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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Cubs Wake Up From Hibernation

Chicago Cubs

There’s no denying it, the Cubs needed the rest going into the All Star break. They had to restart their batteries, regroup and do whatever they had to do to propel themselves into the second half. Last night’s 9-8 offensive output over the Baltimore Orioles was a welcomed relief and a much better indicator of what the team can do but it was also a sign of what they lack.

“It would’ve been very difficult to lose that game, I will not deny that, but we didn’t; we won it,” Maddon said. “You take a break, you play catch a little bit, and they’ve been throwing a lot in the first half. It’s one of those catch-22 moments. We got through it.”

It’s been a busy week for the Chicago Cubs. Some of it not so good when it came to the All Star game. Not only was Joe Maddon on the losing side but Wade Davis ended up giving up the winning run. If anyone was keeping score, Davis not only was the only representative of the Cubs but he wasn’t even on the 2016 World Series winning team! After the All Star game, I joked to my wife about the Cubs curse continuing almost like Sianis was calling down from the skies,”All right that last curse didn’t count so here’s another one!”

Then the Cubs made a huge trade in acquiring Jose Quintana from their crosstown rivals the White Sox, the Cubs gave up some minor leaguers. Quintana is expected to be in the lineup tomorrow and folks, I don’t know yet whether I’m excited about this or not?

“It’s over and that’s good,” Quintana said of the trade rumors. “It’s a fresh start. I just want to do my job and make the playoffs. I’ve never been to the playoffs and I have a good chance here.”

It’s a chance for both teams to make a fresh start. Last night’s five home run attack was the start of something special. In fact, what made it so special was the guys who hit them. Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist, Addison Russell and Willson Contreras. With the exception of Contreras, the other guys have been either injured or having a less than stellar season. I’m confident that Addison Russell has replaced Dexter Fowler in the, “You go, we go” department. He’s the kid the Cubs need to bolster the offence.

“The first half is a wash for me,” Schwarber said. “It’s just [a matter of] going out there and getting back to competing and focusing on my at-bat and focusing on the team at-bat and focusing on the team, period. We started off on the right foot — this is a big one for us, right there. We faced a little adversity and we were able to come through and it’s a great feeling.”

Like last season’s game against the Pirates going into the break, this one’s going to be the turning point of the season.

Now, if they can just tweak that ability to hold a lead, we’ll all be fine.

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Cubs Will Deal Kyle Schwarber At Deadline

Canuck Cubbie

I think I’ve figured out this season’s woes after a somewhat embarrassing 5-0 loss to division rivals Cincinnati Reds. All right, first thing’s first; Sure, it’s difficult this season and I may sound like a bitter fan expecting way too much from a team trying to defend their World Series title but hear me out; the Cubs have been playing like they’re rebuilding again.

“It’s a young group, it just is,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “That’s actually a great thing, it’s not a bad thing, that we have this many young players who are Major League caliber. Probably the last thing to come is the development of the bats at the Major League level. We can play great defense, we can run the bases, we can throw well. Our bats are really inconsistent with zero runs tonight.”

Touching upon it yesterday, the Cubs have lost some key players and are kind of rebuilding the organization again. That’s a good thing. The bad part is that we might be waiting a little while longer for another championship. Now, some of you might be thinking that after getting your World Series fix that it’s no problem waiting another 108 years for a championship but the problem there is that nobody will be around to see it.

I think it’s becoming increasingly harder to build dynasties in professional sports. Gone are the days when you can “Mighty” at the beginning of a team’s name. I don’t believe that there’ll ever be another powerhouse like the Yankees or even the Montreal Canadiens ( Although Pittsburgh Penguins are having a good run at it).

“It’s baseball,” Willson Contreras said. “Every year is different. That’s it.”

Although it’s easy to say that, we all have to admit that the expectations were higher for the Cubs this season, or maybe my expectations were slightly increased. There’s no denying that the Cubs still have some of the most exciting players in the game and while management and players remain positive that things will eventually get turned around, the chances of a deep run in October are slim unless the team can correct the mistakes that were the polar opposite of last season. The best way to fix things is get runners in. Forget home runs, and at the deadline, the Cubs will do two things; they will deal for a starting pitcher and they will trade Kyle Schwarber for another bat.

I’m excited about next month. Cooperstown is having a Chicago Cubs weekend on August 26th-27th where fans will have the opportunity too experience the 2016 World Series all over again. There’ll be great memorabilia and a chance to get pictures taken with the trophy. We’ve got it marked on the calendar. It’s going to be fun!

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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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Cubs Go On Fishing Expedition

Canuck Cubbie

It’s no secret that this season when the Cubs have been bad, well, they’ve stunk but when they’ve been good, they’ve been red hot. Last night, the Cubs weren’t just red hot, they were on fire beating the Miami Marlins 11-1.  On the same day that fan favourite, Kyle Schwarber got sent down for a little bit of adjustment, the Cubs young bats became red hot with Addison Russell, Willson Contreras and Kris Bryant each chipping in for the Home Run Department.

“A night like tonight where we we pitch well and score 11 runs, it looks easy. But it’s about consistency and trying to build off of a night like tonight. We’ve got the guys necessary to do so. So it’s a matter of collectively as a group building off of a night like tonight.” Jake Arrieta said.

Which is easier said than done. I’m not a big fan when players say all the “right things” when it comes to the need of winning ballgames. Eleven runs won’t happen every night, we know that but it’s also the kind of thing that won’t always ballgames when teams hit too many home runs. I’m a big fan of small ball. Get a hit, move the runner and steal a bag. Of course, score some runs.

