Rizzo Does It Again

Canuck Cubbie

Anthony Rizzo is on a 14 game hitting streak. He’s hit three Leadoff home runs since his movement to that position, the Cubs just beat the San Diego Padres 4-0 and they’re a half game back of the Central Division lead.

Yeah, the season isn’t going the way that Cubs fans would like but the excitement of Rizzo in the leadoff spot doing this well is giving the fans something to cheer for. Is he the greatest Leadoff hitter in the game? Numbers don’t lie. He’s batting  1.000 in the leadoff spot.

“It’s funny,” said Rizzo. “I’m sure my teammates are starting to get a little tired of it because I’m constantly in their ears, nonstop, telling them to make sure you don’t miss it or ‘Watch this.’ It’s all in good fun and I’m having fun with it.”

We know his luck will eventually run out but while it lasts it’s fun watching him carry the team on his back during their rough patch. So, let’s talk about the Cubs being a half game back of Milwaukee and just shy of a wild card position. With the All Star game in a few weeks, it’s still early to pick playoff positions, we know there’s plenty of baseball left to go but last season the Cubs were not doing well heading into the All Star break. They were in the middle of a losing streak and it was that game at PNC just before the break that served as the turning point in their season. Will Rizzo’s success be the key to a turnaround?

“As long as we keep winning, I have no problem with it,” Rizzo said. “I have no problem going back to third or fourth or wherever Joe feels is best for the club. The main thing is we keep winning.”

That’s the kicker. They keep on winning, whatever it takes. You see, the magic of the game is these individual efforts and I think it extends back, way, way back when we got our news from the papers and read about individual accomplishments in sports. Now, I’m starting to show my age mentioning newspapers, but it’s true. Reading about sports and these milestones was a lot more intriguing because there was all day to talk about them. The games were blacked out. The game is still as exciting but in a different way.

Nah, I’m just getting older.

“On a nightly basis, he’s ready, he’s chirpy, he’s ready to go, and he’s loving this,” Maddon said. “He’s helping us out incredibly.”

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Cubs Slide By Padres

Canuck Cubbie

When the going gets tough…Anthony Rizzo surprises again with a lead off bunt on route to a 3-2 win over the Fighting’ Friars. The Cubs looked good in last night’s victory. Not last year scary good but a more controlled and balanced good with Willson Contreras kicking in with a home run on the anniversary of his first big league hit.

“His growth from getting thrown into the fire last year of the best team in baseball to now being the starting catcher for us, for the defending [World Series] champions, that’s a lot of responsibility,” Jon Lester said.

It is a lot of responsibility, but the young catcher always brings a positive work ethic and a smile to every game. Especially when he’s catching Jon Lester, Contreras has shown a certain maturity.

“The sky’s the limit for this kid,” Cubs starter Jon Lester said. “He’s stuck with me and I’m stuck with him for the next three or four years, so hopefully he keeps getting better.”

The Cubs struggles are real with even Lester giving up a couple of home runs early and throwing 111 pitches before leaving the game in the 6th inning. So what can return the Cubs to their dominance?

Anthony Rizzo

It is often said that when a team is struggling, their leader is the one who’ll carry them on their backs. Anthony Rizzo has been that guy this year, always digging deep and finding ways to score runs and continue to push the Cubs despite their record. Even last night when he was running home with Matt Szczur throwing a rocket home, Rizzo crashed into Padres’ catcher Austin Hedge in a questionable play depending on which team you’re cheering for.

“I went pretty much straight in,” Rizzo said. “He caught the ball and went toward the plate. It was a hard slide. I play this game hard for 162 games-plus, every day. I pride myself on it, running the bases hard, doing everything hard. I can’t see that being dirty.”

I don’t think there was any intention to hit Hedges at all. It was a collision with no room to maneuveur around him. Everyone is thankful that Hedges wasn’t hurt.

“I loved it, absolutely loved it,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “That’s part of the game. If the catcher’s in the way, you hit him.”

