Cubs Take Over First Place In Central

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There’s no denying the Cubs are on a roll. After last night’s 8-3 victory over the White Sox, the Cubs took over first place in the National league Central, and may I say that is where they belong. Six games over .500 and 10-2 since the break, it seems like everything is going according to plan.

“When we traded for [Jose Quintana], that’s a huge addition to our ballclub as we’ve seen in his past couple starts,” Arrieta said. “Just seeing how he carries himself in between starts is a really good sign.

“That trade right there is one that is going to pay huge dividends for this ballclub, and not only for this year but the next couple years,” Jake Arrieta said. “We’re a great team right now.”

Whether the trade bolstered their rotation or not, the difference in the halves of the season is astonishing. Although, they have a long way to go before catching the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Cubs are feeling more confident as the season wears on.

“We’re feeling it,” Arrieta said about being in first place again. “We expect to remain in first place throughout the rest of the way. We know it will be a tough task, but that’s what you deal with at the highest level of sports. You expect to have really good competition from teams that are either equal with you or close behind.

“We feel we’ve got the group that can separate ourselves at this point in time and remain in first place for the rest of the way,” he said.

With the captain Anthony Rizzo leading the way with a 4 RBI night, the Cubs certainly looked like the Cubs of last year, I was going to say old, but we know what that was like. In a weird way, I’d like a do over of the All Star game and invite a few more Cubs to the party but let’s face it, there weren’t many Cubs All Stars in the lineup.

“It’s always a good feeling to wake up that way. I’ll get to the coffee shop in the morning [on Thursday], I’ll have the headset on, write the lineup, read the New York newspapers and get ready for my day.” Maddon said.

Their next series against the Brewers should prove whether they stay in first place for the rest of the season or not.

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Chicago’s Crosstown Cup Is a Hit

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Kris Bryant got mad yesterday. Real mad. In the Chicago Cubs 7-2 dismantling of their Crosstown rivals, Bryant was thrown out of the game after a questionable call from the umpire that the ball was many inches off of the plate.

“[I’m] actually kind of surprised [I was ejected]. It was a disagreement, but I don’t think it was too animated,” Bryant said. “It’s frustrating. I know he’s trying to do the best job he can. I’m trying to do the best job I can. … I don’t want to be that guy that gets thrown out of games. I try to be professional on the field, but like I said, I have to stick up for myself sometimes.”

Bryant can barely remember being thrown out of a game let alone this being the first time in a major league appearance.

Let’s get back to that White Sox/Cubs rivalry. There were some errant pitches which connected with the batters and I feel really bad for John Lackey. There’s only so much an arm can take and I’m afraid he’s going to be dealt at the deadline.

“John’s the guy who normally challenges anybody and everybody,” Maddon said. “I think the wind was probably aiding the ball to left field today, and that was probably in his thought process.”

The tough Texan is if the word “expendable” is associated with Lackey, is exactly what he is. The Cubs are fighting for playoff contention and Lackey understands that. He’s not quite ready for reliever status but not exactly starting material anymore, so what are the Cubs going to do?

“If you were to bring somebody else in, there’s really a lot of moving parts [that] would have to occur for something like that [to happen],” Maddon said. “That has not been a part of my discussions with Theo and Jed.”

Not yet.

Yu Darvish’s name has been brought into the fold but is that who the Cubs need or will the Cubs go after another bat?

“I really think what we need is right here, and I mean that sincerely,” Maddon said. “I think the guys have been trending in the right direction.”

The Cubs have been fighting with the Brewers for first place in the Central and like a see saw, which wasn’t the scenario the Cubs thought they’d be in at this time of the year, the Cubs will face more ups and downs before the season is over.

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Cubs Lose But Welcome The Professor Back

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Kyle Hendricks is always hard on himself. He was even harder on himself after the Cubs 3-1 loss to crosstown rivals, Chicago White Sox. While his comeback lasted only 4 1/2 innings, the road to recovery will take a few more games to get his sync back with the team.

“Just too many innings today for the bullpen to cover, really. That’s my fault,” Hendricks said of the loss. “I think that’s just a factor of me getting in my routine, getting in my bullpen routine, throwing again every day, just getting my legs back underneath me.

“Being on five days [moving forward] I think suits me a lot better. It’s just more normalcy in a way.”

Baseball is a game built on rhythm. To find that groove where pitchers can throw their best pitches at will, takes time. Sure, it takes a lot of skill and practice but timing and rhythm is everything.

