Cubs Game Under Review

Kyle Hendricks

Kyle Hendricks can let out a big sigh. The Professor stood on his lecture box of a pitcher mound and delivered an old school style performance yesterday recording his first home win of the season, handing out a 7-5 detention to the Cincinnati Reds.

“That was classic Kyle right there,” manager Joe Maddon said. “The velocity was up, you saw the bad takes, the bad swings, the contact wasn’t as hard. I talked to him after, and he was really excited. He knew that he was right tonight, and that’s a great game to build off of. Wind blowing out a gale and pitching as well as he did, there’s a lot of confidence to be derived from that.”

Excited?

“That game was one of my better ones for sure, because I got stronger,” said Hendricks. “My last three innings felt much better, much more under control. When [pitching coach Chris Bosio] came back on the bench, he gave me a good cue and got my tempo going. Getting stronger as the game goes on is always a good sign.”

There was an awkward play at the end of the game when Joey Votto was safe at first but upon review he was called out. Video clearly showed Votto was safe at first so the Cubs got away with that call.

“We should have a definitive shot of how they could overturn that, and we don’t,”Reds manager Bryan Price said. “At this point in time, all we have is a call into the league, and they will or will not come up with a shot that’s going to convince us they made the right decision. Right now, in the moment. Maybe they will, maybe they do. Maybe they have it. I’d sleep better if I knew they had a definitive shot of that.”

I’d have to agree with him on that. Which opens up another debate, or rather just reopening the debate on video review. I was all for it when it was introduced  almost ten years ago but now I’ve changed my mind. It doesn’t work. Oddly enough, it sacrifices the integrity of the game, the umpires and the drama of baseball. Managers are known to take excessive time on plays that shouldn’t be reviewed and if they have reviews why do they need an umpire behind the plate? We know if it’s a ball or a strike on television. I think we should drop the video review rule and go back to the way it was. I kinda loved it when plays would be argued over the BBQ on the back deck instead of New York.

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Cubs Have Finger Hovering Over Panic Button

Kyle Hendricks

You know I’m going to write about the positive takeaways in the Cubs 3-0 loss to the Rockies. You know that I’m going to send raves Kyle Hendricks way even though he was charged with three earned runs.

“Just one of those days for us,” Hendricks said.

That about sums up the Cubs woes this season. In fact, it’s been an up and down year for the North Siders. It could be the World Series hangover affecting their season or other teams have caught on to their system. I don’t know.

“You saw the more awkward swings against Kyle today,” Maddon said. “You saw the taken strike, the swing and miss, so he was looking a lot more normal today than he has in a while, and especially here against this team. I thought he was outstanding.”

For the most part he was but in the end, the Cubs are 17-17. I can’t help but feel frustrated for Maddon and the Cubs. For the players that are struggling, he puts them in the leadoff. Last year they had Dexter Fowler. Yesterday, they switched up Kyle Schwarber for Jon Jay and the result was less than stellar. Jon Jay went 0-4. I feel they should just stick with one batter but the problem is that the batter in question is Schwarber. He’s not a lead off hitter. I like the guy and he struck playoff magic after almost a year off from the game. He’s destined for the American League.

“[Ben] Zobrist would be the likely candidate,” Maddon said. “Then you start stacking lefties, which is what I don’t want to do. It feels good this way. It’s not about Schwarber hitting leadoff, he’s just not hitting like Schwarber yet. That’s all.”

Will the real Schwarber show up? Listen, I’m not trying to be hard on the team but their .500 showing so far is not indicative of the kind of numbers this team is capable of putting up. We all know that. Or is it?

There’s a new kid in town Jeimer Candelario and he’s hitting cleanup. The kid went 0-4 which is to be expected until he finds his legs.

“He was playing that well in Triple-A,” manager Joe Maddon said. “It’s not an anomaly. We’ve seen him in Spring Training, we saw him last year. He can be a very, very good player. I’m very comfortable with him in the cleanup spot. Switch-hitter; his OPS is 1.000 on both sides, or better. He’s off to a good start in the season, so why not?”

