Chicago Cubs Advance To NLCS

Last night was one of the most frustrating games I’ve ever seen. The Chicago Cubs are NLDS Champions and advance to the NLCS to face the mighty Los Angeles Dodgers after a 9-8 victory sending the Washington Nationals golfing for another year.

“I would say this is the most fun I’ve had playing in a baseball game, and it ranks right up there with winning the World Series,” Addison Russell said.

You know, he’s right. It would come close to winning the World Series, I mean he should know, right? It seemed both the Cubs and the Nationals expired their pitching order respectively in an attempt to thwart each other and win the NLDS. Neither starting pitcher could get it done with Kyle Hendricks or Gio Gonzalez. To give you an example about how weird the game was, Hendricks threw seven strikeouts and Gonzalez had six. If this were any other game, those would be decent numbers but not last night; The Cubs wanted to go on to their third NLCS while the Nationals haven’t won a series in 36 years (going back to the Expos)

“This was such a tough series, just a dogfight,” said Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks, who started the series’ opener and finale. “You’ve got to tip your hat. That club on the other side is really, really good. Lot of tough ballplayers over there. Top to bottom, they’re just so deep. We’re just lucky we were able to come out on top.”

Luck being the key word. This series truly would have gone the other way and normally I cringe when athletes “Tip their cap” to their opponent but in this case, it’s justified. I’ve never been more nervous watching a ballgame then last night.

“Really anxious, almost bemused at some of the things that were happening in that game,” said Theo Epstein, the Cubs’ president of baseball operations. “It was kind of a surreal game. We got all those runs with only one big hit to drive in runs, and then it was a matter of just holding on, finding a way to get 27 outs. It seemed impossible at times.”

Trust me Theo, it looked impossible from this end as well. When they say a pitcher’s duel, they included when the pitcher’s performances were sub par as well. If there were a way to get 27 outs without throwing strikes, this was the game.

“That’s one of the most incredible victories I’ve ever been part of,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “Under the circumstances, in the other team’s ballpark, after a tough loss at home [in Game 4], to come back and do that, give our guys all the credit in the world.”

The NLCS begins tomorrow night. I hope the Cubs have one of their” fun days” and try to relax because one thing that this year’s edition of the post season has shown us is that the Cubs are out to prove last season wasn’t just plain old luck. However, the Dodgers are rested and the Cubs’ machine is well oiled.

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Cubs Lose Tough One, Go To Game 5 Winner Take All

It wasn’t supposed to go this far in the NLDS, the Chicago Cubs were supposed to stomp all over the Nationals and go forth to defend their NLCS title. But we know that this is the Chicago Cubs and the weather patterns and nail biting have commenced this October. Leave it to a rain delay and a last minute pitching change by Dusty Baker to set the tone for last night’s make up game. There’s going to be the would have, should haves and could have beens in the 5-0 defeat but instead, the Cubs and the Nationals will meet tonight in a do or go home situation in Washington.

“It’s not ideal, but now the series is tied with the decisive Game 5 coming up tomorrow,” Chicago starter Jake Arrieta said. “We like our chances — as long as Strasburg isn’t on the mound, we’ll be all right.”

You have to love Arrieta’s wryness but Strasburg wasn’t supposed to be pitching yesterday, in fact by rights, the game should have had Tanner Roark on the mound and the game should have been played Tuesday early afternoon before the rain. That didn’t happen and the past is the past.

“We just have to be offensively a little bit better tomorrow,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “They have been really good. We have been really good. Listen, they got a grand slam. Otherwise, it’s kind of like the same game both sides.”

There we have it, tonight it’ll be Kyle Hendricks up against whoever the heck Dusty Baker decides to throw in. Hendricks has been here before. The NLCS last year that sent the Cubs to the World Series. This is the most important game of Hendricks life, well not including game 7 of the World Series. Ok, so this is the second most important game of Hendricks life. Then again, this is what they’re paid for; these situations.

