Cubs End First Half The Right Way

Chicago Cubs

There’s always something unfair in sports. There are winners and losers. It’s definitive and decisive in the results and yesterday, the Chicago Cubs had their definitive ending to the first half of the 2017 season in a 14-3 loss to their division rivals Pittsburgh Pirates. It was a poignant score at the end of the first inning, a 10-0 inning chasing exit for Jon Lester.

“I think people just want to get away, get away from this, get away from the grind. [The Cubs’ record] is not for a lack of effort, it’s not for a lack of preparation. It is what it is. Take four days to regroup, refresh and show up Friday ready. I think the big thing for us is to play good baseball, play solid baseball. Forget the record, forget the batting averages, our ERA, and just get back to playing good sound baseball. The talent on this team will speak for itself.” Lester said following the game.

This is true. of course their record doesn’t fully represent what this team can do. Just like any other sports cliche but that one applies to the 2017 Cubs. They’re good, we know it and they know it. So what happened to them in the first half? Well, lets’ see:

These are just a few of the low lights that have occurred so far this season with the Cubs. If this were any other season or any other Chicago team, fans would be staying away from Wrigley’s sacred ground. The truth is that people still believe in them.

“I’m still very confident,” Maddon said. “I believe in our guys and I’m eager to see us coming out of the break.”

If this were any other year, big changes would be happening. Maddon would be out of a job, trades would happen but this is the Chicago Cubs. They’re World Series Champions and possibly poised to be World Series Chumps if they continue playing the way they’re doing.

The fitting end to the first half couldn’t be better. Last year, the Cubs faced the Pirates in the series before the break, and it signalled a turnaround to their mini slump. They went on a tear after the All Star break and never looked back. Could this be the same?

Of course it’ll be one of the greatest turnarounds in professional sports history. I can read the headlines now:

“The Chicago Cubs Win The World Series After Posting Sub .500 first half” It certainly can happen with someone like Joe Maddon in the dugout. They have an easy schedule. Perhaps Cubs fans were so used to losing that we forgot how to get used to winning?

“If I had a reason, I would’ve fixed it out there,” Lester said. “Unfortunately, it’s never a good time to have a bad start. I really don’t know — I don’t know what to say to make it better, to give you a reason. It kind of speaks for itself. It’s embarrassing.”

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Cubs Are Lovable Losers Again

Canuck Cubbie

The tale of the Cubs this season has been very different depending on what team shows up. In yesterday’s 5-4 win over the Washington Nationals, the Cubs used the ninth inning to stage a comeback.

“A win’s a win — it doesn’t matter how it looks, how we get there,” Chicago starter Jon Lester said. “We’ll take two of four from a really good team. Hopefully, this can build a little momentum for us.”

The funny part about momentum building victories is that it doesn’t always happen. Yes, they took two of four from a really good team but in the wake of Miguel Montero‘s DFA, the Cubs have probably revealed the cracks in the organization. Nobody ever accused Montero of not speaking his mind. This time however, it cost him his gig with the Cubs.

“I reminded [Montero] of the standard we try to hold our players to when it comes to being supportive of one’s teammates and being accountable for one’s play and for being a good teammate,” Theo Epstein said Wednesday. “I reminded Miggy that we expect when something goes wrong on the field, we expect our players to take the blame and step up and proactively assume the blame, even if it’s not their fault.”

This season has suddenly felt like a “Do Over” because of all the injuries to key players like Ben Zobrist, Jason Heyward and now Kris Bryant. Last season at this time, the Cubs were running away with the title but this year is different. The Cubs are six games out of a Wild Card spot and truthfully, all negativity aside, the Cubs won’t stand a chance of even getting the Wild Card position if they continue to split series against teams like Miami and the Nationals.

Why?

Those two teams are on opposite sides. If the Cubs can’t really beat the best and can’t really beat the worst baseball has to offer, then what does that say about the Cubs? It says it’s a team that is struggling.

“I don’t think we’ve established our identity yet. I don’t think we’ve found our edge yet that we’ll need to play with to win games,” Epstein said. “Wins don’t just happen because you’re talented and you show up. You have to come to the park with an edge every day and come together as a team and play together to win and play with a certain edge. We’re going to find it.”

