing 5-0 loss to division rivals Cincinnati Reds. All right, first thing’s first; Sure, it’s difficult this season and I may sound like a bitter fan expecting way too much from a team trying to defend their World Series title but hear me out; the Cubs have been playing like they’re rebuilding again.

“It’s a young group, it just is,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “That’s actually a great thing, it’s not a bad thing, that we have this many young players who are Major League caliber. Probably the last thing to come is the development of the bats at the Major League level. We can play great defense, we can run the bases, we can throw well. Our bats are really inconsistent with zero runs tonight.”

Touching upon it yesterday, the Cubs have lost some key players and are kind of rebuilding the organization again. That’s a good thing. The bad part is that we might be waiting a little while longer for another championship. Now, some of you might be thinking that after getting your World Series fix that it’s no problem waiting another 108 years for a championship but the problem there is that nobody will be around to see it.

I think it’s becoming increasingly harder to build dynasties in professional sports. Gone are the days when you can “Mighty” at the beginning of a team’s name. I don’t believe that there’ll ever be another powerhouse like the Yankees or even the Montreal Canadiens ( Although Pittsburgh Penguins are having a good run at it).

“It’s baseball,” Willson Contreras said. “Every year is different. That’s it.”

Although it’s easy to say that, we all have to admit that the expectations were higher for the Cubs this season, or maybe my expectations were slightly increased. There’s no denying that the Cubs still have some of the most exciting players in the game and while management and players remain positive that things will eventually get turned around, the chances of a deep run in October are slim unless the team can correct the mistakes that were the polar opposite of last season. The best way to fix things is get runners in. Forget home runs, and at the deadline, the Cubs will do two things; they will deal for a starting pitcher and they will trade Kyle Schwarber for another bat.

I’m excited about next month. Cooperstown is having a Chicago Cubs weekend on August 26th-27th where fans will have the opportunity too experience the 2016 World Series all over again. There’ll be great memorabilia and a chance to get pictures taken with the trophy. We’ve got it marked on the calendar. It’s going to be fun!

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