The key player for the Cubs right now is Addison Russell. He’s been having a sloppy year so far but if he connects like he did last night, then I see a Cubs turnaround. What I mean by turnaround is not just squeaking in by a wild card spot; Nope, a bona fide National League leader.

“Addison looks really comfortable. I know you see it up there also,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “And Happ, when he starts making contact, he keeps making contact. And I like it from the right side. That’s very large that he’s starting to do it from the right side.”

Sending Kyle Schwarber down is something I would have done a lot sooner. He’s not a lead off guy (Not really an outfielder either, but not as bad as I imagined) He needs to get adjusted and time to refocus his fundamentals.

“We think this is best for him right now,” Maddon said. “We know he’s gonna be back, and obviously just look forward to it. I really personally love having him here, too. It’s just even when he’s struggling, whenever he walks up to the plate, everyone expects something good to happen. So let’s just get him right for him and for us.”

Look what happened last year after missing all but two games? There’s no question the kid can hit but I really didn’t think that last season’s success was an indication of what Schwarber can do. Hopefully with some time to get adjusted, there might be something waiting when he gets back.

“It’s tough for our team, because he’s such a good guy,” Anthony Rizzo said. “But he’s gonna go down and be able to exhale a little bit as far as being in the limelight all the time and hopefully smooth things out. We’re all confident he will and just do his best down there to get back here and get back to being the Kyle Schwarber we know.”

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Cubs Can’t Reel In Marlins

Canuck Cubbie

All right, despite the 6-5 loss to the Marlins, the Cubs managed to show a lot of positives. I mean, there was Kyle Schwarber‘s three hits and of course, there were some let downs.

“You see how much shorter [his swing is],” manager Joe Maddon said of Schwarber. “His feet are on the ground, he’s not lifting his leg up a lot. He’s keeping his body out of it, and his hands have been much more active. It’s reminiscent of what we’ve seen in the past. He has great balance in his finish. You’ve seen every time he’s hit the ball, he’s able to stand there because his balance is so good. When a hitter can do that, it means he’s permitting the ball to travel, he’s using his hands, he’s keeping his head still, all the good things you’re trying to get done. A nice night for him, absolutely it was.”

Then there was John Lackey. Five runs on seven hits? Yikes. I like the guy, he’s one of the fiercest competitors in the game but I think they should start grooming him for another role in the organization. His ERA is up this year 5.12 and I think he’s just about done.

“Lackey is not afraid to challenge hitters, and sometimes it works for him and sometimes it works against him,” Maddon said.

“If I managed the game a little bit better, (the home runs) shouldn’t have killed us,” Lackey said. “The hit to the shortstop (Riddle) is probably the one that got me the most for sure.”

So there are some gaffes that he makes. Don’t get me wrong, he’s still got a little arm left in him, but I think the Cubs should look else where in the rotation.

The series that opens tonight against the Colorado Rockies is going to be difficult. This is the true test of the Cubs endurance. The Rockies have come alive. Even though it’s a home series, the Cubs should try and treat it like an away series. Does that make sense?  Next week they’ll be on the road against the Mets and then it’s off to Pittsburgh. If I were Maddon in his creative ways, I’d try and get the Cubs out of their usually home routine for this one. Have a theme day, maybe it’s Pirates of The Caribbean? There’s nothing wrong with the way they play at home so they have to focus on the their road routines and get out of their comfort zones. If that includes changing up their living quarters or something, I don’t know?

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Kyle Schwarber Launches First Grand Slam

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I know I’ve been a little harsh on Kyle Schwarber of late, but really I’ve just been critical of the Cub’s decision to have him as lead off hitter. Yesterday, the Cubs didn’t have hitting lead off but instead, hitting in the ninth spot and he came through. The Cubs won the series against their rivals, the Cardinals 5-3.

“I’m like, ‘Hey, at least I’m playing,'” Schwarber said, laughing. “No, actually, I didn’t say anything. He told me his reason and I was like, ‘All right, I’m going with it.’ Whatever the skipper does I’m following it. He’s got our back. It’s all a process, and it worked out today.”

It did work out. Schwarber hit his first career grand slam and sending the Wrigley faithful into a frenzy. Sometimes, managers and GM’s might call up a player in order to put a band aid on the situation but with a creative manager like Maddon, juggling the batting order is all they need.

“Of course, his confidence is impacted, and that’s the whole point,” Maddon said. “I wanted to impress upon him it’s not a loss of confidence from me to you. I understand you’re going through a moment right now. What is the best way to deal with this? You can set aside your baseball ego — hitting ninth. To me, it’s so attractive. It’s not hitting ninth and like the last kid playing right field in a sandlot game, it’s not that at all. It’s really attractive.”

Perhaps that’s all the Cubs really need is to put their egos aside after winning the big one and hey, I’d have a big ego if I helped end an over a hundred year drought. Wouldn’t you?

It wasn’t just Schwarber that helped the team win the weekend series, Jon Lester 14-2 at Wrigley Field, picked off Tommy Pham at first. You heard that right, Lester threw the guy out at first. We all know that Lester has been a little on the apprehensive side when it comes to playing catch with first base but every now and then he’ll make that elusive play and get someone out. Runners usually get a big lead on him thinking he’ll never do it, then it happens.

“It’s a mind thing, man,” Maddon said. “If you believe you can do it, you can do it. It’s that simple. I know the other teams will definitely jot that down. It’s something to be reckoned with. However, we’ve done a nice job controlling the running game with him all year. It’s not been an issue. There’s been a lot made of it … but he’s done a great job. He’s probably our quickest guy to the plate. To this point, it’s worked in our favor.”

So, how quickly the Cubs try to put a horrible May behind them where they went 12-16 and now have won back to back in June will close out the series with a sweep against the Cardinals tonight when Kyle Hendricks takes to the mound.

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