Cubs’ Hendricks Shuts Out Pirates

Chicago Cubs

Kyle Hendricks could make open heart surgery look simple, that’s how confident he is in his abilities. Last night, the Cubs shutout the Pittsburgh Pirates 1-0 in what folks deem as Hendricks’ “Comeback game”. We’ve seen him pitch better but we’ll take it.

“It’s just one start but definitely a lot better,” Hendricks said. “I got away with some pitches early. It almost clicked the second time through the order, like about the end of the third inning. My fastball command got better, I could mix it in and out, up and down a lot better. My changeup kind of followed from there, I started throwing better curveballs. … We’ll take it. One step, one step.”

One step for sure, but what was interesting about this game is Hendricks kind of had a #TBT moment with his style. Nothing flashy, just letting it all happen. That’s the best part about his game. He gets it done.

Sure, there are people who believe his drop in velocity is a reason to voice some concern but I’m not convinced that last season was a fluke. He’s not quite a seasoned veteran where he can lock in his pitches at will like Jon Lester, so perhaps there needs to be a warming up period and this could be it.

“Something in my mechanics clicked, or maybe I fell into the flow of the game or something,” Hendricks said. “I was closer. It’s one start but definitely better.”

So, all right, what if last season was his season for batters to get used to his style of pitching and this season is their chance to understand how he works because I can guarantee that teams across the nation were sitting in the office studying the way Hendricks pitches. In an era used to fastballs and heat, along comes Hendricks and changes things up. See what I did there?

“I always talk about the way hitters take pitches against him and you can see it kind of surprises them,” Joe Maddon said. “When you get that kind of look from a hitter, then I know the pitch is there. More than anything, an uptick velocity-wise, and a little more separation between the numbers on his fastball and his changeup — that’s the one item that will make him take off quickly.”

He isn’t perfect. He needs to get his speed up a bit and that’ll happen. Until that happens, it’s a relief to have the old Hendricks back on the mound doing what he does best which is getting batters out.

“I’m not in the zone dialed in the way I was at the end of last year,” Hendricks said. “That was a completely different feeling and sensation.”

That sensation wound up earning them a World Series.

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Cubs Prove Too Much For Pirates

Jason Heyward

Baseball can be a lonely game. I’m not talking about the player staring at the pitcher in a game 7, bases loaded, two out, bottom of the ninth type of loneliness. No, in last night’s Chicago Cubs 14-3  blowout of the Pittsburgh Pirates, there was a loneliness that crept into the beautiful PNC Park around the mid innings when you can practically hear every fan that was left to watch the onslaught. The heckling and the whistling were on full display like ancient Greek theatre’s call and response.

Last night was the kind of game the Cubs should be playing on a regular basis. Jason Heyward won’t crush the ball the first time he sees the plate everytime, but guys like him and Addison Russell, who had a career high four hits, need to be consistent in every game.

“It’s great but it’s not over,” Heyward said. “It’s one game at a time. This game is hard, it’s not easy, and you’re always going to be humbled. It’s great to see hard work pay off but I have to keep going because that’s the way the game goes.”

It isn’t easy when you’re the player who makes a Gajillion dollars and underperforms. So I’m glad to see Heyward doing well this season. As for Russell? Well, one of baseball’s under appreciated players is consistent. He’s turning into the guy who someday could win an MVP.

“I expect to hit every first inning,” Russell said. “We have guys that grind out at-bats from their first at-bat until their last at-bat. Guys will get on somehow, some way. And guys with big knocks along the way.”

So the Cubs haven’t digressed this season but rather matured a little bit perhaps and the style of play isn’t always, like last night, going to knock out of the park every game. The more I watch them this year, I’ve decided that the wins might not always be pretty but they’ll win.

Kyle Schwarber will have to get used to the outfield. Even though he certainly wasn’t a weak spot in the Cubs lineup last fall, he might just be the weakness in the field this season. I think he’ll be better than us bleacher bums think he’s going to be but the growing pains will still be there.

“It’s not easy to just move people around,” Joe Maddon said. “The ball always moves toward the line, whether it’s a righty or left-handed hitter. It’s a different method of thinking on the other side of the field. Can he do it? Of course, he can do it.”

With the order pretty much solidified for the season, I’m hoping for Kyle Hendricks to showcase his stuff for the season. Perhaps the spring training wasn’t enough. Once the warm weather kicks in.

