Cubs Set Franchise Record in Anhilation of Pirates

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Part of me wants to end the post right here. A 17-3 humiliation of the Pittsburgh Pirates is a rare feet but scoring 17 runs in two games less than a week apart, well, that’s just down right weird and awesome. Let’s just get things a little clear here too; when Cubs pitchers start getting RBI’s, good things happen. Jose Quintana did just that and look at what happened?

Then there’s Ian Happ, the rookie who now has 20 home runs and joins the club along with Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant Javier Baez, Kyle Schwarber and Willson Contreras. It’s a tired old cliche, but the Cubs record doesn’t reflect their play since the All Star break. Well hold on now, that doesn’t make sense because they’ve been getting the wins but they’ve been playing like they should have 90 wins, if they played this well before the break.

“We have a lot of good hitters here, a lot of young guys who have learned a lot and are putting good swings on the baseball, especially on a night when we get 20 hits and score 17 runs,” Happ said. “We had a lot of good [at-bats].”

I think too that last night’s victory showed that the Cubs can do all the right things on the bags when they want to. Stealing home, Happ attempting that triple, although caught and more at home in a Little League game but that’s the kind of things the Cubs need to do if they hope to recapture that crown again.

Then there’s Baez stealing home, wasn’t there a film made of that? It’s probably one of the most thrilling plays in the game and none other than Baez could pull that off with flair.

“We had a safety squeeze,” Baez said. “It was the same error as last year [in the NLCS]. We practiced today in early work, and even doing the early work I was going to the plate too fast and breaking to the plate pretty fast. I think on the play [Quintana] squared the bunt too early. I reacted early, too. I was making sure that didn’t happen again and it did.”

Is Happ a rookie contender? I think he should be in the conversation. No other Cubs player has hit that milestone in fewer games.

So, what about the player’s weekend jerseys? my wife and I agree that they should replace their current third jerseys with those from the player’s weekend. They’re sharp looking and heck, why not keep the nicknames on the back?

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Cubs Dominate Pirates

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The Cubs are coming alive at the right time of the season. It may seem like a broken record to say that and perhaps it’s true, but after last night’s win over the Pirates 4-1 at Wrigley Field. Jake Arrieta did a workman like approach to the game, not his greatest but  not his worst.

“There was a little bit of frustration in the first half with the way things were going. I might have focused on the results a little too much rather than just focusing on trying to execute and refine my repertoire. Now, where I’m at, I feel confident that even if I don’t have my good stuff and if I’m without two pitches, the two pitches I do have are more than enough to get the job done.” Arrieta said.

Of course there was a little frustration with the first half of the season. All around the Cubs weren’t getting the job done. In fact, the National League Central is the weakest in the National League. A division which last year was a powerhouse, has fallen on hard times with its uneven play this season.

Things have changed in the second half of the season, although much of that success is attributed to a weaker schedule, the Cubs find themselves 11 games over .500 and a possible berth in the playoffs.

Guys like Ben Zobrist and Alex Avila are coming through when it counts.

“It felt great,” Zobrist said of his homer, No. 10 for the season and his first at Wrigley Field since June 11. “I’ve been driving the ball more the last week or so. It wasn’t cheap either — drive the ball to the middle part of the field and hope that something good happens. Everything felt really good on that.

Don’t forget that home run on Saturday coming off the bench.

I’ve maintained it all along, it’s the guys at the bottom of the rotation that’ll get the work done for a team. The Cubs may not achieve 100 wins this year but if they play their cards right, it’s not unthinkable to reach in the high 80’s.

Would it be a failure?

Naw, last season surprised the experts but every team has crafted their playbook around the Cubs and are prepared. If the Cubs advance to the post season, and there’s no reason they won’t unless they have an epic Red Sox collapse    .

The Cubs will have to maintain their  poise throughout September and into the playoffs.

Believe it.

 

 

Cubs Beat Pirates and Reflecting on Philly

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It could be the easier schedule the Cubs have been playing since the All Star Break but as the old saying goes,” We’ll take it” as the North Siders downed the Pittsburgh Pirates 6-1. Give Mike Montgomery credit for filling in for the injured Jon Lester, they’re big shoes to fill but he delivered big 0 through seven innings.

