Cubs Continue Their Winning Ways

Chicago Cubs

Chicago Cubs’ Willson Contreras (40) celebrates with third base coach Gary Jones as he rounds the bases after hitting a three-run home run during the third inning of the team’s baseball game against the Atlanta Braves on Tuesday, July 18, 2017, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

It’s inevitable that the Cubs will catch up to the Milwaukee Brewers. After their 5-1 win over the Atlanta Braves, the Cubs are only 2 1/2 back of the Brewers but still 5 1/2 out of the Wild Card spot.

Last year was a breakout year for Addison Russell and while he’s slipping into a groove, it’s been Willson Contreras that’s having a banner year and last night he contributed once again with another home run proving he’s a tour de force with the Cubs.

“[Contreras] is really turning into a leader,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “He was very upset with himself when he hit into that double play his first time up. But he comes back and hits a three-run homer after that. He is definitely turning into a force.”

There’s been some concerns over John Lackey‘s pitching but last night he proved yet again why after 15 years in the League, he’s going to finish on his own terms, which is exactly how he plays the game. Last night, he went five innings only giving up one run. Not bad and definitely not warranting a trip to the bullpen where aging pitchers go to graze.

“I like having him out there for those reasons,” Maddon said. “The stuff is still really good, but the heart is even bigger, and that is a benefit to us.”

That’s where the difference is with Lackey. He gives it everything he’s got when he’s on the mound. From his opinion to his fast ball, he lays it all up there and I believe that this season the Cubs need him more than ever. He’s anchoring that pitching staff who aren’t so young anymore but he’s a battler and that’s what the Cubs are going to be doing for the remainder of the season.

“Really, I had one bad start in my last five as I got beat up pretty good in Washington,” Lackey said. “I felt like I made some adjustments in the last few weeks, and hopefully that can translate to the rest of the season.”

The Cubs still have a long way to go to be where they were last season. Sure, a five game winning streak is something special but on the West Coast there’s the frustrating LA Dodgers and their 10 game winning streak. For me, the NLCS was one of the greatest series I’ve ever seen. I’d love to see a rematch. Of course, I’d love to see the Cubs beat them again but right now, they’re not in the Dodgers league. If the Cubs sneak into the post season, they’ve got a tough road. Fortunately, there road is getting smoother, it almost feels like the first half was part of an extended Spring Training and the Cubs are finally building off of last season’s success and with Kyle Hendrick‘s return next week, it’s looking really good.

“I felt so much more comfortable than in my first start,” said Hendricks. “I felt right out there facing hitters, and felt mechanically right. My rhythm felt good, and I executed many more pitches. Now I feel confident and ready to go.”

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Bryant Hits Two HR’s In Take Down Of Brewers

Chicago Cubs

Amid the controversial decision to postpone Saturday’s game at Wrigley due to inclement weather, the Cubs came roaring back yesterday to thump the Brewers 13-6. I’m still scratching my head on the game being called when there wasn’t a drop of rain anywhere. The two teams have been trading barbs recently after suspicions that Brewer’s Eric Thames is taking PEDs. True or not, it’s an ongoing controversy that hopefully gets resolved.

Yesterday’s event  saw the Cubs sending four souvenirs home with those lucky fans. The reigning NL MVP Kris Bryant hit two of them.

“This is where we made our hay last year, at Wrigley. We have not played that well here yet this year. I anticipate, expect that we will. We’ve done better in this homestand, but we’re still not playing our best baseball. I mean that was a nice, 13-run game, whatever, but my perfectionism comes into fundamentals of the game. That’s what I like to see.”

Thirteen run games are hard to come by, but yesterday’s double digit event marked the rare occurrence of the Cubs showing signs of their former selves; and they did it in style.

“I feel like the name of the game now is get on base any way you can,” Bryant said, starting to crack a smile. “Getting hit with two pitches is just as good as any other walk.”

It was the first Cubs player since 1913 to get two home runs and hit by two pitches. Now, if that isn’t a cool baseball statistic or what?