“He was not what you would call ‘on.’ He’d be the first one to tell you that,” Maddon said. “But he threw [92] pitches, which is good to get him stretched out moving into the next start. The fact that he got out of there with one run — I was really pleased with that, too. It’s just a good outing to build off of.”

A 92 pitch outing is decent enough and even better when coming off the DL. If it were up to me and I suspect in a perfect world, pitcher’s would show at least 100 pitches and last 7 1/2 innings minimum. Of course it doesn’t always work out that way, but for me, the ideal outing would be those benchmarks.

So let’s talk about the trade deadline coming up. The Cubs are playing good ball and I don’t have to tell you about the success of Jose Quintana who is all ready 2-0 since joining the Northsiders but what else is there for the Cubs to acquire? Catching? I think that’s a safe bet because as we know, Willson Contreras might get a little burnt out before the end of the season if he keeps playing the way he’s been doing.

“We have a couple more days to put it all together,” Maddon said of the Deadline. “Of course, that makes sense [to get a veteran backup] — I can’t deny that. I don’t know if that will happen or not. That’s not denigrating Victor. Victor is at a point in his development that you don’t want him sitting around much.”

The “Victor” is rookie Victor Caratini who’s been doing fine as a back up but is he up to the grind of a potential playoff run or should they go with a veteran?

The Cubs are 8-2 since the break and are finally finding their rhythm can they keep it up?

“We all understand in this clubhouse it’s an exciting time,” Jason Heyward said. “It’s the second half, we’re playing for the playoffs and the division race is close. It’s exciting. It’s where you want to be. … It’s fun. Embrace that.”

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Lester K’s 10 in Dramatic Win For Cubs

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Not only was yesterday’s game a huge rival matchup, but it was a classic pitcher’s duel between Jon Lester and Adam Wainwright. The Cubs came out on top, 3-2. It was a symbolic day for Lester who had the acronym on his cap PLACT standing for Play Like A Champion Today and it is the Notre Dame motto in remembrance of his uncle who passed away the day before.

“He won’t ever show you any emotion. And to hear that [about his uncle], it’s terrible,” said Kris Bryant. “He’s probably one of the best teammates I’ve been able to play with in my short time. You know what you’re going to get with him every day on the mound. He’s going to be the same guy, same competitor, and I love that about him.”

Lester’s day was even more memorable with 10 strikeouts and going 7 innings. There were whispers of a perfect game but nobody dared mention it to Lester. However, it was poignant that Wainwright break it up in the sixth inning. Lester’s nemesis.

“Today was good. The comeback there at the end was big for us,” Lester said. “Especially coming out of the break and playing so well and obviously yesterday getting away from us a little bit. So, that was a big win for us.”

It’s a huge win for the Cubs and today, Jose Quintana gets the call with Kyle Hendricks returning tomorrow. The Cubs are in a good place with nowhere to go but up. They’re playing great ball with a renewed vigour.

Kris Bryant rejoined the team after taking a few days off due to that slide which hurt his pinky. He delivered big time with a game tying double in the eighth inning.

“K.B. being able to play was the difference in today’s game,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “The combination of the hit and his speed — I don’t think anybody else scores on that. … You can’t underestimate the importance of one person in the lineup, and there it was.”

The Cubs are one game back of division leading Milwaukee Brewers and are 5.5 back of the Wild Card.

“There’s no waiting around right now. Everybody feels the same way. We took advantage of the break. We’ve come back with renewed energy. You don’t want to give up anything now. [The Cardinals] are lamenting the same situation we went through [Friday]. That’s how this thing is going to play.” Maddon said.

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Cubs Sweep Braves, Head Home To Face Cardinals

Mike Montgomery

So, there’s been a dramatic change in the second half and the Chicago Cubs have been leading the way. Yesterday, the Cubs swept the Atlanta Braves in an 8-2 victory. Yeah, the Cubs are feeling pretty darn good about themselves after sweep. It’s six games in a row and have become baseball’s hottest team next to the Dodgers, who by the way have extended their streak to 11 games.

What?

“We won six in row, and we have this momentum,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “I guess, synonymously, the vibe has been different. The vibe and energy has been great, and I want to see that continue.”

Of course you want it to continue. As fans, we want it to continue. If this were say like four years ago, this would be an amazing season, we’d be rejoicing that they’re four games over .500 and 1 1/2 games back of first in the Central Division, but this is the Cubs circa 2017, World Series Champs, so no, we’re not settling for that mediocre first half. Right now, at this time, the Cubs are playing like champs.

