Heyward Getting In The Swing Of Things

Cactus League

When the Cubs play the White Sox, it always makes for interesting games. No matter how good one team is or how bad the other is, when the two duke it out, they play each other hard. Yesterday’s game ended in a 4-4 draw.

Both Addison Russell and Wilson Contreras connected with their first home run of the season, even if it doesn’t count for much it means something for players trying to find their groove before the official season begins.

“It was good to get back in a game and face some competition that’s not your own guys,” Brett Anderson said after making his first start in over a year. “Hopefully, now I can get used to being in a routine every five days and multiple outings.”

One of the best parts about spring training is seeing these fresh faces like Anderson vying for their spot in the rotation. For Anderson’s case, he was off for a year with a back injury.

“He’s not trying to re-invent the wheel,” Anderson said of Pitching coach Chris Bosio. “It’s more trying to limit the pressure on my back and a mild mechanical adjustment so I don’t land on my heel as much and land on the ball of my foot or my toes so it’s not such a whiplash affect. It’s small things. He’s said he likes what my pitches do.”

This is probably going to be the most interesting season for the Cubs and their fans. It’s the first time in over a century that the pressure is on. The Cubs will receive their championship rings on the April 12th game. Call Joe Maddon superstitious but he has no plans on wearing the shiny reminder.

“I don’t wear that,” Maddon said Monday. “I gave [my] 2002 [ring] to my mom [Beanie]. She has it. [Wife] Jaye has 2008. So, 2016, I don’t know — my inclination, I’ll talk to Jaye about it [to see] if she wants to hold onto it or if she wants to give it to my mom.”

So as the Cubs do their best to prepare for the crucial season to define their legacy, another player looking to rebound from a not so spectacular season behind the plate is Jason Heyward. He’s changed his approach at the plate with a new swing.

“His hands are working so much better,” Maddon said. “Our game, as a hitter, is played between your fingertips and your elbows. Guys who get a little bit long, a little arm-y — we call it the ‘military swing’, they get a little bit arm-y. Get it? So, if you can engage from your elbows to your fingertips and use your hands and wrists — they used to talk about Hank Aaron — that’s where it happens. That’s what I’m seeing. A lot of it has to do where you start. He’s starting in a manner that promotes, for me, better hand usage.”

I think it’s going to work for him but maybe not so much Joe’s Dad jokes.

Believe it.

 

Cubs Force Game 7. Tonight, One Drought Will End

World Series

The Chicago Cubs accomplished the near impossible in their 9-3 demolishing of the Cleveland Indians to force a game 7 tonight. They came back from a 3-1 series hole to tie it. When young Addison Russell hit his grand slam, the packed Cleveland crowd fell silent and suddenly, the hearts of Cubs players beat a little faster. In fact, Russell became the second youngest player in the history of the game to hit a grand slam in a World Series. Geez, they have stats on everything.

“I think tomorrow we’re going to come to the clubhouse with a lot of confidence and a lot of energy,” Russell said. “Game 7, it’s a kid’s dream.”

Tonight, one team will hoist the Commissioner’s Trophy. Tonight, the Chicago Cubs have the chance to end the longest championship drought in sports history. It’ll be one of the most watched sporting events in the history of broadcast television.

No pressure.

Joe Maddon’s decision to move Kyle Schwarber to the number 2 position proved to be the difference in the game. It provided a cushion for Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo to do their Bryzzo things. They did. Each got a solo home run and the Cubs never looked back.

The head scratching began when Maddon made the call to the pen in the seventh for Aroldis Chapman. Why would he call Chapman with the Cubs having such a huge lead?

“I mean, seventh inning there because they came up, the middle of the batting order was coming up — Lindor, Napoli, Ramirez possibly — all that stuff,” Maddon said. “So I thought the game could have been lost right there if we did not take care of it properly.”

