The Cubs Sweep Cardinals

Ian Happ

There are moments in this lifetime that are truly peaceful. Last night’s Cubs/ Cardinals series finale was one of those moments where Norman Rockwell couldn’t have done a better job at portraying America’s national pastime. Sunday evening-check. Sun setting over Wrigley Field-check. David Ross in the stands playing catch with Jason Hayward-Check and of course, the Cubs beating rival Cardinals 7-6– awesome!

The rookie Ian Happ had two home runs last night and Kyle Hendricks wasn’t his usually stoic self but the Cubs still managed to pull together a gem of a ball game.

“He’s going to continue to do a better job of knowing what to not swing at,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of Happ. “He doesn’t have to do mechanical adjustments, he doesn’t have to spend 1,000 hours in the batting cage. It’s a focus thing. He has a good idea of the strike zone. When he really refines it here, heads up.”

Perhaps it was the game’s relaxed atmosphere that contributed to the victory. Maybe that’s all the Cubs need to do to get back on track is relax a bit, I don’t know. The weekend series sweep over the Cardinals was a huge confidence booster for the North Siders. It wasn’t easy at the start of the game when Kyle Hendricks was pulled from the mound after Hendricks gave up four hits. The thing I think, is going to be key for this year’s success is not the dominance in the win column, but that helps, for the Cubs to stay in the thick of things, they’re going to have to slug out those ugly victories and although I’m hesitant to say adversity, they’ll have to go through enough of that to get through to the post season even if it requires more team meetings.

“We all want each other to do well,”Jason Heyward said. “We want to make something happen for each other. Just checking in, hearing how we’re doing, hearing what we think about this, what we think about that.”

It’s tougher than ever to win back to back championships with so much parity in the league. Communication on and off of the field will help contribute in the win columns.

Believe it

 

 

Kyle Schwarber Launches First Grand Slam

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I know I’ve been a little harsh on Kyle Schwarber of late, but really I’ve just been critical of the Cub’s decision to have him as lead off hitter. Yesterday, the Cubs didn’t have hitting lead off but instead, hitting in the ninth spot and he came through. The Cubs won the series against their rivals, the Cardinals 5-3.

“I’m like, ‘Hey, at least I’m playing,'” Schwarber said, laughing. “No, actually, I didn’t say anything. He told me his reason and I was like, ‘All right, I’m going with it.’ Whatever the skipper does I’m following it. He’s got our back. It’s all a process, and it worked out today.”

It did work out. Schwarber hit his first career grand slam and sending the Wrigley faithful into a frenzy. Sometimes, managers and GM’s might call up a player in order to put a band aid on the situation but with a creative manager like Maddon, juggling the batting order is all they need.

“Of course, his confidence is impacted, and that’s the whole point,” Maddon said. “I wanted to impress upon him it’s not a loss of confidence from me to you. I understand you’re going through a moment right now. What is the best way to deal with this? You can set aside your baseball ego — hitting ninth. To me, it’s so attractive. It’s not hitting ninth and like the last kid playing right field in a sandlot game, it’s not that at all. It’s really attractive.”

Perhaps that’s all the Cubs really need is to put their egos aside after winning the big one and hey, I’d have a big ego if I helped end an over a hundred year drought. Wouldn’t you?

It wasn’t just Schwarber that helped the team win the weekend series, Jon Lester 14-2 at Wrigley Field, picked off Tommy Pham at first. You heard that right, Lester threw the guy out at first. We all know that Lester has been a little on the apprehensive side when it comes to playing catch with first base but every now and then he’ll make that elusive play and get someone out. Runners usually get a big lead on him thinking he’ll never do it, then it happens.

“It’s a mind thing, man,” Maddon said. “If you believe you can do it, you can do it. It’s that simple. I know the other teams will definitely jot that down. It’s something to be reckoned with. However, we’ve done a nice job controlling the running game with him all year. It’s not been an issue. There’s been a lot made of it … but he’s done a great job. He’s probably our quickest guy to the plate. To this point, it’s worked in our favor.”

