Cubs Make it An Extra Special Father’s Day

Canuck Cubbie

Chicago Cubs starting pitcher John Lackey delivers in the first inning of a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Pittsburgh, Sunday, June 18, 2017. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

The Chicago Cubs were out in their finest Father’s Day blue uniforms and they didn’t disappoint in their 7-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Cubs haven’t won a road series since April and the season so far, has had their share of ups, downs and set backs. Yesterday, with Anthony Rizzo in the leadoff yet again, the Cubs sent Father’s everywhere home smiling.

“It’s crazy, it’s weird, it’s funny but it’s great,” Rizzo said. “The game can’t start until I get in the batter’s box. The objective is, the pitcher is going to throw strike one, they want to get in a groove, and I have to be ready to hit.”

It is crazy to think about Rizzo in the leadoff, but in the midst of a 12 game winning streak, yesterday, Rizzo crushed a two run homer and collected three hits. The Cubs haven’t been doing their best this year, it’s no secret about that and everybody has a different theory on it. It’s exciting when a guy like Rizzo does this well in a position that he’s unfamiliar with and gives us reasons to cheer.

“You look at him, he’s a middle-of-the-order first baseman,” MVP Kris Bryant said. “He’s the last guy you would expect to hit leadoff. He’s on base all the time now. It’s nice to get to the pitcher with that first at-bat of the game. Hopefully he can keep that up.”

There’s no question about him keeping that up. Yeah, he’ll have his good days and bad ones too but I can guarantee that with Rizzo in the leadoff, it’ll be, “You go, we go!” situation and Dexter Fowler is smiling in St. Louis.

Someone else who’s smiling is John Lackey. The Cubs’ veteran pitcher has had his struggles this season and although I’m a fan of his style, he’s a difficult pitcher to gauge because you never know who’s going to show up on the mound until that first pitch. Will it be the lights out, wily grizzled hurler? Or the frustrated, mad at every guy in the game, tired, past his prime, Everyone has that one last pitch kind of warrior? Yesterday, it was the wily veteran doing nothing fancy but allowing few runs and getting the job done.

“I’m just going to try to do my job,” Lackey said. “It was really cool to pitch on Father’s Day as a dad.”

The Cubs may be onto something now. Last year, it was in Pittsburgh just before the All Star Break when the tides turned and the Cubs fell out of their slump. Could this be the great Father’s Day slump buster?

“Gosh, the way Rizzo started the game again and got the momentum rolling,” Maddon said. “I think he likes doing it. He likes the idea of getting that extra at-bat.”

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Cubs Stop Making Excuses

Canuck Cubbie

It’s obvious that there’s something amiss with the Chicago Cubs. Last night, they lost 6-1 to the New York Mets in a game which saw John Lackey get walloped by home runs. There’s no excuse for the way the Cubs year is shaping up, when they win, there are flashes of the great team of 2016 but when they lose, all that’s left are question marks and little room for excuses.

“I’ve given up a bunch of homers. I need to do a better job of keeping the ball in the yard, for sure,” Lackey said.

To be fair to Lackey, he normally gives up a lot of home runs. The fact though that he’s almost reached his home run total of last year (23) is a little alarming. The Cubs are at a point where they have to decide what they’re going to do with him.

“We can’t keep using that as an excuse that the other team’s pitcher is good. We’ve got to start beating some better pitchers, period. You don’t get to the promised land winning games like that — 3-2, 4-3. Obviously, the double play hurt us. [deGrom] was good, but at some point we have to start figuring out how to put some things together to beat those guys.” Joe Maddon said.

So for the Cubs , they’ve reached their breaking point. With the All Star break one month away, the Cubs have to make changes. I’m sensing that little frustration in the normally glass half full Maddon. He’s probably feeling the heat from the brass.

“The believability that we can do something like that was earned that year (2016), and I think that bled into the following season obviously,” he said. “Now, even though we’re not playing like we’d like to on a daily basis, there’s still a strong believability among us that we can do that again based on what we have done in the past. I think more than anything, the lesson learned is you can do this and then you know what it takes to do this. You finally learn how to win, what does that mean? On a daily basis, regardless of who you’re playing or where, if you play the game properly and you play nine innings hard, you’ve got a shot. That’s all that was learned in that year.” Maddon said.

There’s no denying they earned it last year and in flashes you can still see that team poking its head through the ivy but the Champs are just on the other side of .500 where they’ve been floating all season. In any other year they’d be considered good but given their recent accolades, I’m talking about that spiffy thing flapping over by that old scoreboard, the Cubs have fallen to mediocre.

The Toronto Blue Jays have the same record as the North Siders and are last in the American League East. That pretty much tells you how bad the Cubs have become, or how so-so the NL Central division is, however you look at it.

“Of course I’d like to be 10 games over .500, but we’re not. We’ve earned it. We’ve earned the right to not be 10 games over .500 right now, but we’re capable of doing it.” Maddon said.

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Cubs Can’t Reel In Marlins

Canuck Cubbie

All right, despite the 6-5 loss to the Marlins, the Cubs managed to show a lot of positives. I mean, there was Kyle Schwarber‘s three hits and of course, there were some let downs.

“You see how much shorter [his swing is],” manager Joe Maddon said of Schwarber. “His feet are on the ground, he’s not lifting his leg up a lot. He’s keeping his body out of it, and his hands have been much more active. It’s reminiscent of what we’ve seen in the past. He has great balance in his finish. You’ve seen every time he’s hit the ball, he’s able to stand there because his balance is so good. When a hitter can do that, it means he’s permitting the ball to travel, he’s using his hands, he’s keeping his head still, all the good things you’re trying to get done. A nice night for him, absolutely it was.”

