Cubs Hang On, Take Series Lead 2-1

After Saturday’s 6-3 heartbreaking loss, the Cubs were poised for a rebound. Yesterday, the Cubs proved that they’re still the reigning champs no matter if they make it through to the World Series or not by clawing their way to a 2-1 scrappy victory over the Nationals.

“It’s just an attitude, an attitude we’ve had on this team since I came up,” Kyle Schwarber said of the Cubs’ mantra. “I remember in ’15, we had the same attitude — we’re not going to quit — and we’d just got swept in the [NL Championship Series]. We’re not going to quit.”

Fingers were crossed after Schwarber couldn’t catch a routine ball to the left field wall and then proceeded to bobble the ball after he was unable to scoop it up. So, when it came time to congratulate everyone, Schwarber was the most relieved of all the players.

“Schwarber works his butt off, literally, to get better in the outfield,” Joe Maddon said. “And here’s the thing about that: That’s a routine play. That’s not over the top and that’s not an exceptionally great play, and it’s something that he knows he can make 11 out of 10 times.

“I have such faith in the fellow and the guy and his work ethic and how much he cares. After the game, all the guys are going up to him, every one, and reinforcing him. … He’s going to continue to get better on defense. But you’ve got to love his heart, man.”

There’s even Bill Murray singing the seventh inning stretch which has now become a fall favourite of having Murray sightings at Wrigley Field. Now, that’s all heart.

So now the Cubs are in position to advance to the NLCS tonight with a win. Game time is 5:30 EST with Jake Arrieta set to take to the mound. With the LA Dodgers upsetting Arizona, it could be the rematch of last season and I hope it’s the same outcome.

“We’ve got to be in attack mode. There’s no relaxing just because we’re up in the series. I’m a big, big believer in, you know, travel-day wins. You’ve got to get that win on a travel day because it makes everything better. The flight’s better, the morale is better. [Tuesday] we have a chance to seal it up here at Wrigley Field, and I expect our fans to be insane, just like they always are, and we’ll be ready to go.” Anthony Rizzo said.

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Cubs Cruise To 9-0 Win Over Reds

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So the Chicago Cubs are in the post season and today is the last day of the 2016 campaign. Yesterday, the Cubs defeated the Cincinnati Reds 9-0 in what really amounted to a practice against the Washington Nationals.

One thing that I have to understand is Kyle Schwarber. Earlier in the season I suggested that he might be on the trade block (or should be really) but here it is in late September and Schwarber cranks out his 30th dinger of the season.

“Having been sent down during the course of the season, things not going his way, give the guy high marks for perseverance,” Joe Maddon said. “I think overall, the year has been very successful for him. It’s not easy being sent back after all the success he had. I think maybe my expectations I portrayed were too high, and I should’ve considered that he did not play at all last year.”

Again though, I think what he did in last year’s run was phenomenal and probably caught everyone, including myself off guard. He was sent down to the minors for a tune up but as we know, has rebounded nicely since his return.

“This is my favorite time of the year,” Schwarber said. “This is when things come to the nitty-gritty. This brings out the best in everyone. You saw when we were playing Milwaukee and St. Louis, those were some hard-fought games. It was a playoff atmosphere. We’re going to be going into Washington, and it’s going to be some hard-fought games, two really good pitching staffs going at it, and two really good offenses and defenses and good bullpens. You’re going to be in for a grinder series, and it’ll be fun.”

So the Cubs haven’t decided who will start game one of the NLDS. Will it be Kyle Hendricks or Jon Lester? As much as I like Hendricks, I’m going to give the nod to Lester on this one. He’s got the experience all though he’s been playing a little off recently, he’ll rebound into the true playoff performer he is.

“I don’t make those decisions,” Lester said. “If they chose to make me Game 1, that’s a huge honor, huge responsibility to put on your shoulders and go out there and try to get your team off to the best start. If I’m in any of the other games, I’ll go out and compete just like I would any other start.”

The Cubs will have their hands full with the Nationals.  The North Siders are on a roll but the Nationals will give them all they can handle.

