Lester Dialled In in Win Over Pirates

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One run games in baseball are without a doubt, some of the most exciting contests in sports. One hit to tie and one hit to win. Last night, Jon Lester escaped his funky five game winless streak by showing Cubs fans the Lester of old in their 1-0 victory over division rivals Pirates.

“When you struggle, you go back to what has made you successful,” Lester said. “And you kind of sometimes, I think, forget about the other things that have made you successful. Still threw my fastball, still threw my cutter tonight. I think just better execution, better angle on both pitches.”

But it’s more than that. I think a pitcher has to get in a zone, get dialled in and find their groove. They’re like the quirky goalie from a hockey team. Last night, Lester did it all.

“[Watching] from the side, I know it’s Jon Lester. I’ve watched him a lot,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “But all of a sudden, it was like Jon Lester. He had this way about him today that was not going to be denied. That’s what I saw. He was locked in, he’d had enough, and he went back to pitching like Jon’s capable of pitching.”

Lester is also the team leader of the rotation. If he’s in the zone, then all is well, if not then things could get a little wonky.

“Regardless of what you’ve done in the past, it’s crazy how we operate mentally. The world-class kind of athlete, they want to be that all the time. So when you get away from it, it’s disturbing. And then you’re always looking for answers. Like I said, I know he’ll rest better, and I really believe this is absolutely a game to build off because he executed so well. Everything was there tonight.” Maddon said

Oh, has anyone mentioned Ian Happ? He’s quietly been putting together a bona fide season. It seems so long ago when he hit that home run off of the first pitch of the 2018 season but here we are in August with just over a few weeks left of the season and Happ is chipping away getting hits. Last night, his home run was the difference.

“Our staff has done a great job of keeping us in it; of giving us a chance,” Happ said. “We’ve had a couple comeback wins, but we haven’t scored that many runs. And our guys have done a great job making sure that we keep those leads. Strop at the end of the games right now is lights out, so that’s what we need.”

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Cubs Rookie Hits Walk Off Slam

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Last night’s game against the Washington Nationals had all the makings of a classic. Two pitchers similar in age and style, going head to head in a duel. Cole Hamels and Max Scherzer matched each other in strikeouts throughout the game. In front of a televised sellout crowd at Wrigley Field, fans stuck to their seats with the Cubs down three runs in the bottom of the ninth, when something happened that only happens in Little League, playground parks and movies;

 David Bote.

The call up fill in for all star MVP, Rookie of The Year and World Series champion Kris Bryant, hits a grand slam. Final score: 4-3

“Today, I said, ‘You know what, I’m not going to get beat down there,'” he said. “The one that was down and away that he called a strike, I was like, ‘Oh, that’s what I’m looking for.’ It was a close pitch. I got that [2-2] pitch and I was like, ‘Just get it in the air. Hit it as hard as I can to center field.’ That was the approach and get underneath it.”

The whole game would have been a gem even if the Cubs lost but this was magic.

“He’s the kind of guy who gets overlooked, and even when he gets into an organization, based on his Draft status, he’s not talked about often until he does something spectacular,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of Bote, an 18th-round pick in 2012. “He’s one of those guys who has to show it for people to believe it. He’s worked his way to this situation. Give him credit. It’s going to keep getting better.”

If the Cubs go on to October magic, this will be the moment their season will be categorized and Immortalized in those Life Magazine tributes. Even Cole Hamels Wrigley Field debut, although he didn’t get the win, would have given him his moral victory with nine strikeouts as well as the matchup against Mad Max

“It’s a great feeling. The teammates that we have on this team, the support, every single guy, we’re in it from Pitch 1 every single day. When you round those bases and you got the ‘W’ and I see my teammates at home plate jumping around, it’s magical. It’s incredible. It’s an unbelievable feeling. It couldn’t happen to a better team or a better group of people in that clubhouse. I’m so blessed to be part of it.”

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Cubs Are A Royal Pain In Kansas City

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Though try as they might, the rain delay couldn’t stop El Mago from creating, well you guessed it, a little magic in Kansas City as the Cubs went on to defeat the Royals 3-1.

“I was so mad [at my at-bats] plus the rain delay — you can ask ‘Stroppy’ about my attitude,” Javier Baez said. “I struck out twice, and not that I struck out, but it was pitches way out of the zone. This is the first time I played here so I was really excited to be here. I like the field — it’s really big. I was trying to control my emotions. After the rain delay, I went out there with a different attitude and being patient.”

I think that’s the difference between an MVP season and not an MVP season, is patience.