All right, so Mike Montgomery hit his first home run. I love it when the pitcher goes yard.   It validates the importance of pitchers hitting in the National League and adds that extra excitement to the game.

“I was happy about that. I got done pitching and came back in here and the ball was at my locker,” Montgomery said with a smile before getting serious. “The All-Star break was great for us. Since we’ve been back, there is a great vibe around here. We’re not too worried where we are in the standings, but we’ve been playing really good baseball.”

On a down note, the Cubs are worried about Kris Bryant after he left the first inning with a strained pinky finger sliding into third base. The good news is he’s listed Day-To -Day so he’ll be back in no time.

“I was kind of scared to look at my finger, and I was like, ‘Uh-oh,’ as this never ends up good,” Bryant said. “I don’t think anyone slides into someone’s foot and walks away from it. That was my initial reaction.”

The Cubs have an off day today but head home tomorrow to play heated rivals, the Cardinals. It’ll be their first home series since the break and a chance to unwind. They have momentum going into the series.

“We’re all on the same page,” Addison Russell said. “We’re all-in. We’re back to playing some Cubby baseball. Aggressive, having some fun and winning some ballgames.”

Perhaps that was the problem of the first half, they were missing the “Fun” part of the game.

“It is going to be great to get back home, and it is probably going to be hot,” Cubs outfielder Kyle Schwarber said. “It is going to be a lot of fun, as the bleachers are going to be packed, I’m sure.”

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Cubs Continue Their Winning Ways

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Chicago Cubs’ Willson Contreras (40) celebrates with third base coach Gary Jones as he rounds the bases after hitting a three-run home run during the third inning of the team’s baseball game against the Atlanta Braves on Tuesday, July 18, 2017, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

It’s inevitable that the Cubs will catch up to the Milwaukee Brewers. After their 5-1 win over the Atlanta Braves, the Cubs are only 2 1/2 back of the Brewers but still 5 1/2 out of the Wild Card spot.

Last year was a breakout year for Addison Russell and while he’s slipping into a groove, it’s been Willson Contreras that’s having a banner year and last night he contributed once again with another home run proving he’s a tour de force with the Cubs.

“[Contreras] is really turning into a leader,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “He was very upset with himself when he hit into that double play his first time up. But he comes back and hits a three-run homer after that. He is definitely turning into a force.”

There’s been some concerns over John Lackey‘s pitching but last night he proved yet again why after 15 years in the League, he’s going to finish on his own terms, which is exactly how he plays the game. Last night, he went five innings only giving up one run. Not bad and definitely not warranting a trip to the bullpen where aging pitchers go to graze.

“I like having him out there for those reasons,” Maddon said. “The stuff is still really good, but the heart is even bigger, and that is a benefit to us.”

That’s where the difference is with Lackey. He gives it everything he’s got when he’s on the mound. From his opinion to his fast ball, he lays it all up there and I believe that this season the Cubs need him more than ever. He’s anchoring that pitching staff who aren’t so young anymore but he’s a battler and that’s what the Cubs are going to be doing for the remainder of the season.

“Really, I had one bad start in my last five as I got beat up pretty good in Washington,” Lackey said. “I felt like I made some adjustments in the last few weeks, and hopefully that can translate to the rest of the season.”

The Cubs still have a long way to go to be where they were last season. Sure, a five game winning streak is something special but on the West Coast there’s the frustrating LA Dodgers and their 10 game winning streak. For me, the NLCS was one of the greatest series I’ve ever seen. I’d love to see a rematch. Of course, I’d love to see the Cubs beat them again but right now, they’re not in the Dodgers league. If the Cubs sneak into the post season, they’ve got a tough road. Fortunately, there road is getting smoother, it almost feels like the first half was part of an extended Spring Training and the Cubs are finally building off of last season’s success and with Kyle Hendrick‘s return next week, it’s looking really good.

“I felt so much more comfortable than in my first start,” said Hendricks. “I felt right out there facing hitters, and felt mechanically right. My rhythm felt good, and I executed many more pitches. Now I feel confident and ready to go.”

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Cubs Chase The Blues With Jon The Revelator

Jon Lester

The Chicago Cub’s fourth win in a row could be classified as the equivalent of a do over. After their 4-3 victory over the much maligned Atlanta Braves(I don’t know what it is about that team that I despise but I do) the Cubs have been almost forgiven for their ugly first half of the 2017 campaign.