Why not? The Cubs might have to mix it up and be unpredictable. Sure, I’d love for them to head back to the big game but I’d love even more to see them just as competitive as last year and provide the kind of awesome baseball that they’re capable of playing.

“This is our worst baseball right now,” Kris Bryant said. “Not hitting the panic button at all. We know the talent we have here. It’s exciting. We’ve had a tough schedule here, long games, rain delays, that can affect you, but excited to have an off day and get back to it.”

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Cubs Treat Castro Like a Starlin

Chicago Cubs

The Cubs were one out away from winning the ballgame. It was a game celebrating the contributions of Starlin Castro and the presentation of the rings to Aroldis Chapman and Adam Warren but like I said, the Cubs were one out away from sealing the deal. Instead, the Cubs lost in the ninth to the Yankees 3-2 off a home run by Brett Gardner.

“We were short in the bullpen,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “That was [Rondon’s] game. From the side, it looked like really good stuff. It’s an unfortunate choice where he threw it. That’s probably the only pitch that Gardner could’ve hit out, and we gave it to him, and that’s what happens in our game sometimes. Otherwise, I thought he had a good fastball and made some good pitches.”

If there ever was a game that got away from the Cubs, it was yesterday afternoon’s heartbreaker. Kyle Hendricks pitched a beauty of a game going scoreless after five innings. It was the kind of game Hendricks needed in order to get back on track after a slow April lowering his ERA to 3.51

On the other side of the ball, Jason Heyward turned a couple of double plays in the first inning and the sixth inning. Heyward is one of the elite players in the league with the glove.

“You try to do what you can,” Heyward said. “You try to be in the right spot at the right time, and expect the worst out there.”

But the day belonged to Starlin Castro. A standing ovation and a chance to honour the shortstop that ushered in the new generation of Cubs players. Sure, he might not have won the World Series with the club, but his contributions (sometimes gaffes) cannot be denied.

“I think it’s a really emotional day for me to come back here, to play against the team that gave me my first opportunity to be a baseball player,” Castro said. “I feel happy to get here and compete against them.”

Castro has blossomed with the Yankees. That makes me feel good because I remember that home run he got at his first At Bat all those years ago. He’s a true example of a player that just didn’t fit into a team’s plans.

“I’m a big Starlin fan and really enjoyed our time together,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “I was really impressed with him based on how he was so accountable. I love that in any player, any human being. When we took him out of the shortstop role without any specifics, he didn’t cry, didn’t blame anybody.”

Not putting the blame on anybody has put Starlin Castro in a tie with Mike Trout for most hits in the American League.

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Cubs/Red Sox Play The Game Right

Chicago Cubs

The Cubs only play the Red Sox every few years. There’s an argument against interleague play but I don’t see it. Even though the Red Sox won the weekend matchup from their step brother’s in the National League, the Cubs/ Red Sox provide so much in favour of the rich history of Major League baseball, that it would be a shame to see it go.

Kyle Hendricks got off to a shaky start in the 6-2 loss, he settled into a nice groove and I think he’s going to just get better as the season wears on.

“We came out of the gates so hot last year,” Hendricks said. “That was a special phenomenon. Usually this is more what you expect [in April], guys finding their ways into their roles. To be able to still win ballgames is a good sign. We’re not clicking on all cylinders. Once that starts happening, getting in the middle of the year, everybody will start rolling.”

Like Hendricks said, in a way the other teams have should that the Cubs are human in April after all. Yet, despite the mediocre start, there were signs in the Boston series that the Cubs are settling into their groove. Jon Jay had a nice trip around the bags to score at home. He’s a veteran with a good eye on what’s happening at the plate and doesn’t necessarily wait for the base coach’s instructions.

“With everything that happened this month and being on the road a lot, I’ll take what we did right now and get on back home and try to build upon it. There’s not a negative to be found for me.” Joe Maddon said.