“I’m going to assume I’m going to be asked to start again,” Montgomery said. “If it changes, it changes. I’ll be able to adjust from there. I let them know, ‘Hey, I’ll do any role.’ I feel comfortable. For now, it’s just coming to the park tomorrow and get my work in and be ready to go.”

The Cubs are in a playoff race and now are 2 1/2 in front of the Brewers. It’s hard to say if they’re on a roll or not and with Lester nearing a return, will they stick Montgomery in the bullpen or add a sixth spot to the rotation?

“I’ve been in different roles this year,” said Montgomery, who subbed earlier this season and was making his 10th start of the year. “You’ve got to look at it and say, ‘Hey, I get to start for the Chicago Cubs and it’s going to be a fun day.'”

So, our family travelled to Philadelphia this past weekend to see Kyle Hendricks and the Cubs demolish the Phillies. It was a great trip, a beautiful city and yes, we ran the Rocky steps.

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The park is really cool and I have a gut feeling that there were just as many Cubs fans as there were Philly fans(no offence, Philly). One of the most special parts was seeing Kyle Hendricks pitch. Throwing eight strikeouts and collecting a couple RBI’s was extra special.

It was dubbed our “Cubs Weekend” because we scooted over to Cooperstown to pay homage to the 2016 champs.

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Of all the trophies, this one has to be that much more special. That was a great moment in history and to see it up close with  2016 World Series Champions chiseled into the base was amazing.

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The Hall of Fame is so great. Whether it’s the drive along the lakes or reflecting on a bench in the gardens of the great hall, it’s like a time warp of those special moments, not just of baseball but in your life.

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Cubs Give Solid Outing But Fall Short

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Sure the Cubs squandered a 2-1 lead going into the eighth inning to eventually lose 4-2 to the Reds but on there were some great signs of life in a performance by Jake Arrieta.

“I felt like I had good tempo, really good sequences,” Arrieta said. “The only trouble I got into, I got out of in the fifth (after the first two batters reached) by making some really good pitches. In the sixth, I tried to do a little too much, tried to overthrow and missed some spots.”

I’ve always been hit or miss with Arrieta. He was brilliant when he won the Cy Young, but faltered a bit the following season. He’s a good if not great pitcher but inconsistent. He’s having a good year, and that’s great for the Cubs but there’s so many better pitchers in the game.

So, the Cubs lost and really it could be tagged onto that attempted steal in the ninth by Jon Jay. It was a poor decision but hey, you have to try, right? Suck it up and come the next game.

“He went on his own,” Maddon said. “He’s thinking they’re playing behind. He’s thinking they’re not going to throw. They did.”

One thing I’ve learned in my years of watching baseball is that they’ll always have those mistakes. It happens.

So, I’ve got these mixed feelings about Player’s Weekend  

Kind of on the fence with this one. I’m not totally convinced it’s going to work, It could be a novelty thing or a marketing grab. It’s for the kids which is great but more likely a marketing opportunity to squeeze out some more cash from us unsuspecting blokes. We’ll be in Philly tomorrow to watch Kyle Hendricks and the Cubs and I’m looking forward to that. We hope to get there early and snag an autograph or two.

Maybe I’m cynical about the whole idea, but in the end it’ll be fun and give fans a chance to be more personable with their favourite players.

“Miami is the city that raised me,” Jay said. “I have a lot of pride in that city. I learned a lot of life lessons there that made me who I am today.” on his 305J nickname.

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Cubs Winning Streak Continues

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The phrase, “Turn at the right time” is synonymous throughout the sporting world. It’s a term associated to a team or a player that does all the right things going down the stretch of the regular season. You can attach that phrase to the Cubs but the only caveat being they’re playing teams that are struggling more than the Cubs.

Does it count?

