Cubs’ Darvish Struggles Continue

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There’s something really going wrong with the 2018 edition of the Chicago Cubs. Yesterday’s 4-0 shutout loss to the Atlanta Braves proved that without a doubt. The blame can no longer be put on cold conditions or April. Now, I’m not going to say that nothing can’t be fixed but the pessimism is starting to creep in a little bit.

The balk.

Was it a balk in the fifth inning or not? It didn’t look like a balk to me or perhaps a borderline balk at best.

“Obviously, everything went south after the balk, which was not a balk. It was not a balk, but it was called a balk,” Joe Maddon said. “It seemed to create a little bit of awkwardness. [Darvish] was doing well up to that point … then it came apart really quickly.”

It all came apart after that and the Cubs sure aren’t looking like they’re going to roar in the face of the competition this year. They’re below .500 and most importantly, they’ve lost 3 of 4 at Wrigley Field. Even the most casual of baseball fan knows those aren’t good numbers. What’s more, the most casualist(I think I made that word up but it works)  of casual fans realize that at $126 million big ones, Yu Darvish must perform at the top of the food chain in order for him to succeed at Chicago’s hallowed grounds. Cubs fans can easily forgive Jason Heyward‘s base blunders because his defence is aces. Darvish won’t be that lucky.

“[I was] frustrated,” Darvish said. “Again, because it had never occurred before. It was in a critical situation, and then it happened. So that’s frustrating.”

Of course it’s frustrating but it’s frustrating to us, the fans that we’re watching a Chicago Cubs team that isn’t playing up to their potential, has been shut out three times this season and their star first baseman is out with a back injury.

“It never helps to not have Rizzo. We have to win games like that. We’re not getting anything going. A couple good at-bats, couple well-struck balls but nothing with real consistency. Their pitcher had us off balance the entire game. He doesn’t throw as hard as he used to but he really knows how to pitch. He pitched well but we have to do a better job offensively.” Maddon said.

If Darvish was honest in his own assessment of his performance, then Maddon is quietly, in his own Maddon way, losing his patience with how the team is performing.

Today, Jose Quintana gets the ball and arguably, is the Cubs most effective thrower. He got a shutout on April 8th so perhaps he’s the guy who will turn the Cub’s performance around?

Believe it

 

Cubs Destroy Pirates, Baez Hits Two Home Runs

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Um, so what’s up with Javier Baez? It seems like he’s a one man show. He continued his amazing April last night, rocketing a couple of home runs in the Cubs 13-5 toppling over the Pirates but that wasn’t all, Baez stole home on a gutsy play that worked out well.

“I went a little late on that,” Baez said of his dash home. “I was going on contact. I saw the ball. I was paying attention for the ball in the dirt. It kind of caught me in-between, but I scored.”

Yeah, I don’t think Maddon minded too much on that. In fact, if you guys are keeping tabs on Baez(and I know you are) that’s four home runs in two days. Can he keep up that pace? Will he set a franchise record? Tune in for the next Adventures of Javy.

“I’ve been working on focusing on just me and the pitcher out there,” Baez said. “Forget about the whole field, everything really. Launch angle. The miles off the bat, all this stuff, I was hitting with all this stuff. I clear my mind and it’s all about compete. So that’s how I’ve been taking it.”

All right, people criticize Jason Heyward on his plate appearances but there’s no denying that he’s a master and a beast in the outfield. Before the game, the Cubs had a special ceremony that presented Heyward with his fifth Golden Glove award. It’s well deserved and I know that the Cubs brass didn’t sign Heyward on his offensive prowess.

“I don’t know how many times I’ve told him, ‘I feel so much better when you’re on the field,'” Maddon said. “I think the receiving of the Gold Glove Award is one of the top awards in all baseball. I love having guys win that award. Normally, if you have a couple of those, you have a pretty good year as a group.”

I think it’s money well spent.

So yeah, yesterday’s victory is signalling to everyone that the Cubs are looking better and slowly getting into that groove for the season. I like it, I like it a lot. Really though, I didn’t expect Baez to turn on the jets like this.

“You’re going to go scout, watch guys run the bases and they’ll tell you what they’re instincts are like in the game of baseball,” Maddon said. “[Good players] see things. It’s like a good running back. … He’s among the best I’ve ever seen or ever had.”

Which, if the Cubs are hoping to return to that glory season of 2016 and win one on Wrigley Field soil this year, it’ll be from guys like Baez.

Believe it.

 

National League Central Division Champions!

