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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Despite Cubs Loss, Rizzo Keeps The Streak Going

Chicago Cubs

The Chicago Cubs couldn’t play “Comeback Kids” again as the Cincinnati Reds defeated the North Siders 7-5 yesterday. They put on a good show and Anthony Rizzo keeps his streak alive with three home runs in his last three games.

“You just play baseball really,” the Cubs’ first baseman said. “You just hit balls where they’re not standing. You go through the process. It’s no different than not getting any hits.”

As we all know, baseball is such a streaky sport.

In a strange game which showcased the aging talents of John Lackey versus Bronson Arroyo, the elder Lackey pitched a frustrating game

“Yeah, I don’t care about the series right now; I’m pissed,” said Lackey. “I felt like I definitely pitched a lot better than the numbers are going to show. Two of the first three runs were a couple of balls that kind of fell in on me. And I really didn’t give up a whole lot of hard contact. What are you going to do?”

This was his third start that he lost. I don’t know, I think Lackey needs to move down in the order but he’s so competitive that I wouldn’t want him to get mad about that.

Even though the Cubs won the series, it’s good that they’re finally coming around but they should have controlled that game better. The Reds had an aging pitcher.

The Cubs won the series but now head to Pittsburgh to face the Pirates. The last time these two teams faced each other, the Pirates swept them.

The Pirates don’t have Starling Marte (much to my annoyance in my Keeper League) so the Cubs should be all right.

“I have nothing to complain about. You go into another city and win the series. We’ll take it.” Joe Maddon said.

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Cubs Trying To Get Losing Streak Done Early

Chicago Cubs

The Chicago Cubs are in the midst of a losing streak as they dropped their fourth straight yesterday 6-3 in the series opener to the Brewers. The good news is that last year, the Cubs longest losing streak was five games. That didn’t occur until July, so if baseball is a superstitious game and, well, you know the Cubs are no stranger to superstition and freaky things, then this could be a good sign to get it out of the way early.

“I don’t remember what our record was at the beginning of last year. People are going to come here gunning for us, for sure. We’re the world champs, and people want to come here and play well. We’ll have to match that intensity and play better.” said John Lackey.

While Kyle Schwarber lays down some pretty impressive bunting skills, it’s good to see that Joe Maddon’s creativity is still intact. It was the first bunt that Schwarber hit in the majors.

“The situation dictated it right there,” Schwarber said. “We’re down two runs and I needed to get on base. If it’s wide open in that spot, I’m going to take it.”

What’s pretty unique about the situation the Cubs are finding themselves in is that once upon a time, fans didn’t expect much from the North Siders but now that there’s a World Championship under their belts, well that’s different. The Cubs are playing .500 ball and although players are trying to keep their heads about it, I can’t help but sense an undercurrent shifting and a little bit of worrying.

“It happened to us last year right before the All-Star break,” Schwarber said. “We hit the skids. Hopefully, maybe we’re hitting it early. We’re super-early in the season still. Like I said, no panic.”

It’s the back end of the game where the Cubs find themselves struggling. Closing out games and their bullpen needs to get caught up with the rest of the team. Here’s the thing though, Wade Davis and Kojii Uehara are new additions to the squad that last year featured Aroldis Chapman after the All Star break. So, like it or not the Cubs are a much different team than last season.

On an up note, three former Cubs received their rings yesterday. Travis Wood, Jorge Soler and Jason Hammel all had a chance to bask in the limelight again and visit with their former team.

“Travis walked in, and it’s like, ‘OK, how do you feel for today?'” Maddon said. “It’s just very, very normal. … The weird thing about that is it’s like he belongs here. It’s not even weird — there’s nothing awkward about it. That’s not normal. When a guy from another team walks in your locker room, even though he may have been with you in the past, it’s still awkward.”

Yes, the awkwardness is there but in the end, the Cubs have to find a way to move past the jewelry, pageantry and those banners out beside the scoreboards and get back to what made them great.

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Cubs Ring In Loss As Winners

World Series

It wasn’t that Cubs starter John Lackey, was awful. No, after giving up a questionable, a home run and a verbal beat down on the umpire, Lackey settled into a groove that was quite impressive. In the end, he struck out 10 but it wasn’t enough as the Cubs fell to the Dodgers 2-0.

