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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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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Cubs Rockie Road in First Game. Lackey Dominates Second Game

John Lackey

The Chicago Cubs played a double header yesterday and despite the win in the second game, it was the first game that struck the ire of me. The Cubs lost game one by a score of  10-4. It was a mess. Before I go into detail, the Rockies are really good this season which hasn’t been that way in a long while. That being no excuse, the Cubs are in a whack load of trouble in 2017.

“They hit some balls really well, others they dropped it in front [of the outfielder],” Joe Maddon said. “You have to play such a big outfield here, it’s so large. They just have good at-bats. They’re really good offensively.”

The Cubs lost four in a row after that first game. They’re no strangers to slumps but their dominance is showing cracks in that World Series winning machine. The normally sure footed Javier Baez threw the ball away during one play and Jake Arrieta got lit up.

“They’ve got one of the better offenses in all of baseball, especially at Coors Field,” Arrieta said. “They hit for a significantly higher average here. That’s just a testament to their ability to play to their home park and have a good approach. I wanted to come into this game and establish strikes with all my pitches. I did it pretty well — almost too well with too many hittable pitches, really.”

Then there was the second game…

John Lackey looked like John Lackey in the game. It was almost cringe worthy having Lackey follow Arrieta’s performance but Lackey rolled back the clock, dug his heels into the mound and delivered one of his finest performances. He struck out 10 and had seven goose egg innings in a Cubs rout 8-1 over the Rockies.

“That was outstanding,” Maddon said. “He really picked us up. We needed that kind of a start. We’re used to getting that kind of starting performance from our entire staff, so hopefully he’s going to set the tone moving forward. It was really fun to watch. He had a really, really good breaking ball, slider today and commanded everything.”

The one thing I’ve learned is that pitching is everything. It’s my favourite part of the game and yesterday’s double header showcased the best and the worst of the craft. Yeah that’s right, pitching isn’t a sport, it’s a craft. A goaltender can stop pucks on sheer will and reflects but a pitcher can control a game based on the history of each individual standing before them.

The two games were polar opposites of each other. No matter what kind of positive spin Joe Maddon can put on the Cubs this year, there’s no “We don’t quit” or “You go, we go” anymore. The honeymoon phase is over for the Chicago Cubs. They need to win the World Series this season and have to right the ship or both Epstein and Maddon will not see the end of their contracts. I’m not being cynical or anything but there might be a new curse on the horizon, “The Chicago Cubs will never win back to back World Series again”

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Cubs’ Contreras Comes Through in Sixth

Willson Contreras

Just like their amazing World Series run, the Cubs came from behind this time to shock the Philadelphia Phillies 5-4.  Despite the Cubs uneven April, they’re starting May off with a different kind of poise.

“That was the theme last year — that we never quit,” Cubs starter Jake Arrieta said. “If we still have outs left, if we’re looking at a deficit, we still feel confident we’re not completely out of it. With our lineup and the ability to string three, four, five quality at-bats together at one time, there’s a chance to score multiple runs in one inning. Us establishing that we can come from behind early in the season in April, moving into May is a big boost for us.”

It’s not a matter of never quitting, I don’t think. The Cubs are a talented group of players that just find ways to utilize those talents and move forward in games. Whether it’s the youthful exuberance of Willson Contreras or the mostly stoic Arrieta, the Cubs have those soft skills to go along with the mechanics of the game.

“You plug into this guy,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “As he learns to play with his hair on fire — maybe not a forest fire, maybe just the burning bush or something, I don’t know — he’s going to learn how to control all that.”

Of course he was talking about Contreras’ two run double that fuelled the comeback.

“Willson is savvy enough to know a ball hit up the middle like that to the shortstop’s left, he was anticipating a throw to first base and he continued to come around,” Maddon said. “We got lucky — that ball hit right on the back of the mound.”

Now, there are two kinds of managers in the game. There are the kinds that would shun a heads up daring run that Contreras did in the sixth, opting more to play it safe and keep Contreras at third but with the speed of Willson it was a no brainer. The other thing to think about is he could have easily been out at home. It all came down to luck.

