Jon Jay Leads The Way For Cubs

Cubs 15, Reds 5

It’s always hard coming back from a vacation where my family and I did the whole Clark Griswold road trip adventure, and in many ways that’s how I feel about the Cubs late season push for the playoffs. Last night, the Cubs simply pounded division rivals Cincinnati Reds in a 15-5 debacle that saw a few moments where the team just were like the team of last season. Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo with back to back home runs and Jon Jay almost hitting for the cycle.

“Give us credit — offensively, some really good at-bats,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “We have to tighten it up on defense. I don’t want to be ‘Debbie Downer,’ but we’ve got to be tighter on defense.”

I was glad to see Jon Jay in the lead off spot. He’s an underrated player who always comes through and last night felt like a playoff game if only to see Jay hit for the cycle which he came close but just a little short missing on the home run.

“Everyone kind of mentioned it — ‘Take a shot, take a shot,'” Jay said of his teammates’ advice for his last at-bat. “We got the win, so it’s cool.”

It almost feels like Jay’s the David Ross of 2017. The guy you’re cheering for and the feel good story of the year. Let’s just hope he’s not on Dancing With The Stars after the season’s over.

“He’s done a lot of other little things, talking to younger players,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “He does a nice job of mentoring. He wants to play, loves to play and likes what’s going on. He’s definitely stirred our drink.”

The Cubs are in great shape as the season winds up. Their next 13 games are against last place teams, so without explaining the obvious, it’s an important step on the road to the post season.

Their next series in particular is going to be interesting for me because the Toronto Blue Jays are coming to town and my family are divided in their loyalties. During last night’s broadcast, Len Kasper mentioned that Don Cherry of Hockey Night in Canada fame will be singing the seventh inning stretch so it’s going to be pretty cool seeing that. However, there was a little debate on what is Cherry’s favourite hockey team, is it the Toronto Maple Leafs or the Boston Bruins? I say it’s the Boston Bruins. Although he works for the CBC and cheers for the Maple Leafs, his heart is with the Boston Bruins. Cherry is a Canadian icon and I hope Len gets a chance to ask him what his favourite team really is and settle this debate once and for all.

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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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Lester K’s 10 in Dramatic Win For Cubs

Chicago Cubs

Not only was yesterday’s game a huge rival matchup, but it was a classic pitcher’s duel between Jon Lester and Adam Wainwright. The Cubs came out on top, 3-2. It was a symbolic day for Lester who had the acronym on his cap PLACT standing for Play Like A Champion Today and it is the Notre Dame motto in remembrance of his uncle who passed away the day before.

“He won’t ever show you any emotion. And to hear that [about his uncle], it’s terrible,” said Kris Bryant. “He’s probably one of the best teammates I’ve been able to play with in my short time. You know what you’re going to get with him every day on the mound. He’s going to be the same guy, same competitor, and I love that about him.”

Lester’s day was even more memorable with 10 strikeouts and going 7 innings. There were whispers of a perfect game but nobody dared mention it to Lester. However, it was poignant that Wainwright break it up in the sixth inning. Lester’s nemesis.

“Today was good. The comeback there at the end was big for us,” Lester said. “Especially coming out of the break and playing so well and obviously yesterday getting away from us a little bit. So, that was a big win for us.”

It’s a huge win for the Cubs and today, Jose Quintana gets the call with Kyle Hendricks returning tomorrow. The Cubs are in a good place with nowhere to go but up. They’re playing great ball with a renewed vigour.

Kris Bryant rejoined the team after taking a few days off due to that slide which hurt his pinky. He delivered big time with a game tying double in the eighth inning.

“K.B. being able to play was the difference in today’s game,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “The combination of the hit and his speed — I don’t think anybody else scores on that. … You can’t underestimate the importance of one person in the lineup, and there it was.”

The Cubs are one game back of division leading Milwaukee Brewers and are 5.5 back of the Wild Card.

“There’s no waiting around right now. Everybody feels the same way. We took advantage of the break. We’ve come back with renewed energy. You don’t want to give up anything now. [The Cardinals] are lamenting the same situation we went through [Friday]. That’s how this thing is going to play.” Maddon said.