“The first pitch might have been a strike, or was a strike, and I think that threw him off a little bit,” manager Joe Maddon said of Lackey. “Once he regrouped, he was outstanding after that.”

Who could blame the Cubs for losing either? I mean the Dodgers were stunned in the NLCS last fall and then having to endure a banner raising that was over a hundred years in the making, I’d be a little ticked off as well.

To be fair, there were a few long balls that would have sent some fans home happy but when the wind is blowing in, it doesn’t matter how hard the ball’s hit it just won’t clear the ivy.

“Wrigley got us, man,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “It’s part of the game here. We know that. Toles crushed his — that was low enough and the trajectory was better.”

It was an evening to remember despite the loss. Some lucky fans were chosen to hand out the rings to their heroes and you can tell by the looks on their faces that it was an honour to shake the hands of Chicago’s dream team that ended curses and finally allowing long suffering fans a chance to move on.

“I think it’s the perfect method to do this tonight,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of the fan presentation. “The folks who are part of the ceremony, they will never forget tonight, and even the folks sitting in the stands watching.”

Sure, it might be meaningless for a bunch of high paid athletes to receive 108 diamond studded rings but what I noticed with the players and the fans is that there was a feeling that last night’s moment was bigger than anyone there. None of the players, owners and yes, Len Kasper and JD took the moment for granted. It was the first time in Wrigley Field and Chicago Cubs history that rings were presented.

“It truly represents quite an accomplishment, and it’s something we’ll have for the rest of our lives,” Maddon said.

David Ross threw out the first pitch and sang the stretch which was probably difficult for him watching his former teammates in the heat of battle. It was a classy gesture to see Jon Lester catch for Ross.

“I couldn’t control my emotions,” Ross said. “The day built up on me. I was excited to get here. I felt like I was a kid coming to his first Major League game. Even watching the game from the stands, it was the first time I ever did it. It was really, really cool. I felt like a kid out there. It came out in my walk, my skip, my high-fives.”

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Cubs Send Out The Sultan of Schwarb

Chicago Cubs

In the Cubs opening series win yesterday with a score of 6-4, the Cubs proved something; Everybody talks about the “Good ol’days” when legends like, Williams, Koufax and Ruth played but I guarantee in years to come there’ll be guys on this Cubs squad that people will sit in front of their plaques in Cooperstown, deep in thought taking in those “Good ol’ Days” or some dad telling his son about the man who wore those infamous spectacles.

Why?

Kyle “The Sultan of Schwarb” Schwarber crushed a two run homer yet again adding to his Babe Ruth comparison. First it was the ball that landed on the scoreboard and then it was the Comeback where he went 7-17 after spending a year off with an injury that would have derailed any other mere mortal’s career perhaps. Yet yesterday, Schwarber continued to build his legend.

“It was a good team win right there,” Schwarber said. “[John] Lackey battled his butt off. He gave us six quality innings. For things to kind of go our way there with Yadi and the ball sticking on the the chest protector, [then] a good at-bat by Jon Jay. I was able to get a good pitch and drive it.”

There’s something about the sound a bat makes when it connects on a home run hit ball. In many ways, someone could compare it to perfection. That right moment where everything in the universe is aligned and it connects to make that CRACK! I’ll tell you folks, if you’ve never been to a ballgame and heard that sound, you know the moment the ball leaves the stick and the direction of the batter’s eyes it’s gone.

“I was just more looking for a good pitch,” Schwarber said. “If it was a slider or fastball, whatever it was, I just wanted to jump on it. He’s a good pitcher. To get behind on guys like that, sometimes you just don’t want to do it. My approach is I’m going to be selective-aggressive. I got my pitch from pitch one, and was able to put a good swing on it.”

With the retirement of David Ross, John Lackey takes over the “Grampa” role. Yesterday, he proved he was their workhorse pitcher and leader on the mound. It wasn’t the prettiest of wins, giving up six and allowing four earned runs but as they say, a win is a win.

Tonight, the Cubs will square off against divisional foe, Milwaukee Brewers. Brett Anderson gets the start in a series which will showcase the season debut of Kyle Hendricks.

Then Monday, the banners come up.

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