So, how quickly the Cubs try to put a horrible May behind them where they went 12-16 and now have won back to back in June will close out the series with a sweep against the Cardinals tonight when Kyle Hendricks takes to the mound.

Believe it

Admit it, The Cubs Are In A Slump

Jake Arrieta

It’s been quite awhile since the Cubs were a sub .500 ball club. Well, really since 2014 but for a Cubs fan it feels like an eternity since they’ve hit this kind of rough patch. Despite a great performance by Jake Arrieta, the Cubs dropped the series with a loss yesterday to their arch rivals Cardinals 5-0.

“We would obviously like to be playing better than we are right now. I don’t think there’s any reason to panic. The talent we have here will correct itself and start to turn itself around. We’d like to win a few more games than we are and tighten things up a little bit, but guys are showing up ready to play and going about things the right way. We’re just not getting the results we’d like.” Arrieta said.

Now, that’s either due to other teams catching on to the Cubs’ tiny quirks and quarks or that could just be the post World Series blues. The fact is the Cubs aren’t looking so mighty right now. They called up Ian Happ, the highly touted 2015 draft pick and he didn’t disappoint with a two run homer on the weekend. In an effort to try and turn things around, the Cubs are willing to move up prospects but is it wise to call them up too soon?

“We needed him and he’s here. How long is he going to stay? I have no idea,” Joe Maddon said. “It could be short, it could be longer than that. I don’t know.”

The problem with the Cubs misfortunes is simple; they need to move the runners. If a team can’t score with runners in scoring position, then they’re not going to win too many ballgames. That’s the simple fact.

“That part of the game, the runs in scoring position, need to come from the middle, opposite field more. It can’t just be a pull, ground ball to third, ground ball to short, popup, try to do too much. Let’s utilize the whole field. We’re working on getting that back into their mindsets now. I do believe RBIs tend to be in the middle of the field more than the pull side. Overall, we’re not doing a good job with runners in scoring position,” Maddon said.

Whether it’s not using the fundamentals or something else entirely but the Cubs need to do something. I’d love to see a back to back championship season. In times where parity is emphasized over dynasties, it would feel great to have the Cubs win it again. Baseball needs it right now. In fact, if the Cubs win this year, it would feel like payback for over a century’s worth of misfortunes and heartbreak. Imagine, the Cubs being the team to beat?

Believe it.

Cubs Blame Yankees For April Woes

Chicago Cubs

I guess the Chicago Cubs are learning first hand the problems associated with winning a championship. Every team wants it. Yesterday, the Pittsburgh Pirates defeated the Cubs 6-1 and took the series. It was their first series win since 2014 at Wrigley Field.

Despite the Cubs taking a 1-0 lead into the seventh inning or Jon Lester getting a goose egg for seven innings(On Easter Sunday, no less!). So, the Cubs are 6-6 this April. Whether it’s a World Series hangover, or other teams have caught on to the Cubs’ weaknesses, but the team has started 2017 in a mediocre way.

“We had some good games, we’ve played a lot of close games. We taxed our bullpen quite a bit, which we really don’t want to do. Our starters pitched really well but late in the game, we didn’t score enough runs to give our bullpen any breathing room. I think that falls on the offence.” Ben Zobrist said.

On the other hand, it could be the absence of their grandfatherly figure in David Ross. He caught all of Lester’s games while providing a spark and spark in the clubhouse. Then again, it could be the problem of holding leads and wearing down their bullpen.

“That’s been more of our problem than anything, not getting a clutch hit and holding a lead at the end of the game,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said.

There isn’t really any cause for concern this early in the season. This is roughly the same team that won the hardware last fall. However, missing Dexter Fowler has had a bigger impact than they thought. I mean Fowler’s struggling with the Cardinals right now. Now that’s an interesting theory on a curse placed on the Cardinals when they do business with the Redbirds.

‘‘Last year was kind of a fairy-tale year for us. It’s not always going to be like that, so it’s important to kind of realize that early on, so that we’re not hitting that panic button like we did around the All-Star break last year.’’ NL MVP Kris Bryant.

