Baez Walks This Way In Cubs’ Victory

 

Chicago Cubs

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.

Cubs Narrowly Escape Game 1

Canuck Cubbie

Chicago Cubs’ Javier Baez, bottom right, steals third during the eighth inning of a baseball game against Anthony Rendon, Monday, June 26, 2017, in Washington. The Cubs won 5-4. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

It was a highlight reel of everything that was great about the Chicago Cubs this season and everything that was not so great about the North Siders in their 5-4 victory over the Washington Nationals. From Javier Baez‘s spectacular catch to Wade Davis’ 9th inning collapse, it was the best of times and the worst of times.

“I love when we participate with that kind of intensity,” manager Joe Maddon said after the game. “I’m not saying we haven’t, but coming in here against a really good team, under the circumstances, it was kind of fun.”

There it is. Joe Maddon finally admitted that the Cubs haven’t been very good this season. Sort of. The Washington Nationals are a very good team and the Cubs meanwhile, are in a division that isn’t the strongest division in the game. So the test of how good the Cubs are isn’t all that accurate. In fact, the Cubs are still in the hunt to win the National League Central but compared to the rest of the league, Chicago isn’t doing too well.

“It’s nice before you play [Max] Scherzer — it’s always nice [to win]. To play so well and not win that game, that would’ve been awful, that would’ve been tough. Honestly, every night to me is the biggest game of the year. Tonight, playing a good team like that, playing in Washington, we have our youngest pitcher pitching against a guy who is pretty darn good. Butler beats Gio tonight … I think that’s pretty good stuff.” Maddon said.

Eddie Butler did a spectacular job last night allowing no runs in his five inning stint. If last night was a wake up call for the struggling team, then they looked no further than to Javier Baez’s leadership abilities. This is the time of the season to rally the troops and take stock of where the team is heading. They must accept the fact that they’re not the team they were in 2016. That was a fluke and admitting to it being the lightning in the bottle season, will give them the dose of reality they need moving forward.

“Games like this are what we need right now,” Baez said. “The Nationals are like St. Louis. Always good competition. … Before the game, everyone was into it. Go out there, and play hard.”

The good news is that guys like Jason Heyward, Kyle Hendricks and Kyle Schwarber won’t be out too much longer and the Cubs can go back to winning ball games.

Believe it

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.”

Believe it

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.

Believe it.

 

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”

Believe it

 

Cubs Stay Up All Night

Wrigley Field

In trying to gain internship into the Bryzzo Souvenir Company Kyle Schwarber leapt into the crowd to attempt a thrilling catch and give Anthony Rizzo a run for his Rizzo Wrap prize. That was just one of many thrilling plays in the epic 18 inning marathon heartbreaker which resulted in a 5-4 loss for the Chicago Cubs.

“How about that play? It was very Derek-esque [Jeter],” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “I’m just worried about him hitting the wall. That’s all I was worried about. Of course, you’d like to see the guy make the play, but you also want to see him walk back to his position. Tremendous play.”

It was a tremendous play but in the end, the Yankees ended up with the sweep. Another thrilling moment occurred when Javier Baez fouled a ball off of his foot. It looked like he was in a lot of pain but then the amazing happened and next pitch he sent it into the bleachers to tie up the game in the third inning.

The ballgame set an MLB record with 48 combined strikeouts, for the uninitiated, that’s a lot. Yet, despite the game which rivalled the World Series Game 7 thriller, it’s worrisome to think that the Cubs are struggling so much this season. After last season, the club looks mortal. Sure, their bullpen has settled into a nice groove but where’s the dominance that was so prevalent in their historic 2016 season?

“A crazy game. It would have been nice to have won it. We lost two crazy games against these guys on this homestand. What are you going to do, man? Just move it forward.” Maddon said.

They have nothing left to do but move forward. The Cubs sent the game into extra innings in the ninth against Aroldis Chapman. It gives me a little satisfaction to see that after all the negativity after last fall’s classic.

“To come back and get those [runs] against Aroldis, bully for us,” Maddon said. “That was some really great at-bats right there culminating in a hit by pitch. That’s not easy to do, to get three runs against that fella under these circumstances.”

It’s easy to say, “Let’s move forward” or put whatever other spin the team puts on it but the truth is that the team is struggling. They’re keeping their heads a float and for the most part it’s great they’re getting this slump out of the way now but I have this nagging feeling that the chances of a repeat are going to prove very difficult.

Believe it

 

 

 

Cubs Pounce on Phillies

Javier Baez

Jon Lester is an example of polar opposites. On the mound, he’s a lethal pitcher, striking batters out practically at will. At the home plate, however, it’s another story. Lester is seen as an easy out; except in those rare occasions when he comes through like he did in the fourth inning in the Cubs 8-3 romp of the Phillies.

“I saw it and swung at it this time for whatever reason, and was able to put the barrel to the ball and get a base hit. I’m just up there trying not to look too much like an idiot and not get hurt.” Lester said.

It was a relief to see the Cubs win in style. I guess what was more of a relief was seeing the stellar play of Kyle Schwarber and Javier Baez. Both were in the midst of a slump but last night saw them not exactly break their respective slumps, but contribute to the team in ways that is expected of them. Schwarber rocketed a three run shot to put the Cubs ahead.

“It doesn’t make any difference,” Schwarber said. “I think it’s about just going up there and doing the job. Obviously, getting on base to start the game, I want to do that. You only lead off once. You can come up anywhere in the batting order after that. My job’s to get the job done any way possible.”

Quick, can you guess which Chicago Cub was the last player to hit for the cycle? Well, Javier Baez came close by missing a double. It’s no secret that the slumping Baez was due for a great game. He went 4-4 and hopefully signalling an end to his slumping April.

“I really started slow in April, which is usual for me, although not this slow,” said Baez. “I kept trying and made my adjustments. I didn’t give up during the games and went back to the cage during the games.”

Now I’m not one to nitpick but if Baez realizes that he starts slow in April, why can’t he plan ahead and make adjustments to his game?

“I was watching him in his pregame and I think that something he was focusing on was trying to limit his leg kick a little bit,” Kris Bryant said. “And I saw it in the game. I was pretty impressed. He went from the cage right to the game. I don’t know — it’s just what I saw. I thought he looked awesome today. He was right on everything.”

Oh, and that last player to hit for the cycle was Mark Grace way back in May of 1993.

Believe it