In last night’s 9-3 massacre of the Cincinnati Reds, the Cubs extended their winning streak to five games. With home run contributions from Kyle Schwarber and Tommy La Stella, the Cubs are doing all the right things at the right time, if you wanted to through cliches around.

“You can struggle in the second half or you can learn from your mistakes and get better,” winning pitcher Mike Montgomery said after the Cubs moved 11 games over .500 for the first time this season. “Now it’s all about getting into the playoffs. We’re completely over last year.”

Hey Mike, I was over last year in April. All right, I still get a little choked up every time I see this:

 

What got me is that there is no other team in professional sports that triggers emotions quite like the Cubs. Their championship brought a nation together in a common unspoken bond. There were nods as we passed people on the streets, a few fist bumps and the, “I was rooting’ for your Cubbies”

Yeah Mike, I’ve put last year behind me too.

This weekend is Player’s Weekend. It’s a weekend where players across the league can have a little fun and celebrate everything that is awesome with the game that is woven in a nation’s fabric. There will be tributes from players to those that helped them throughout their careers and they’ll wear funky jerseys displaying nicknames such as “Cutch” , “Joey Bats” and “KB”. With all the excitement, I’m disappointed that Kyle Hendricks will be wearing “Hendo” as his nickname. I figured it might be “Prof” or Professor but seeing that these nicknames are representing the Little League spirit, I can see why they chose “Hendo”

“The fans will get to know more about you this way,” Javier Baez said. “They can find out why or how you got the name. I’m sure it’ll be a fun weekend.”

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Cubs Roar Back To Defeat Reds

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The Cubs are on a streak. Yes, they’re having a four game winning streak after their 13-9 take down of the Cincinnati Reds but their post all star break record is 23-12. Not too bad especially being their mantra has been to find ways to win. It’s especially convincing.

Even after Ben Zobrist was late to the party and having to rent a car to get to Cincinnati but when Zobrist showed up, man, he showed up.

“I should have been here a lot earlier,” Zobrist said, managing a half-smile after the game. “I was told I make enough money and should have booked a [private jet], which is probably true, but I guess I’m cheap. I learned my lesson.”

In fact, it was such an unusual game that Anthony Rizzo played third after Kris Bryant injured his wrist after an errant pitch.

“He’ll put that on his Twitter bio: Third baseman,”Kris Bryant said.

The Cubs are back to playing Cubs baseball, loose, fun and precise. This is the time of year when teams that don’t stand a chance in the standings, their home park is an empty mess. It’s so empty that like last night in Cincinnati, you could hear the ball echoing off of the seats after each home run.

No, the Cubs are in great shape heading into the final push for the playoffs. After the Reds, it’s the Phillies with a season ending playing their division rivals who will be very difficult to overcome. The National League Central has been such a tight race this year that a Cubs spot in the playoffs might not seem solidified.

In reality, the Cubs are pacing for an 87 win season. We all know that predictions and stats don’t necessarily mean a thing when it comes to the sport. Anything can happen and the Los Angeles Dodgers, despite owning a record of 89-35, can still collapse in the post season. It’d be nice to have the Cubs dominate again this year, but that’s not reality. Guys like Zobrist are just hitting their stride at the right time.

“I keep telling him, ‘I wanted to keep you rested for this time of the year. This is your time coming up, September/October,'” Maddon said. “This is his time of the year. He’s trending properly right now. Even if he’s not hitting, he’ll accept his walk for the next hitter. Putting him in the middle, he’s surrounded by guys that will drive him in.”

He’s the reigning World Series MVP and that has to count for something, right?

“I think the best of my season is ahead of me,” he said. “I have been feeling a lot better, so I’ve been doing a lot more work in the cage and stuff that I hope starts showing up on the field a little more. It’s been coming.”

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Root, Root Root For The Best Team

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I always get excited when the Toronto Blue Jays get together with the Chicago Cubs. They’ve only played each other a handful of times since the Jays inception but seeing the fans at packed Wrigley shows just how special Wrigley Field is to everyone. This year especially, this series is important to both teams. The Jays are a few back of the Wild Card while the Cubs are out to put distance in the National league Central Division. Yesterday, the Cubs won 4-3.