“By the time I was going to home plate, I saw the catcher going for the baseball and I tried to get around the base, and I did,” Contreras said.

So, John Lackey takes to the mound this afternoon to try and win the series. We all know that the rotation’s struggles are showing cracks. It’ll be up to the order to pull out the stops. With every game, I’m convinced more and more that other teams have finally caught on to the Cubs. If Chicago’s going to do any damage this year, they’ll have to dig down deep and show just how good they can be.

“Our guys are good, they’re well, they’re going to continue to pitch better,” Maddon said. ” … They’re going to pitch very similar to what you’ve seen the last couple of years. I really 100 percent believe that. In the meantime, let’s keep moving it further along.”

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Cubs Come Roaring Back, Dominate Reds and Take First Place

Willson Contreras

I’m not bragging here, but yesterday’s 12-8 victory over the Cincinnati Reds was the kind of win I’m talking about. That dominating offensive juggernaut from the North Side came roaring to life with home run contributions from Wilson Contreras, Jason Heyward and Anthony Rizzo.

“The ball was absolutely flying,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “These balls were well-struck, don’t get me wrong, but the ball was definitely in the air and it was gone.”

What really stood out in the win was contributions from guys like Heyward and Contreras, heck, even Jake Arrieta hit the ball well. The Cubs can’t always leave it up to Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Ben Zobrist to get the job done.

During the offseason, Heyward worked hard on his swing and so far this season, it’s working.

“His whole setup is different, how he’s starting the bat,” Joe Maddon said. “He is much more active with his hands throughout the swing process, and that’s why you are seeing harder contact. Less arms, more hands, that’s how I look at it. It’s been very effective.”

We know how good he is in the field but with the absence of Dexter Fowler, Heyward has to lead a young outfield but he also has to replace the bat of Fowler as well.

“The good signs are getting hits, being able to be aggressive in the strike zone,” Heyward said. “Solid contact, consistent. Home runs are going to happen, but it’s not going to happen if you’re not doing that stuff.”

So, let’s shift over to the pitching of Jake Arrieta. If last season was a come down period for the former Cy Young winner, then this year is his comeback season. The rotation as a whole has been a little shaky but so far, Arrieta is 3-0 and yesterday’s victory he pitched five innings striking out 8 batters. It wasn’t pretty but,

“We’ve had some hiccups, but we’ve been picked up by our offense,” said Arrieta, who gave up five runs in six innings. “As starting pitchers, we have to take advantage of our offense.”

If they’re taking advantage of their offence, then the Cubs are back in first place in the National League Central where they belong, the Cubs could be on the roll that they need. John Lackey will take to the mound today before the Cubs go to Pittsburgh in another key divisional matchup.

 

So here’s your chance to jump on the Cubs bandwagon don’t worry, there’s plenty of room for everyone. It’s hard to figure out how folks can suddenly cheer for teams. It could be birthright, you know, generations of long suffering fans. It might be that of location and hometowns.  I’m the Canuck Cubbie, I wasn’t born in Chicago but came across the Cubs while watching WGN when it was available in Canada. That was many moons ago. When WGN ceased to exist up here, I subscribed to MLB.TV. We’ve been to Wrigley Field and followed the team whenever they play near us.  We try to have Opening Day parties when we can and celebrate everything that is good about the Cubs and great about baseball. If you are new to the game, I encourage you to read up about the history and most importantly, take a trip to Wrigley Field, it’s a 12 hour drive for us but it was so worth it. Cubs fans are amazing. A Chicagoan we talked to a couple years ago was amazed that we drove so far to see them. He lived around the corner from Wrigley! “You came all the way from Canada?”

Yes, we did.

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Cubs Blame Yankees For April Woes

Chicago Cubs

I guess the Chicago Cubs are learning first hand the problems associated with winning a championship. Every team wants it. Yesterday, the Pittsburgh Pirates defeated the Cubs 6-1 and took the series. It was their first series win since 2014 at Wrigley Field.

