School is Back in Session For The Professor

Reds 2, Cubs 1

Life isn’t fair and last night proved this as Kyle Hendricks went 6 and some change innings, striking out six but in the end, the Cubs couldn’t pull one out for their professor as the Cubs fell to the Reds 2-1.

“It was a lot better tonight — all the things I’ve been working on came to fruition,” Hendricks said. “Fastball command, No. 1, was good, and that’s always the key for me. From there, the changeup felt good. I even threw a few good curveballs. The ones I threw were effective. It was a lot of fun today with [rookie catcher Victor Caratini]. He did a good job communicating with me between innings.”

Of course this is great news going down the stretch to see that Hendricks is getting back his swagger. It was so good that he picked off Billy Hamilton at first, now that’s tough! The other good news is that Hendricks’ ERA is 2.00 since coming off the disabled list late last month. He’s had a shaky season (along with the other Cubs) but if the season is turning around, then they’re going to fight to regain their glory.

“It’s been tough since I’ve come back from the DL,” the right-hander said. “I’ve been pitching in a lot of tight games, so sometimes I lose my aggressiveness just trying to keep the team in the game and stay close and not give in. Today, I think I did a much better job being aggressive, still in the strike zone, even in a tight game, trying to get quick outs so I could keep the pitch count down.”

Hendricks’ style of pitching is difficult. Being not a hard thrower, his control and command has to take centre stage. As we all know, that hasn’t always worked out well this year but if there’s one thing we know of the studious pitcher is that whenever he comes off of a bad outing, he knuckles down and studies the books on being better the next time around. It was a well earned ovation as he walked off the mound.

“That was more typical of Kyle,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said  “He had greater velocity, great location, every pitch was working, [threw his] curveball for a strike, threw the four-seamer really well up to 87 [mph]. Everything was right on.”

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Cubs Lose But Welcome The Professor Back

Image result for kyle hendricks

Kyle Hendricks is always hard on himself. He was even harder on himself after the Cubs 3-1 loss to crosstown rivals, Chicago White Sox. While his comeback lasted only 4 1/2 innings, the road to recovery will take a few more games to get his sync back with the team.

“Just too many innings today for the bullpen to cover, really. That’s my fault,” Hendricks said of the loss. “I think that’s just a factor of me getting in my routine, getting in my bullpen routine, throwing again every day, just getting my legs back underneath me.

“Being on five days [moving forward] I think suits me a lot better. It’s just more normalcy in a way.”

Baseball is a game built on rhythm. To find that groove where pitchers can throw their best pitches at will, takes time. Sure, it takes a lot of skill and practice but timing and rhythm is everything.

“He was not what you would call ‘on.’ He’d be the first one to tell you that,” Maddon said. “But he threw [92] pitches, which is good to get him stretched out moving into the next start. The fact that he got out of there with one run — I was really pleased with that, too. It’s just a good outing to build off of.”

A 92 pitch outing is decent enough and even better when coming off the DL. If it were up to me and I suspect in a perfect world, pitcher’s would show at least 100 pitches and last 7 1/2 innings minimum. Of course it doesn’t always work out that way, but for me, the ideal outing would be those benchmarks.

So let’s talk about the trade deadline coming up. The Cubs are playing good ball and I don’t have to tell you about the success of Jose Quintana who is all ready 2-0 since joining the Northsiders but what else is there for the Cubs to acquire? Catching? I think that’s a safe bet because as we know, Willson Contreras might get a little burnt out before the end of the season if he keeps playing the way he’s been doing.

“We have a couple more days to put it all together,” Maddon said of the Deadline. “Of course, that makes sense [to get a veteran backup] — I can’t deny that. I don’t know if that will happen or not. That’s not denigrating Victor. Victor is at a point in his development that you don’t want him sitting around much.”

The “Victor” is rookie Victor Caratini who’s been doing fine as a back up but is he up to the grind of a potential playoff run or should they go with a veteran?

The Cubs are 8-2 since the break and are finally finding their rhythm can they keep it up?

“We all understand in this clubhouse it’s an exciting time,” Jason Heyward said. “It’s the second half, we’re playing for the playoffs and the division race is close. It’s exciting. It’s where you want to be. … It’s fun. Embrace that.”