Jake Arrieta is pitching better lately. It wasn’t a Cy Young caliber performance but the stoic hurler is taking a page out of Kyle Hendricks book by “just getting batters out”

“I think we’ve picked it up in pretty much every aspect of the game,” Arrieta said. “Playing a little better defense, throwing the ball a little better as a staff. Obviously, we’re starting to click offensively from top to bottom. We’ve got a lot of guys who are contributing up in the order, and that’s what we’re doing when we’re at our best.”

If last season showed the baseball world of the power behind what the Cubs can do, then this season is a test of how good the Cubs can be when faced against opponents who are more prepared to how good the Cubs play.

“If you look at it to this point we just haven’t hit. We haven’t had … even one hot hitter for an extended period of time. We haven’t pitched to our [capabilities],” Maddon said. “We just haven’t played our game yet.”

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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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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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Cubs Trying To Get Losing Streak Done Early

Chicago Cubs

The Chicago Cubs are in the midst of a losing streak as they dropped their fourth straight yesterday 6-3 in the series opener to the Brewers. The good news is that last year, the Cubs longest losing streak was five games. That didn’t occur until July, so if baseball is a superstitious game and, well, you know the Cubs are no stranger to superstition and freaky things, then this could be a good sign to get it out of the way early.

“I don’t remember what our record was at the beginning of last year. People are going to come here gunning for us, for sure. We’re the world champs, and people want to come here and play well. We’ll have to match that intensity and play better.” said John Lackey.

While Kyle Schwarber lays down some pretty impressive bunting skills, it’s good to see that Joe Maddon’s creativity is still intact. It was the first bunt that Schwarber hit in the majors.

“The situation dictated it right there,” Schwarber said. “We’re down two runs and I needed to get on base. If it’s wide open in that spot, I’m going to take it.”

What’s pretty unique about the situation the Cubs are finding themselves in is that once upon a time, fans didn’t expect much from the North Siders but now that there’s a World Championship under their belts, well that’s different. The Cubs are playing .500 ball and although players are trying to keep their heads about it, I can’t help but sense an undercurrent shifting and a little bit of worrying.

“It happened to us last year right before the All-Star break,” Schwarber said. “We hit the skids. Hopefully, maybe we’re hitting it early. We’re super-early in the season still. Like I said, no panic.”

It’s the back end of the game where the Cubs find themselves struggling. Closing out games and their bullpen needs to get caught up with the rest of the team. Here’s the thing though, Wade Davis and Kojii Uehara are new additions to the squad that last year featured Aroldis Chapman after the All Star break. So, like it or not the Cubs are a much different team than last season.

On an up note, three former Cubs received their rings yesterday. Travis Wood, Jorge Soler and Jason Hammel all had a chance to bask in the limelight again and visit with their former team.

“Travis walked in, and it’s like, ‘OK, how do you feel for today?'” Maddon said. “It’s just very, very normal. … The weird thing about that is it’s like he belongs here. It’s not even weird — there’s nothing awkward about it. That’s not normal. When a guy from another team walks in your locker room, even though he may have been with you in the past, it’s still awkward.”

Yes, the awkwardness is there but in the end, the Cubs have to find a way to move past the jewelry, pageantry and those banners out beside the scoreboards and get back to what made them great.

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Cubs Beat Brewers, Bring On Home Opener

Chicago Cubs

It seems like the Chicago Cubs have settled into their Defending World Series Champions roles as they cruised to a 7-4 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers yesterday. Behind the stoic Jake Arrieta, who threw 10 strikeouts, the Cubs also connected with home runs from Kyle Schwarber and Ben Zobrist.

So this is what I don’t understand, some folks are worried about Arrieta’s drop in velocity, myself included because I don’t expect him to return to form from winning that Cy Young award a couple of years ago. I think Jake’s an amazing pitcher and worthy of most of the accolades bestowed upon him(I’m talking about contracts) but a drop in velocity shouldn’t signal a drop in pitching performance.

“Everybody wants to talk about it — I don’t care about that,” Arrieta said. “I know I’m smart enough to work around that, and the velocity is still good enough to get it by guys and do certain things in certain situations with it.”

He’s right. Look at Kyle Hendricks? Not too many times over 90MPH and all the guy does is get batters out. Perhaps control and command is far better than speed?