“[I told him] ‘You’ve got two more at-bats,'” Pedro Strop said. “‘We’re playing this game, and you’ve got two more at-bats. I want you to go 2-for-4. Don’t tell me anything, you’re going 2-for-4.’ I was kind of screaming at him. ‘Wake up, man. Wake up. We’ve got a game to play and you’re the man. You’re going to get two base hits. Watch. Let them pitch. Let the ball get close to you and hit it.’ That’s pretty much what it was.”

It’s not a secret amongst Cubs fans that Baez’s play has garnered him some MVP talk but when the new guys come onto the team at this point in the season and they’re awestruck with his playing ability, then perhaps the MVP discussion turns real.

“Javy’s play was outstanding,” Cole Hamels said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to play with a Hall of Famer behind me in Texas [third baseman Adrian Beltre] and what Javy’s able to do, he’s riding the line with that type of playing ability. It’s great to be able to have that.”

The Cubs rotation has been a see saw type of season, but with the addition of Hamels, who has dreamt of being a Cub, things have brightened, not that I’m terrified of the Cubs’ chances in October, I don’t know, they haven’t been lights out this season and could be the factor in the playoffs should the team not succeed.

“Moving it forward, I think our guys are really good and I want to believe we’ll find that magic potion at some point,” he said. “Other than we haven’t performed as well as we can, I still believe there’s a solid chance we will. … It’s about everybody, it’s about scoring points, not making fundamental mistakes. It’s a group situation and we are a team. As a group, we all have to do our jobs.”

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Baez Continues His El Mago Ways

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It’s amazing to watch players blossoming into the greatness they’ve become. Remember, a few years ago Javier Baez was swinging at anything and everything that was pitched in front of him and in more cases than not, everything that was around him as well. Yesterday, the Cubs beat the Padres 5-4 and Baez continued to dazzle his way to a possible NL MVP award.

“He’s right at the top,” Anthony Rizzo said of Baez as far as MVP consideration. “His numbers are very, very good and he’s been very consistent. Offensively, defensively, the bases, he’s a complete player. I’m sure other guys around the league are having tremendous years as well, but on a first-place team with a lot of expectations, he’s carrying the load.”

As the Cubs have struggled at times this season, Baez has, like Rizzo says, been consistent all the way through. This is his breakout year. Yesterday, he connected with his 23rd home run of the season. While not exactly a home run hitter, Baez does have power but the most exciting thing about Baez’s style of play is exactly that, the excitement.

“It makes me nervous, to be honest,” Baez said about his MVP consideration. “I don’t want to play with numbers. We’ll see at the end. We’ll see in September. When we get to September, it’ll be about the playoffs. We’ll see when the numbers come up. We’ll see in the offseason what I get for this season.”

It’s always at the back of player’s minds when it comes to awards but he’s right. They should be concentrating on the season and worry about what’s to come later. El Mago’s game is all about defence and he’s the best.

“Javy’s game today was so complete,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of the infielder, who is batting .407 with 10 RBIs in his past seven games. “Bote’s game has been so complete. That’s the thing — too many times in our industry, we get hung up on offensive numbers, but we won the game on defense.”

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Baez Brilliant In Loss To Pirates

Pirates 5, Cubs 4

The Cubs are a hopeful bunch, even in last night’s 5-4 loss on the chin to the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Cubs remained hopeful.

“I thought we played really well,” Maddon said of the Cubs’ overall play. “I have no issues with tonight’s game. We got a little unlucky and they beat us. If we play that game every night, I’ll take it the rest of the year. I thought we played that well, the at-bats were good, we played great defense. It’s just one of those nights.”

They did play really well, Javier Baez crushed three hits and a whopper of a three run home run, but it wasn’t enough. I’m still waving that MVP flag for El Mago, he’s truly having that banner year, but after hearing Alex Rodriguez’s comments on Yu Darvish whether they’re true or not, the Cubs have to remain focused and try to do their jobs. It’s true that Darvish wasn’t off to a great start in Chicago and the injury has further aggravated fans and possibly teammates, but we all know that Rodriguez can stir pots whether the brew needs to be stirred or not, tonight Cole Hamels makes his Cubs debut and we’ll know the future of Darvish.

“He loves having the packed ballpark, games that matter,” president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. “You’re really betting on the person. You acquire someone in the middle of a pennant race in a market like Chicago and you have to pay attention to makeup, because the first time they walk onto the mound at Wrigley, they have the hopes of 24 teammates on them and the whole organization and 45,000 people and a huge market. You want someone who feels good about that opportunity and will embrace it and knows they can rise to the challenge. You don’t want someone who is comfortable where they were and protecting their career and not sure what they got into. The makeup and experience does matter.”

It’ll be in Pittsburgh but his point has been made. Epstein is a smart guy and I’ll trust his decision making skills any day over Rodriguez’s bluntness. The Cubs analyzed the data, that’s what they do. They chose Hamels for a specific reason keeping their eyes solely on October.

