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.

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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.

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Bryzzo Souvenir Company Adds Another Gem To Collection

Albert Almora

The Chicago Cubs certainly have a flair for the dramatic. In extra innings, the Cubs defeated the Cincinnati Reds 6-5 after an Anthony Rizzo 3 run long ball to tie it in the ninth. Their, “We do not quit” motif is some serious stuff this season being their third straight victory in a come from behind way. If it was Anthony Rizzo in the ninth, then it was Kris Bryant with the sacrifice in extra innings.

“You never think home run,” Rizzo said. “These guys do pitch me up-and-in a lot. Off the bat, I thought, yeah, but the wind was kind of strong. I thought it might be a long single if it hit the top of the wall.”

Have the Cubs turned a corner after a not so awesome start to April? I hope it’s true, but how much longer can they sustain their, “Comeback Kids” moniker?

“That’s what we always say, the comeback kids,” Rizzo said. “In the ninth, we’re saying here comes the comeback. It’s a good feeling to know none of these guys quit. It’s a cliché, but it’s true. We know we can score at any given time.”

I have to admit, I do like the entertainment of watching them comeback in late innings, although nerve racking in many ways, it gives it that post season vibe, I just get the feeling that they won’t be able to sustain the momentum for long. Awe shucks, perhaps it’s just my inner pessimistic Cubs fan rearing its ugly head.

The are many things I’m certain of but when it comes to the Chicago Cubs, these are the best days to be a fan. They’re exciting, thrilling and of course the World Series team of 2016 have a seat reserved in Cooperstown. Now, the team could be better than last season only because of the close games and the “Bryzzo” factor. These Cubs have personality just not one or two superstars but an entire team that contributes each game.

Speaking of the Bryzzo factor, catch David Ross’s last adventures as an intern with the Bryzzo Souvenir Company

In many ways though, the Cubs got lucky in those come from behind victories. Their pitching hasn’t been solid, Lester gave up 5 earned runs. It’s not hard to figure out that if the pitching isn’t there, then no matter how many hits the team gets (unless of course, they score runs) the teams not going to win. The Cubs have to get their rotation going.

“Would like it to go the other way, being up early, but a win is a win,” Cubs starter Jon Lester said. “When you come back, it always makes it a little bit better.”

You can tell through Joe Maddon’s thoughts on the “Comeback Kids” that he too would like to see a more viable and solid play of his squad.

“I’m OK with that identity, but I’d rather do it in more conventional means,” he said with a smile. “It’s what we talk about. We just don’t quit.”

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Cubs Blame Yankees For April Woes

Chicago Cubs

I guess the Chicago Cubs are learning first hand the problems associated with winning a championship. Every team wants it. Yesterday, the Pittsburgh Pirates defeated the Cubs 6-1 and took the series. It was their first series win since 2014 at Wrigley Field.

Despite the Cubs taking a 1-0 lead into the seventh inning or Jon Lester getting a goose egg for seven innings(On Easter Sunday, no less!). So, the Cubs are 6-6 this April. Whether it’s a World Series hangover, or other teams have caught on to the Cubs’ weaknesses, but the team has started 2017 in a mediocre way.

“We had some good games, we’ve played a lot of close games. We taxed our bullpen quite a bit, which we really don’t want to do. Our starters pitched really well but late in the game, we didn’t score enough runs to give our bullpen any breathing room. I think that falls on the offence.” Ben Zobrist said.

On the other hand, it could be the absence of their grandfatherly figure in David Ross. He caught all of Lester’s games while providing a spark and spark in the clubhouse. Then again, it could be the problem of holding leads and wearing down their bullpen.

“That’s been more of our problem than anything, not getting a clutch hit and holding a lead at the end of the game,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said.

There isn’t really any cause for concern this early in the season. This is roughly the same team that won the hardware last fall. However, missing Dexter Fowler has had a bigger impact than they thought. I mean Fowler’s struggling with the Cardinals right now. Now that’s an interesting theory on a curse placed on the Cardinals when they do business with the Redbirds.

‘‘Last year was kind of a fairy-tale year for us. It’s not always going to be like that, so it’s important to kind of realize that early on, so that we’re not hitting that panic button like we did around the All-Star break last year.’’ NL MVP Kris Bryant.

True, it’s not always going to be like that and I fault us Cubs fans for the pressure of the expectation for greatness. I mean, C’mon, after a 108 years would you expect anything less? Cubs fans have a lot of catching up to do. After the Cubs won, a friend of mine congratulated me on their win but continued to say that they need 23 more championships to catch up to his beloved New York Yankees.

There’s the real reason behind the Cubs early futility. Blame the Yankees. After all, it wouldn’t be the Cubs way to just blame it on the bullpen, blown leads and missed opportunities. It’s almost as if a new curse has been placed on the North Siders. A curse by a Yankees fan.

‘‘We won the World Series last year, so there will be questions, but that’s just natural,’’ Jake Arrieta said. ‘‘That comes with the territory. It’s a business of results, and we still expect really good results from the group we have this year.’’

