National League Central Division Champions!

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For the second straight year, the Chicago Cubs are National League Central Division Champions. Of course, nothing means more than the World Series but this is huge because it’s their third straight year into the post season and as any Cubs fan will tell you, that doesn’t happen that often. After beating the St. Louis Cardinals 5-1, the Cubs popped the corks off of the champagne, and as has become a tradition in our family these last few years, we’ve binge watched the Chicago Cubs in October.

“We had a lot of things that were not easy about this year, starting with guys naturally being fatigued, but you also have the fact that every team in our division played well this year,” Jason Heyward said. “It’s one of those years when you have to do everything right to get it done. We had a lot of growing to do this year.”

Sure, the blame was put on to World Series hangover during the first half of the season, but I’ve maintained that they struggled during the first half because other teams studied them hard and adapted to the Cubs style of play. That’s how they got beat. The second half revealed that the Cubs were just a good ball team and guys like Javier Baez, stepped up his play and really plugged up the middle while keeping his mighty bat going.

“Without Javy being here when Addy got hurt, it would not look the same right now,” Joe Maddon said of the Cubs’ position in the standings. “I promise you it would not look the same. The ability to plug up the middle of the field the way Javy has done in the absence of Addison, we would not be in this position right now.”

If the Cubs took everyone by storm last year, then this season was learning how to keep the momentum going and adapting to winning ballgames. If you look at the statistics, there’s no leaders this season, it’s been a total team effort.

“We’ve created a culture here where it’s win or bust,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said as he got splashed in the face with beer. “We’re not supposed to be here. I know on paper we are, but after a championship season, the numbers, the studies, the stats show we shouldn’t be here. People don’t do this. We’ve done it, and it feels good. And we’re in a good spot going into the postseason. We’re rolling.”

I’d love to see a dynasty forming with a repeat winner that isn’t named Yankees.

It’s exciting times to be a Cubs fan. There’s even a film coming out based on David Ross’s book, “Teammate” where none other than Bill Murray is tapped to play Joe Maddon. I mean come on, who else could do that role justice? The only question that remains is, who is going to play Bill Murray?

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Cubs Are Still # 1 in My Books

Cubs Cardinals Baseball

I’m not a huge fan of champagne celebrations after every plateau reached in sports, I’d rather see them save it for the big ones like series wins and of course, the big victory. So, last night’s loss to the Cardinals 8-7 was bittersweet. It was a hell of a game with the Cubs’ now trademark comebacks even though they came up short on this one, it still feels good knowing that the post season starts next week and the Cubs clinching will go down to the wire.

“Let’s just play tomorrow, let’s not overreact to anything,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “I love the comeback, I love the energy. [Jake Arrieta] just had a tough night.”

That’s about all you can do. Jason Heyward ad a three run shot and then almost immediately, Ben Zobrist cranked one over the wall to bring the Cubs within a run of tying up the game, but that’s about as close as the Cubs would get.

There were a couple of moments that Cubs fans cringed over when Albert Almora crashed into the outfield wall, team staff rushed over but so far so good and there’s nothing seriously hurt with the outfielder.

“That’s a scary thing,” Jason Heyward said. “The wall is undefeated. That’s one of the things we always have to worry about. What I love about [Almora] is that he’s so fearless when it comes to that. It looked like he tripped into it going after the ball hard.”

Yeah, it looked really terrible.

“I tried to cut [the ball] off before it hit the wall and when I went to slide, I noticed I wasn’t going to get to it and when I looked up the wall was right on me,” Almora said. “There was no slowing down. Luckily, nothing’s broken, nothing’s damaged. All good.”

The other thing that happened was a ball went off of Willson Contreras‘ knee causing him to hobble around for a moment or two but nothing serious.

The writing on the wall last night occurred when the Cubs failed to capitalize on a couple bases loaded situations.

“These guys are going to make it as tough as possible on us, as we expect. We have to do our best to take care of business tomorrow, and then we’ll see what happens.” Arrieta said.

So, the Cubs magic number remains at 1. Leave it to the St. Louis Cardinals to frustrate the World Series Champions. This season, the Cubs haven’t made it easy on themselves or their fans. A frustrating first half, a comeback second half and an exhausting race to the finish line. What do the Cubs have in line for October?

