Cubs Go On Fishing Expedition

Canuck Cubbie

It’s no secret that this season when the Cubs have been bad, well, they’ve stunk but when they’ve been good, they’ve been red hot. Last night, the Cubs weren’t just red hot, they were on fire beating the Miami Marlins 11-1.  On the same day that fan favourite, Kyle Schwarber got sent down for a little bit of adjustment, the Cubs young bats became red hot with Addison Russell, Willson Contreras and Kris Bryant each chipping in for the Home Run Department.

“A night like tonight where we we pitch well and score 11 runs, it looks easy. But it’s about consistency and trying to build off of a night like tonight. We’ve got the guys necessary to do so. So it’s a matter of collectively as a group building off of a night like tonight.” Jake Arrieta said.

Which is easier said than done. I’m not a big fan when players say all the “right things” when it comes to the need of winning ballgames. Eleven runs won’t happen every night, we know that but it’s also the kind of thing that won’t always ballgames when teams hit too many home runs. I’m a big fan of small ball. Get a hit, move the runner and steal a bag. Of course, score some runs.

The key player for the Cubs right now is Addison Russell. He’s been having a sloppy year so far but if he connects like he did last night, then I see a Cubs turnaround. What I mean by turnaround is not just squeaking in by a wild card spot; Nope, a bona fide National League leader.

“Addison looks really comfortable. I know you see it up there also,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “And Happ, when he starts making contact, he keeps making contact. And I like it from the right side. That’s very large that he’s starting to do it from the right side.”

Sending Kyle Schwarber down is something I would have done a lot sooner. He’s not a lead off guy (Not really an outfielder either, but not as bad as I imagined) He needs to get adjusted and time to refocus his fundamentals.

“We think this is best for him right now,” Maddon said. “We know he’s gonna be back, and obviously just look forward to it. I really personally love having him here, too. It’s just even when he’s struggling, whenever he walks up to the plate, everyone expects something good to happen. So let’s just get him right for him and for us.”

Look what happened last year after missing all but two games? There’s no question the kid can hit but I really didn’t think that last season’s success was an indication of what Schwarber can do. Hopefully with some time to get adjusted, there might be something waiting when he gets back.

“It’s tough for our team, because he’s such a good guy,” Anthony Rizzo said. “But he’s gonna go down and be able to exhale a little bit as far as being in the limelight all the time and hopefully smooth things out. We’re all confident he will and just do his best down there to get back here and get back to being the Kyle Schwarber we know.”

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Rizzo Does It Again

Canuck Cubbie

Anthony Rizzo is on a 14 game hitting streak. He’s hit three Leadoff home runs since his movement to that position, the Cubs just beat the San Diego Padres 4-0 and they’re a half game back of the Central Division lead.

Yeah, the season isn’t going the way that Cubs fans would like but the excitement of Rizzo in the leadoff spot doing this well is giving the fans something to cheer for. Is he the greatest Leadoff hitter in the game? Numbers don’t lie. He’s batting  1.000 in the leadoff spot.

“It’s funny,” said Rizzo. “I’m sure my teammates are starting to get a little tired of it because I’m constantly in their ears, nonstop, telling them to make sure you don’t miss it or ‘Watch this.’ It’s all in good fun and I’m having fun with it.”

We know his luck will eventually run out but while it lasts it’s fun watching him carry the team on his back during their rough patch. So, let’s talk about the Cubs being a half game back of Milwaukee and just shy of a wild card position. With the All Star game in a few weeks, it’s still early to pick playoff positions, we know there’s plenty of baseball left to go but last season the Cubs were not doing well heading into the All Star break. They were in the middle of a losing streak and it was that game at PNC just before the break that served as the turning point in their season. Will Rizzo’s success be the key to a turnaround?

“As long as we keep winning, I have no problem with it,” Rizzo said. “I have no problem going back to third or fourth or wherever Joe feels is best for the club. The main thing is we keep winning.”