Which makes a valid point because if Rizzo avoided Hedges, he might have been safe but in the end, he was thrown out and nobody was seriously hurt.

“It’s a fairly egregious violation of the rule,” Padres manager Andy Green said. “The rule exists to protect that catcher. … I think it’s a cheap shot. I’m not saying [Rizzo] is a dirty player at all. No one is saying that. But he clearly deviated from his path to hit our catcher and took our catcher out. The rule exists to protect him.”

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Cubs Lose Six In a Row

Kris Bryant

It’s hard to compete with what happened last year. A World Series championship after so many years of what could have beens and never was’ the Cubs have now lost six in a row after yesterday’s 2-1 stunner. Jake Arrieta pitched well striking out seven, which isn’t bad but considering Arrieta’s past achievements is mere mortal.

“If you panic, if you worry, we still have to show up and play a game every day,” Arrieta said. “There’s no time to panic. If that happens, especially at this point in the season, when we’re two, 2 1/2 games out of first place, it’s going to work against us. We have to just maintain a positive vibe in here the best we can and continue to move forward, even if we lose several games in a row. I know it’s a cliche thing to say, but sometimes that just happens in this game.”

He’s right about two things. Now’s not the time to panic and baseball’s a difficult game. Losing streaks happen and all the Cubs can do is stay focused on what’s ahead. The ability to stay positive as well is an important thing to do too.

“I feel we have to have more fun, like last year,” Willson Contreras said after hitting a double then waving to the bench. “Last year, we were out there and had fun. It was more about hitting the ball over the fence. We went out there and had good at-bats. That’s how I feel — that’s why I did what I did today.”

It’s hard to feel optimistic when the statistics for May are bad:

  • At 25-27, the Cubs are under .500 for the first time under Maddon
  • Losing 6 in a row is the most consecutive with Maddon as Manager
  • Both the Padres and Dodgers kept the Cubs RISP to a low 3-40

That’s bad.

“With what we accomplished last year, obviously the expectations are really high, and they should be,” Arrieta said. “We’ll take it. We’ll deal with the criticism and continue to move forward and do everything we can.”

Of course they can still win their division but it’s not the point. It’s going to be a struggle getting into the post season but I can’t help feel terrible for some of the players and heck, even Maddon. Is their jobs on the line? It’s inevitable that this was going to happen to the team but maybe we’re still on a World Series high or maybe just not ready to accept that the Cubs aren’t as good as we thought they were.

“There’s no magic potion,” Joe Maddon said. “We just have to keep going out there and playing, believe in our guys — which I do, 100 percent. These are good young players. They’ve shown it in the past. They’ll show it to you again.”

What do you think?

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Cubs Not Ready To Throw In The Towel

Kris Bryant

Sure, Kyle Schwarber hit a home run but the Cubs are below .500 Let’s put that into perspective, the Chicago Cubs won the World Series in 2016 and less than a year later, they’re a sub .500 team. Last night, the Cubs fell 6-2 to the San Diego Padres.

“We got the lead and gave it right back,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “We gave up the lead, and that was very large because they did pitch well again, and we’re not hitting like we can, so it’s a bad combination.”

So, what’s the problem? I mean, they’ve got tons of All Stars and the reigning NL MVP on their squad and they’ve fallen below .500 twice this season?

Uh oh.

“We feel we have a talented offense that will be productive over the long haul that has fallen into some bad patterns,” Theo Epstein said. “We’re a little too easy to pitch to these days, which means we have to adjust. I think that’s going to come.”

When the President of Baseball Operations uses the word “adjust” he’s not talking about batting stances or infield positioning, he’s talking about something more desperate and that could mean some big time player movement. Bleed Cubbie Blue has an interesting proposal in regards to what can happen with Schwarber.

It’s not just one area of their game that’s suffering. It’s pitching and batting that’s taken a beating lately that’s only been accentuated by their latest west coast debacle.

