Cubs Go On Fishing Expedition

Canuck Cubbie

It’s no secret that this season when the Cubs have been bad, well, they’ve stunk but when they’ve been good, they’ve been red hot. Last night, the Cubs weren’t just red hot, they were on fire beating the Miami Marlins 11-1.  On the same day that fan favourite, Kyle Schwarber got sent down for a little bit of adjustment, the Cubs young bats became red hot with Addison Russell, Willson Contreras and Kris Bryant each chipping in for the Home Run Department.

“A night like tonight where we we pitch well and score 11 runs, it looks easy. But it’s about consistency and trying to build off of a night like tonight. We’ve got the guys necessary to do so. So it’s a matter of collectively as a group building off of a night like tonight.” Jake Arrieta said.

Which is easier said than done. I’m not a big fan when players say all the “right things” when it comes to the need of winning ballgames. Eleven runs won’t happen every night, we know that but it’s also the kind of thing that won’t always ballgames when teams hit too many home runs. I’m a big fan of small ball. Get a hit, move the runner and steal a bag. Of course, score some runs.

The key player for the Cubs right now is Addison Russell. He’s been having a sloppy year so far but if he connects like he did last night, then I see a Cubs turnaround. What I mean by turnaround is not just squeaking in by a wild card spot; Nope, a bona fide National League leader.

“Addison looks really comfortable. I know you see it up there also,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “And Happ, when he starts making contact, he keeps making contact. And I like it from the right side. That’s very large that he’s starting to do it from the right side.”

Sending Kyle Schwarber down is something I would have done a lot sooner. He’s not a lead off guy (Not really an outfielder either, but not as bad as I imagined) He needs to get adjusted and time to refocus his fundamentals.

“We think this is best for him right now,” Maddon said. “We know he’s gonna be back, and obviously just look forward to it. I really personally love having him here, too. It’s just even when he’s struggling, whenever he walks up to the plate, everyone expects something good to happen. So let’s just get him right for him and for us.”

Look what happened last year after missing all but two games? There’s no question the kid can hit but I really didn’t think that last season’s success was an indication of what Schwarber can do. Hopefully with some time to get adjusted, there might be something waiting when he gets back.

“It’s tough for our team, because he’s such a good guy,” Anthony Rizzo said. “But he’s gonna go down and be able to exhale a little bit as far as being in the limelight all the time and hopefully smooth things out. We’re all confident he will and just do his best down there to get back here and get back to being the Kyle Schwarber we know.”

Believe it

 

 

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?

Believe it

Cubs’ Contreras Comes Through in Sixth

Willson Contreras

Just like their amazing World Series run, the Cubs came from behind this time to shock the Philadelphia Phillies 5-4.  Despite the Cubs uneven April, they’re starting May off with a different kind of poise.

“That was the theme last year — that we never quit,” Cubs starter Jake Arrieta said. “If we still have outs left, if we’re looking at a deficit, we still feel confident we’re not completely out of it. With our lineup and the ability to string three, four, five quality at-bats together at one time, there’s a chance to score multiple runs in one inning. Us establishing that we can come from behind early in the season in April, moving into May is a big boost for us.”

It’s not a matter of never quitting, I don’t think. The Cubs are a talented group of players that just find ways to utilize those talents and move forward in games. Whether it’s the youthful exuberance of Willson Contreras or the mostly stoic Arrieta, the Cubs have those soft skills to go along with the mechanics of the game.

“You plug into this guy,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “As he learns to play with his hair on fire — maybe not a forest fire, maybe just the burning bush or something, I don’t know — he’s going to learn how to control all that.”

Of course he was talking about Contreras’ two run double that fuelled the comeback.

“Willson is savvy enough to know a ball hit up the middle like that to the shortstop’s left, he was anticipating a throw to first base and he continued to come around,” Maddon said. “We got lucky — that ball hit right on the back of the mound.”

