Cubs Get Aggressive But Come Up Short

Seattle Mariners v Chicago Cubs

CHICAGO, IL – JULY 30: Kris Bryant #17 of the Chicago Cubs slides at home plate ahead of the tag by Mike Zunino #3 of the Seattle Mariners to score a run in the seventh inning at Wrigley Field on July 30, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Mariners defeated the Cubs 4-1. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

I’ve decided that I won’t be mentioning the Cubs’ newly acquired closer in my posts. Now, Jake Arrieta? Yeah, I’ll talk about him. Yesterday was one of those games where even though the Cubs could do everything right, they still lost 4-1 to the Seattle Mariners. Arrieta, who hasn’t given up a home run since July 25 the longest by a Cubs pitcher since 1947.

“I had a lot of ground balls and got outs early in counts,” Arrieta said. “That’s the game plan, to stay on that path and keep building off that. We’ll be in a good spot if I do that.”

Jason Heyward continued his improved play by going 1 for 3 and has reached safely in 19 of his last 23 games. Those extra practice swings are paying off.

The Cubs lost the game only because they were doing the right thing, sure it was due to the aforementioned new closer blowing a save but Kris Bryant was trying to steal home when he was called out. Now, that’s the way to play ball. When teams play the small ball, they’re going to win championships and end curses.

“I knew he tagged me,” Bryant said. “As I was sliding, I thought my leg was straight enough to touch home plate. It looked like I missed it and then got it after my foot passed by.”

Give Bryant an A for effort because that’s the way the Cubs will eventually win.

“Looking back on it, I could’ve slid head-first, but that’s one way to get hurt,” Bryant said. “I thought I had my foot in there. That would’ve been cool, because that’s a play we don’t ever get to do. We practice in Spring Training and it looked like it was working. It would’ve been cool to be safe. Good play all around.”

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Cubs Deal With Controversy, Rain Delays and Victory

Jason Heyward

It’s funny that the Chicago Cubs most intriguing news happens when I go on vacation. On Monday, the Cubs signed the most controversial pitcher in the game today in Aroldis Chapman. It’s still hard to fathom that he’s on the North Side. My views and thoughts are best exemplified in  Bleed Cubbie Blue’s fantastic piece on this issue. If the Cubs should go all the way, I’ll be cheering on the team and not Chapman.

Yesterday’s monstrous win over the Seattle Mariners  12-1 saw the Cubs now legendary bats swing again after a dormant month. Jon Lester is beginning to resemble the player the Cubs signed those many moons ago. Right now he’s 11-4. That equals his total from last year. He pitched shutout baseball in 6 innings. That’s what the Cubs need from him going forward.

Then there’s David Ross, the “Old Man” of the team on his farewell tour, went 2 for 4 and took the cover off the ball for his seventh home run of the season.

What about Jason Heyward? His struggles this season have been well documented so it was a welcome relief that he cracked his first home run since June 11.

“This year has been tough, I’m sure, for him,” Lester said. “I’m sure people check the boxscore and they don’t watch the game. He’s squared a lot of balls up for us this year and hasn’t had much to show for it. That’s hard, because this game is built around results. He’s been grinding, and that [homer] was big for him to have that big swing for us and kind of get us going a little bit. Everybody’s in there rooting for each other and especially for him. That ball he ran down in the gap by [Robinson] Cano was a big turning point not only for me, but for us as a team. He brings so much other than what he does at the plate to this team. I think it gets overlooked at times. I’m sure it’s huge for him. He probably won’t admit it, but it’s big for him.”

When people talk about the controversy surrounding Chapman, they’re talking about the character of the team. Guys like Ross and Lester who show up everyday and push the team with no baggage and then there’s Heyward who’s been struggling all season and there were no complaints. Just support.

In a statement by Tom Ricketts, he addresses the situation with Chapman:

“Obviously, we are aware of the circumstances surrounding Aroldis Chapman’s suspension earlier this season. We are also aware that he cooperated fully with the league investigation and takes responsibility for his actions.