“You know what the atmosphere is going to be like. You know what the crowd is going to be like,” Kyle Hendricks said. “All those external factors, if you can kind of keep that under control, you know the pitching part. You know what to do once you get out on the mound. Being able to control all those external factors, I think, is going to be huge. Yeah, it will help me out. At the end of the day, it’s just about making good pitches. That’s where I need to mentally prepare, go out when it’s Game 5 and just make good pitches.”

If there is any other pitcher the Cubs have in their arsenal for tonight’s game, this is the guy they want to go to the mound with.

“We have all the confidence in that guy,” shortstop Addison Russell said. “He goes about his business in such a way where, if you just watch him work, the confidence is there. It builds confidence throughout this team. We’re really happy to have him out there.”

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Cubs Hang On, Take Series Lead 2-1

After Saturday’s 6-3 heartbreaking loss, the Cubs were poised for a rebound. Yesterday, the Cubs proved that they’re still the reigning champs no matter if they make it through to the World Series or not by clawing their way to a 2-1 scrappy victory over the Nationals.

“It’s just an attitude, an attitude we’ve had on this team since I came up,” Kyle Schwarber said of the Cubs’ mantra. “I remember in ’15, we had the same attitude — we’re not going to quit — and we’d just got swept in the [NL Championship Series]. We’re not going to quit.”

Fingers were crossed after Schwarber couldn’t catch a routine ball to the left field wall and then proceeded to bobble the ball after he was unable to scoop it up. So, when it came time to congratulate everyone, Schwarber was the most relieved of all the players.

“Schwarber works his butt off, literally, to get better in the outfield,” Joe Maddon said. “And here’s the thing about that: That’s a routine play. That’s not over the top and that’s not an exceptionally great play, and it’s something that he knows he can make 11 out of 10 times.

“I have such faith in the fellow and the guy and his work ethic and how much he cares. After the game, all the guys are going up to him, every one, and reinforcing him. … He’s going to continue to get better on defense. But you’ve got to love his heart, man.”

There’s even Bill Murray singing the seventh inning stretch which has now become a fall favourite of having Murray sightings at Wrigley Field. Now, that’s all heart.

So now the Cubs are in position to advance to the NLCS tonight with a win. Game time is 5:30 EST with Jake Arrieta set to take to the mound. With the LA Dodgers upsetting Arizona, it could be the rematch of last season and I hope it’s the same outcome.

“We’ve got to be in attack mode. There’s no relaxing just because we’re up in the series. I’m a big, big believer in, you know, travel-day wins. You’ve got to get that win on a travel day because it makes everything better. The flight’s better, the morale is better. [Tuesday] we have a chance to seal it up here at Wrigley Field, and I expect our fans to be insane, just like they always are, and we’ll be ready to go.” Anthony Rizzo said.

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Kyle Hendricks Outstanding In NLDS Game 1

Sure, if somebody were to compare last night’s performances by the starting pitchers Kyle Hendricks and Stephen Strasburg, the edge would have to go to Strasburg. But, and that’s a big one, when it came down to sheer control, domination and command the better pitcher was Hendricks.

Of course, I’m bias on that one. You knew that of course.

The Cubs opened their NLDS series against the Washington Nationals with a 3-0 victory. If this was any indication of how the post season is going, then a road victory is surely that much more awesome.

“Going up against a tough pitcher, tough team in their home park, I don’t know if anyone really expected us to win, and we pulled it out,” Kris Bryant said. “Winning the first game is always important, but in a five-game [series], it’s more important.”

Yes, it is Kris. His bare handed grab at third to throw at first was one of the many highlights of the game.

So, when Kyle Hendricks came into the league back in 2014, he mostly flew under the radar and even up to last year’s World Series win, Kyle retained his unassuming style. Now, after last night’s Lecture On How To Pitch by the Professor Hendricks, I believe that his name will come up with some of the greats. Granted, I may be jumping the gun a little too soon (and in true Cubs fashion, I probably just jinxed the damn team) but admit it, the kid’s on fire.