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For the second straight year, the Chicago Cubs are National League Central Division Champions. Of course, nothing means more than the World Series but this is huge because it’s their third straight year into the post season and as any Cubs fan will tell you, that doesn’t happen that often. After beating the St. Louis Cardinals 5-1, the Cubs popped the corks off of the champagne, and as has become a tradition in our family these last few years, we’ve binge watched the Chicago Cubs in October.

“We had a lot of things that were not easy about this year, starting with guys naturally being fatigued, but you also have the fact that every team in our division played well this year,” Jason Heyward said. “It’s one of those years when you have to do everything right to get it done. We had a lot of growing to do this year.”

Sure, the blame was put on to World Series hangover during the first half of the season, but I’ve maintained that they struggled during the first half because other teams studied them hard and adapted to the Cubs style of play. That’s how they got beat. The second half revealed that the Cubs were just a good ball team and guys like Javier Baez, stepped up his play and really plugged up the middle while keeping his mighty bat going.

“Without Javy being here when Addy got hurt, it would not look the same right now,” Joe Maddon said of the Cubs’ position in the standings. “I promise you it would not look the same. The ability to plug up the middle of the field the way Javy has done in the absence of Addison, we would not be in this position right now.”

If the Cubs took everyone by storm last year, then this season was learning how to keep the momentum going and adapting to winning ballgames. If you look at the statistics, there’s no leaders this season, it’s been a total team effort.

“We’ve created a culture here where it’s win or bust,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said as he got splashed in the face with beer. “We’re not supposed to be here. I know on paper we are, but after a championship season, the numbers, the studies, the stats show we shouldn’t be here. People don’t do this. We’ve done it, and it feels good. And we’re in a good spot going into the postseason. We’re rolling.”

I’d love to see a dynasty forming with a repeat winner that isn’t named Yankees.

It’s exciting times to be a Cubs fan. There’s even a film coming out based on David Ross’s book, “Teammate” where none other than Bill Murray is tapped to play Joe Maddon. I mean come on, who else could do that role justice? The only question that remains is, who is going to play Bill Murray?

Believe it

 

Cubs Are Still # 1 in My Books

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I’m not a huge fan of champagne celebrations after every plateau reached in sports, I’d rather see them save it for the big ones like series wins and of course, the big victory. So, last night’s loss to the Cardinals 8-7 was bittersweet. It was a hell of a game with the Cubs’ now trademark comebacks even though they came up short on this one, it still feels good knowing that the post season starts next week and the Cubs clinching will go down to the wire.

“Let’s just play tomorrow, let’s not overreact to anything,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “I love the comeback, I love the energy. [Jake Arrieta] just had a tough night.”

That’s about all you can do. Jason Heyward ad a three run shot and then almost immediately, Ben Zobrist cranked one over the wall to bring the Cubs within a run of tying up the game, but that’s about as close as the Cubs would get.

There were a couple of moments that Cubs fans cringed over when Albert Almora crashed into the outfield wall, team staff rushed over but so far so good and there’s nothing seriously hurt with the outfielder.

“That’s a scary thing,” Jason Heyward said. “The wall is undefeated. That’s one of the things we always have to worry about. What I love about [Almora] is that he’s so fearless when it comes to that. It looked like he tripped into it going after the ball hard.”

Yeah, it looked really terrible.

“I tried to cut [the ball] off before it hit the wall and when I went to slide, I noticed I wasn’t going to get to it and when I looked up the wall was right on me,” Almora said. “There was no slowing down. Luckily, nothing’s broken, nothing’s damaged. All good.”

The other thing that happened was a ball went off of Willson Contreras‘ knee causing him to hobble around for a moment or two but nothing serious.

The writing on the wall last night occurred when the Cubs failed to capitalize on a couple bases loaded situations.

“These guys are going to make it as tough as possible on us, as we expect. We have to do our best to take care of business tomorrow, and then we’ll see what happens.” Arrieta said.

So, the Cubs magic number remains at 1. Leave it to the St. Louis Cardinals to frustrate the World Series Champions. This season, the Cubs haven’t made it easy on themselves or their fans. A frustrating first half, a comeback second half and an exhausting race to the finish line. What do the Cubs have in line for October?

Believe it.

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

Believe it.

 

Cubs Lose But Welcome The Professor Back

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Kyle Hendricks is always hard on himself. He was even harder on himself after the Cubs 3-1 loss to crosstown rivals, Chicago White Sox. While his comeback lasted only 4 1/2 innings, the road to recovery will take a few more games to get his sync back with the team.