Despite the Cubs taking a 1-0 lead into the seventh inning or Jon Lester getting a goose egg for seven innings(On Easter Sunday, no less!). So, the Cubs are 6-6 this April. Whether it’s a World Series hangover, or other teams have caught on to the Cubs’ weaknesses, but the team has started 2017 in a mediocre way.

“We had some good games, we’ve played a lot of close games. We taxed our bullpen quite a bit, which we really don’t want to do. Our starters pitched really well but late in the game, we didn’t score enough runs to give our bullpen any breathing room. I think that falls on the offence.” Ben Zobrist said.

On the other hand, it could be the absence of their grandfatherly figure in David Ross. He caught all of Lester’s games while providing a spark and spark in the clubhouse. Then again, it could be the problem of holding leads and wearing down their bullpen.

“That’s been more of our problem than anything, not getting a clutch hit and holding a lead at the end of the game,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said.

There isn’t really any cause for concern this early in the season. This is roughly the same team that won the hardware last fall. However, missing Dexter Fowler has had a bigger impact than they thought. I mean Fowler’s struggling with the Cardinals right now. Now that’s an interesting theory on a curse placed on the Cardinals when they do business with the Redbirds.

‘‘Last year was kind of a fairy-tale year for us. It’s not always going to be like that, so it’s important to kind of realize that early on, so that we’re not hitting that panic button like we did around the All-Star break last year.’’ NL MVP Kris Bryant.

True, it’s not always going to be like that and I fault us Cubs fans for the pressure of the expectation for greatness. I mean, C’mon, after a 108 years would you expect anything less? Cubs fans have a lot of catching up to do. After the Cubs won, a friend of mine congratulated me on their win but continued to say that they need 23 more championships to catch up to his beloved New York Yankees.

There’s the real reason behind the Cubs early futility. Blame the Yankees. After all, it wouldn’t be the Cubs way to just blame it on the bullpen, blown leads and missed opportunities. It’s almost as if a new curse has been placed on the North Siders. A curse by a Yankees fan.

‘‘We won the World Series last year, so there will be questions, but that’s just natural,’’ Jake Arrieta said. ‘‘That comes with the territory. It’s a business of results, and we still expect really good results from the group we have this year.’’

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Bucs’ Frustrate Cubs

Chicago Cubs

The Chicago Cubs lost yesterday 4-2 not because of poor playing, I mean they’re the freakin’ World Series champs, right? No, they lost because the Pittsburgh Pirates are that kind of team that is always a tough team to play. They’re deceptively good and no team should take them for granted. Of course,in baseball anything can happen.

“They were putting together some good at-bats on me. I had to grind a little bit there but I thought I was pitching pretty well and the sixth inning is just kind of unfortunate. What are you going to do about that? Just move on to the next one.” Kyle Hendricks said.

This season is going to be quite different than last year because the Cubs won’t be as dominant. Plain and simple. They won’t get over a hundred wins but they’ll still be just as commanding as they were last year with the exception that they’ll have to earn that trophy or more in proving that they’re just as good as what happened last season.

“I love the fact that we are seeing a lot of pitches, we are seeing good at-bats,” Joe Maddon said. “We actually look really good at the plate. Guys that normally hit who are not — head’s up, they’re going to start doing it. To be in pretty good shape record-wise in spite of not having the offense clicking on all cylinders, it’s kind of a good sign.”

The season is still young and the Cubs have to make adjustments. The Cubs are known to battle back but I feel that this season it’s going to be a little bit tougher than last.

“We put ourselves in position to get a chance in the last few innings to tie the game at least,” Ben Zobrist said. “And that, right now with a lot of us — I think the rhythm just isn’t quite there at the plate. It’s early in the season, it’s chilly, it’s been tough to get it going this week for everybody, but I like how we battled late in the game.”

Yet, the sophomore jinx might be rearing its’ ugly head.

Today, Jake Arrieta gets the call to the mound. With a record of 2-0, the former Cy Young winner and Chicago Fire star is out to prove his mettle and so far this year, he’s finding his groove back. People will again Fear The Beard.

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