Let’s talk about Jon Lester for a moment. He didn’t pitch a gem like Jose Quintana but compared to his last start, which will not be mentioned again at the Canuck Cubbie, it was a beauty of a game and restored his reputation as one of today’s great pitchers. There’s an old blues classic, “John The Revelator” by Blind Willie Johnson that’s as much of a biblical tale as it was awesomely featured in Sons of Anarchy. If the Cubs can manage to turn it around, it would be  of biblical proportions.

“There have been some things in the last couple of starts that haven’t felt right, but I was able to get my body to repeat better tonight,” Lester said. “My stuff had a little bit more crispness to it than in the last couple of starts. That is a positive and I will build off of that.”

The guy even notched a stolen base!

So the Cubs are in a good place right now. last year in a way, they weren’t really challenged by anyone but at this point in the season, the Cubs are 5 1/2 back of the wild card behind Colorado. It’s more exciting to see them play catch up then to dominate, all though my finger nails are down to the nibs.

“I like where we are at right now, and I think we are coming into the second half rested,” Maddon said. “Guys are getting over injuries, and we haven’t run anybody into the ground, as the pitchers are in good order, too. It is a lot to like right now, and every team goes through that good moment. Hopefully we have gone through the bad one and we have a lot to look forward to [for the remainder of the season].”

As the Cubs look towards their fifth straight victory, John Lackey will take to the mound and man, I don’t feel all too confident about this start. We know Lackey’s reputation. The guy makes me nervous.

“He is a guy that, even if he struggles early in a game, he gets better as the game progresses,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “Beyond any physical number that you can look at, don’t underestimate how competitive he is, and that is what I am really looking at.”

Yeah he’s competitive but has that inane ability to implode in a game when things aren’t going his way. I wish it were Kyle Hendricks coming back tonight.

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Quintana Delivers The Goods in Cubs Debut

Chicago Cubs

In the Chicago Cubs quest to reclaim the National League Central title, they went out and made a splash for Jose Quintana. Well, he didn’t disappoint in his Cubs debut with an 8-0 series sweep over the Baltimore Orioles.

Sometimes a change does a player good and in this case, Quintana struck out 12 and in a way, recharged the Cubs. Leave it to Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo to send the balls into orbit, each contributing two run homers to pad the lead over the Orioles.

“He could really be a big boon to us,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “We grab a lead, and he pitched really well with the lead. There’s no messing around, there’s no walks, there’s no bad counts. He made them put the ball in play, and he’s punching guys out. He was burying the curve and elevating the fastball. He was doing everything well.”

On the offence, the Cubs have finally been putting up big numbers. They’ve put up 24 runs in the last three games with two shutouts. With an easier second half to the season, are we more likely to see these big numbers continue? It’s no time to roll out the parade because even though the Cubs stymied the always dangerous Orioles, they have too much ground to make up on their quest too reclaim the throne.

“It’s not just me, but I think everyone needed it, the rest was needed,” Willson Contreras said. “Everybody looks focused, everybody looks like they have a plan and an approach. We’re not wasting time, we’re attacking pitches.”

If this is a sign of things to come in the second half, then the Cubs are in a prime position.    Their one game over .500 may be temporary especially if they don’t get the pitching back from their rotation but the Cubs showed some brilliance in their series with the Orioles.

“I feel happy when I get run support,” Quintana said. “Every time, it’s good for us, good for a starting pitcher. Mentally today, the last game [of the series], it was good to sweep the series and just keep going. We have to keep going and stay hot.”

That was the problem during the first half, either the pitcher dominated or there was runs but hardly ever did the two meet in each game. We witnessed in the last series, the melding of the two and suddenly, the Cubs are looking more like last year’s winners.

“He was really good,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “I really liked his routine on the mound. Did you notice the big breath and then the delivery begins after that? Tremendous focus per pitch. That’s what I took away from it. And then he’s able to execute. He had a really good curveball, was not overusing it, using it at the right time. More than anything, I liked the method. Deep breath, then he goes into his delivery. He has a nice method.”

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Cubs Wake Up From Hibernation

Chicago Cubs

There’s no denying it, the Cubs needed the rest going into the All Star break. They had to restart their batteries, regroup and do whatever they had to do to propel themselves into the second half. Last night’s 9-8 offensive output over the Baltimore Orioles was a welcomed relief and a much better indicator of what the team can do but it was also a sign of what they lack.