There you have it. They’ve got a good team in there somewhere but in a way, the team was dismantled last season with the losses to Aroldis Chapman and Dexter Fowler. It was inevitable with those two but what it’s shown baseball fans is that the team of 2016 was a magical one. If suddenly, the team can turn it around and go on a tear after the All Star break, then miracles do happen. It’s poignant that that the Cubs find themselves struggling. The perennial underdogs continue to be in that position despite a World Championship. #ThatsCub

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Is There Trouble In The Cubs Locker Room?

Canuck Cubbie

Is there trouble in the ranks of the Chicago Cubs clubhouse? After a horrible 6-1 loss to the Washington Nationals, the team needs to regroup badly. Jake Arrieta allowing 6 walks is unacceptable. However, I’m starting to believe that there might be a rift forming within the Cubs team.

“It really sucked because the stolen base goes on me,” Miguel Montero said. “When you really look at it, the pitcher doesn’t give me any time. It’s like, ‘Oh, yeah, Miggy can’t throw anybody out.’ Yeah, but my pitchers don’t hold anybody on. It’s tough. … I don’t get a chance to throw. That’s the reason they were running left and right. They knew he was slow to the plate, simple as that.”

There you have the fatal flaw of Jake Arrieta. He’s slow to the plate. Now, I like Miggy. Yeah, he was a little but whiny during their playoff run, but if you remember, he hit a grand slam. He comes through in the clutch. In many ways, he’s their outspoken leader. He’ll say everything that needs to be said on the team. Yeah, he’s a part time player but even still he comes through.

“I can pitch at his level,” Arrieta said. “I just haven’t done it consistently. He’s been very good throughout his career. I’ve had a couple good ones, a bad one, a couple good ones. I’d like to be more consistent throughout.”

So where do you find that consistency? Is it trading for pitching? We know the Cubs are in the market so that’ll be addressed soon.

Do you blow up a World Series team and start again? We know that’s not the answer but we also know that the team has suffered key losses in the off season that has contributed to this fluctuating season.

“That’s the million-dollar question right there. If I knew the answer, I’d be talking to the guys to figure it out and get it going. It’s tough. It’s one of those days, you get beat and go home. We played sloppy — we all did. You go home and you think about it, and it’s going to be hard to sleep on it. It was just a bad game. I respect Scherzer. I’ve known him for a long time and he’s a great pitcher, but I felt the game could be a little bit closer.” Montero said.

Big changes are coming, that’s for sure. Whether the Cubs need a break and regroup during the All Star game on July 11th, we’ll have to wait and see. What they can’t do is shrug it off saying “We have to go home and think” No, the Cubs have raised the bar this year and now it’s time for change. Truthfully, I’m betting on Montero not being around at the deadline.

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Cubs Need To Pour A New Cup of Coffee

Anthony Rizzo

We all get into habits and ruts. This daily routines that we feel quite comfortable in  doing, and sometimes are very good at doing. Take for example my coffee making abilities. My culinary skills are reduced to canned baked beans, grilled cheese, Kraft Dinner and having Gabriel’s on speed dial. That’s it, that’s all. What I’m very good at is making coffee. I am locally renowned in having the unique ability to take a generic Costco brand 2lb bag of organic java and turning it into roaster’s paradise.

For years, I’ve been using those throw-a-way paper filters. The coffee’s been great with those filters with the exception of the hit and miss batch of brew. One morning, I ran out of filters and scrambled around looking for something to use in the interim. I was panicking! As I frantically tossed around those useless items in the cupboards, I found the mesh cone filter that came with the Cuisinart machine. When the beeping sounded on the machine, what I poured into my Chicago Cubs mug the one my son made me that is so awesome, was the best coffee I ever had. It was rich and flavourful and filled with all the goodness java has to offer.

Mug

The point is that yesterday’s 11-6 loss to the Bronx Bombers was ugly. There’s no denying it or putting a positive twist on it. It was bad. How did the World Series champions go from last season’s dominance to this year’s borderline mediocrity?