That’s the kicker. They keep on winning, whatever it takes. You see, the magic of the game is these individual efforts and I think it extends back, way, way back when we got our news from the papers and read about individual accomplishments in sports. Now, I’m starting to show my age mentioning newspapers, but it’s true. Reading about sports and these milestones was a lot more intriguing because there was all day to talk about them. The games were blacked out. The game is still as exciting but in a different way.

Nah, I’m just getting older.

“On a nightly basis, he’s ready, he’s chirpy, he’s ready to go, and he’s loving this,” Maddon said. “He’s helping us out incredibly.”

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Cubs Slide By Padres

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When the going gets tough…Anthony Rizzo surprises again with a lead off bunt on route to a 3-2 win over the Fighting’ Friars. The Cubs looked good in last night’s victory. Not last year scary good but a more controlled and balanced good with Willson Contreras kicking in with a home run on the anniversary of his first big league hit.

“His growth from getting thrown into the fire last year of the best team in baseball to now being the starting catcher for us, for the defending [World Series] champions, that’s a lot of responsibility,” Jon Lester said.

It is a lot of responsibility, but the young catcher always brings a positive work ethic and a smile to every game. Especially when he’s catching Jon Lester, Contreras has shown a certain maturity.

“The sky’s the limit for this kid,” Cubs starter Jon Lester said. “He’s stuck with me and I’m stuck with him for the next three or four years, so hopefully he keeps getting better.”

The Cubs struggles are real with even Lester giving up a couple of home runs early and throwing 111 pitches before leaving the game in the 6th inning. So what can return the Cubs to their dominance?

Anthony Rizzo

It is often said that when a team is struggling, their leader is the one who’ll carry them on their backs. Anthony Rizzo has been that guy this year, always digging deep and finding ways to score runs and continue to push the Cubs despite their record. Even last night when he was running home with Matt Szczur throwing a rocket home, Rizzo crashed into Padres’ catcher Austin Hedge in a questionable play depending on which team you’re cheering for.

“I went pretty much straight in,” Rizzo said. “He caught the ball and went toward the plate. It was a hard slide. I play this game hard for 162 games-plus, every day. I pride myself on it, running the bases hard, doing everything hard. I can’t see that being dirty.”

I don’t think there was any intention to hit Hedges at all. It was a collision with no room to maneuveur around him. Everyone is thankful that Hedges wasn’t hurt.

“I loved it, absolutely loved it,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “That’s part of the game. If the catcher’s in the way, you hit him.”

Which makes a valid point because if Rizzo avoided Hedges, he might have been safe but in the end, he was thrown out and nobody was seriously hurt.

“It’s a fairly egregious violation of the rule,” Padres manager Andy Green said. “The rule exists to protect that catcher. … I think it’s a cheap shot. I’m not saying [Rizzo] is a dirty player at all. No one is saying that. But he clearly deviated from his path to hit our catcher and took our catcher out. The rule exists to protect him.”

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Cubs Have Wild Win. Rizzo’s Chance At History Recalled

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The Cubs put on a show yesterday but almost gave up the hitting performance in the ninth with a rally by Pittsburgh. In the end, it was the Cubs overcoming the Pirates 9-5.  The festivities got off to a thrilling start after Anthony Rizzo launched what could have been his third lead off home run in as many games, but after a video review it was called foul.

“Now the burden of proof came back to whether or not it was fair or not,” Maddon said. “If it had been confirmed foul, I’m fine. But the play stood. If we had gone right to replay immediately after this thing was hit, and they said it was foul, I would’ve been in that game for nine innings. But the way it came down procedurally, I totally disagree with. There’s no argument you can give me. You have basically neutered instant replay by the way it was handled tonight.”

Joe’s got a point. The ball was clearly foul but the evidence was inconclusive and yet, they still called foul. The way I look at it, the game’s in the beautiful PNC Park so chalk it up to hometown advantage. Joe was ejected and the always even tempered Anthony Rizzo even looked a little hot headed.

“That was absolutely a home run,” Rizzo said. “There is no way it could have gone over the pole foul because this is one of the shortest right fields in the league. I hit it too hard for it to have time to go foul. I respect the umpires and I never like to criticize them because I know they give their very best but they got that one wrong. At least, we won the game and that’s all that really matters.”