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Cubs Magic Number is 1

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The Chicago Cubs magic number is 1. It’s awkward that the Cubs are late to the party,  being the last team to clinch their respective division but that’s where they sit after cruising to a 10-2 victory over heated division rival St. Louis Cardinals.

“This team is a proud, wonderful organization with one of the best histories in all of Major League sports,” Joe Maddon said of the Cardinals. “There’s nothing that will come easily when you play against St. Louis, especially when you play here.”

When the Cubs play in St. louis, you can bet that it’ll always have that special playoff atmosphere.

Jon Lester looked better in last night’s win, he’s looked off since coming off the DL but last night, the Cub’s ace was sharper.

“I felt better,” Lester said after the game. “Command could have been a little bit better, but I’ll take the good out of that game. Little bit sharper today than it has been in a little while. That’s good. Moving in the right direction.”

The direction the Cubs are looking will be their third straight season in October. Now, if you haven’t been following Chicago’s famous North Siders, this is a big thing. Three straight seasons playing October baseball and oh yeah, you can throw in a World Series in the mix there as well.

“It’s starting to smell like playoff baseball. I know these guys are amped up. You can see throughout the night, it seems we were pretty aggressive in the zone. It’s definitely feeling like playoff baseball, and Jonny Lester was great tonight.” Addison Russell said.

Speaking of Russell, the Cubs star shortstop almost got a tip for delivering a fresh tray of nachos after up ending a fan’s snack when he dove into the stands after an errant ball.

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“You don’t get in front of a man and his nachos,” Russell said.

So, with playoffs just around the corner, the Cubs are looking to hone their skills before the post season begins next Tuesday. The Cubs are defending champions and there’s a lot of teams gunning for their title. Teams like LA Dodgers and Cleveland whose still hurting from last October’s thriller.

“We’re excited,” Lester said. “We’ve been playing good baseball since the break. Everybody in here is excited, everyone is playing well, everyone feels good about themselves. This game is such an up-and-down game, you think you’re going good one day and the next day you can be brought back down. Everybody’s feeling good now, riding that wave. Hopefully, we can continue to play good baseball as we move toward the postseason.”

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Professor Hendricks Lectures Cardinals

The Cubs may not be as dominate as they were last season, but quietly they’ve done Cubs things that have pushed them passed the 80 win mark and are moving away from the rest of the National League Central. Take for example, yesterday’s 4-1 win over the St. Louis Cardinals.

This has been an interesting, if not crucial series against the Red Birds. There was John Lackey‘s rightful outrage against Umpire Jordan Baker that led to both Lackey’s and Willson Contreras‘s ejection. That was the Friday afternoon game and the intensity carried forth into yesterday’s game.

If you’re a loyal Canuck Cubbie follower, it’s no secret that Kyle Hendricks is my favourite player in baseball. His style has been compared to Greg Maddux, and yet I think it’s something entirely different. The fact that Hendricks pitches in this modern era of the game is a really special thing indeed. Nothing over 90 MPH and a very rare fast ball. Yesterday, Hendricks pitched his longest game of the year.

“It’s good to feel strong, even at that last pitch,” Hendricks said. “I still felt good. I still had plenty in the tank. That was my takeaway from today.”

Yet, he’s not always a lights out kind of pitcher. Sometimes he has his bad games but since he’s come off the disabled list, his confidence is growing and since his debut own 2014, Hendricks is becoming a team leader and perhaps someday we might see him at Cooperstown. It was a huge contrast in styles between John Lackey’s wild outing and Hendrick’s cool demeanour.

“We’re somewhat aware of where the teams are at,” Hendricks said, “but it’s not what we’re focused on. We’re focused on the field, what needs to be done, pitch to pitch. That’s really where our focus is and where it’s stayed. So two games, five games, whatever it is, it is. We have to win ballgames down the stretch. Period.”

It’s the right poise and confidence at the right time of the year.

“Everything was working from the side,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of Hendricks, who has a 2.42 ERA in 11 starts since coming off the disabled list. “They were having bad takes. They were taking pitches that were called strikes. His fastball was the best he’s had all year. … His confidence could not be higher.”