True, it’s not always going to be like that and I fault us Cubs fans for the pressure of the expectation for greatness. I mean, C’mon, after a 108 years would you expect anything less? Cubs fans have a lot of catching up to do. After the Cubs won, a friend of mine congratulated me on their win but continued to say that they need 23 more championships to catch up to his beloved New York Yankees.

There’s the real reason behind the Cubs early futility. Blame the Yankees. After all, it wouldn’t be the Cubs way to just blame it on the bullpen, blown leads and missed opportunities. It’s almost as if a new curse has been placed on the North Siders. A curse by a Yankees fan.

‘‘We won the World Series last year, so there will be questions, but that’s just natural,’’ Jake Arrieta said. ‘‘That comes with the territory. It’s a business of results, and we still expect really good results from the group we have this year.’’

Believe it

 

 

Cubs Send Out The Sultan of Schwarb

Chicago Cubs

In the Cubs opening series win yesterday with a score of 6-4, the Cubs proved something; Everybody talks about the “Good ol’days” when legends like, Williams, Koufax and Ruth played but I guarantee in years to come there’ll be guys on this Cubs squad that people will sit in front of their plaques in Cooperstown, deep in thought taking in those “Good ol’ Days” or some dad telling his son about the man who wore those infamous spectacles.

Why?

Kyle “The Sultan of Schwarb” Schwarber crushed a two run homer yet again adding to his Babe Ruth comparison. First it was the ball that landed on the scoreboard and then it was the Comeback where he went 7-17 after spending a year off with an injury that would have derailed any other mere mortal’s career perhaps. Yet yesterday, Schwarber continued to build his legend.

“It was a good team win right there,” Schwarber said. “[John] Lackey battled his butt off. He gave us six quality innings. For things to kind of go our way there with Yadi and the ball sticking on the the chest protector, [then] a good at-bat by Jon Jay. I was able to get a good pitch and drive it.”

There’s something about the sound a bat makes when it connects on a home run hit ball. In many ways, someone could compare it to perfection. That right moment where everything in the universe is aligned and it connects to make that CRACK! I’ll tell you folks, if you’ve never been to a ballgame and heard that sound, you know the moment the ball leaves the stick and the direction of the batter’s eyes it’s gone.

“I was just more looking for a good pitch,” Schwarber said. “If it was a slider or fastball, whatever it was, I just wanted to jump on it. He’s a good pitcher. To get behind on guys like that, sometimes you just don’t want to do it. My approach is I’m going to be selective-aggressive. I got my pitch from pitch one, and was able to put a good swing on it.”

With the retirement of David Ross, John Lackey takes over the “Grampa” role. Yesterday, he proved he was their workhorse pitcher and leader on the mound. It wasn’t the prettiest of wins, giving up six and allowing four earned runs but as they say, a win is a win.

Tonight, the Cubs will square off against divisional foe, Milwaukee Brewers. Brett Anderson gets the start in a series which will showcase the season debut of Kyle Hendricks.

Then Monday, the banners come up.

Believe it

 

Cubs’ Find a Way To Win

One thing’s for certain when these two teams butt heads during the regular season and that is it usually develops like it’s the playoffs. The dramatics are abundant. Don’t believe me? What about Albert Almora‘s stunning grab to the away what was likely to be a home run in the seventh inning.

“The moment of the night was when I came in and Jake gave me a big hug. That was awesome,” Almora said. “The hug was fine.”

The Cubs went on to a 2-1 victory.

It’s obvious too that every team is still excited to be back playing baseball and if you look closely, you’ll see rust dust in the infield with sprinkles in the dugouts and outfield.

Except for Jake Arrieta.

The man must either need something on his mantle piece or he’s been doing more pilates and yoga because he looked like his award season self of a couple years ago by striking out 5 of 6 batters he faced.

“Jake really looked good from the side,” Maddon said. “The ball was moving a lot, it was very reminiscent of a couple years ago. His strike throwing and the way the hitters reacted to the pitch, I thought, was really nice to watch from the dugout.”

