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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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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Cubs Grab Marlins By The Jaws

Anthony Rizzo

It’s frustrating to be a Cubs fan these days. One one hand I want to be critical of their performance this season but on the other hand, winning five in a row and having the best win streak in the majors just feels right. The Cubs destroyed the Miami Marlins last night 10-2 and there wasn’t much the fish could do to stay out of the Cubs jaws.

“The feeling is a little different in the dugout,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “Since we’ve been back home, the guys are starting to feel it more and it’s more reminiscent of the last two years and it’s a good thing.”

There was that emotional speech in San Diego that might have turned things around but the way the Cubs have played during this home stand, who knows maybe Jason Heyward should start giving Ted Talks? Last night, the Cubs put out the welcome mat for the Marlins from Jake Arrieta‘s outstanding performance to Anthony Rizzo‘s staggering three run home run in the fifth inning, that’s the way the Cubs should play.

Arrieta, possibly being reminded that his contract is due soon, decided to remind us all that he won a Cy Young a couple years back and went win to pitch just under seven innings.

“Any time we go through a period like we did on our last road trip, it kind of increases the sense of urgency a little bit,” Arrieta said. “We’re not necessarily pressing or trying to do more than we’re capable of, but trying to get locked in more as far as our mental approach and focusing exclusively on that. We’ve been doing that the past five or six games, and it’s starting to pay off”

Recording five strikeouts, the fearsome hurler settled in and delivered a performance that only the second time in the last 11 where a starter recorded a win, that’s how poor the Cubs have been of late.

Though what’s been the most impressive as of late is the play of Jason Heyward. The much maligned highly priced pick up of the Cubs enjoyed one of his best games last night, recording three hits, two of which were doubles. Yup, nobody ever accused Heyward of having a rotten glove but his play at the plate has garnered a lot of attention lately.

“I’m really digging where he’s at in the five-hole,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “Right- or left-handed pitcher,  he don’t care. He’s giving you good at-bats against both sides of the plate. He’s giving good at-bats against velocity, and he’s giving you good at-bats against breaking pitches. He continues to trend in the right direction.”

Going into last night’s contest, the Cubs were last in the National League with Runners In Scoring Position but they’ve been 4 for 7 before the game. Last night, they went 6 for 16, a paltry number by any means but one that’s heading into the right direction.

“It starts in the clubhouse, it starts in the dugout, it starts with us being together,” Heyward said. “It starts with your hitters feeling like the dugout and the team is with you every at-bat. That’s what we want to feel. We want to make sure our guys know that regardless of the outcome of the at-bat, just know the guys are with you, and we’ve done a great job of that.”

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Cubs Win Fourth In a Row

Albert Almora JR

Just like that, the Chicago Cubs are among baseball’s hottest teams after a 3-1 win over the Miami Marlins. With the win, the Cubs are back on top of the NL Central. With home runs delivered by Kris Bryant and Albert Almora JR.

Alma Jr’s home run in particular, was a special thing considering he’d like to play everyday but with the arrival of Ian Happ, playing time has diminished.

“If I say no, I’m a liar,” Almora said. “I’m a competitor and I want to play, but it’s not about me. It’s about the Chicago Cubs and winning another World Series. I’m happy to be here and happy to help in whatever way I can. Tonight, they gave me an opportunity and I’m glad I helped out.”

If that’s what it takes to put the wins on the board, then perhaps juggling Almora for Happ on a regular basis might be the thing to do or getting the RISP up and getting them home is the key. Last night, the Cubs delivered on that. If the wind was blowing out, then the Cubs might have had more runs scored.

“The lake did injure us a bit, but it also got them on the fly ball by [Christian] Yelich to left [in the first],” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “We did hit the ball better than the 3-1 [score], but that’s how the ballpark plays some days.”

Which is one of the treasured jewels of Wrigley Field, and the most frustrating. In fact, it takes away the home field advantage when the wind is blowing in.

“In [batting practice], we were crushing balls,” Almora said. “You try not to do too much in these situations. You know if you hit the ball hard, it’s going to go.”

Then it changes.

The feel good story of the game was Almora hitting his home run. A Miami boy, his friends and family were watching back home. For a guy who doesn’t have regular playing time, the home run took on a special meaning.

“I’m just happy I’m able to represent my family back home,” Almora said. “I just do it for them. When I give them the chance to see their son or their friend go out there and have success, I’m just happy it happened.”

With their fourth straight win, the winds have changed in the Cubs favour and as Jake Arrieta gets the call today for his fourth start at Wrigley Field this season, the Cubs will try to improve on those numbers and once again become baseball’s best team.