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Cubs Sweep Mets With Monster Runs

The Chicago Cubs 14-6 victory over the New York Mets signalled two things. How bad the Mets are or who potentially awesome the Cubs could have been all season long. Oh, the other thing signalled was how frustrating two back to back 14 plus runs games are when your fantasy league schedules you for a bye week and the majority of your players play for the Cubs. Yeah, I’m pointing my finger right at you Albert Almora.

The Cubs swept the Mets which is exactly what they needed to do at this point in the season. They open up a somewhat crucial series against the St. Louis Cardinals, who are vying for that coveted playoff spot as well.

“I probably shouldn’t take Clark [Street]. Just go down Lake Shore [Drive]. It’s a good thing, I love it. It’s good for the city, it’s good for baseball. It’s good for your growth moments as a baseball person in the National League. It’ll be exciting. One at a time. Try to get a nice one-game winning streak going tomorrow and move on from there.” Joe Maddon said.

If the Cubs haven’t really dominated this season the way that the Los Angeles Dodgers have done on the west coast, they do have a chance to turn those tides heading into the post season. It’s true that there are probably some cliches out there that veer towards not mattering how you get into the post season, but how you get out of it, is probably going to be on Maddon’s next T-Shirts that he issues to his players.

“It’s up to us to maintain what we’ve earned up to this point,” Maddon said. “We’re very capable of doing that. The Cardinals have done it for many years, in terms of winning championships, the level they’ve played at. I think it’s interesting, entertaining, great. I love being part of it.”

The Cubs certainly have the tools to get the job done(sorry, that one slipped out) and Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant are hitting, it’s going to be an interesting post season. Realistically, the Cubs have a slim chance but they do have a chance.

“Familiarity,” first baseman Rizzo said. “We’re really familiar with them. We see [Carlos] Martinez, [Michael] Wacha and [Lance] Lynn all the time. We know what they have. We know their bullpen. On the other side, they know what we have.”

Geez, it seems like this St. Louis Series is a playoff matchup or something?

“We have to beat better pitching to win this thing,” Maddon said after Thursday’s win. “You have to score runs with outs. We’re scoring runs without homers, sometimes, which is nice to watch and see, execution-wise.”

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Lester K’s 10 in Dramatic Win For Cubs

Chicago Cubs

Not only was yesterday’s game a huge rival matchup, but it was a classic pitcher’s duel between Jon Lester and Adam Wainwright. The Cubs came out on top, 3-2. It was a symbolic day for Lester who had the acronym on his cap PLACT standing for Play Like A Champion Today and it is the Notre Dame motto in remembrance of his uncle who passed away the day before.

“He won’t ever show you any emotion. And to hear that [about his uncle], it’s terrible,” said Kris Bryant. “He’s probably one of the best teammates I’ve been able to play with in my short time. You know what you’re going to get with him every day on the mound. He’s going to be the same guy, same competitor, and I love that about him.”

Lester’s day was even more memorable with 10 strikeouts and going 7 innings. There were whispers of a perfect game but nobody dared mention it to Lester. However, it was poignant that Wainwright break it up in the sixth inning. Lester’s nemesis.

“Today was good. The comeback there at the end was big for us,” Lester said. “Especially coming out of the break and playing so well and obviously yesterday getting away from us a little bit. So, that was a big win for us.”

It’s a huge win for the Cubs and today, Jose Quintana gets the call with Kyle Hendricks returning tomorrow. The Cubs are in a good place with nowhere to go but up. They’re playing great ball with a renewed vigour.

Kris Bryant rejoined the team after taking a few days off due to that slide which hurt his pinky. He delivered big time with a game tying double in the eighth inning.

“K.B. being able to play was the difference in today’s game,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “The combination of the hit and his speed — I don’t think anybody else scores on that. … You can’t underestimate the importance of one person in the lineup, and there it was.”

The Cubs are one game back of division leading Milwaukee Brewers and are 5.5 back of the Wild Card.

“There’s no waiting around right now. Everybody feels the same way. We took advantage of the break. We’ve come back with renewed energy. You don’t want to give up anything now. [The Cardinals] are lamenting the same situation we went through [Friday]. That’s how this thing is going to play.” Maddon said.

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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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