So here we are Game 7 tonight. This is the night that every Cubs fan has been waiting for. It’s fitting that Kyle Schwarber will bat probably second. It’s stunning and thrilling that Aroldis Chapman has pitched more than he has in such a long time. He might be tired, he might not. Is he ready?

“One hundred percent,” Chapman said through Cubs translator Mateo Moreno. “Last game? Of course, yes. I’m ready for whatever he asks me. I don’t recall [throwing so many pitches]. It’s only mental. It’s the seventh game, the reason they brought me here.”

Kyle Hendricks gets the start. My favourite player in baseball’s most important game. Baseball’s ERA leader for the season and NLCS hero over the Dodgers and Clayton Kershaw has an opportunity to go into the history books. It’s fitting it should end this way. Whether the Chicago Cubs win or lose tonight makes no difference. They fought back in the World Series to be at this point. Underdogs to the end. That’s the Chicago Cubs way.

“Anybody who plays this game grows up dreaming of winning a World Series,” Kris Bryant said. “You know, we get to play in a Game 7. That’s pretty special.”

We get to watch the Chicago Cubs play in a game 7, that’s pretty special too.

Believe it

Cubs Prepare For Greatest Comeback In World Series History

World Series

The Chicago Cubs are in deep. last night, the Cubs fell to the Cleveland Indians 7-2 and have a 3-1 deficit in the World Series. It seemed that for everything the Cubs did, the Indians answered back . That’s October baseball. The real question is, Can the Cubs come back?

“We know we have to win out,” Chicago’s Kris Bryant said. “If we want to get to the last game, we have to win the first one, then the next one. It’s one game at a time, don’t change anything, have fun, smile, just be ourselves.”

He’s partially right. If you’re going to play that cliche, then yeah, it is one game at a time. The good news is that next up is Jon Lester tonight, then Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks. Now is not the time for the Cubs to panic. Within a 24hr period, they’ll have to reconnect with the team that won 103 games and reach down deep and play ball. They can come back in this series. They’ve had 16 three game winning streaks this year. Of course, none of them were against this Cleveland Indians team. Only five teams in World Series history have come back from a 3-1 hole.

1985 Kansas City Royals

1979 Pittsburgh Pirates

1968 Detroit Tigers

1958 New York Yankees

1925 Pittsburgh Pirates

So you see, it’s not impossible. If there is any team in baseball capable of staging the greatest comeback in post season history, it’s these 2016 Chicago Cubs.

Why?

They’ve gotten to know this Cleveland team. Joe Maddon is going to keep things loose in the locker room by not allowing players to report until 90 minutes before the game. Hey, they know what’s at stake and I feel that if they try to do too much at this point, it might throw the equilibrium way off balance.

“They’re all trying to hit a grand slam with nobody on,” Miguel Montero said of the Cubs’ young hitters. “It’s not going to happen. We need to take our walks. We need to be a little bit more patient at the plate. We need to play small ball. … We’re all trying to launch the ball 110 miles per hour off the bat, launch angle, whatever. No, we need to get a freaking ground ball through a hole. As simple as that.”

There you have it. Small ball. Forget Bryant’s home run capabilities, get Dexter Fowler on base, move the runners and perhaps lay down a bunt.  They key is exactly what Montero said. Guys like Javier Baez, Addison Russell and Willson Contreras have to keep the ball on the ground because if the Cubs win tonight, it goes back to Cleveland where the DH rule applies and you know what that means?

Kyle Schwarber is back in the game.

“We have to have a one-game winning streak tomorrow,” manager Joe Maddon said. “And if we do that, I really would be feeling pretty good about going back to Cleveland.”

Believe it

Cubs Get Ready For Game One of World Series

Chicago Cubs

Today is the start of a journey that’s been 108 years in the making. The Chicago Cubs are four wins away from ending sport history’s longest drought. Suddenly, everyone is a Cubs fan. There’s also word that injured Babe Ruth lookalike Kyle Schwarber will make his return to the Cubs after missing out the 2016 season due to an injury in April.