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Quintana Delivers The Goods in Cubs Debut

Chicago Cubs

In the Chicago Cubs quest to reclaim the National League Central title, they went out and made a splash for Jose Quintana. Well, he didn’t disappoint in his Cubs debut with an 8-0 series sweep over the Baltimore Orioles.

Sometimes a change does a player good and in this case, Quintana struck out 12 and in a way, recharged the Cubs. Leave it to Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo to send the balls into orbit, each contributing two run homers to pad the lead over the Orioles.

“He could really be a big boon to us,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “We grab a lead, and he pitched really well with the lead. There’s no messing around, there’s no walks, there’s no bad counts. He made them put the ball in play, and he’s punching guys out. He was burying the curve and elevating the fastball. He was doing everything well.”

On the offence, the Cubs have finally been putting up big numbers. They’ve put up 24 runs in the last three games with two shutouts. With an easier second half to the season, are we more likely to see these big numbers continue? It’s no time to roll out the parade because even though the Cubs stymied the always dangerous Orioles, they have too much ground to make up on their quest too reclaim the throne.

“It’s not just me, but I think everyone needed it, the rest was needed,” Willson Contreras said. “Everybody looks focused, everybody looks like they have a plan and an approach. We’re not wasting time, we’re attacking pitches.”

If this is a sign of things to come in the second half, then the Cubs are in a prime position.    Their one game over .500 may be temporary especially if they don’t get the pitching back from their rotation but the Cubs showed some brilliance in their series with the Orioles.

“I feel happy when I get run support,” Quintana said. “Every time, it’s good for us, good for a starting pitcher. Mentally today, the last game [of the series], it was good to sweep the series and just keep going. We have to keep going and stay hot.”

That was the problem during the first half, either the pitcher dominated or there was runs but hardly ever did the two meet in each game. We witnessed in the last series, the melding of the two and suddenly, the Cubs are looking more like last year’s winners.

“He was really good,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “I really liked his routine on the mound. Did you notice the big breath and then the delivery begins after that? Tremendous focus per pitch. That’s what I took away from it. And then he’s able to execute. He had a really good curveball, was not overusing it, using it at the right time. More than anything, I liked the method. Deep breath, then he goes into his delivery. He has a nice method.”

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Cubs Split With Rays

Jon Jay

Yesterday’s game continued to show the good and the bad of this year’s Cubs. In their 7-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays, it was the Cubs rookie Ian Happ hitting a two run single that boosted the Cubs past a tie.

“It was a more complete game,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “We were down 3-0, but I felt good about it. It’s just that things weren’t going our way. That batted-ball-in-play statistic has to come back to us at some point. The ball’s been hit hard but at people. We’ve got to keep fighting through it.”

Then along comes Jon Jay with his second home run in, well, a long time. The Cubs have struggled all year for reasons that have become perennial head scratchers after the success last year. The two things that haven’t been struggling is Happ and Jay. Now, I’ve got this theory that it has something to do with Joe Maddon. He’s been great with the young guys, especially last season but this year the team isn’t quite so young. They’re veterans now and perhaps that’s Maddon’s achilles; he’s not as good with veterans. Perhaps the Cubs shouldn’t have won last season.

So the All Star break is coming up and unlike last season, the Cubs are kinda watching from the dugout. Wade Davis the only representation besides Joe Maddon and Kris Bryant might get the vote in but in reality the Cubs haven’t deserved the right to appear in the annual classic and I’m all right with that. It’s not as much a popularity contest as it is showcasing the best of the best. While Anthony Rizzo is putting up decent numbers, the Cubs just aren’t there this season.

“I cannot dispute that,” Maddon said. “So many went last year. The last two years have been long years. Our guys have been going after it pretty hard. I’m not disappointed in regards to that.”

The Cubs had seven players in the classic last year. So maybe this is a good thing that will build momentum in the second half. There’ll be some key players returning from injuries, Jason Heyward is back and Kyle Hendricks is poised for a return soon. Whatever happens to the Cubs in the second half, the results will be good. This year is kind of like a team building season. How would they deal with a championship or is this the beginning of another century drought?

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Cubs Are Lovable Losers Again

Canuck Cubbie

The tale of the Cubs this season has been very different depending on what team shows up. In yesterday’s 5-4 win over the Washington Nationals, the Cubs used the ninth inning to stage a comeback.