“I totally disagree with that. Everyone knows what’s going on. We know there is an injury there. We support his recovery. Everybody in there knows and everyone in the coaches’ room knows also, throughout the organization … It’s unfortunate that it was relayed that way, but it’s not true.” Maddon said about Rodriguez’s comments.

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Cubs Steal Game From Cardinals

Cubs 5, Cardinals 2

Just like that, after a pair of losses, the Cubs magically returned to steal a win from the St. Louis Cardinals last night 5-2. The key to the victory was Kyle Hendricks striking out eight batters but going seven innings in order to do it, plus his pitch count barely creeped over a hundred.

“My mindset was better, [I was] aggressive in the strike zone,” Hendricks said. “Even in the first inning, I made a couple bad pitches. After that, mechanics settled in, I started repeating it better. It’s just bringing the two together, repeating my mechanics from the first pitch in the first inning but keeping that same mindset, being aggressive in the strike zone, getting quicker outs. I still got in some 3-2 counts but the mindset was better.”

Since his trade to the Cubs four years ago, Hendricks’ best asset has been his mind. He’s calm under pressure and able to collect them after a loss by trying to understand and study his mechanics and get back to work. This win reassures me that, perhaps he truly is back to his old self.

The other thing as well is that guys like Ben Zobrist, when he’s contributing, the Cubs are unstoppable. So last night, he had four hits, almost hitting the cycle and had a nice grab in the seventh to help Hendricks with the win. Zobrist has been one of the best “Clutch” guys in the business.

Wait.

There’s also the second half experiment of Anthony Rizzo in the leadoff spot. Three home runs since the break. Not too shabby.

“We don’t have the prototypical leadoff guy, we don’t have that speed burner to set the whole thing up so don’t try to force it,” Joe Maddon said.

The Cubs need to strike while the iron is hot and continue with the experiment as long as it works.

The Cubs are still clinging to the top spot in the National League and with Cole Hamels set to make his debut against Pittsburgh on Wednesday, the Cubs will see if the acquisition will work out.

“I do think we have enough but we need to get certain people healthy,” Maddon said. “I’m not talking about just getting to the playoffs, you want to play that last game. Among Morrow, Darvish and K.B., could you make three better acquisitions this time of year? It’s impossible. That’s the goal is to get those guys out here.”

Once the Cubs can get those guys back in the lineup, the stretch is preparing its’ way for the most exciting time of the year.

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Rizzo Walks Off In Style

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It’s no secret that the Cubs rotation has suffered this season. Fans, Stats gurus and of course, Jed Hoyer have been scratching their heads since mid April. When the Cubs are good, they’re great, but when they’re bad, well that’s for another post. Yesterday, the Cubs beat the D-Backs on Wrigley soil 7-6. but it wasn’t just a win, it was a back to back home runs by David Bote and Anthony Rizzo with the walk off that sealed it for the Cubs.

“The (comeback) formula has been working for us, that’s for sure,” Rizzo said.

The last time the Cubs had back to back home runs was way back in 2004 to end the game.

“I think the best is yet to come for our starting rotation,” Rizzo said. “I like our guys and I like our chances every single time a guy goes out.”

It has been and David Bote has been the Tommy La Stella of 2018. The Cubs acquired Cole Hamels, the World Series MVP of 2008.

“He’d be pretty good,” Maddon said. “I’ve not liked him for a long time. He’s pitched some really big games against teams that I’ve been involved with and has done really well. He’s a great competitor. He’s got good stuff, but he competes and he knows what he’s doing out there. I’d have to rank him as a pretty competent Major League left-handed pitcher.”

He’s 34 and not exactly in the prime, but the Cubs need a band aid for their struggling and ailing rotation which hasn’t quite lived up to their lofty expectations that were set out at the beginning of the season. Did they sign him because he’ll be reunited with Yu Darvish or was that the only one they could grab? I’m glad they didn’t go for Machado because they needed pitching more. His record is 5-9 with a 4.72 ERA, doesn’t sound like appealing numbers but when you look at his ERA on the road, it’s decent at 2.93

The Cubs face the Cardinals again starting tonight with Mike Montgomery on the mound. There’s no real cushion for the Cubs anymore. They have to show their dominance for the remainder of the season if they want to go deep into the playoffs.

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Hendricks Beat By High Pitch Count

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The Cubs need their pitchers to go deep into games. It’s not a suggestion, it’s a must. Last night, Kyle Hendricks was ousted in the fifth even after he posted eight strikeouts. It wasn’t a bad outing by the Professor but his pitch count was way too high over a hundred and it wasn’t enough as the Cubs got beat by the Diamondbacks 5-1

“We’re talking about it with the whole staff in here — everybody, even the guys working behind the scenes — and trying to figure out if we’re falling into tendencies, patterns and what to do to get bad contact,” Hendricks said. “We have to do better in the 1-1 count. Just getting outs on three pitches — that has to be the focus. It’s frustrating and a slower process than we hoped.”