There’s also another large contract looming over the Cubs like an albatross in Jason Heyward. He had a rough first season with the North Siders but so far this season has proven that he’s a hot commodity on both sides of the plate(Sorry JD). Yesterday, Heyward drove in three runs and has continued to challenge critics on his inflated contract.

“I’m relaxed up there, not thinking a whole lot,” Heyward said of his approach now. “I’m really trying to focus on what the pitcher’s going to do, how they’re going to attack you, that kind of stuff, and not thinking about the swing or anything like that, which is where you need to be as a hitter. Go up there and do that and be aggressive in the strike zone, be on time, relax and go up there one pitch at a time, one at-bat at a time — same stuff as anybody else who is trying to do well.”

In yesterday’s game, Heyward launched a ball deep in centre field only to be snared by Keon Broxton. Heyward tipped his hat to him. It was all class.

Tonight though is another story all together. It’s the Chicago Cubs home opener and the festivities will be plenty. There’s the banner raising and the Cubs will be wearing special gold lettering to commemorate that special victory last fall.

“I love banner raising,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “Rings are wonderful, but I love banner raising. That’s symbolically there all the time. Every time a kid shows up at the ballpark, he’ll see that banner. Hopefully, we’ll be able to hang more.”

The only downfall is it’s a night game. I loved it when the openers were during the day and we’d take time off of work to ceremoniously open the BBQ and ring in spring with Cubs baseball. I’m disappointed that it’s at night. However, tonight is for those fans who trudged day and night to Wrigley Field throughout the years and are being rewarded along with the team on the end of professional sports longest drought.

“That resonated pretty hard for me,” Jon Lester said. “That was a pretty cool moment that these fans shared with their family members, that they’ve had so many years of heartache, and we were able to give them the championship that this city deserves.”

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Cubs Let The Good Times Roll Over Brewers

Chicago Cubs

National Beer Day was on Friday so it was fitting that the Brewers won but last night was another story. The Chicago Cubs beat the Milwaukee Brewers 11-6 but it was the slump breaking play of reigning NL MVP Kris Bryant that cemented the victory, contributing with 3 RBI’s in the win.

“I don’t feel anywhere near comfortable up there, but it’s nice to get some hits out of the way,” Bryant said.

It’s no secret that spring training is much different than the regular season. Pitchers find their accuracy and batters are studied more in depth and let’s face it, Kris Bryant is probably the most studied hitter in the game right now. If he gets into a slump, it’s not entirely his fault.

“Just get more determined,” Bryant said of his approach when things don’t go right. “I realize this is part of being a big leaguer is to deal with the 0-for-12 and the 0-for-13 and the bad stretches and know it will turn around because it always does. It’s part of the learning process. I’m planting the seeds to keep learning and taking notes in the back of my head. For me, it’s be more determined up there.”

Albert Almora Jr is a player whose presence is going to grow more as the season wears on. He had three hits last night and let’s not forget the defensive plays after making a nice grab in the fifth inning.

“The way Almora has been playing center — that catch he made for me today was huge — and the day he had at the plate,” Kyle Hendricks said.

Hendricks, in his regular season debut, racked up six strikeouts and matched his career tying two hits in a game and get the win and yet, he remains humble.

“It wasn’t the start I was looking for, but luckily we came out swinging today. Finding the strike zone wasn’t the problem. I was throwing across my body, and things were kind of off.” Hendricks said. “Once the game started going, I started to find my groove a little bit, by the fifth inning, it was pretty good. The sixth was really good. I just needed to get into a groove.”

So, it’s the Home Opener Eve. Tomorrow the Cubs can celebrate their first World Series Championship with the Wrigley faithful. The banners will be raised and for all those fans that have stood by their side for all the years, the young and the old will rejoice. It’s pretty exciting stuff. Guys like Al Yellon from Bleed Cubbie Blue who pours his heart out each and everyday with his devotion to North Side’s noble heroes, tomorrow will be a special day. As much as it is a great day for the players, it’s also a great day for the Wrigley staff. Those hard working folks who put the tarps on the field, serve your hot dogs and bring the beer to your seat. If you’re at the game tomorrow, don’t forget to thank the Wrigley staff. It’s the players that win the games but it’s that staff that keep it friendly.

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