“Just too many innings today for the bullpen to cover, really. That’s my fault,” Hendricks said of the loss. “I think that’s just a factor of me getting in my routine, getting in my bullpen routine, throwing again every day, just getting my legs back underneath me.

“Being on five days [moving forward] I think suits me a lot better. It’s just more normalcy in a way.”

Baseball is a game built on rhythm. To find that groove where pitchers can throw their best pitches at will, takes time. Sure, it takes a lot of skill and practice but timing and rhythm is everything.

“He was not what you would call ‘on.’ He’d be the first one to tell you that,” Maddon said. “But he threw [92] pitches, which is good to get him stretched out moving into the next start. The fact that he got out of there with one run — I was really pleased with that, too. It’s just a good outing to build off of.”

A 92 pitch outing is decent enough and even better when coming off the DL. If it were up to me and I suspect in a perfect world, pitcher’s would show at least 100 pitches and last 7 1/2 innings minimum. Of course it doesn’t always work out that way, but for me, the ideal outing would be those benchmarks.

So let’s talk about the trade deadline coming up. The Cubs are playing good ball and I don’t have to tell you about the success of Jose Quintana who is all ready 2-0 since joining the Northsiders but what else is there for the Cubs to acquire? Catching? I think that’s a safe bet because as we know, Willson Contreras might get a little burnt out before the end of the season if he keeps playing the way he’s been doing.

“We have a couple more days to put it all together,” Maddon said of the Deadline. “Of course, that makes sense [to get a veteran backup] — I can’t deny that. I don’t know if that will happen or not. That’s not denigrating Victor. Victor is at a point in his development that you don’t want him sitting around much.”

The “Victor” is rookie Victor Caratini who’s been doing fine as a back up but is he up to the grind of a potential playoff run or should they go with a veteran?

The Cubs are 8-2 since the break and are finally finding their rhythm can they keep it up?

“We all understand in this clubhouse it’s an exciting time,” Jason Heyward said. “It’s the second half, we’re playing for the playoffs and the division race is close. It’s exciting. It’s where you want to be. … It’s fun. Embrace that.”

Believe it

Cubs Wake Up From Hibernation

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There’s no denying it, the Cubs needed the rest going into the All Star break. They had to restart their batteries, regroup and do whatever they had to do to propel themselves into the second half. Last night’s 9-8 offensive output over the Baltimore Orioles was a welcomed relief and a much better indicator of what the team can do but it was also a sign of what they lack.

“It would’ve been very difficult to lose that game, I will not deny that, but we didn’t; we won it,” Maddon said. “You take a break, you play catch a little bit, and they’ve been throwing a lot in the first half. It’s one of those catch-22 moments. We got through it.”

It’s been a busy week for the Chicago Cubs. Some of it not so good when it came to the All Star game. Not only was Joe Maddon on the losing side but Wade Davis ended up giving up the winning run. If anyone was keeping score, Davis not only was the only representative of the Cubs but he wasn’t even on the 2016 World Series winning team! After the All Star game, I joked to my wife about the Cubs curse continuing almost like Sianis was calling down from the skies,”All right that last curse didn’t count so here’s another one!”

Then the Cubs made a huge trade in acquiring Jose Quintana from their crosstown rivals the White Sox, the Cubs gave up some minor leaguers. Quintana is expected to be in the lineup tomorrow and folks, I don’t know yet whether I’m excited about this or not?

“It’s over and that’s good,” Quintana said of the trade rumors. “It’s a fresh start. I just want to do my job and make the playoffs. I’ve never been to the playoffs and I have a good chance here.”

It’s a chance for both teams to make a fresh start. Last night’s five home run attack was the start of something special. In fact, what made it so special was the guys who hit them. Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist, Addison Russell and Willson Contreras. With the exception of Contreras, the other guys have been either injured or having a less than stellar season. I’m confident that Addison Russell has replaced Dexter Fowler in the, “You go, we go” department. He’s the kid the Cubs need to bolster the offence.

“The first half is a wash for me,” Schwarber said. “It’s just [a matter of] going out there and getting back to competing and focusing on my at-bat and focusing on the team at-bat and focusing on the team, period. We started off on the right foot — this is a big one for us, right there. We faced a little adversity and we were able to come through and it’s a great feeling.”

Like last season’s game against the Pirates going into the break, this one’s going to be the turning point of the season.

Now, if they can just tweak that ability to hold a lead, we’ll all be fine.

Believe it