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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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.

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Kyle Schwarber Launches First Grand Slam

chi-cubs-cards0603a-ct0053315998-20170603

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.

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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?

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