Professor Hendricks Lectures Cardinals

The Cubs may not be as dominate as they were last season, but quietly they’ve done Cubs things that have pushed them passed the 80 win mark and are moving away from the rest of the National League Central. Take for example, yesterday’s 4-1 win over the St. Louis Cardinals.

This has been an interesting, if not crucial series against the Red Birds. There was John Lackey‘s rightful outrage against Umpire Jordan Baker that led to both Lackey’s and Willson Contreras‘s ejection. That was the Friday afternoon game and the intensity carried forth into yesterday’s game.

If you’re a loyal Canuck Cubbie follower, it’s no secret that Kyle Hendricks is my favourite player in baseball. His style has been compared to Greg Maddux, and yet I think it’s something entirely different. The fact that Hendricks pitches in this modern era of the game is a really special thing indeed. Nothing over 90 MPH and a very rare fast ball. Yesterday, Hendricks pitched his longest game of the year.

“It’s good to feel strong, even at that last pitch,” Hendricks said. “I still felt good. I still had plenty in the tank. That was my takeaway from today.”

Yet, he’s not always a lights out kind of pitcher. Sometimes he has his bad games but since he’s come off the disabled list, his confidence is growing and since his debut own 2014, Hendricks is becoming a team leader and perhaps someday we might see him at Cooperstown. It was a huge contrast in styles between John Lackey’s wild outing and Hendrick’s cool demeanour.

“We’re somewhat aware of where the teams are at,” Hendricks said, “but it’s not what we’re focused on. We’re focused on the field, what needs to be done, pitch to pitch. That’s really where our focus is and where it’s stayed. So two games, five games, whatever it is, it is. We have to win ballgames down the stretch. Period.”

It’s the right poise and confidence at the right time of the year.

“Everything was working from the side,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of Hendricks, who has a 2.42 ERA in 11 starts since coming off the disabled list. “They were having bad takes. They were taking pitches that were called strikes. His fastball was the best he’s had all year. … His confidence could not be higher.”

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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.”

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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.

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Chicago’s Crosstown Cup Is a Hit

Image result for chicago cubs kris bryant

Kris Bryant got mad yesterday. Real mad. In the Chicago Cubs 7-2 dismantling of their Crosstown rivals, Bryant was thrown out of the game after a questionable call from the umpire that the ball was many inches off of the plate.

“[I’m] actually kind of surprised [I was ejected]. It was a disagreement, but I don’t think it was too animated,” Bryant said. “It’s frustrating. I know he’s trying to do the best job he can. I’m trying to do the best job I can. … I don’t want to be that guy that gets thrown out of games. I try to be professional on the field, but like I said, I have to stick up for myself sometimes.”

Bryant can barely remember being thrown out of a game let alone this being the first time in a major league appearance.

Let’s get back to that White Sox/Cubs rivalry. There were some errant pitches which connected with the batters and I feel really bad for John Lackey. There’s only so much an arm can take and I’m afraid he’s going to be dealt at the deadline.

“John’s the guy who normally challenges anybody and everybody,” Maddon said. “I think the wind was probably aiding the ball to left field today, and that was probably in his thought process.”

The tough Texan is if the word “expendable” is associated with Lackey, is exactly what he is. The Cubs are fighting for playoff contention and Lackey understands that. He’s not quite ready for reliever status but not exactly starting material anymore, so what are the Cubs going to do?

“If you were to bring somebody else in, there’s really a lot of moving parts [that] would have to occur for something like that [to happen],” Maddon said. “That has not been a part of my discussions with Theo and Jed.”

Not yet.

Yu Darvish’s name has been brought into the fold but is that who the Cubs need or will the Cubs go after another bat?

“I really think what we need is right here, and I mean that sincerely,” Maddon said. “I think the guys have been trending in the right direction.”

The Cubs have been fighting with the Brewers for first place in the Central and like a see saw, which wasn’t the scenario the Cubs thought they’d be in at this time of the year, the Cubs will face more ups and downs before the season is over.

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Cubs Continue Their Winning Ways

Chicago Cubs

Chicago Cubs’ Willson Contreras (40) celebrates with third base coach Gary Jones as he rounds the bases after hitting a three-run home run during the third inning of the team’s baseball game against the Atlanta Braves on Tuesday, July 18, 2017, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

It’s inevitable that the Cubs will catch up to the Milwaukee Brewers. After their 5-1 win over the Atlanta Braves, the Cubs are only 2 1/2 back of the Brewers but still 5 1/2 out of the Wild Card spot.

Last year was a breakout year for Addison Russell and while he’s slipping into a groove, it’s been Willson Contreras that’s having a banner year and last night he contributed once again with another home run proving he’s a tour de force with the Cubs.

“[Contreras] is really turning into a leader,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “He was very upset with himself when he hit into that double play his first time up. But he comes back and hits a three-run homer after that. He is definitely turning into a force.”

There’s been some concerns over John Lackey‘s pitching but last night he proved yet again why after 15 years in the League, he’s going to finish on his own terms, which is exactly how he plays the game. Last night, he went five innings only giving up one run. Not bad and definitely not warranting a trip to the bullpen where aging pitchers go to graze.

“I like having him out there for those reasons,” Maddon said. “The stuff is still really good, but the heart is even bigger, and that is a benefit to us.”

That’s where the difference is with Lackey. He gives it everything he’s got when he’s on the mound. From his opinion to his fast ball, he lays it all up there and I believe that this season the Cubs need him more than ever. He’s anchoring that pitching staff who aren’t so young anymore but he’s a battler and that’s what the Cubs are going to be doing for the remainder of the season.

“Really, I had one bad start in my last five as I got beat up pretty good in Washington,” Lackey said. “I felt like I made some adjustments in the last few weeks, and hopefully that can translate to the rest of the season.”

The Cubs still have a long way to go to be where they were last season. Sure, a five game winning streak is something special but on the West Coast there’s the frustrating LA Dodgers and their 10 game winning streak. For me, the NLCS was one of the greatest series I’ve ever seen. I’d love to see a rematch. Of course, I’d love to see the Cubs beat them again but right now, they’re not in the Dodgers league. If the Cubs sneak into the post season, they’ve got a tough road. Fortunately, there road is getting smoother, it almost feels like the first half was part of an extended Spring Training and the Cubs are finally building off of last season’s success and with Kyle Hendrick‘s return next week, it’s looking really good.

“I felt so much more comfortable than in my first start,” said Hendricks. “I felt right out there facing hitters, and felt mechanically right. My rhythm felt good, and I executed many more pitches. Now I feel confident and ready to go.”

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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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