Now, there are two kinds of managers in the game. There are the kinds that would shun a heads up daring run that Contreras did in the sixth, opting more to play it safe and keep Contreras at third but with the speed of Willson it was a no brainer. The other thing to think about is he could have easily been out at home. It all came down to luck.

“By the time I was going to home plate, I saw the catcher going for the baseball and I tried to get around the base, and I did,” Contreras said.

So, John Lackey takes to the mound this afternoon to try and win the series. We all know that the rotation’s struggles are showing cracks. It’ll be up to the order to pull out the stops. With every game, I’m convinced more and more that other teams have finally caught on to the Cubs. If Chicago’s going to do any damage this year, they’ll have to dig down deep and show just how good they can be.

“Our guys are good, they’re well, they’re going to continue to pitch better,” Maddon said. ” … They’re going to pitch very similar to what you’ve seen the last couple of years. I really 100 percent believe that. In the meantime, let’s keep moving it further along.”

Believe it

Cubs Come Roaring Back, Dominate Reds and Take First Place

Willson Contreras

I’m not bragging here, but yesterday’s 12-8 victory over the Cincinnati Reds was the kind of win I’m talking about. That dominating offensive juggernaut from the North Side came roaring to life with home run contributions from Wilson Contreras, Jason Heyward and Anthony Rizzo.

“The ball was absolutely flying,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “These balls were well-struck, don’t get me wrong, but the ball was definitely in the air and it was gone.”

What really stood out in the win was contributions from guys like Heyward and Contreras, heck, even Jake Arrieta hit the ball well. The Cubs can’t always leave it up to Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Ben Zobrist to get the job done.

During the offseason, Heyward worked hard on his swing and so far this season, it’s working.

“His whole setup is different, how he’s starting the bat,” Joe Maddon said. “He is much more active with his hands throughout the swing process, and that’s why you are seeing harder contact. Less arms, more hands, that’s how I look at it. It’s been very effective.”

We know how good he is in the field but with the absence of Dexter Fowler, Heyward has to lead a young outfield but he also has to replace the bat of Fowler as well.

“The good signs are getting hits, being able to be aggressive in the strike zone,” Heyward said. “Solid contact, consistent. Home runs are going to happen, but it’s not going to happen if you’re not doing that stuff.”

So, let’s shift over to the pitching of Jake Arrieta. If last season was a come down period for the former Cy Young winner, then this year is his comeback season. The rotation as a whole has been a little shaky but so far, Arrieta is 3-0 and yesterday’s victory he pitched five innings striking out 8 batters. It wasn’t pretty but,

“We’ve had some hiccups, but we’ve been picked up by our offense,” said Arrieta, who gave up five runs in six innings. “As starting pitchers, we have to take advantage of our offense.”

If they’re taking advantage of their offence, then the Cubs are back in first place in the National League Central where they belong, the Cubs could be on the roll that they need. John Lackey will take to the mound today before the Cubs go to Pittsburgh in another key divisional matchup.

 

So here’s your chance to jump on the Cubs bandwagon don’t worry, there’s plenty of room for everyone. It’s hard to figure out how folks can suddenly cheer for teams. It could be birthright, you know, generations of long suffering fans. It might be that of location and hometowns.  I’m the Canuck Cubbie, I wasn’t born in Chicago but came across the Cubs while watching WGN when it was available in Canada. That was many moons ago. When WGN ceased to exist up here, I subscribed to MLB.TV. We’ve been to Wrigley Field and followed the team whenever they play near us.  We try to have Opening Day parties when we can and celebrate everything that is good about the Cubs and great about baseball. If you are new to the game, I encourage you to read up about the history and most importantly, take a trip to Wrigley Field, it’s a 12 hour drive for us but it was so worth it. Cubs fans are amazing. A Chicagoan we talked to a couple years ago was amazed that we drove so far to see them. He lived around the corner from Wrigley! “You came all the way from Canada?”

Yes, we did.

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.