“I think I’m just a laid-back guy, but you’re definitely feeling it,” Hendricks said. “The energy there in the stadium and crowd was pretty cool, but we’ve played some big games, even down the stretch in our division. We’ve had good atmospheres where we’re playing, so we were ready to take that adrenaline on and use it to our advantage.”

The kid tells the truth, the Cubs have been smoking hot coming down the stretch and you know, they might have to include a director’s cut of the film that’s being planned and add an extended version with this year’s post season.

Hendricks did just Hendricks things by carving out the strike zone and being cool and methodical under pressure.

“That’s why we call him Professor,” Chicago second baseman Javier Baez said about Hendricks. “He knows what he’s doing.”

One of my favourite games was the NLCS when Hendricks shut down Clayton Kershaw and for me, that was the game that solidified his potential Hall of Fame status.

“Joe Maddon has always been there for me,” Hendricks said. “They have instilled a lot of confidence in me ever since I came here. Even when I first came up, I had a bad year in 2015 and they stuck with me. So it’s been that way for a long time. But to get this nod for Game 1, just to try to set the tone for the team is huge. I just wanted to go out there, like I said before, and just do my part to give my team a chance to win.”

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Cubs Cruise To 9-0 Win Over Reds

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So the Chicago Cubs are in the post season and today is the last day of the 2016 campaign. Yesterday, the Cubs defeated the Cincinnati Reds 9-0 in what really amounted to a practice against the Washington Nationals.

One thing that I have to understand is Kyle Schwarber. Earlier in the season I suggested that he might be on the trade block (or should be really) but here it is in late September and Schwarber cranks out his 30th dinger of the season.

“Having been sent down during the course of the season, things not going his way, give the guy high marks for perseverance,” Joe Maddon said. “I think overall, the year has been very successful for him. It’s not easy being sent back after all the success he had. I think maybe my expectations I portrayed were too high, and I should’ve considered that he did not play at all last year.”

Again though, I think what he did in last year’s run was phenomenal and probably caught everyone, including myself off guard. He was sent down to the minors for a tune up but as we know, has rebounded nicely since his return.

“This is my favorite time of the year,” Schwarber said. “This is when things come to the nitty-gritty. This brings out the best in everyone. You saw when we were playing Milwaukee and St. Louis, those were some hard-fought games. It was a playoff atmosphere. We’re going to be going into Washington, and it’s going to be some hard-fought games, two really good pitching staffs going at it, and two really good offenses and defenses and good bullpens. You’re going to be in for a grinder series, and it’ll be fun.”

So the Cubs haven’t decided who will start game one of the NLDS. Will it be Kyle Hendricks or Jon Lester? As much as I like Hendricks, I’m going to give the nod to Lester on this one. He’s got the experience all though he’s been playing a little off recently, he’ll rebound into the true playoff performer he is.

“I don’t make those decisions,” Lester said. “If they chose to make me Game 1, that’s a huge honor, huge responsibility to put on your shoulders and go out there and try to get your team off to the best start. If I’m in any of the other games, I’ll go out and compete just like I would any other start.”

The Cubs will have their hands full with the Nationals.  The North Siders are on a roll but the Nationals will give them all they can handle.

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Cubs Are Lovable Losers Again

Canuck Cubbie

The tale of the Cubs this season has been very different depending on what team shows up. In yesterday’s 5-4 win over the Washington Nationals, the Cubs used the ninth inning to stage a comeback.

“A win’s a win — it doesn’t matter how it looks, how we get there,” Chicago starter Jon Lester said. “We’ll take two of four from a really good team. Hopefully, this can build a little momentum for us.”

The funny part about momentum building victories is that it doesn’t always happen. Yes, they took two of four from a really good team but in the wake of Miguel Montero‘s DFA, the Cubs have probably revealed the cracks in the organization. Nobody ever accused Montero of not speaking his mind. This time however, it cost him his gig with the Cubs.