“We need to get in a groove,” Miguel Montero said. “I think the whole team needs to get in a groove. For the hitters, for the most part, we’ve been coming from behind. First inning, they score some runs and it’s hard to come back all the time.”

What the Cubs need to do is have Jason Heyward pull them aside in their new Wrigley digs and give them a pep talk. Change it up a bit. If they can put Miguel Montero in to pitch, there’s room for that special kind of creativity that Maddon is so inclined to pull out of his New Era.

“Whenever the backup catcher gets more outs than you, it’s not positive,” Brett Anderson said. “You need to figure some things out and get healthy and get some more people out going forward. It’s as simple as that.”

Yeah, that’s how awful a situation the Cubs were in yesterday. The Cubs rotation has to go deep into the games. That’s all there is to it. If it’s a cliche to say that they have to start playing Chicago Cubs baseball, then that’s what they’ll have to do. Deep into games, move the runners and change up the order. Then again, if that was the simple recipe, then every team would be playing well.

It’s a lot like the simple routine of brewing coffee. I changed filters and discovered a whole new richness to my morning cup of coffee.

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Cubs Never Quit

#ThatsCub

With their tenth come from behind victory of the season in a 5-4 13th inning thriller at Wrigley Field, the Chicago Cubs may not win over a hundred games this season, but their resiliency is charging a path through the league. Albert Almora Jr. whacked a double in the extra innings and then ran home when Phillies Freddy Galvis committed an error.

“When Szczur hit the ground ball, you have in the back of your head, like, what if something happens?” Almora said. “He could beat it out and if the first baseman’s not paying attention, I could score. It was in the back of my head.”

It wasn’t just Almora but Miguel Montero hit a clutch home run in the eighth inning to tie the game.

“I hit the ball good, but the wind was really weird,” Montero said. “I didn’t know what to expect and next thing I know, the ball is in the basket. Basket — amazing basket when I hit, but when I’m catching, I hate it. As soon as the ball hit the basket, I slowed down. I never thought I had a chance to hit it out. I got lucky.”

The Cubs got lucky the whole game. How long can they maintain these come from behind victories? It seems to be working for them now but in the dog days of summer, it’s going to be a different story altogether. Injuries will happen and teams will adjust.

This weekend marks the New York Yankees return to Wrigley Field. It is therefore fitting that the “Love them or hate them” duo of Aroldis Chapman and Starlin Castro will make their return to the Friendly Confines. It’s also fitting that the duo play for the much maligned Yankees.

Listen, I like Starlin Castro. He was my son’s favourite player for the longest time. I remember watching the game and when my son was playing something around the house and Castro would hit one of his memorable home runs, I would yell and my son would come running from wherever he was playing. Castro just didn’t fit into the Cubs plans and that happens. I’m glad he hitched onto the Yankees. By The Way, my son likes the Yankees now.

“I can’t wait to go over there and hear from the fans the first time they announce me,” said Castro.

Aroldis Chapman is another entity unto himself. The hard throwing hurler may not be the nicest individual off of the field and Cubs fans, myself included, took exception to his off field incident which is unacceptable behaviour. That being said, when the Cubs honour him with his championship ring it will be well deserved. He delivered on the field for the team and should be honoured appropriately for it.

On the subject of Chapman, I want to applaud the efforts by the Canadian Football League recently in their handling of Justin Cox. In a statement issued by the CFL,  Commissioner Jeffrey Orridge implemented zero tolerance on domestic violence for Cox. This is a tremendous stance and a first for a professional sports league.

Well done,

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Cubs Bring The Bats, Help Lackey

Chicago Cubs

The Chicago Cubs are somewhat of an oddity this season. They’re not overly good like last year, but they’re not too bad either. If that makes sense? Yesterday, they evened the series against Boston with a 7-4 victory. Then there’s the connection with the World Series teams with John Lackey, Koji Uehara and Dustin Pedroia. That’s quite a connection between these two franchises.

Out of all the pitchers on the Cubs staff, the one I’m worried about the most is John Lackey. Yesterday, the Cubs bared their teeth at the plate, but in the true John Lackey fashion of unpredictability, it was the pitcher that bit the hardest.