Then there was John Lackey. Five runs on seven hits? Yikes. I like the guy, he’s one of the fiercest competitors in the game but I think they should start grooming him for another role in the organization. His ERA is up this year 5.12 and I think he’s just about done.

“Lackey is not afraid to challenge hitters, and sometimes it works for him and sometimes it works against him,” Maddon said.

“If I managed the game a little bit better, (the home runs) shouldn’t have killed us,” Lackey said. “The hit to the shortstop (Riddle) is probably the one that got me the most for sure.”

So there are some gaffes that he makes. Don’t get me wrong, he’s still got a little arm left in him, but I think the Cubs should look else where in the rotation.

The series that opens tonight against the Colorado Rockies is going to be difficult. This is the true test of the Cubs endurance. The Rockies have come alive. Even though it’s a home series, the Cubs should try and treat it like an away series. Does that make sense?  Next week they’ll be on the road against the Mets and then it’s off to Pittsburgh. If I were Maddon in his creative ways, I’d try and get the Cubs out of their usually home routine for this one. Have a theme day, maybe it’s Pirates of The Caribbean? There’s nothing wrong with the way they play at home so they have to focus on the their road routines and get out of their comfort zones. If that includes changing up their living quarters or something, I don’t know?

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Cubs Feel Heat In LA

Anthony Rizzo

The Dodgers make me nervous. In last fall’s NLCS there was nothing better than to see the Cubs put an end to Los Angeles’ playoff run. This Memorial Day weekend series has not gone so smoothly. The Chicago Cubs were shutout yesterday 5-0 and now have to face Clayton Kershaw in an attempt to save face and take one game this weekend.

“We haven’t played badly,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “We just haven’t hit the ball, and they got timely hits when they needed it. They pitched well, they beat us. That’s it.”

That pretty much sums up every ball game when a team loses. To be fair, John Lackey pitched a good game by taking a no hitter into the fourth inning. Lackey, like the Dodgers makes me nervous. You never know what pitcher is going to show up and last night, was the kind of Lackey who is on his game and means business.

“They really have made very few, if any, mistakes against us and we have not taken advantage of anything,” said Cubs manager Joe Maddon. “We have hit some balls well but they have been foul balls. Otherwise, our contact has been rather weak the last two days.”

With the loss, the Cubs were shutout for the fifth time this season. From a team that won over 100 games last season, this is a troubling statistic. On the other hand, the Dodgers own the lowest bullpen ERA in the National League. If any team can shutdown the offensive power of the Cubs, it’s these West Coasters.

Today’s game is going to be good. Jon Lester versus Kershaw. These guys are on top of the food chain of pitchers. It’s going to be a low scoring affair.

“It should be rather interesting,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “You always anticipate low scoring with that. The Dodgers are pitching really, really well. Kershaw is a different animal, and so is Jon. It should be interesting.”

I have a gut feeling that the Dodgers and the Cubs could be facing each other again in the NLCS this fall. Pitching vs offence.

“What it means to me,” Maddon said of the back-to-back shutouts, “is we have no chance to win the last two games.”

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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 Bring The Bats, Help Lackey

Chicago Cubs

The Chicago Cubs are somewhat of an oddity this season. They’re not overly good like last year, but they’re not too bad either. If that makes sense? Yesterday, they evened the series against Boston with a 7-4 victory. Then there’s the connection with the World Series teams with John Lackey, Koji Uehara and Dustin Pedroia. That’s quite a connection between these two franchises.

Out of all the pitchers on the Cubs staff, the one I’m worried about the most is John Lackey. Yesterday, the Cubs bared their teeth at the plate, but in the true John Lackey fashion of unpredictability, it was the pitcher that bit the hardest.

“If it’d been the first time to leave somewhere, it would’ve been a little different,” Lackey said. “I was just trying to win a game.”

The game worn face of the veteran hurler argued a call to the umpire. In a move that would likely have thrown every other pitcher out of the game, there seems to be a certain respect (or is that fear) from the umpires for Lackey.  In the end, it wasn’t a pretty game that Lackey threw, giving up four runs and eight hits but the Cubs earned him the win. That’s the kind of game you’re going to get from Lackey.

On the other end of the plate the Cubs have Miguel Montero. I like Montero and he’s kind of stepped up into the David Ross role on the team. Although, he complained about the way he was used in the playoffs, and I totally disagree with him; he hit a grand slam for Pete’s sake! Montero is a good hitter who comes through in the clutch. Yesterday, he did just that with a game tying home run in the seventh inning.

If Miggy Montero is a great clutch player, the one player who might finally get his due this season is Anthony Rizzo. The unofficial leader of the team hit his sixth home run of the season in a two run shot in the fourth inning. Rizzo is overdue for an MVP season and I believe this year is his year for that to happen.

The tandem of Rizzo and Kris Bryant is a throwback to a bygone era like Ruth and Gehrig, Mantle and Maris. There will always be the debate of who’s better but there’s no denying that with Bryant and Rizzo at the corners for the Cubs, they’re the ones laying the foundation for Chicago’s now historic 2016 team. The image is forever engraved in the minds and imaginations of baseball and Cubs fans everywhere the final out in game seven of the World Series. They are the Tinkers to Evers to Chance of a new millennium. The smiling face of Bryant and the ball tucked in the back pocket of Rizzo. That’s what baseball is all about. The culmination of a year’s worth of hard work, team spirit and camaraderie. Anthony Rizzo should win MVP as sure as God made green apples.

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