So, if changes are coming, and you’d better believe that they will despite what the Prez says, the Cubs are in a pickle. Last night’s loss was their fifth straight and going into last night’s fiasco, the Cubs were a .500 team nine times this year all ready. Folks, check your calendar because we’re only into May.

“Not right now,” Epstein said. “You keep an open mind for everything. You have belief in certain guys’ talent. You want to find a way to manifest it. It’s valuable for guys to work through things up here.

“Not right now” Three words that can have an impact on a few players. Yeah, there’s going to be some major changes, if not subtly. Ian Happ has gone cold, we know of Schwarber’s situation.

“We don’t need everyone to get hot, we don’t need everyone to hit their projections,” Epstein said. “We just need a few guys to get going to make our offense really viable. We need time. I think over time our guys will continue to progress. When that gap exists, it’s a better position than not having the talent.”

Epstein is saying the right things now, but one or some unlucky players will not hear those words.

Today should be an interesting matchup with Jake Arrieta going toe to toe against the Padres. Whether that will transpire into a slugfest or not remains to be seen.

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Cubs Get Out Classed By Padres

Kyle Hendricks

So there’s a problem in Chicago. The Cubs lost another game that was within their grasp yesterday when they fell to the San Diego Padres 5-2. I say in their grasp because up until the fourth inning, pitcher Kyle Hendricks was on his lectern conducting classes in a no hitter bid. Then the bases got loaded and a grand slam followed.

“We’re the ones with the ball in our hands, we’re the ones who have to stop it,” Hendricks said. “If we throw up zeros, we have a good chance of winning. Giving up four, five [runs] in a game is not what we have to be doing right now.”

Of course it’s not what they have to do right now, but the RISP has to change. They need to capitalize on that. With 2 for 36 with runners in scoring position, the Cubs are having major league droughts. They rank last in the majors in that department.

“It’s more reminiscent of 2015,” Maddon said. “We were only seven games over .500 at the All-Star break in ’15 and had a wonderful second half of the season to get to the NL Championship Series. Last year, we broke quickly and then played .500 for two months. Hopefully, this year we can get this .500 thing out of the way and do what we normally do.”

Of course the Cubs have the most positive manager in the league so it’s not a question of trouble in the ranks. Whether the Cubs are falling into old habits a la 2015 where the majority of the team were made up of young budding superstars and a lot of inexperience and they still made it to the NLCS. However, last season it took the All Star break, a pick up of Aroldis Chapman and a return of Dexter Fowler to turn things around.

“It’s not complicated,” Maddon said. “You can see the big swings coming out of our zone when just a single would do. We did it before, we can do it again. Everybody loved us a couple days ago, and now all of a sudden we’ve had a tough time scoring runs on the road and we’ve just got to do better. That’s all it comes down to.”

They don’t have Fowler or Chapman this year. The Cubs lead off situation has continuously been in flux and despite the Cubs’ bullpen sitting in third with a 3.34 ERA, their cracks are showing.

“We haven’t hit to our capabilities,” Maddon said. “We haven’t pitched. Our defense has slowly gotten back to our capabilities. I do believe we’re going to hit, we’re going to pitch and we’re going to get better on defense. Why? We’re too young, we’re too strong and we’re too good. If we had been playing our best game and were stuck in this spot, I’d be a little bit more discouraged. We haven’t even come close to playing our game yet. No two years should be exactly the same. I really believe that.”

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Kyle Hendricks Will Win Cy Young

Kyle Hendricks

Kyle Hendricks is leading the National League in ERA with 2.19. The last time a Cubs pitcher did that, they played in a World Series. That was 1935 and the dude’s name was Ray Prim. I tell you folks, the star’s are aligning this season for the Chicago Cubs and after their 6-3 victory over the San Diego Padres, the Cubs are 36 games over .500 the last time they compiled that record was 1945. Um, they went to the World Series that season too.

Halley’s Comet has come and gone twice since the last time the North Siders won the Commissioner’s Trophy.