“If it’d been the first time to leave somewhere, it would’ve been a little different,” Lackey said. “I was just trying to win a game.”

The game worn face of the veteran hurler argued a call to the umpire. In a move that would likely have thrown every other pitcher out of the game, there seems to be a certain respect (or is that fear) from the umpires for Lackey.  In the end, it wasn’t a pretty game that Lackey threw, giving up four runs and eight hits but the Cubs earned him the win. That’s the kind of game you’re going to get from Lackey.

On the other end of the plate the Cubs have Miguel Montero. I like Montero and he’s kind of stepped up into the David Ross role on the team. Although, he complained about the way he was used in the playoffs, and I totally disagree with him; he hit a grand slam for Pete’s sake! Montero is a good hitter who comes through in the clutch. Yesterday, he did just that with a game tying home run in the seventh inning.

If Miggy Montero is a great clutch player, the one player who might finally get his due this season is Anthony Rizzo. The unofficial leader of the team hit his sixth home run of the season in a two run shot in the fourth inning. Rizzo is overdue for an MVP season and I believe this year is his year for that to happen.

The tandem of Rizzo and Kris Bryant is a throwback to a bygone era like Ruth and Gehrig, Mantle and Maris. There will always be the debate of who’s better but there’s no denying that with Bryant and Rizzo at the corners for the Cubs, they’re the ones laying the foundation for Chicago’s now historic 2016 team. The image is forever engraved in the minds and imaginations of baseball and Cubs fans everywhere the final out in game seven of the World Series. They are the Tinkers to Evers to Chance of a new millennium. The smiling face of Bryant and the ball tucked in the back pocket of Rizzo. That’s what baseball is all about. The culmination of a year’s worth of hard work, team spirit and camaraderie. Anthony Rizzo should win MVP as sure as God made green apples.

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Cubs Snap Losing Streak But Baseball Is a Long Season

Miguel Montero

The Chicago Cubs won 9-7 yesterday over the Milwaukee Brewers. They snapped their losing streak, Miguel Montero and Kyle Schwarber each knocked out two run homers but  there’s a few problems that are heading the Cubs way.

“We have a pretty good hitting lineup from top to bottom,” Montero said. “Obviously, they have a five-run lead in the game but there was still a long way to go. We knew we’d be able to come back.”

Um, yeah, that’s what I’m talking about right there. The Brewers had a five run lead going into the third inning. The Brewers! They’re not expected to do anything this year and are beating the Cubs at their own game. That’s what I’m talking about.

“I don’t think we’ve played the kind of baseball we played last year,” General Manager Jed Hoyer said. “We’ve been sloppier at times than last year. That’s the only part that, when I watch the games, we didn’t do that last year. We were very clean, we took care of the ball, we didn’t give the other team outs.”

That’s precisely it. There’s no other way to put it when teams like the Brewers are racking up the runs on the Cubs the way they’ve been doing except to blame it on sloppiness.  They can even blame it on their bullpen but as the weather warms up, the bullpen should get looser. If the Cubs win the World Series, and that’s a big if, then it’ll be based solely on the fact of them overcoming these smaller market team wins.

“We’re gonna be fine out there,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “It’s all about confidence. We just have to keep getting them out there. As they get more successful innings — which they shall — their confidence will come on because they’re really good.”

See, now I’m starting to sound frustrated with the Cubs and April isn’t even over with. All right, so I’m going to put something out there that a lot of you folks might not like but I feel that Kyle Schwarber should be moved at the trade deadline. Yup, they need to move him and it’s going to hurt. Hitting lead off isn’t where he should be. They need to resolve that by going out and finding a premium lead off hitter if they want to make it through the Fall.

“So right now, you look at left-right-left-switch-right, I kind of like that, the way we have it set up,” Maddon said. “So to move (Schwarber in the order), it’d have to be either an acquisition of either a really legitimate lead-off hitter or somebody getting so hot down below that you felt comfortable about putting him in front of that guy.”

Is that Maddon confessing that Schwarber as a lead off hitter isn’t working as well as he thought it would? Don’t get me wrong, Schwarber is good but he isn’t a lead off hitter. If the Cubs can solve that problem, then they’ll be fine.

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