“To have another young guy here who has a track record of hitting home runs, who is a threat, who, when you see his name in the lineup, there’s some scariness to that — we can’t wait to have him back,” Chicago’s Addison Russell said. “I’m a big Kyle Schwarber fan. I love what he does; I can’t wait until he gets here.”

He’ll more than likely fill the Designated Hitter role.

Yes, things have gotten a lot more exciting in recent days. The World Series schedule will be jammed and I’ll be lucky enough to get some sleep in the next couple of weeks. With the Cubs in the World Series, it’s easy to overlook some of the odd statistics about the Cubs for example when Dexter Fowler steps up to the plate he’ll become the first African American to play for the Chicago Cubs in a World Series. That’s unbelievable.

“That’s crazy,” Fowler said Monday. “It’s crazy to even think about that, because you look back and you look at your parents, my parents weren’t even alive then. It’s a lifetime. It’s awesome to be the pioneer, the first one.”

Even Schwarber is the Cubs post season home run leader with five. He only played one season!

So, as nerves get steadied, Jon Lester gets the ball tonight 8pm. This is what fans and players have waited their lifetime to be a part of. For the casual baseball fan or observer who is tuning in for the first time wanting to witness history in the making, “Where were you when the Chicago Cubs won the World Series?” This is it. The hardest trophy to win in sports (Yes, even harder than the Stanley Cup my fellow Canucks), two deserving teams locked in a pitcher’s showdown or a batter’s paradise. No World Series has ever been won on Wrigley Field soil, that fabled and mythical place where everything and everyone is friendly.

If you don’t know what’s going through fan’s minds right now, here’s Bill Murray

“I think I cried a little bit.

“There was a feeling … where I just felt the whole building, the whole room, just the relief and the sense of wonder that it was really happening.

“And I just felt for everyone, for every Cub fan and everyone in Chicago that’s been waiting, and all over the world, who have been waiting for this moment.

“I just thought some sort of prayer was being answered.

“It’s exciting. If you don’t know what it’s like to wait your whole life for the team you root for to win, you can’t explain it.

“To root for a team that never won, it’s character building.”

That’s Chicago Cubs baseball.

Believe it

 

Cubs Take NLCS Lead, One Win From Destiny

Chicago Cubs

The Cubs are one win away from a place they haven’t been since 1945, the World Series. Last night, Jon Lester and the rest of the Cubs shut down the Los Angeles Dodgers with an 8-4 victory to take a 3-2 series lead. The stage is set for a sixth game showdown between regular season ERA leader Kyle Hendricks and three time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw at Wrigley Field on Saturday.

“To go back home with the advantage is really important,” Ben Zobrist said of the Cubs’ 3-2 lead in the series. “You have to feel good about our chances against Kershaw on Saturday. We like our chances.”

The Cubs bats have figured out the Dodgers’ pitchers at the right time. Addison Russell was the hero last night after hitting a two run home run to give the Cubs a 3-1 lead in the sixth inning. This is a young team that love to hit.

“Right there, that situation, just trying not to do too much,” Russell said. “I was just trying to find some gaps. I was looking for something up in the zone to drive. First pitch slider a little bit low. Second pitch was a slider, but it was elevated and I put the barrel on it, and it kind of went. But just rounding the bases, it was pretty exciting. Pumped up. Not only for myself, but for the team, and that little cushion that Jonny had to go forward from that, and I felt really good.”

It energized the team and dialled in Jon Lester’s seven innings of pitching. That’s what the Cubs needed was deep pitching to give their bullpen a rest.

What this all means now is that the Cubs have today off before going to Wrigley Field, back home where no World Series championship has ever been won and face the league’s most dominant pitcher. This weekend could very well be the most exciting weekend baseball has ever seen. Will Bill Murray be in attendance should the Cubs extend till Sunday?