“Overall, still just need to kind of find that groove and lock it in,” Hendricks said. “My mechanics have been a little off, I’ve noticed, the last two weeks or so. I ramped up my throwing, so maybe throwing more has caused that. I just got to find the right balance right now. I just don’t feel strong out there, so I got to get my arm strength and feel like I can step on it (and) get the velocity back. And then from there, my changeup will just play off it.”

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Despite Cubs Loss, Rizzo Keeps The Streak Going

Chicago Cubs

The Chicago Cubs couldn’t play “Comeback Kids” again as the Cincinnati Reds defeated the North Siders 7-5 yesterday. They put on a good show and Anthony Rizzo keeps his streak alive with three home runs in his last three games.

“You just play baseball really,” the Cubs’ first baseman said. “You just hit balls where they’re not standing. You go through the process. It’s no different than not getting any hits.”

As we all know, baseball is such a streaky sport.

In a strange game which showcased the aging talents of John Lackey versus Bronson Arroyo, the elder Lackey pitched a frustrating game

“Yeah, I don’t care about the series right now; I’m pissed,” said Lackey. “I felt like I definitely pitched a lot better than the numbers are going to show. Two of the first three runs were a couple of balls that kind of fell in on me. And I really didn’t give up a whole lot of hard contact. What are you going to do?”

This was his third start that he lost. I don’t know, I think Lackey needs to move down in the order but he’s so competitive that I wouldn’t want him to get mad about that.

Even though the Cubs won the series, it’s good that they’re finally coming around but they should have controlled that game better. The Reds had an aging pitcher.

The Cubs won the series but now head to Pittsburgh to face the Pirates. The last time these two teams faced each other, the Pirates swept them.

The Pirates don’t have Starling Marte (much to my annoyance in my Keeper League) so the Cubs should be all right.

“I have nothing to complain about. You go into another city and win the series. We’ll take it.” Joe Maddon said.

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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.

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Bryzzo Souvenir Company Adds Another Gem To Collection

Albert Almora

The Chicago Cubs certainly have a flair for the dramatic. In extra innings, the Cubs defeated the Cincinnati Reds 6-5 after an Anthony Rizzo 3 run long ball to tie it in the ninth. Their, “We do not quit” motif is some serious stuff this season being their third straight victory in a come from behind way. If it was Anthony Rizzo in the ninth, then it was Kris Bryant with the sacrifice in extra innings.

“You never think home run,” Rizzo said. “These guys do pitch me up-and-in a lot. Off the bat, I thought, yeah, but the wind was kind of strong. I thought it might be a long single if it hit the top of the wall.”

Have the Cubs turned a corner after a not so awesome start to April? I hope it’s true, but how much longer can they sustain their, “Comeback Kids” moniker?

“That’s what we always say, the comeback kids,” Rizzo said. “In the ninth, we’re saying here comes the comeback. It’s a good feeling to know none of these guys quit. It’s a cliché, but it’s true. We know we can score at any given time.”

I have to admit, I do like the entertainment of watching them comeback in late innings, although nerve racking in many ways, it gives it that post season vibe, I just get the feeling that they won’t be able to sustain the momentum for long. Awe shucks, perhaps it’s just my inner pessimistic Cubs fan rearing its ugly head.

The are many things I’m certain of but when it comes to the Chicago Cubs, these are the best days to be a fan. They’re exciting, thrilling and of course the World Series team of 2016 have a seat reserved in Cooperstown. Now, the team could be better than last season only because of the close games and the “Bryzzo” factor. These Cubs have personality just not one or two superstars but an entire team that contributes each game.

Speaking of the Bryzzo factor, catch David Ross’s last adventures as an intern with the Bryzzo Souvenir Company

In many ways though, the Cubs got lucky in those come from behind victories. Their pitching hasn’t been solid, Lester gave up 5 earned runs. It’s not hard to figure out that if the pitching isn’t there, then no matter how many hits the team gets (unless of course, they score runs) the teams not going to win. The Cubs have to get their rotation going.

“Would like it to go the other way, being up early, but a win is a win,” Cubs starter Jon Lester said. “When you come back, it always makes it a little bit better.”

You can tell through Joe Maddon’s thoughts on the “Comeback Kids” that he too would like to see a more viable and solid play of his squad.

“I’m OK with that identity, but I’d rather do it in more conventional means,” he said with a smile. “It’s what we talk about. We just don’t quit.”

Believe it

 

 

 

Russell’s Walk Off a Thing of Beauty For Chicago Cubs

Addison Russell

How much more can the 2017 edition of the Chicago Cubs keep coming back in games? Yesterday they did just that, a come from behind walk off three run home run from Addison Russell to steal the win from the Milwaukee Brewers 7-4.