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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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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 Chase The Blues With Jon The Revelator

Jon Lester

The Chicago Cub’s fourth win in a row could be classified as the equivalent of a do over. After their 4-3 victory over the much maligned Atlanta Braves(I don’t know what it is about that team that I despise but I do) the Cubs have been almost forgiven for their ugly first half of the 2017 campaign.

Let’s talk about Jon Lester for a moment. He didn’t pitch a gem like Jose Quintana but compared to his last start, which will not be mentioned again at the Canuck Cubbie, it was a beauty of a game and restored his reputation as one of today’s great pitchers. There’s an old blues classic, “John The Revelator” by Blind Willie Johnson that’s as much of a biblical tale as it was awesomely featured in Sons of Anarchy. If the Cubs can manage to turn it around, it would be  of biblical proportions.

“There have been some things in the last couple of starts that haven’t felt right, but I was able to get my body to repeat better tonight,” Lester said. “My stuff had a little bit more crispness to it than in the last couple of starts. That is a positive and I will build off of that.”

The guy even notched a stolen base!

So the Cubs are in a good place right now. last year in a way, they weren’t really challenged by anyone but at this point in the season, the Cubs are 5 1/2 back of the wild card behind Colorado. It’s more exciting to see them play catch up then to dominate, all though my finger nails are down to the nibs.

“I like where we are at right now, and I think we are coming into the second half rested,” Maddon said. “Guys are getting over injuries, and we haven’t run anybody into the ground, as the pitchers are in good order, too. It is a lot to like right now, and every team goes through that good moment. Hopefully we have gone through the bad one and we have a lot to look forward to [for the remainder of the season].”

As the Cubs look towards their fifth straight victory, John Lackey will take to the mound and man, I don’t feel all too confident about this start. We know Lackey’s reputation. The guy makes me nervous.

“He is a guy that, even if he struggles early in a game, he gets better as the game progresses,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “Beyond any physical number that you can look at, don’t underestimate how competitive he is, and that is what I am really looking at.”

Yeah he’s competitive but has that inane ability to implode in a game when things aren’t going his way. I wish it were Kyle Hendricks coming back tonight.

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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 Narrowly Escape Game 1

Canuck Cubbie

Chicago Cubs’ Javier Baez, bottom right, steals third during the eighth inning of a baseball game against Anthony Rendon, Monday, June 26, 2017, in Washington. The Cubs won 5-4. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

It was a highlight reel of everything that was great about the Chicago Cubs this season and everything that was not so great about the North Siders in their 5-4 victory over the Washington Nationals. From Javier Baez‘s spectacular catch to Wade Davis’ 9th inning collapse, it was the best of times and the worst of times.

“I love when we participate with that kind of intensity,” manager Joe Maddon said after the game. “I’m not saying we haven’t, but coming in here against a really good team, under the circumstances, it was kind of fun.”

There it is. Joe Maddon finally admitted that the Cubs haven’t been very good this season. Sort of. The Washington Nationals are a very good team and the Cubs meanwhile, are in a division that isn’t the strongest division in the game. So the test of how good the Cubs are isn’t all that accurate. In fact, the Cubs are still in the hunt to win the National League Central but compared to the rest of the league, Chicago isn’t doing too well.

“It’s nice before you play [Max] Scherzer — it’s always nice [to win]. To play so well and not win that game, that would’ve been awful, that would’ve been tough. Honestly, every night to me is the biggest game of the year. Tonight, playing a good team like that, playing in Washington, we have our youngest pitcher pitching against a guy who is pretty darn good. Butler beats Gio tonight … I think that’s pretty good stuff.” Maddon said.

Eddie Butler did a spectacular job last night allowing no runs in his five inning stint. If last night was a wake up call for the struggling team, then they looked no further than to Javier Baez’s leadership abilities. This is the time of the season to rally the troops and take stock of where the team is heading. They must accept the fact that they’re not the team they were in 2016. That was a fluke and admitting to it being the lightning in the bottle season, will give them the dose of reality they need moving forward.

“Games like this are what we need right now,” Baez said. “The Nationals are like St. Louis. Always good competition. … Before the game, everyone was into it. Go out there, and play hard.”

The good news is that guys like Jason Heyward, Kyle Hendricks and Kyle Schwarber won’t be out too much longer and the Cubs can go back to winning ball games.

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