“Today, prior to completing the trade, Theo, Jed and I spoke with Aroldis. I shared with him the high expectations we set for our players and staff both on and off the field. Aroldis indicated he is comfortable with meeting those expectations.

“Finally, my family, this team and Major League Baseball take the issue of domestic violence very seriously and support efforts to reduce domestic violence through education, awareness and intervention.”

Domestic Violence does not wear a World Series ring, sign high priced contracts or has an option for extension.

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Cubs Get Barrelled Over By Brewers

John Lackey

Chicago Cubs starting pitcher John Lackey reacts after giving up a two-run home run to Milwaukee Brewers’ Jonathan Lucroy during the first inning of a baseball game Saturday, July 23, 2016, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Benny Sieu)

I feel bad for John Lackey, I really do. After last night’s loss to the Milwaukee Brewers 6-1 The Texan hasn’t won since June 8th. It’s just not that he hasn’t pitched well either, but it boils down to tough luck.

“I thought he threw the ball really well,” Maddon said of Lackey. “He had really good stuff. If we scored a couple of runs, he’s had himself a good night. It just didn’t work out. Their guy Davies pitched really well.”

It’s hard to lose to basement dwelling teams, but it’s even harder to suffer defeat at the hands of the Milwaukee Brewers. Division rivals and Ryan Braun is still their leader. That’s a tough pill to swallow.

“We’re playing fine,” Lackey said. “Won a couple of series coming out of the break. We have a chance to win another one tomorrow. Just have to play a little better.”

Last night’s game marked the debut of new Cub Mike Montgomery and well, it didn’t go quite as planned. He had a three run homer hit against him by Kirk Nieuwenhuis. That’s not the way you would like to start with your new team but he’ll turn the corner soon. That’s the best part of the game, there’s always tomorrow.

So, I’d like to mention Ben Zobrist‘s struggles recently. I’m not going to mention Jason Heyward because, well, we just don’t know what’s wrong with his playing. The Cubs signed him for his defence so I’ve resigned myself to the fact that he won’t be a beast at the plate, but Zobrist?

“[Zobrist] is not going to be what you saw at the beginning of the year all year long,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “I’ve seen him go through difficult moments in the past and he’s come out on the other side. He’s one of those guys who even when he’s going through difficult moments will get on base, take his walk. He’ll still do something on a particular night.”

While that’s true, Zobrist did get things going last night by collecting a hit and going 2 for 4. Zobrist will find his groove back, that I believe.

Jon Lester gets the ball today as the Cubs look to take series from the Brewers. Game time is 2:10 EST

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Cubs’ Dexter Fowler is Back, Baby!

Dexter Fowler

The Chicago Cubs welcomed Dexter Fowler back with open arms last night. The Cubs downed the Milwaukee Brewers 5-2. Fowler came back in style, crushing a home run and a double in his first game back with the team since June 18.

“I was just happy to be back around the boys, I was happy to see everybody,” Fowler said after the game. “It’s like coming back home.”

It seems a long time ago when Fowler walked onto that practice field during spring training and surprised players that he’s landed back in Chicago after an offseason which he tested the free agent market.

I have to give Theo Epstein credit, he knew Fowler’s worth to the club and after last night, the rest of us knew it as well. With Fowler leading off, the Cubs are 43-18 but when he’s not in the lineup the team is just 11-17.

Good to see ya again Dexter, we missed you!

What can I say about Carl Edwards Jr. We had a chance to see the lanky pitcher warming up in Pittsburgh a couple of weeks ago and man, his stuff is incredible. My son’s mouth dropped watching him play catch. Last night, Edwards came into the sixth inning and struck out two. He’s certainly been an underrated part of the Cubs pitching staff this season.