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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 Raise Flags As Rizzo Walks Off In Style

Chicago Cubs

In true Chicago Cubs fashion, there was a rain delay on Opening Night at Wrigley Field. There couldn’t have been a more appropriate way to kick off the home opener than that. After the lengthy delay, fans got their chance to usher in the new season and congratulate their heroes.

The Cubs were introduced to a roaring crowd and then out by the scoreboard, it was legends Ryne Sandberg and Ferguson Jenkins raising the championship banners, but wait; the 2016 World Series champion Chicago Cubs, together raised their own banner. The fans were glad of the rain delay because it was hard to tell if there were drops of rain on their cheeks or tears.

“I’ll remember this day for as long as I play baseball,” Anthony Rizzo said. “That pregame ceremony, I really didn’t think — the Cubs did an amazing job. Videos, the tribute. It was amazing.”

From the Rocky theme music in the introduction of the players to the raising of the banners, it was hard for anyone not to love the Cubs last night. Heck, they even cheered on David Ross’s dance number from the dugout!

“I told the boys, I was going to punt tonight and watch the game from center field — what a view,” Rizzo said. “I’ve been up there, but with all the fans, there’s a lot of energy. You see Ryno and Fergie and Billy raise the previous championships and the pennant, and to be up there and raise ours, that banner, it’s history forever.”

World Series

But celebrations aside, there was also a ballgame to be played. The Cubs beat the LA Dodgers 3-2 by a walk off in the ninth inning with two out with team leader and flag raiser Anthony Rizzo getting the hit. They better add that walk off as an easter egg or bonus feature on the Blue Ray edition of the as yet untitled film of their World Series win. Ya, just can’t write anything better.

“It was a special night,” said Jon Lester, who pitched six solid innings. “Definitely something that’ll go down in my book as something that I’ll remember for a long, long time.”

Looking back, I think that the real reason the Cubs won the World Series is their character. They like each other and although Dexter Fowler has moved on, the mantra that Joe Maddon bestowed upon him, “You go, we go” rings true for the whole team. It hasn’t changed. They’re all in this together.

“I was fortunate to be part of the process,” Rizzo said. “I don’t know how you top tonight, but then you get the ring. I think it will be amazing.”

We’ll all remember it Anthony,

Believe it.

 

 

Cubs Beat Brewers, Bring On Home Opener

Chicago Cubs

It seems like the Chicago Cubs have settled into their Defending World Series Champions roles as they cruised to a 7-4 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers yesterday. Behind the stoic Jake Arrieta, who threw 10 strikeouts, the Cubs also connected with home runs from Kyle Schwarber and Ben Zobrist.

So this is what I don’t understand, some folks are worried about Arrieta’s drop in velocity, myself included because I don’t expect him to return to form from winning that Cy Young award a couple of years ago. I think Jake’s an amazing pitcher and worthy of most of the accolades bestowed upon him(I’m talking about contracts) but a drop in velocity shouldn’t signal a drop in pitching performance.

“Everybody wants to talk about it — I don’t care about that,” Arrieta said. “I know I’m smart enough to work around that, and the velocity is still good enough to get it by guys and do certain things in certain situations with it.”

He’s right. Look at Kyle Hendricks? Not too many times over 90MPH and all the guy does is get batters out. Perhaps control and command is far better than speed?

There’s also another large contract looming over the Cubs like an albatross in Jason Heyward. He had a rough first season with the North Siders but so far this season has proven that he’s a hot commodity on both sides of the plate(Sorry JD). Yesterday, Heyward drove in three runs and has continued to challenge critics on his inflated contract.

“I’m relaxed up there, not thinking a whole lot,” Heyward said of his approach now. “I’m really trying to focus on what the pitcher’s going to do, how they’re going to attack you, that kind of stuff, and not thinking about the swing or anything like that, which is where you need to be as a hitter. Go up there and do that and be aggressive in the strike zone, be on time, relax and go up there one pitch at a time, one at-bat at a time — same stuff as anybody else who is trying to do well.”

In yesterday’s game, Heyward launched a ball deep in centre field only to be snared by Keon Broxton. Heyward tipped his hat to him. It was all class.

Tonight though is another story all together. It’s the Chicago Cubs home opener and the festivities will be plenty. There’s the banner raising and the Cubs will be wearing special gold lettering to commemorate that special victory last fall.

“I love banner raising,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “Rings are wonderful, but I love banner raising. That’s symbolically there all the time. Every time a kid shows up at the ballpark, he’ll see that banner. Hopefully, we’ll be able to hang more.”

The only downfall is it’s a night game. I loved it when the openers were during the day and we’d take time off of work to ceremoniously open the BBQ and ring in spring with Cubs baseball. I’m disappointed that it’s at night. However, tonight is for those fans who trudged day and night to Wrigley Field throughout the years and are being rewarded along with the team on the end of professional sports longest drought.

“That resonated pretty hard for me,” Jon Lester said. “That was a pretty cool moment that these fans shared with their family members, that they’ve had so many years of heartache, and we were able to give them the championship that this city deserves.”

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