The bullpen has come around. look at the work of Carl Edwards Jr. He was practically lights out last night, striking out two. The lanky pitcher was throwing laser beams but if it wasn’t for the mistake costly eighth, the Cubs would have easily won that game.

Then, of course, was Kris Bryant‘s long ball tribute yet again to his parents. The way I look at this series of two teams paying homage to broken curses is that this could very well be a preview to the World Series.

“This is good for the industry,’’  Joe Maddon said . “This has been playoff-like baseball with two really good teams playing the game properly.’’

The two oldest parks in the majors, two curses broken; Now, imagine they meet in the Fall classic? That would be historic. However, there’s plenty of baseball left to play.

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Cubs’ Hendricks Shuts Out Pirates

Chicago Cubs

Kyle Hendricks could make open heart surgery look simple, that’s how confident he is in his abilities. Last night, the Cubs shutout the Pittsburgh Pirates 1-0 in what folks deem as Hendricks’ “Comeback game”. We’ve seen him pitch better but we’ll take it.

“It’s just one start but definitely a lot better,” Hendricks said. “I got away with some pitches early. It almost clicked the second time through the order, like about the end of the third inning. My fastball command got better, I could mix it in and out, up and down a lot better. My changeup kind of followed from there, I started throwing better curveballs. … We’ll take it. One step, one step.”

One step for sure, but what was interesting about this game is Hendricks kind of had a #TBT moment with his style. Nothing flashy, just letting it all happen. That’s the best part about his game. He gets it done.

Sure, there are people who believe his drop in velocity is a reason to voice some concern but I’m not convinced that last season was a fluke. He’s not quite a seasoned veteran where he can lock in his pitches at will like Jon Lester, so perhaps there needs to be a warming up period and this could be it.

“Something in my mechanics clicked, or maybe I fell into the flow of the game or something,” Hendricks said. “I was closer. It’s one start but definitely better.”

So, all right, what if last season was his season for batters to get used to his style of pitching and this season is their chance to understand how he works because I can guarantee that teams across the nation were sitting in the office studying the way Hendricks pitches. In an era used to fastballs and heat, along comes Hendricks and changes things up. See what I did there?

“I always talk about the way hitters take pitches against him and you can see it kind of surprises them,” Joe Maddon said. “When you get that kind of look from a hitter, then I know the pitch is there. More than anything, an uptick velocity-wise, and a little more separation between the numbers on his fastball and his changeup — that’s the one item that will make him take off quickly.”

He isn’t perfect. He needs to get his speed up a bit and that’ll happen. Until that happens, it’s a relief to have the old Hendricks back on the mound doing what he does best which is getting batters out.

“I’m not in the zone dialed in the way I was at the end of last year,” Hendricks said. “That was a completely different feeling and sensation.”

That sensation wound up earning them a World Series.

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Cubs Prove Too Much For Pirates

Jason Heyward

Baseball can be a lonely game. I’m not talking about the player staring at the pitcher in a game 7, bases loaded, two out, bottom of the ninth type of loneliness. No, in last night’s Chicago Cubs 14-3  blowout of the Pittsburgh Pirates, there was a loneliness that crept into the beautiful PNC Park around the mid innings when you can practically hear every fan that was left to watch the onslaught. The heckling and the whistling were on full display like ancient Greek theatre’s call and response.

Last night was the kind of game the Cubs should be playing on a regular basis. Jason Heyward won’t crush the ball the first time he sees the plate everytime, but guys like him and Addison Russell, who had a career high four hits, need to be consistent in every game.

“It’s great but it’s not over,” Heyward said. “It’s one game at a time. This game is hard, it’s not easy, and you’re always going to be humbled. It’s great to see hard work pay off but I have to keep going because that’s the way the game goes.”

It isn’t easy when you’re the player who makes a Gajillion dollars and underperforms. So I’m glad to see Heyward doing well this season. As for Russell? Well, one of baseball’s under appreciated players is consistent. He’s turning into the guy who someday could win an MVP.