“I was just trying to put the ball in play, something over the middle of the plate to start me out,” Russell said of his at-bat in the ninth. “[Feliz] threw me two sliders away, and I was looking for something a little more in. He threw a fastball.”

Oh the modesty. He absolutely crushed that ball. So, that’s two come from behind wins in a row. It’s a dangerous way to start a season. All though the Cubs are proving their worth with these wins, it’s inevitable that time will run out. As the season wears on, the Cubs might be riddled with injuries and exhaustion.

“It’s one of those ugly wins but we’ll take it any day of the week,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “It is the resiliency, it is the fact that we do not quit. It’s on the ring. We don’t quit. It’s on the ring, man, and that’s a perfect example today.”

He’s right but where was Kyle Hendricks? The ERA leader last year, is noticeably absent on the mound with a 6.19 ERA this season. It could be cold weather or a slow start but he has to get his mechanics going. He walked four batters and only lasted five innings. Not that I’m too worried because he’s the type of pitcher who studies the game with all its’ nuances.

“We went in with one game plan, and we noticed they were sitting on a few of the things we were trying to do,” Hendricks said. “I didn’t realize it right away. By the time he came over to me, we could talk about it and find out where we wanted to go with the game plan. I got better contact in the later innings. I still need to find that groove and lock it in.”

So, the Cubs can talk all they want about resiliency but the main issue is in the games they lost, well, they just looked lost. The honeymoon is over, baseball season is underway. They’ll have to hear that familiar song a lot more if they want another parade.

“You definitely want to go into Cincinnati with the sense we can come back in any part of the game,” Russell said. “That’s what we did today. Just don’t give up. That’s the type of style that we play.”

The style the Cubs should be playing is Javier Baez‘s leaping air catches and reaching for the tag, Anthony Rizzo‘s Rizzo Wrap snags, Hendrick’s controlled mechanics and Kris Bryant‘s Long Ball. You see where I’m going with this?

“That was an unbelievable win today,” Hendricks said. “There’s been a lot going on. A lot of outside factors pushing against us, so to be able to focus on the game and get big wins … these teams we’re playing are coming for us. The target is on our backs.”

Believe it

 

Cubs Snap Losing Streak But Baseball Is a Long Season

Miguel Montero

The Chicago Cubs won 9-7 yesterday over the Milwaukee Brewers. They snapped their losing streak, Miguel Montero and Kyle Schwarber each knocked out two run homers but  there’s a few problems that are heading the Cubs way.

“We have a pretty good hitting lineup from top to bottom,” Montero said. “Obviously, they have a five-run lead in the game but there was still a long way to go. We knew we’d be able to come back.”

Um, yeah, that’s what I’m talking about right there. The Brewers had a five run lead going into the third inning. The Brewers! They’re not expected to do anything this year and are beating the Cubs at their own game. That’s what I’m talking about.

“I don’t think we’ve played the kind of baseball we played last year,” General Manager Jed Hoyer said. “We’ve been sloppier at times than last year. That’s the only part that, when I watch the games, we didn’t do that last year. We were very clean, we took care of the ball, we didn’t give the other team outs.”

That’s precisely it. There’s no other way to put it when teams like the Brewers are racking up the runs on the Cubs the way they’ve been doing except to blame it on sloppiness.  They can even blame it on their bullpen but as the weather warms up, the bullpen should get looser. If the Cubs win the World Series, and that’s a big if, then it’ll be based solely on the fact of them overcoming these smaller market team wins.

“We’re gonna be fine out there,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “It’s all about confidence. We just have to keep getting them out there. As they get more successful innings — which they shall — their confidence will come on because they’re really good.”

See, now I’m starting to sound frustrated with the Cubs and April isn’t even over with. All right, so I’m going to put something out there that a lot of you folks might not like but I feel that Kyle Schwarber should be moved at the trade deadline. Yup, they need to move him and it’s going to hurt. Hitting lead off isn’t where he should be. They need to resolve that by going out and finding a premium lead off hitter if they want to make it through the Fall.

“So right now, you look at left-right-left-switch-right, I kind of like that, the way we have it set up,” Maddon said. “So to move (Schwarber in the order), it’d have to be either an acquisition of either a really legitimate lead-off hitter or somebody getting so hot down below that you felt comfortable about putting him in front of that guy.”

Is that Maddon confessing that Schwarber as a lead off hitter isn’t working as well as he thought it would? Don’t get me wrong, Schwarber is good but he isn’t a lead off hitter. If the Cubs can solve that problem, then they’ll be fine.

Believe it.