“The game ebbs and flows all the time. That’s why it is a beautiful game and a terrible game at the same time. You are going to have your good weeks, your bad weeks, good days and your bad days, being able to stay even and keep fighting through it is important,” Ian Happ said.

It’s a must win situation for the Cubs on this stretch where they’re playing last place teams. After the Jays, they’ll play the Reds again before heading to Philadelphia to face the Phillies.

There were a lot of Blue Jay fans that travelled to the game, some from Winnipeg and even Canadian legend, Don Cherry sang the seventh inning stretch. Traditionally, the guest conductor would say, “Root, root root for the Cubbies” but Cherry didn’t want to disappoint Jays fans or get chased out of Wrigley Field so he opted for the safe approach of, “The best team”

“In this ballpark, you have to hit home runs, and we haven’t hit one yet,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. “We pulled it close, another close ballgame — they snuck a ball through to put them on top — but I thought we pitched very well. The bullpen guys came in, and it just wasn’t good enough today.”

It’s also difficult with the inter league games where teams have to adjust their strategies to accommodate the ballpark and it showed with the Blue Jays. Again, the Cubs got stellar pitching from Jose Quintana.

“I thought Quintana was really good today also. It just seemed to me like better command. The last game he had a lot of fastball misses in. He was getting that pitch here today for a strike, curveball was definitely more pertinent today. I didn’t see a lot of changeups. But I saw him pitch with his fastball well and accurately and did a great job,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said.

But the star of the day belonged to Ian Happ.

“Acclimation-wise, he’s done pretty darn good,” Maddon said of Happ. “The thing he’s done well is when he hasn’t played. It’s almost like Javy [Baez]. He observes, he never complains about anything, he stays ready. … He’s like Javy was. Javy would sit and wait his turn, and when it was his turn, he’d be ready for that moment. Happ has done well, really well.”

Today, it’s the Professor’s turn to stymie the Jays.

Believe it.

 

Cubs Go Back To Back To Back But Come Up Short

Trying to put a positive spin on yesterday’s almost come from behind thriller is proving to be a difficult task. The Cubs were down by eight runs but connected on 4 home runs in the 4th inning to climb back but eventually were downed by the Reds  13-10. Those are the kind of losses that are hard to take. On one hand, you have to applaud the Cubs on their comeback attempt but also have to shake my head that they couldn’t crank out the win after whacking all those home runs, even going back to back to back!

“We lost the game,” Alex Avila said. “It would’ve been great if we would’ve won that game. A game you’re not supposed to win, you end up winning is a better story. It’s a loss.”

That’s exactly what it is against a division rival that just happens to be in last place. After Jon Lester left the game giving up 9 runs, the Cubs went to work.

“When a pitcher of his stature is potentially injured, of course, you’re concerned,” Joe Maddon said. “Let the doctor see him and go from there. Right now, I’m not going to jump to any negative conclusions.”

It could just end up being related to heat tightness or cramps but hopefully it’s nothing more than that.

It was great to see Ian Happ have a multi homer game. The Cubs rookie is having a great season, if not under the radar as compared to others around the league, he’s fit into the lineup well.

“When you’re playing at Wrigley and the wind is blowing out, you always feel like you have a chance, especially with our lineup,” said Happ, who notched his third career multi-homer game. “To go back-to-back-to-back there and put us back in it, we gave ourselves a chance.”

Today is a big day as the Cubs begin a weekend series against the Toronto Blue Jays, who are struggling but are only three games out of the Wild Card spot. It’s an afternoon series with Jake Arrieta kicking it off today.

“I’ve gotten on that plane many times after a loss, still good food, but there’s no doubt you want to leave feeling good,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. “The lows in this business last longer than the highs, I know that for a fact. But we have to turn around, day game [Friday] … quick turnaround, but there will be energy there with the World [Series] champs. It’s a great place to play.”

Oh, and @LenKasper ‏ don’t forget to ask Don Cherry who is favourite hockey team is, I bet it’s the Bruins.