“It would’ve been very difficult to lose that game, I will not deny that, but we didn’t; we won it,” Maddon said. “You take a break, you play catch a little bit, and they’ve been throwing a lot in the first half. It’s one of those catch-22 moments. We got through it.”

It’s been a busy week for the Chicago Cubs. Some of it not so good when it came to the All Star game. Not only was Joe Maddon on the losing side but Wade Davis ended up giving up the winning run. If anyone was keeping score, Davis not only was the only representative of the Cubs but he wasn’t even on the 2016 World Series winning team! After the All Star game, I joked to my wife about the Cubs curse continuing almost like Sianis was calling down from the skies,”All right that last curse didn’t count so here’s another one!”

Then the Cubs made a huge trade in acquiring Jose Quintana from their crosstown rivals the White Sox, the Cubs gave up some minor leaguers. Quintana is expected to be in the lineup tomorrow and folks, I don’t know yet whether I’m excited about this or not?

“It’s over and that’s good,” Quintana said of the trade rumors. “It’s a fresh start. I just want to do my job and make the playoffs. I’ve never been to the playoffs and I have a good chance here.”

It’s a chance for both teams to make a fresh start. Last night’s five home run attack was the start of something special. In fact, what made it so special was the guys who hit them. Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist, Addison Russell and Willson Contreras. With the exception of Contreras, the other guys have been either injured or having a less than stellar season. I’m confident that Addison Russell has replaced Dexter Fowler in the, “You go, we go” department. He’s the kid the Cubs need to bolster the offence.

“The first half is a wash for me,” Schwarber said. “It’s just [a matter of] going out there and getting back to competing and focusing on my at-bat and focusing on the team at-bat and focusing on the team, period. We started off on the right foot — this is a big one for us, right there. We faced a little adversity and we were able to come through and it’s a great feeling.”

Like last season’s game against the Pirates going into the break, this one’s going to be the turning point of the season.

Now, if they can just tweak that ability to hold a lead, we’ll all be fine.

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Cubs End First Half The Right Way

Chicago Cubs

There’s always something unfair in sports. There are winners and losers. It’s definitive and decisive in the results and yesterday, the Chicago Cubs had their definitive ending to the first half of the 2017 season in a 14-3 loss to their division rivals Pittsburgh Pirates. It was a poignant score at the end of the first inning, a 10-0 inning chasing exit for Jon Lester.

“I think people just want to get away, get away from this, get away from the grind. [The Cubs’ record] is not for a lack of effort, it’s not for a lack of preparation. It is what it is. Take four days to regroup, refresh and show up Friday ready. I think the big thing for us is to play good baseball, play solid baseball. Forget the record, forget the batting averages, our ERA, and just get back to playing good sound baseball. The talent on this team will speak for itself.” Lester said following the game.

This is true. of course their record doesn’t fully represent what this team can do. Just like any other sports cliche but that one applies to the 2017 Cubs. They’re good, we know it and they know it. So what happened to them in the first half? Well, lets’ see:

These are just a few of the low lights that have occurred so far this season with the Cubs. If this were any other season or any other Chicago team, fans would be staying away from Wrigley’s sacred ground. The truth is that people still believe in them.

“I’m still very confident,” Maddon said. “I believe in our guys and I’m eager to see us coming out of the break.”

If this were any other year, big changes would be happening. Maddon would be out of a job, trades would happen but this is the Chicago Cubs. They’re World Series Champions and possibly poised to be World Series Chumps if they continue playing the way they’re doing.

The fitting end to the first half couldn’t be better. Last year, the Cubs faced the Pirates in the series before the break, and it signalled a turnaround to their mini slump. They went on a tear after the All Star break and never looked back. Could this be the same?

Of course it’ll be one of the greatest turnarounds in professional sports history. I can read the headlines now:

“The Chicago Cubs Win The World Series After Posting Sub .500 first half” It certainly can happen with someone like Joe Maddon in the dugout. They have an easy schedule. Perhaps Cubs fans were so used to losing that we forgot how to get used to winning?

“If I had a reason, I would’ve fixed it out there,” Lester said. “Unfortunately, it’s never a good time to have a bad start. I really don’t know — I don’t know what to say to make it better, to give you a reason. It kind of speaks for itself. It’s embarrassing.”

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