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Cubs Walk Off Thriller Stuns Marlins

Chicago Cubs

If you’re a Chicago Cubs fan, and I know most of you who follow the Canuck Cubbie do at least have a passing interest in the lovable North Siders, you’ll probably agree that yesterday’s 5-4 walk off victory over the Miami Marlins will go down as one of the season’s most thrilling wins.

“A big part of that rally at the end of the game is just our fans, purely,” Maddon said. “So much energy. Long day for us — it was a hot day out there, sunshine, we’ve got to get on the road, all those mental factors. I just want to recognize them.”

The ninth inning wasn’t just about the fans, the ninth inning was all about the depth of the once not so mighty baseball club that has turned around in the last couple of years to become the leading contender for October’s most coveted hardware.

It was Miguel Montero, Javier Baez and Dexter Fowler who set up the comeback in the ninth with Matt Szczur trotting home for the win. However, John Lackey pitched his 16th quality start of the year, it was also his third in a row and he went 2 for 2 recording his first multi extra base hit game of his career.  Sure, he didn’t get the win, but the grizzled veteran sums it up on what the expectations and goals of baseball’s longest suffering team are up against.

“Fair expectations? We’re trying to win a World Series. I didn’t come here for a haircut,” Lackey said. “I came here for jewelry.”

I think he wanted the win.

So the Cubs swept the Marlins. They have a day off before heading to Oakland to face the constantly rebuilding Athletics. The Cubs need a sweep and should be able to collect valuable distance from the rest of the National League Central. Normally, I love the races until October but this season is extraordinarily different; the Cubs need to dominate the Central and prove just how good they are.

“We just never quit,” Chicago’s Ben Zobrist said. “As a team, that’s kind of a mantra, and that’s something all good teams have to believe when they’re down that they can come back and win games, and this series was true for us to believe that for ourselves. When you get in those situations again, everyone believes they can do it again.”

Also, this next series should see an end to the Cubs homerless streak which sits at five games.

The Cincinnati Reds had the “Big Red Machine” of the 1970’s, so what should the newly powerhouse Cubs be called?

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Cubs Win The Tight Ones Too

Chicago Cubs

It’s amazing to think that going into the 2016 MLB season, Cubs fans were on a high with Jake Arrieta‘s Cy Young winning performance last year. Although, Arrieta’s pitched really well, he’s shown fans that he’s human. Last night, the Cubs behind Jason Hammel beat the Miami Marlins 3-2 in front of a raucous Wrigley Field crowd. It was Hammel’s eleventh win of the season, setting a career high. This is the second time in his career that Hammel has collected four straight wins.

“As long as we keep taking care of our business and not looking outside to see where other teams are located, nothing else matters. If the surge is now, if the surge is in September, if we surge all the way from August through September to October, that’d be great. We’ll just keep going one game at a time.” Hammel said.

It goes to show you that when pitchers are working hard on the mound, the results will happen. The Cubs are 12-6 since the All Star game and won five straight series at home. If you can’t win at home, you’re not going to win anywhere else.

Sometimes I lay in bed at night and think what the Cubs could have been like if Dexter Fowler didn’t go on the disabled list(Naw, he doesn’t really keep me up at night). What would the Cubs record be like? Last night he went 3 for 4 and has scored a run in his last five games. He truly is the master OBP with .403 and when it comes to triples nobody can touch him with 69 since 2009.

“Dexter got the whole thing rolling,” Joe Maddon said. “When he plays at that level, he picks everybody else up and it accelerates everybody’s confidence, hitting-wise. He’s a nuisance to the other team.”

The other impressive thing that I noticed about the Cubs is they haven’t been going yard in a while, last four games to be exact. So, it’s been the small ball that’s taking over. Man, that’s going to provide dividends come October. Look at the way Kansas City handled everyone else? There’s also the resurgence of Jason Heyward who has hit in his last eight games.

There’s two months left of baseball, or the equivalent of rounding second base. The Cubs are getting key performances from their low key guys and getting the wins in one run games 14-16. This is the way baseball should be played.

Also, Willson Contreras has proven that he’s the Cubs catcher of the future. He went 2 for 3 and has gained the respect of pitchers.

“He’s a great kid — I love him,” Hammel said. “He basically has gotten better every start I’ve worked with him. The game calling, the blocking — he’s even coming up to me and giving me hugs. He saw that I was frustrated coming out early and he’s like, ‘Hey, nice job.’ He’s got kind words, wise words beyond his young years. I was very proud of him.”

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