“A win’s a win — it doesn’t matter how it looks, how we get there,” Chicago starter Jon Lester said. “We’ll take two of four from a really good team. Hopefully, this can build a little momentum for us.”

The funny part about momentum building victories is that it doesn’t always happen. Yes, they took two of four from a really good team but in the wake of Miguel Montero‘s DFA, the Cubs have probably revealed the cracks in the organization. Nobody ever accused Montero of not speaking his mind. This time however, it cost him his gig with the Cubs.

“I reminded [Montero] of the standard we try to hold our players to when it comes to being supportive of one’s teammates and being accountable for one’s play and for being a good teammate,” Theo Epstein said Wednesday. “I reminded Miggy that we expect when something goes wrong on the field, we expect our players to take the blame and step up and proactively assume the blame, even if it’s not their fault.”

This season has suddenly felt like a “Do Over” because of all the injuries to key players like Ben Zobrist, Jason Heyward and now Kris Bryant. Last season at this time, the Cubs were running away with the title but this year is different. The Cubs are six games out of a Wild Card spot and truthfully, all negativity aside, the Cubs won’t stand a chance of even getting the Wild Card position if they continue to split series against teams like Miami and the Nationals.

Why?

Those two teams are on opposite sides. If the Cubs can’t really beat the best and can’t really beat the worst baseball has to offer, then what does that say about the Cubs? It says it’s a team that is struggling.

“I don’t think we’ve established our identity yet. I don’t think we’ve found our edge yet that we’ll need to play with to win games,” Epstein said. “Wins don’t just happen because you’re talented and you show up. You have to come to the park with an edge every day and come together as a team and play together to win and play with a certain edge. We’re going to find it.”

There you have it. They’ve got a good team in there somewhere but in a way, the team was dismantled last season with the losses to Aroldis Chapman and Dexter Fowler. It was inevitable with those two but what it’s shown baseball fans is that the team of 2016 was a magical one. If suddenly, the team can turn it around and go on a tear after the All Star break, then miracles do happen. It’s poignant that that the Cubs find themselves struggling. The perennial underdogs continue to be in that position despite a World Championship. #ThatsCub

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Solving The Mystery of Chicago Cubs

Canuck Cubbie

Trying to find the reasons behind the Cubs fluctuating results this year is a perplexing issue. The Cubs lost yesterday 4-2 to the Miami Marlins. Could it be nagging injuries? Yesterday, Addison Russell left the game after the fourth inning due to “discomfort” in his shoulder. I’m not disputing anything but the Cubs have been racking up the injuries this season at a frantic pace. Trying to solve the “Mystery of the Cubs” should be a title in the next Sherlock episode but it probably couldn’t be one even the great detective couldn’t solve.

“More than anything, it’s trying to do too much, as opposed to just score one,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I think a lot of times a hitter gets in that situation and the bases are loaded or two guys are on, you want to score three or four. Score one. Score the guy that’s on third base. If you could reduce it to scoring one, mentally, you can have a much better chance of being consistent with it.”

And there you have it. Maddon sums it up, “Trying to do too much” sometimes the toughest questions have the easiest answers. On the other end of the spectrum, the leaders, Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant need to take control of the team and be the guys the other Cubs need. On a team where where nobody can blame it on rookies anymore, the Cubs came into their own last season and now this year is the time where they have to cement the legendary 2016 season.

“Not every year is going to be perfect,” Kris Bryant said. “It’s not going to be an MVP year every year, so that’s how I look at it. … Stick with the same approach. There’s no need to make any situation bigger than it is. No matter if it’s the first or ninth inning of a game.”

He’s got a point. Not every year is going to be perfect. Last season was an anomaly. Yet, the expectations this year are higher for a club that hasn’t won a championship in over a 105 seasons and then ended the drought. This season’s been a reset button like campaign.

Should we have expected more out of this season, the Cubs and a back to back World Series? It’s a difficult championship to win, there’s no question about that. The fact is that the Cubs have been progressively the most watched team in the game. From the way that they draft, their management, and their players. Baseball is a game of statistics and there’s no question that other teams have spent more time studying the “Cubs Way” more then their own team trying to answer the question of, “Why are they so good?” last year, nobody quite knew how to play against the Cubs. This year is different. Every team has one team to study, the Cubs have 29.

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