If this were a couple of years ago, fans would just be getting the parade started if the Cubs played like this but in light of the events that transpired last November, the Cubs looked good. A little shaky at times but they’re slowly looking like that well oiled machine from last fall.

Speaking of championships, the Cubs will have the ceremony on April 12 when they’ll receive their rings. David Ross will throw out the first pitch and the banner will be raised. It gives me the warm and fuzzies thinking about it.

Today, the Cubs get John Lackey up on the mound to face his old team. I think Lackey will be a liability for the rotation this season. Sure, he’s fiery and stubborn but his numbers are declining and he just doesn’t garner that stability like he used to. He makes me nervous. He shouldn’t be the third in the rotation, which I’m expecting Joe to juggle him around throughout the season. So what are his plans for 2017?

“You don’t have to top 2016. We just have to be better than everyone else in 2017. [Kyle] Schwarber is back. We got rid of Rossy [David Ross]. He stinks. He can’t hit. We should be better. I was just inside talking to Ross and he said that. … Willson Contreras is better than he is. Let’s be honest.”

All kidding aside, the Cubs have the potential to be better this year. Certainly, they’ll be a different team. I don’t believe they’ll put up the numbers like they did last year but they’ll find ways to win.

“It was all about defense tonight,” manager Joe Maddon said postgame. “That’s why we won the game.”

That is how they’ll win the season.

Believe it.

 

Cubs Rally But Drop Opener

No one ever said that the road to repeating would be an easy one, especially the St. Louis Cardinals. Last night in front of a nationally televised audience, the Chicago Cubs rallied in the ninth inning after a game tying home run by Willson Contreras but the World Series champion Chicago Cubs fell to their rivals St. Louis Cardinals 4-3.

“I struck out the first two at-bats, but I never lost my confidence,” Contreras said. “After I struck out the second time, I came up to watch video and I was overswinging a little bit. I told myself to be short to the ball because [Carlos Martinez] was throwing 94, 98, 99, 100 [mph] and he had movement. That’s why I had a little bit of success.”

Joe Maddon honoured the 2016 champions by starting the lineup that was on the field when the Cubs changed history and demolished curses last November.

“It’s a tribute to the World Series,” Maddon said. “Those are the guys who were on the field during the seventh game of the World Series, so I wanted as a tribute to them, what they did for us, put them on the field tonight. It’s no more complicated than that.”

It was a fitting tribute and all though Dexter Fowler is now a Cardinal, he faced Jon Lester at the first At Bat. It looked like Lester tried pitching around Fowler or it could have been Opening Night jitters but Fowler hit it to the outfield.

The Cubs might not get the 103 wins they did last season but then again, they might. After all, Kyle Schwarber is expected to play a full season and even though the champs dropped the Opening Night, they proved that they can still keep it close when it counts.

“We didn’t give up,” Schwarber said. “We grinded. Willie hits the big homer — that’s kind of the definition of our team. We won’t give up until it’s over. We didn’t, and things didn’t go our way tonight.”

There’s still plenty of baseball left. CSN Chicago thinks the team could be even better than last year. The way I look at it is this is the first title defence by a Cubs team in over a hundred years, if their Opening Night suffered with the weight of all those years’ expectations, then they’ll look no further than tomorrow night when they continue their opening series against the Cardinals. Jake Arrieta will get the start against Adam Wainwright.

It’s funny though, a few years ago no one would have been disappointed with last night’s loss but now that the Cubs have won the “Big one” suddenly they’re catapulted into that place where great teams reside. This is the first season in a long time where the Cubs aren’t “Lovable Losers” or cursed but they’re expected to win. There is no next year. In many ways, the Chicago Cubs have become the New Yankees.

“I’m proud of the way we went about it,” Maddon said. “Honestly, if you walked into our clubhouse during camp, I don’t think you could have recognized that we just came off winning the World Series. To me, that really blew my mind. The work was spectacular. The leadership was there. The young guys are still striving to get better.”

Then again, maybe they’re not the Yankees.

Believe it.