The ninth inning took on a life of its own after the Cubs plated six after bench all star Jon Jay got things going with a go ahead single and the rest was history.

The problem I have with the win is that the Cubs could have done a better job in the ninth holding off Pittsburgh. Yeah, they got the win but showed some of the cracks that have formed in the World Series champs. I’ve got a good feeling though with Rizzo in the lead off. Three games. Almost three home runs.

“Anthony probably had a chance to go into the record books, with three leadoff home runs,” Maddon said. “Our game is based on that stuff [statistics]. The first-base umpire was demonstrative that baseball was fair … Why change it?”

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Cubs On Slippery Slope After Loss To Rockies

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Despite their fourth loss in a row, the Cubs are sitting in second place in the National League Central division. You know what that means? It’s not a very good division, is it? Yesterday, the Cubs fell to the Rockies in a 9-1 disaster.

“We can’t panic. If we’re panicking, we’re not going to be playing the way we can. You’re going to start gripping the bat tighter, gripping the ball tighter, and then that’s when you really mess up. It’s OK for the fans to worry and all that. I mean, it’s just natural. Some people don’t have control over what we do. But we have the control, and it’s just up to us to kind of work harder.” Kris Bryant said.

It’s a case of two teams going in the opposite direction. I mean, the Rockies are becoming the team to beat this year with a seven game win streak and are second in baseball.

What?

So, I have an idea. Why not insert Jason Heyward into the lead off spot. Arguably, he’s the Cubs most improved player and through 48 games has an OBP of .314 and SLG of .394 The Cubs had five hits yesterday.

Five hits!

Does anyone have an answer for the Cubs woes?

“It happens to everybody. I’m sure if you ask every other team, they’re going to tell you the same thing,” Joe Maddon said. “Of course it happens. To the extent that it’s happening with some guys is a little more difficult. … It’s just collectively a bad moment for us.”

We could use the excuse of the Cubs being banged up but Addison Russell‘s head isn’t there this season and Kyle Hendricks is on the DL for a bit but for a team that we know can do great things, something is amiss in the locker room.

Scoring is essential to winning. We know that and here’s where the difference is with the Cubs this season. The Rockies are first overall with 325 RBI’s while the Cubs are a paltry 259. Not overly terrible numbers for the North Siders but then again, yeah, they’re bad. The Cubs need to hit more. They’re in second last place overall with 477 hits. The Cubs aren’t seeing the ball. That has to change. Wether it’s trying more to do little things like laying down the bunt or being more patient at the plate, they must find a way to change it up.

“You go through things like this. You go through spells where you don’t feel good, and this is probably — I guess as a team — probably the lowest point that I’ve been here,” Bryant said. “But it’s really not that bad when you look at it in context in terms of the division. Nobody’s really taken advantage of it, like some of the other divisions out there or like we did last year. So you’ve just got to keep your head up. Good times are ahead.”

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Cubs Grab Marlins By The Jaws

Anthony Rizzo

It’s frustrating to be a Cubs fan these days. One one hand I want to be critical of their performance this season but on the other hand, winning five in a row and having the best win streak in the majors just feels right. The Cubs destroyed the Miami Marlins last night 10-2 and there wasn’t much the fish could do to stay out of the Cubs jaws.

“The feeling is a little different in the dugout,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “Since we’ve been back home, the guys are starting to feel it more and it’s more reminiscent of the last two years and it’s a good thing.”

There was that emotional speech in San Diego that might have turned things around but the way the Cubs have played during this home stand, who knows maybe Jason Heyward should start giving Ted Talks? Last night, the Cubs put out the welcome mat for the Marlins from Jake Arrieta‘s outstanding performance to Anthony Rizzo‘s staggering three run home run in the fifth inning, that’s the way the Cubs should play.

Arrieta, possibly being reminded that his contract is due soon, decided to remind us all that he won a Cy Young a couple years back and went win to pitch just under seven innings.