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Cubs Clawing Their Way Down The Stretch

The thing with professional sports is that it’s thrilling to cheer on a team or individual going for records or championships. Whether it’s last year’s Cubs or this season’s Cleveland Indians going for their 21st straight victory, heck, you can throw in Giancarlo Stanton’s home run quest. We love to see underdogs break records. In many ways, this year’s reigning World Series Champion Cubs are the underdogs going into the playoffs.

They won 8-3 over the New York Mets but truthfully, the Cubs should have had a better record this past month.

“This time of the year, it’s fun to be us right now,” said Kyle Schwarber, who tied a season high with three hits. “We’re being chased. There’s not a better feeling than playing some really good baseball games down the road.”

Well Kyle, there is a better feeling and that’s having clinched the division at this point in the season. We all know that the Cubs have had an up and down season. They haven’t been playing at their peak level like last year. I think on paper, they’re a bit better team then they were last season but as in professional sports, there’s a certain degree of luck attributed to their success.

“It’s unrealistic to believe these other teams aren’t going to press you a little bit. They’re good. Milwaukee has gotten better and St. Louis is St. Louis. It’s a bad method or thought process to think they’re going to fold. … You’ve got to play the games and you’ve got to win. It’s not about anybody else. Cubs win, none of this other stuff matters.” Joe Maddon said.

Perhaps that the Cubs have had to struggle more this season as Schwarber said about being chased, which last year they weren’t being chased but I suspect that other teams were unprepared with the Cubs staggering offence.

“I think it’s good for baseball,” Maddon said. “I think it’s good for us. It’s good for us to find out what we’re all about now and in the future. So there’s nothing wrong with a solid pennant race.”

No, there isn’t. For fans wanting to see their once dominant team struggle to get into the post season, there’ll be a lineup at the manicurist after the season’s over. This is the time of the year when all logic has to be thrown out the window. Switch up the leadoff hitter or the pitcher not hitting last but they have to pull out all the stops. The Cubs need to move the runners and get creative.

“People always make suggestions, but then you look at the names,” Maddon said about Javier Baez. “For me, where do these names fit best for that day based on 1 through 8? For me, I still like him there. … If he’s eighth for you, that’s pretty good. That’s kind of a nice thing too. You like to have that scariness all the way down 1 through 9.”

Scary.

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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.”

Believe it.

Cubs Set Franchise Record in Anhilation of Pirates

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Part of me wants to end the post right here. A 17-3 humiliation of the Pittsburgh Pirates is a rare feet but scoring 17 runs in two games less than a week apart, well, that’s just down right weird and awesome. Let’s just get things a little clear here too; when Cubs pitchers start getting RBI’s, good things happen. Jose Quintana did just that and look at what happened?

Then there’s Ian Happ, the rookie who now has 20 home runs and joins the club along with Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant Javier Baez, Kyle Schwarber and Willson Contreras. It’s a tired old cliche, but the Cubs record doesn’t reflect their play since the All Star break. Well hold on now, that doesn’t make sense because they’ve been getting the wins but they’ve been playing like they should have 90 wins, if they played this well before the break.

“We have a lot of good hitters here, a lot of young guys who have learned a lot and are putting good swings on the baseball, especially on a night when we get 20 hits and score 17 runs,” Happ said. “We had a lot of good [at-bats].”

I think too that last night’s victory showed that the Cubs can do all the right things on the bags when they want to. Stealing home, Happ attempting that triple, although caught and more at home in a Little League game but that’s the kind of things the Cubs need to do if they hope to recapture that crown again.

Then there’s Baez stealing home, wasn’t there a film made of that? It’s probably one of the most thrilling plays in the game and none other than Baez could pull that off with flair.

“We had a safety squeeze,” Baez said. “It was the same error as last year [in the NLCS]. We practiced today in early work, and even doing the early work I was going to the plate too fast and breaking to the plate pretty fast. I think on the play [Quintana] squared the bunt too early. I reacted early, too. I was making sure that didn’t happen again and it did.”

Is Happ a rookie contender? I think he should be in the conversation. No other Cubs player has hit that milestone in fewer games.

So, what about the player’s weekend jerseys? my wife and I agree that they should replace their current third jerseys with those from the player’s weekend. They’re sharp looking and heck, why not keep the nicknames on the back?