Times running out. I think one of the problems for Hendricks is batters are more patient with his style of throwing. He doesn’t have many pitches to choose from and perhaps during the off season, he might pick up a new pitch.

“I thought my stuff was good today, but it was the same story — I have to put guys away quicker, get quicker outs,” Hendricks said. “It’s a little frustrating. I felt I made one bad pitch, the 0-2 to Jon Jay was terrible. Otherwise, it was pretty good pitches they got some hits on. My stuff is there. My sinker feels good. I have to stick to what I’m doing.”

I thought for sure the Cubs would be able to gather momentum after the break, but it hasn’t been the case.

Although Kris Bryant is out with a sore shoulder, he hasn’t had the best season either and    that hasn’t helped the team either.

“He’s sore,” Maddon said. “I have to be proactive with that. I want to make sure that we’re not pushing him too hard right now.”

So the Cubs have a few spots where they’re inconsistent and perhaps they’re going to make something of it at the deadline but as of July 25th, they’re not quite ready for the post season. Don’t get me wrong, most pieces are there but pitching needs to rebound or they won’t get far.

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Anthony Rizzo Pitched And Guess What Happened Next?

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Luke Farrell found his rhythm a little too late in yesterday’s 7-1 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks. He was pulled in the fourth inning.

“It was a tough start,” Maddon said of Farrell. “That’s the one thing we couldn’t have happen tonight and it happened.”

Which probably if there’s a game where the Cubs sat back and figured out the holes in their pitching, last night was their game. Let’s face it, Anthony Rizzo threw out a couple of balls from the mound.

“The game we lost to the Cardinals late was the one that stings the most. These games, you know, they’re going to happen. We move on from them pretty easily. Obviously, we don’t ever want to pitch as position players. We always joke around about it, but on a serious note, it is what it is.” Rizzo said.

Yeah, that’s definitely a sign that things weren’t working well for the Cubs. Although, it was pretty cool seeing Rizzo and Victor Caratini pitch. It’s just ironic that just over the halfway mark of the season and the Cubs found themselves in this position of well, position players tossing balls across the plate. They were supposed to have the best rotation in baseball. The bullpen is getting tired.

“That would be difficult because you’re totally going to wear out the better part of your bullpen,” Maddon responded. “That’s my concern.”

That’s all of our concern. The way I figure it, the Cubs schedule is going to be “relaxed” in August so if they can rebound against the Cardinals next after the D Backs, they should be all right.

“You get into those head-banging games in September and you don’t know how everyone (rookies) is going to react at that point,” the manager stated. “We’ve had some guys step in and perform really well, but some of them have never done it under those circumstances before. I have no idea what they’re going to react like.” Maddon said.

August is going to be key on how well the Cubs are going to perform this fall. We’ll see at the deadline.

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Cubs Hammer Carpenter and the Cardinals

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One of the flaws of the game today is the inability of most pitchers going deep into a game. On average, pitchers last around 5-5 1/2 innings. Yesterday, Jose Quintana went seven innings on the way to a 7-2 win over the St. Louis Cardinals.

“He got better as the game progressed,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “Everything kept getting sharper. It looked like there was more jump on the fastball at the end. We needed him to go more deeply in the game and he did. I saw him getting better per hitter.”

Pitchers going deep in theory, works. It doesn’t always turn out that way but on paper a pitcher should last seven innings, bring in the relief and then the closer.

In a perfect world(just not a perfect game) this is the way it should roll out. Yesterday’s match up worked out for the North Siders. It was also aided by Kyle Schwarber‘s bat.

“It shows the resilience of this team and we’re not afraid to be down and fight, scratch or claw our way back into the game,” Schwarber said. “That’s been our M.O. this season. If we’re down, we know we’re not out.

Oh c’mon Schwarbs, that’s been the Cubs M.O for a few years now. In fact I wouldn’t chalk it up to the Cubs clawing their way back, more like they just have a really good team and that’s what really good teams do.

“Wrigley was really loud [Saturday] night, the loudest I’ve heard in awhile. You’ve got the doubleheader, passionate Cubs fans, passionate Cardinals fans. It got really loud. It’s always fun playing them because the fans are so into it. You play a team five times and you’re usually sick of them after the third day, but it’s just fun playing them.” Anthony Rizzo said.

Five game series are few and far between, throw in July temperatures a rivalry and there you have it – – the makings of a great series.

With the Cubs in the top spot in the National League and third overall behind Boston and Houston, the Cubs should be in a great spot for the post season. If they can pick up some pitching for the stretch then they’ll have the pieces to move well in October.

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