Kyle Hendricks Outstanding In NLDS Game 1

Sure, if somebody were to compare last night’s performances by the starting pitchers Kyle Hendricks and Stephen Strasburg, the edge would have to go to Strasburg. But, and that’s a big one, when it came down to sheer control, domination and command the better pitcher was Hendricks.

Of course, I’m bias on that one. You knew that of course.

The Cubs opened their NLDS series against the Washington Nationals with a 3-0 victory. If this was any indication of how the post season is going, then a road victory is surely that much more awesome.

“Going up against a tough pitcher, tough team in their home park, I don’t know if anyone really expected us to win, and we pulled it out,” Kris Bryant said. “Winning the first game is always important, but in a five-game [series], it’s more important.”

Yes, it is Kris. His bare handed grab at third to throw at first was one of the many highlights of the game.

So, when Kyle Hendricks came into the league back in 2014, he mostly flew under the radar and even up to last year’s World Series win, Kyle retained his unassuming style. Now, after last night’s Lecture On How To Pitch by the Professor Hendricks, I believe that his name will come up with some of the greats. Granted, I may be jumping the gun a little too soon (and in true Cubs fashion, I probably just jinxed the damn team) but admit it, the kid’s on fire.

“I think I’m just a laid-back guy, but you’re definitely feeling it,” Hendricks said. “The energy there in the stadium and crowd was pretty cool, but we’ve played some big games, even down the stretch in our division. We’ve had good atmospheres where we’re playing, so we were ready to take that adrenaline on and use it to our advantage.”

The kid tells the truth, the Cubs have been smoking hot coming down the stretch and you know, they might have to include a director’s cut of the film that’s being planned and add an extended version with this year’s post season.

Hendricks did just Hendricks things by carving out the strike zone and being cool and methodical under pressure.

“That’s why we call him Professor,” Chicago second baseman Javier Baez said about Hendricks. “He knows what he’s doing.”

One of my favourite games was the NLCS when Hendricks shut down Clayton Kershaw and for me, that was the game that solidified his potential Hall of Fame status.

“Joe Maddon has always been there for me,” Hendricks said. “They have instilled a lot of confidence in me ever since I came here. Even when I first came up, I had a bad year in 2015 and they stuck with me. So it’s been that way for a long time. But to get this nod for Game 1, just to try to set the tone for the team is huge. I just wanted to go out there, like I said before, and just do my part to give my team a chance to win.”

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?

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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.

Believe it

Cubs’ Baez And Lackey Roar In Victory

I’m going to get a lot of flack for saying this, but John Lackey is not a great pitcher.

Anymore.

The one thing he is good at, in fact he’s down right awesome at is coming through when it counts. He’s a tough Texan and we all know how tough those Texans are, that he probably sat in the dugout or the locker room or in rush hour traffic and thought to himself, because he would never, ever give one of those locker room speeches a la J Hey. No, Lackey would simply say a four letter expletive tied in with a “If I have to carry these SOB’s on my back to win another trophy, damn it that’s what I’ll do”

Even the Umpire’s reconsidered an outside pitch after Big John shook his head at them because they fear him too.

Yesterday, the Cubs beat the Braves 2-0, they’ve won five straight and are 9-1 when Lackey starts.

“You definitely feel that what you’ve been working for is around the corner, but you have to keep working, keep pushing,” Lackey said. “It’s not there yet.”

What? This is exactly the reason the Cubs brass brought Lackey into the fold. When it counts, he wins ballgames.

So does Javier Baez. He got off to a rough start early in his career but has matured every season. Take yesterday’s dash to home after a Kyle Schwarber hit; it’s those kind of plays that are going to help the Cubs a lot going down the stretch. Baez has turned into one of the most dynamic players in the league.

“To be a good baserunner, you have to anticipate in advance,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “You have to see things. I’ve compared it to a good running back in football. They talk about how he sees his blocking schemes, he sees his holes. [Baez] sees things that most other guys don’t see in advance of the moment. He just has that quickness about his mind when it comes to a lot of things on the field.”

He sees things and acts quickly. It’s a gift that is a refreshing change from the hitter’s game of about 15 years ago. I’ve always stressed that in the playoffs, small ball reigns supreme. Baez’s ability to move on the bag will someday earn him accolades.

“He’s got all of that in his bag of tricks,” Kyle Schwarber said. “It’s fun to watch — you see him make the backhand in the hole or steal home or whatever it is. It’s a lot of fun. I know it’s fun for everyone else to watch. We’re wowed as well.”

Believe it.

Cubs Set Franchise Record in Anhilation of Pirates

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Part of me wants to end the post right here. A 17-3 humiliation of the Pittsburgh Pirates is a rare feet but scoring 17 runs in two games less than a week apart, well, that’s just down right weird and awesome. Let’s just get things a little clear here too; when Cubs pitchers start getting RBI’s, good things happen. Jose Quintana did just that and look at what happened?

Then there’s Ian Happ, the rookie who now has 20 home runs and joins the club along with Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant Javier Baez, Kyle Schwarber and Willson Contreras. It’s a tired old cliche, but the Cubs record doesn’t reflect their play since the All Star break. Well hold on now, that doesn’t make sense because they’ve been getting the wins but they’ve been playing like they should have 90 wins, if they played this well before the break.

“We have a lot of good hitters here, a lot of young guys who have learned a lot and are putting good swings on the baseball, especially on a night when we get 20 hits and score 17 runs,” Happ said. “We had a lot of good [at-bats].”

I think too that last night’s victory showed that the Cubs can do all the right things on the bags when they want to. Stealing home, Happ attempting that triple, although caught and more at home in a Little League game but that’s the kind of things the Cubs need to do if they hope to recapture that crown again.

Then there’s Baez stealing home, wasn’t there a film made of that? It’s probably one of the most thrilling plays in the game and none other than Baez could pull that off with flair.

“We had a safety squeeze,” Baez said. “It was the same error as last year [in the NLCS]. We practiced today in early work, and even doing the early work I was going to the plate too fast and breaking to the plate pretty fast. I think on the play [Quintana] squared the bunt too early. I reacted early, too. I was making sure that didn’t happen again and it did.”

Is Happ a rookie contender? I think he should be in the conversation. No other Cubs player has hit that milestone in fewer games.

So, what about the player’s weekend jerseys? my wife and I agree that they should replace their current third jerseys with those from the player’s weekend. They’re sharp looking and heck, why not keep the nicknames on the back?

Believe it

 

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.”

Believe it

 

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.