“Experience, really, is all he needs,” Jason Hammel said. “The later in a game you go, the harder it gets. He definitely has the stuff. You can see the improvement and the confidence. Execution for him, too, has gotten better. He’s definitely not afraid. He weighs about 140 pounds, but he can attack a ton worth of weight.”

He’s a hard thrower and I know he’ll just keep getting better and better.

“The funny thing is I come in after a clean inning and the guys are constantly motivating me,” Edwards said. “They’re keeping me humble, too, but I’m keeping myself humble. Today, runner at second, no outs, I was talking to myself on the mound, telling myself, ‘Hey, do whatever you’ve got to do to not let this guy score.’ I went out there and got the first out, groundout, and I was telling myself, ‘Hey, you’re not finished.’ And then two outs, I told myself, ‘Hey, you’re not finished.’ Every time I go out there with runners on, [my goal] is to go out there and make sure the runs do not score.”

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Cubs Have Some Serious Questions

Theo Epstein

The trade deadline is coming up and there’s been a lot of discussion involving Kyle Schwarber. I’m going on record to say that I hope the Cubs do not trade him. What happened to Kyle at the start of the season was unfortunate with his season ending injury but the team has endured.

“Kyle is a huge part of our personality and our culture,’’ Epstein told USA Today. “It wouldn’t be right to trade him.’’

Of course we know money talks and rightfully so that he shouldn’t be discussing any trade deals. My take on a possible Aroldis Chapman deal is that the Cubs should not go for him. Sure, he can throw a 105 MPH rocket but his off field drama would probably weigh too heavy on a young Cubs organization. His arm would be a huge asset to a struggling Bullpen but at what cost and he would more than likely be a rental player.

Bleed Cubbie Blue has an interesting scenario should the Cubs deal Schwarber, it involves Tampa Bay’s Chris Archer. It would work. The only reason the Cubs would trade Schwarber is due to his defensive abilities. He struggles a bit but nobody is disputing his plate approach, the kid has the tools.

The trade deadline is less than two weeks away and there are many questions to be answered. The Cubs have built up a lot of prospects that they have at their disposal should they be in the market to acquire some more firepower at the deadline.

“We also haven’t touched certain parts of our prospect inventory. That will keep us really viable for every opportunity that’s still out there between now and August 1. Sometimes you can be in an uncomfortable spot if you haven’t done anything and you’re sitting there July 31 – August 1 this year – waiting for a ‘yes’ or a ‘no.’ It’s hard not to throw that last player in just to get a deal done if you haven’t done anything. It’s something to fall back on. It gives you the ability to say ‘no’ or draw a line if you need to. But it also keeps all our opportunities open. The prospects we moved weren’t in any other deals that we were talking about. We haven’t touched the prospects that we were potentially going to move in some bigger deals that didn’t come to pass and may be resurrected in the future.” Epstein said.

Right now, the Cubs are looking at an easy schedule when they face the Milwaukee Brewers and the Chicago White Sox back to back. if they want to make up any ground and lay the foundation for October, this is the time to do it. Dexter Fowler should be back sometime this series.

“It’s important that they send a strong message to the team,” veteran catcher David Ross said. “You have to (with) a team that is in first place and was four wins away from going to the World Series last year. You’re looking at the big prize at the end of the season.”

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Kyle Hendricks Teaches Mets A Lesson

 

Kyle Hendricks

Kyle “The Professor” Hendricks teaches the New York Mets a lesson in the Chicago Cubs 6-2 victory.

It was throwback day at Wrigley Field and no better way to celebrate it than having Kyle Hendricks pitching a gem while channeling Greg Maddux and Anthony Rizzo digging deep into the vaults for his impression of Ryne Sandberg as the Chicago Cubs defeated the New York Mets 6-2 in front of a packed Wrigley Field.

Hendricks has quickly and quietly earned his place as the Cubs ace this season. Did anyone see that coming? He turned in his ninth victory of the season while striking out seven in six shutout innings. Is it too late to for a Cy Young nomination? Just kidding, Stephen. To give you an idea of just how good this kid has been, Hendricks is leading the majors with a 0.72 ERA since June 19th. The “Professor” has really been teaching lessons on the mound.