“I reminded [Montero] of the standard we try to hold our players to when it comes to being supportive of one’s teammates and being accountable for one’s play and for being a good teammate,” Theo Epstein said Wednesday. “I reminded Miggy that we expect when something goes wrong on the field, we expect our players to take the blame and step up and proactively assume the blame, even if it’s not their fault.”

This season has suddenly felt like a “Do Over” because of all the injuries to key players like Ben Zobrist, Jason Heyward and now Kris Bryant. Last season at this time, the Cubs were running away with the title but this year is different. The Cubs are six games out of a Wild Card spot and truthfully, all negativity aside, the Cubs won’t stand a chance of even getting the Wild Card position if they continue to split series against teams like Miami and the Nationals.

Why?

Those two teams are on opposite sides. If the Cubs can’t really beat the best and can’t really beat the worst baseball has to offer, then what does that say about the Cubs? It says it’s a team that is struggling.

“I don’t think we’ve established our identity yet. I don’t think we’ve found our edge yet that we’ll need to play with to win games,” Epstein said. “Wins don’t just happen because you’re talented and you show up. You have to come to the park with an edge every day and come together as a team and play together to win and play with a certain edge. We’re going to find it.”

There you have it. They’ve got a good team in there somewhere but in a way, the team was dismantled last season with the losses to Aroldis Chapman and Dexter Fowler. It was inevitable with those two but what it’s shown baseball fans is that the team of 2016 was a magical one. If suddenly, the team can turn it around and go on a tear after the All Star break, then miracles do happen. It’s poignant that that the Cubs find themselves struggling. The perennial underdogs continue to be in that position despite a World Championship. #ThatsCub

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Is There Trouble In The Cubs Locker Room?

Canuck Cubbie

Is there trouble in the ranks of the Chicago Cubs clubhouse? After a horrible 6-1 loss to the Washington Nationals, the team needs to regroup badly. Jake Arrieta allowing 6 walks is unacceptable. However, I’m starting to believe that there might be a rift forming within the Cubs team.

“It really sucked because the stolen base goes on me,” Miguel Montero said. “When you really look at it, the pitcher doesn’t give me any time. It’s like, ‘Oh, yeah, Miggy can’t throw anybody out.’ Yeah, but my pitchers don’t hold anybody on. It’s tough. … I don’t get a chance to throw. That’s the reason they were running left and right. They knew he was slow to the plate, simple as that.”

There you have the fatal flaw of Jake Arrieta. He’s slow to the plate. Now, I like Miggy. Yeah, he was a little but whiny during their playoff run, but if you remember, he hit a grand slam. He comes through in the clutch. In many ways, he’s their outspoken leader. He’ll say everything that needs to be said on the team. Yeah, he’s a part time player but even still he comes through.

“I can pitch at his level,” Arrieta said. “I just haven’t done it consistently. He’s been very good throughout his career. I’ve had a couple good ones, a bad one, a couple good ones. I’d like to be more consistent throughout.”

So where do you find that consistency? Is it trading for pitching? We know the Cubs are in the market so that’ll be addressed soon.

Do you blow up a World Series team and start again? We know that’s not the answer but we also know that the team has suffered key losses in the off season that has contributed to this fluctuating season.

“That’s the million-dollar question right there. If I knew the answer, I’d be talking to the guys to figure it out and get it going. It’s tough. It’s one of those days, you get beat and go home. We played sloppy — we all did. You go home and you think about it, and it’s going to be hard to sleep on it. It was just a bad game. I respect Scherzer. I’ve known him for a long time and he’s a great pitcher, but I felt the game could be a little bit closer.” Montero said.

Big changes are coming, that’s for sure. Whether the Cubs need a break and regroup during the All Star game on July 11th, we’ll have to wait and see. What they can’t do is shrug it off saying “We have to go home and think” No, the Cubs have raised the bar this year and now it’s time for change. Truthfully, I’m betting on Montero not being around at the deadline.

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