“Any time we go through a period like we did on our last road trip, it kind of increases the sense of urgency a little bit,” Arrieta said. “We’re not necessarily pressing or trying to do more than we’re capable of, but trying to get locked in more as far as our mental approach and focusing exclusively on that. We’ve been doing that the past five or six games, and it’s starting to pay off”

Recording five strikeouts, the fearsome hurler settled in and delivered a performance that only the second time in the last 11 where a starter recorded a win, that’s how poor the Cubs have been of late.

Though what’s been the most impressive as of late is the play of Jason Heyward. The much maligned highly priced pick up of the Cubs enjoyed one of his best games last night, recording three hits, two of which were doubles. Yup, nobody ever accused Heyward of having a rotten glove but his play at the plate has garnered a lot of attention lately.

“I’m really digging where he’s at in the five-hole,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “Right- or left-handed pitcher,  he don’t care. He’s giving you good at-bats against both sides of the plate. He’s giving good at-bats against velocity, and he’s giving you good at-bats against breaking pitches. He continues to trend in the right direction.”

Going into last night’s contest, the Cubs were last in the National League with Runners In Scoring Position but they’ve been 4 for 7 before the game. Last night, they went 6 for 16, a paltry number by any means but one that’s heading into the right direction.

“It starts in the clubhouse, it starts in the dugout, it starts with us being together,” Heyward said. “It starts with your hitters feeling like the dugout and the team is with you every at-bat. That’s what we want to feel. We want to make sure our guys know that regardless of the outcome of the at-bat, just know the guys are with you, and we’ve done a great job of that.”

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Kyle Schwarber Launches First Grand Slam

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I know I’ve been a little harsh on Kyle Schwarber of late, but really I’ve just been critical of the Cub’s decision to have him as lead off hitter. Yesterday, the Cubs didn’t have hitting lead off but instead, hitting in the ninth spot and he came through. The Cubs won the series against their rivals, the Cardinals 5-3.

“I’m like, ‘Hey, at least I’m playing,'” Schwarber said, laughing. “No, actually, I didn’t say anything. He told me his reason and I was like, ‘All right, I’m going with it.’ Whatever the skipper does I’m following it. He’s got our back. It’s all a process, and it worked out today.”

It did work out. Schwarber hit his first career grand slam and sending the Wrigley faithful into a frenzy. Sometimes, managers and GM’s might call up a player in order to put a band aid on the situation but with a creative manager like Maddon, juggling the batting order is all they need.

“Of course, his confidence is impacted, and that’s the whole point,” Maddon said. “I wanted to impress upon him it’s not a loss of confidence from me to you. I understand you’re going through a moment right now. What is the best way to deal with this? You can set aside your baseball ego — hitting ninth. To me, it’s so attractive. It’s not hitting ninth and like the last kid playing right field in a sandlot game, it’s not that at all. It’s really attractive.”

Perhaps that’s all the Cubs really need is to put their egos aside after winning the big one and hey, I’d have a big ego if I helped end an over a hundred year drought. Wouldn’t you?

It wasn’t just Schwarber that helped the team win the weekend series, Jon Lester 14-2 at Wrigley Field, picked off Tommy Pham at first. You heard that right, Lester threw the guy out at first. We all know that Lester has been a little on the apprehensive side when it comes to playing catch with first base but every now and then he’ll make that elusive play and get someone out. Runners usually get a big lead on him thinking he’ll never do it, then it happens.

“It’s a mind thing, man,” Maddon said. “If you believe you can do it, you can do it. It’s that simple. I know the other teams will definitely jot that down. It’s something to be reckoned with. However, we’ve done a nice job controlling the running game with him all year. It’s not been an issue. There’s been a lot made of it … but he’s done a great job. He’s probably our quickest guy to the plate. To this point, it’s worked in our favor.”

So, how quickly the Cubs try to put a horrible May behind them where they went 12-16 and now have won back to back in June will close out the series with a sweep against the Cardinals tonight when Kyle Hendricks takes to the mound.

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