“I’m really just focused on what I can control,” Hendricks said. “Lately, that’s been simplifying everything. I feel good with my mechanics. I feel good with the rapport I’ve had with Willson [Contreras] and Miggy behind the plate. It’s just picking up where I left off every start.”

Wrigley Field has been very kind to the Cubs. Chicago has the best home record in the National League and Hendricks has the second lowest ERA at home with 1.36, the only one better is Clayton Kershaw.

I can go on all day about Kyle Hendricks, but there’s another hero in Anthony Rizzo. He blasted two home runs, boosting his season totals to 24. When Rizzo goes yard, the Cubs are 18-4.

“Even if they go out just over the yellow line, it’s just as good,” Rizzo said. “It did feel good. I just put good swings on the ball, and that’s really all I wanted to do.”

Rizzo is tied with Nolan Arenado for the National League lead in RBI’s with 71. While he’s one short of Kris Bryant for the team lead in home runs, the duo of Bryant/Rizzo evokes fond memories of the Bash Brothers of the late 1980’s. Talk about a throwback!

The MVP race is going to be too close to call this year.

“I’m just glad we played well,” Joe Maddon said. “We’ve played six really good games since the break. That’s the part that stood out to me.”

The Cubs also made a trade yesterday grabbing Mike Montgomery and Jordon Pries from the Seattle Mariners in exchange for Dan Vogelbach and Paul Blackburn.

The Cubs have a much needed day off before taking that hop, skip and a jump to Milwaukee to take on the Brewers tomorrow.

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Cubs Can’t Frame Arrieta Masterpiece

Kris Bryant

The Cubs should have won that game. it’s a cliche I know but it’s true. They should have won it twice but instead succumbed to the New York Mets 2-1 in front of over 41 000 fans at Wrigley Field. That’s right, those fans witnessed the worse loss the Cubs have had this season.

First, Jake Arrieta pitched his finest game in over a month. Allowing one run in seven innings of work, the stoic hurler shut down twelve batters between the first and fifth innings. You can’t get much better than that. Jake is back! Not to mention his pitch count was incredibly low. In 27 pitches, he notched 25 strikes. Folks, that’s the fastest mark to 25 by any pitcher this season.

“That’s when I’m at my best, when I’m challenging guys right away from the first pitch and putting them on the defensive side and making them swing the bat,” Arrieta said. “I expect to pitch more like this as far as the aggressiveness and keeping the ball down in the strike zone.”

Things were going well for the Cubs up until the ninth inning when they had a bases loaded nobody out situation. In a perfect world, Matt Szczur should have stepped up, tapped the plate with dust and dirt clouding the air and staring down Jeurys Familia, the King of Clutch, Hail Szczur cracking that leather sphere into the stands, a grand slam sending some little kid who might be up past his bedtime, home with a souvenir.  Instead, he hit to first base.

That’s what legends are made of but this is the Cubs, where “There’s always tomorrow” is forever enshrined in the clubhouse. It would have been a perfect ending to a close game. It would have been awesome if Kris Bryant, who was waiting in the wings were to do his thing and surpass his home run total of 25 but he hit into a double play and what should have been, never was and the fans took the RedLine home a little disappointed.

“We had a chance late and didn’t get the hit when we needed to,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “Everybody did what they were supposed to do. We weren’t able to score that winning run. A bloop hit right there, we’re all very happy going home, jumping up and down. That doesn’t mean we didn’t play well.”

Another area that the Cubs did extremely well in was stolen bases. Chicago has stolen a base in four straight games. Could this be the beginning of a new style of play?

Today, my favourite pitcher and hopefully yours, Kyle Hendricks will try to turn things around. He hasn’t given up an earned run this month and is going for his fifth win.

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