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Cubs Winning Streak Continues

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The phrase, “Turn at the right time” is synonymous throughout the sporting world. It’s a term associated to a team or a player that does all the right things going down the stretch of the regular season. You can attach that phrase to the Cubs but the only caveat being they’re playing teams that are struggling more than the Cubs.

Does it count?

In last night’s 9-3 massacre of the Cincinnati Reds, the Cubs extended their winning streak to five games. With home run contributions from Kyle Schwarber and Tommy La Stella, the Cubs are doing all the right things at the right time, if you wanted to through cliches around.

“You can struggle in the second half or you can learn from your mistakes and get better,” winning pitcher Mike Montgomery said after the Cubs moved 11 games over .500 for the first time this season. “Now it’s all about getting into the playoffs. We’re completely over last year.”

Hey Mike, I was over last year in April. All right, I still get a little choked up every time I see this:

 

What got me is that there is no other team in professional sports that triggers emotions quite like the Cubs. Their championship brought a nation together in a common unspoken bond. There were nods as we passed people on the streets, a few fist bumps and the, “I was rooting’ for your Cubbies”

Yeah Mike, I’ve put last year behind me too.

This weekend is Player’s Weekend. It’s a weekend where players across the league can have a little fun and celebrate everything that is awesome with the game that is woven in a nation’s fabric. There will be tributes from players to those that helped them throughout their careers and they’ll wear funky jerseys displaying nicknames such as “Cutch” , “Joey Bats” and “KB”. With all the excitement, I’m disappointed that Kyle Hendricks will be wearing “Hendo” as his nickname. I figured it might be “Prof” or Professor but seeing that these nicknames are representing the Little League spirit, I can see why they chose “Hendo”

“The fans will get to know more about you this way,” Javier Baez said. “They can find out why or how you got the name. I’m sure it’ll be a fun weekend.”

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Cubs Sweep Braves, Head Home To Face Cardinals

Mike Montgomery

So, there’s been a dramatic change in the second half and the Chicago Cubs have been leading the way. Yesterday, the Cubs swept the Atlanta Braves in an 8-2 victory. Yeah, the Cubs are feeling pretty darn good about themselves after sweep. It’s six games in a row and have become baseball’s hottest team next to the Dodgers, who by the way have extended their streak to 11 games.

What?

“We won six in row, and we have this momentum,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “I guess, synonymously, the vibe has been different. The vibe and energy has been great, and I want to see that continue.”

Of course you want it to continue. As fans, we want it to continue. If this were say like four years ago, this would be an amazing season, we’d be rejoicing that they’re four games over .500 and 1 1/2 games back of first in the Central Division, but this is the Cubs circa 2017, World Series Champs, so no, we’re not settling for that mediocre first half. Right now, at this time, the Cubs are playing like champs.

All right, so Mike Montgomery hit his first home run. I love it when the pitcher goes yard.   It validates the importance of pitchers hitting in the National League and adds that extra excitement to the game.

“I was happy about that. I got done pitching and came back in here and the ball was at my locker,” Montgomery said with a smile before getting serious. “The All-Star break was great for us. Since we’ve been back, there is a great vibe around here. We’re not too worried where we are in the standings, but we’ve been playing really good baseball.”

On a down note, the Cubs are worried about Kris Bryant after he left the first inning with a strained pinky finger sliding into third base. The good news is he’s listed Day-To -Day so he’ll be back in no time.

“I was kind of scared to look at my finger, and I was like, ‘Uh-oh,’ as this never ends up good,” Bryant said. “I don’t think anyone slides into someone’s foot and walks away from it. That was my initial reaction.”

The Cubs have an off day today but head home tomorrow to play heated rivals, the Cardinals. It’ll be their first home series since the break and a chance to unwind. They have momentum going into the series.

“We’re all on the same page,” Addison Russell said. “We’re all-in. We’re back to playing some Cubby baseball. Aggressive, having some fun and winning some ballgames.”

Perhaps that was the problem of the first half, they were missing the “Fun” part of the game.

“It is going to be great to get back home, and it is probably going to be hot,” Cubs outfielder Kyle Schwarber said. “It is going to be a lot of fun, as the bleachers are going to be packed, I’m sure.”

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