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Baez Walks This Way In Cubs’ Victory

 

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The other day the Cubs presented Rick Renteria, Dale Sveum and Jim Hendry World Series rings. A nice gesture seeing how those individuals were cornerstones to what the team has become today. Last night’s 7-6 victory over the Reds was perhaps a payback for their generosity. From Anthony Rizzo‘s grand slam to Javier Baez‘s walk off, the Cubs have positioned themselves well going into the playoffs.

“It’s a good win for us — we haven’t walked off in a while,” Rizzo said. “Tucker Barnhart was really good behind there. He’s a really good blocker. [The ball] didn’t get fully by him, but that’s a great read by Javy there to score that run.”

The Reds are a peculiar team. They’re not that exceptionally good but they’re also not that terrible. They come through when you least expect them too and Joey Votto is a beast. The Cubs could have ran away with the victory but the Reds hung in tough throughout and kept it close.

I feel bad for John Lackey. It would have been nice to see him get the win but he’s been pitching so well since the break that I know that if the Cubs should reach the playoffs, he’s going to prove to be tough to beat. Should he retire at the end of the season, he’d be going out in style.

“I haven’t said anything about retirement,” he said. “I’m just playing baseball. Taking it one start at a time. That will be a family decision at the end of the year.”

So, perhaps the key to the Cubs late season success could be attributed to Maddon’s American Legion Week, a week in August that allows players to come to practice a 1/2 hour before game time. There’s been little doubt that this year has been a stressful one for the reigning champs and perhaps taking a week to loosen up, relax and go out and have fun is the key to success.

“Taking 50 swings or 100 swings has nothing to do with our success right now,” Maddon said. “There are so many disconnected thoughts in our game about work and how you work. At some point you have to turn it all down and go out there and play unencumbered. That’s what this week is all about. Play the game of baseball like it was designed, how you grew up with it.”

Which is to have as much fun as possible. The thrill of a walk off, a grand slam or an aging pitcher on the mound for one last season to stare down any batter that threatens a ball leaving the field.

My son’s Little League game is tonight. He wants to play baseball when he grows up, but that’s more of a six year old’s dream than a reality. For the moment right now, this minute is to enjoy the game and all it has to offer. The Cubs are doing right by the integrity of America’s favourite past time.

Believe it.

School is Back in Session For The Professor

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Life isn’t fair and last night proved this as Kyle Hendricks went 6 and some change innings, striking out six but in the end, the Cubs couldn’t pull one out for their professor as the Cubs fell to the Reds 2-1.

“It was a lot better tonight — all the things I’ve been working on came to fruition,” Hendricks said. “Fastball command, No. 1, was good, and that’s always the key for me. From there, the changeup felt good. I even threw a few good curveballs. The ones I threw were effective. It was a lot of fun today with [rookie catcher Victor Caratini]. He did a good job communicating with me between innings.”

Of course this is great news going down the stretch to see that Hendricks is getting back his swagger. It was so good that he picked off Billy Hamilton at first, now that’s tough! The other good news is that Hendricks’ ERA is 2.00 since coming off the disabled list late last month. He’s had a shaky season (along with the other Cubs) but if the season is turning around, then they’re going to fight to regain their glory.

“It’s been tough since I’ve come back from the DL,” the right-hander said. “I’ve been pitching in a lot of tight games, so sometimes I lose my aggressiveness just trying to keep the team in the game and stay close and not give in. Today, I think I did a much better job being aggressive, still in the strike zone, even in a tight game, trying to get quick outs so I could keep the pitch count down.”

Hendricks’ style of pitching is difficult. Being not a hard thrower, his control and command has to take centre stage. As we all know, that hasn’t always worked out well this year but if there’s one thing we know of the studious pitcher is that whenever he comes off of a bad outing, he knuckles down and studies the books on being better the next time around. It was a well earned ovation as he walked off the mound.

“That was more typical of Kyle,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said  “He had greater velocity, great location, every pitch was working, [threw his] curveball for a strike, threw the four-seamer really well up to 87 [mph]. Everything was right on.”

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