Sure, it’s easy to talk about a team when they’re doing things right in the win column but when guys like Hendricks and Willson Contreras have emerged into the budding superstars they’ve become and hardly anyone saw it coming this quickly, it adds to the excitement of the upcoming post season.

“You don’t see the velocity and don’t think there’s a strikeout in there, but it’s the movement and the changeup that provide the strikeout and his know-how,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of Hendricks. “It may not be his best effort, but I still thought he was pretty good today.”

That’s the key to Hendricks’ pitching. It’s not pretty and certainly not fast but he manages to get things done by confusing batters with the changeup. I’m not going to be surprised when batters catch on to his style but in the meantime, he’s ironically enough, become baseball’s most thrilling and exciting pitcher to watch.

“Where I’m at, I’m just trying to stay where I’m at,” Hendricks said. “Keep the consistency, keep my pitches feeling good. I’m staying in my routine, not doing too much and just riding it out until I feel something change.”

Then there’s Willson Contreras, the young backstop for the Blue Bears that contributes on both sides of the plate. He’s emerged out of the catcher’s crowded place on the Cubs team to become that bona fide starter the North Siders need going forth. Yesterday, he banged a a home run for his eighth of the season and don’t let anyone fool you into thinking that he hasn’t been a part of the Cubs pitching success either.

“Everyone in this clubhouse is like family,” Contreras said. “Once you get here, you start feeling comfortable from the first day. Even if you’re a rookie, and you just come up, you’re spending time with your family.”

For the Cubs, it’s that youth movement that’s paying dividends for the team this season. They’re not as connected to the history of the organization as a lot of the rest of the fans so it’s making it so much fun to be a fan this season.

Let’s just hope that Halley’s Comet doesn’t pass a third time.

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Chicago Cubs Ready To Make History

Jake Arrieta

This year has proven to be a lot of firsts for the Chicago Cubs. They’re the first team to reach 80 wins with their 5-3 defeat of the San Diego Padres and Kris Bryant is tied for the lead in Home runs in the National League after crushing the leather and raising his total to  33.

Last night, Jake Arrieta pitched well but he also took to the plate doing his best Kris Bryant impression by connecting for a triple and hitting a single. Oh, by the way, he also received his 16th win of the season. So, when skipper Maddon yanked Arrieta from the game with only 99 pitches, it Arrieta’s feelings

“I was mad at Joe for taking me out,” Arrieta said. “At the same time, he said, ‘Hey, remember last year? Let’s conserve some things for October and the end of September.’ That’s our gameplan. We want to be as strong and as dominant as we can be.”

C’mon, the guy hit a triple! He needed a rest.

This has been a strange season. We all thought that the Back To The Future 2 bogeyman would loom large last year but 2015 has nothing on this season. This season has so much more.

The last time the Cubs made it to 80 wins this fast, they made it to the World Series in 1929. They’re also poised to return to the post season again. This would be the second time  in their colourful history that they’ve made back to back appearances, the other being 2007-2008. Yes, expectations are running high but they’re also being realistic.

“When you struggle is when you really get to grow the most, and you try to learn instead of just pouting,” Chris Coghlan said. “The best thing has been that we have such a great group of guys. We’re the best team in baseball right now, and our expectation is to win the World Series. So, that’s taken a lot off of just thinking about myself.”

Folks, this year feels different. Sure, nothing is a given but the baseball has been fun. There has been no egos on the team and if there’s a manager that needs this team it’s Maddon. He’s the perfect guy for this squad. He’s fun, intelligent and always complimenting his players on a job well done. That’s the way it should be. When Addison Russell had that great game the other day, it was Maddon that presented him with a bottle of wine. One that he picked up in a wine store. It wasn’t a team presentation, he felt Addison Russell deserved it. He wrote on 6-3, after the score of the game. So if anyone questions his deserving of a Gold Glove well, they need not be.

“He’s definitely got to be in the conversation, legitimate conversation,” Maddon said of Russell. “This guy on defense, it’s getting to the point where there’s no one else like that right now.”

Getting excited about the post season? Yeah, so am I Here’s the schedule.

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