“I expect to hit every first inning,” Russell said. “We have guys that grind out at-bats from their first at-bat until their last at-bat. Guys will get on somehow, some way. And guys with big knocks along the way.”

So the Cubs haven’t digressed this season but rather matured a little bit perhaps and the style of play isn’t always, like last night, going to knock out of the park every game. The more I watch them this year, I’ve decided that the wins might not always be pretty but they’ll win.

Kyle Schwarber will have to get used to the outfield. Even though he certainly wasn’t a weak spot in the Cubs lineup last fall, he might just be the weakness in the field this season. I think he’ll be better than us bleacher bums think he’s going to be but the growing pains will still be there.

“It’s not easy to just move people around,” Joe Maddon said. “The ball always moves toward the line, whether it’s a righty or left-handed hitter. It’s a different method of thinking on the other side of the field. Can he do it? Of course, he can do it.”

With the order pretty much solidified for the season, I’m hoping for Kyle Hendricks to showcase his stuff for the season. Perhaps the spring training wasn’t enough. Once the warm weather kicks in.

“Overall, still just need to kind of find that groove and lock it in,” Hendricks said. “My mechanics have been a little off, I’ve noticed, the last two weeks or so. I ramped up my throwing, so maybe throwing more has caused that. I just got to find the right balance right now. I just don’t feel strong out there, so I got to get my arm strength and feel like I can step on it (and) get the velocity back. And then from there, my changeup will just play off it.”

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Russell’s Walk Off a Thing of Beauty For Chicago Cubs

Addison Russell

How much more can the 2017 edition of the Chicago Cubs keep coming back in games? Yesterday they did just that, a come from behind walk off three run home run from Addison Russell to steal the win from the Milwaukee Brewers 7-4.

“I was just trying to put the ball in play, something over the middle of the plate to start me out,” Russell said of his at-bat in the ninth. “[Feliz] threw me two sliders away, and I was looking for something a little more in. He threw a fastball.”

Oh the modesty. He absolutely crushed that ball. So, that’s two come from behind wins in a row. It’s a dangerous way to start a season. All though the Cubs are proving their worth with these wins, it’s inevitable that time will run out. As the season wears on, the Cubs might be riddled with injuries and exhaustion.

“It’s one of those ugly wins but we’ll take it any day of the week,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “It is the resiliency, it is the fact that we do not quit. It’s on the ring. We don’t quit. It’s on the ring, man, and that’s a perfect example today.”

He’s right but where was Kyle Hendricks? The ERA leader last year, is noticeably absent on the mound with a 6.19 ERA this season. It could be cold weather or a slow start but he has to get his mechanics going. He walked four batters and only lasted five innings. Not that I’m too worried because he’s the type of pitcher who studies the game with all its’ nuances.

“We went in with one game plan, and we noticed they were sitting on a few of the things we were trying to do,” Hendricks said. “I didn’t realize it right away. By the time he came over to me, we could talk about it and find out where we wanted to go with the game plan. I got better contact in the later innings. I still need to find that groove and lock it in.”

So, the Cubs can talk all they want about resiliency but the main issue is in the games they lost, well, they just looked lost. The honeymoon is over, baseball season is underway. They’ll have to hear that familiar song a lot more if they want another parade.

“You definitely want to go into Cincinnati with the sense we can come back in any part of the game,” Russell said. “That’s what we did today. Just don’t give up. That’s the type of style that we play.”

The style the Cubs should be playing is Javier Baez‘s leaping air catches and reaching for the tag, Anthony Rizzo‘s Rizzo Wrap snags, Hendrick’s controlled mechanics and Kris Bryant‘s Long Ball. You see where I’m going with this?

“That was an unbelievable win today,” Hendricks said. “There’s been a lot going on. A lot of outside factors pushing against us, so to be able to focus on the game and get big wins … these teams we’re playing are coming for us. The target is on our backs.”

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