There’s a few question marks going into the weekend. Jason Heyward needs to move down in the order. Heck, I’d put David Ross in front of him. He should not hit behind Addison Russell. Pedro Strop should not be used. Finally, Aroldis Chapman looked human in the ninth giving up two runs.

This is a different ball team going into Saturday’s classic. Things have changed since the last time they faced Kershaw. If Kyle Hendricks puts the ball where he wants it, then the Cubs should get the pennant.

“Obviously, [this] feels good,” Joe Maddon said Thursday night. “You’d much rather go home under those circumstances than any other, and you want to get it done as quickly as possible. It’s going to be a formidable event. Our guys will absolutely be ready for the moment, I promise you that. It’s great. The city of Chicago has got to be buzzing pretty much right now.”

Believe it.

 

 

Cubs Give Dodgers a Little R & R

Anthony Rizzo

I’m not bragging, but yesterday I predicted that Anthony Rizzo would have a big game and now we know the truth; he reads the Canuck Cubbie everyday, takes the words to heart and applies all my finer points of baseball to his game.

Yeah, right.

The Cubs played “Cubbie baseball” as Addison Russell puts it, by crushing the Los Angeles Dodgers 10-2 and tying up the NLCS at two games a piece. If anyone were just tuning into the series from the ALCS, they’d never have known that Russell and Rizzo were in the midst of a slump.

“This is a big win, for sure,” Rizzo said. “To even up the series, we have a chance to take another one here [Thursday] and go home with a 3-2 lead. In a way, this is just one game and we know it’s going to be a quick turnaround, but this was definitely a big game for us.”

It was a huge game fore sure. If the Cubs lost last night, they’d have been in a hole of 3-1. Yeah, they could have bounced back tonight with Jon Lester on the mound but then they’d have to face Clayton Kershaw. Instead, the win guarantees a return trip to Wrigley Field and an opportunity to win it all at home. I said the Cubs needed a miracle, and last night it looked like they had Angels in the outfield.

“It should help their confidence, there’s no question about that,” manager Joe Maddon said. “When you’re going through the moment they were, it’s a confidence issue. It always is. So going into [Thursday], I know when they show up at the ballpark, there’s going to be a good bounce about them. Probably going to see the ball better, slow things down a little bit.”

While Rizzo borrowed Matt Szczur‘s bat to get his three hits and a homer, Russell relied on something else to get his homer and three hits. I don’t know what it was, but keep using it.

John Lackey was yanked in the fifth inning but pitched well. He got into trouble by walking a couple of batters and that’s when the bullpen took over. You can clearly see that Lackey wanted to stay in. The tough Texan wanted that win and I do believe he was the spark that fired up the Cubs who are two wins from their first World Series appearance since 1945.

“How I feel personally is irrelevant now,” Lackey said. “It was a great team win and good to see our guys swing the bats.”

Lackey is known throughout the baseball world for his fiery personality and he didn’t disappoint. After a few questionable calls, Lackey raised his hand up to his chest, signalling to the umpire if that’s how high the strike zone should be. He’s a fierce competitor who isn’t afraid of telling anyone how he feels. He pretty much set the stage for tonight’s tie breaker with Jon Lester on the mound.

“What you’ve seen so far. It’s been a pretty interesting series to this point,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “I did not expect it to be such a lopsided victory for us today. Although [the Dodgers] had theirs yesterday. Like I said, it’s two out of three right now. We know it’s at least going back home at some point. [Thursday] will be a pretty nice day to come out on top and going back home, having to win one of two. We’ve been pretty good at Wrigley all year.”

Believe it

Cubs Respect The Game

MLB

There’s a lot of players that get lost in the shuffle of the Anthony Rizzo‘s, Kris Bryant‘s and Jon Lester’s but contribute so much to the success of the Chicago Cubs. This year, Addison Russell stepped out of the shadows to become one of the League’s premier defenders at shortstop.

“He’s just grown — he’s growing and growing,” Maddon said. “That’s the beauty of development. The biggest thing I used to focus on in the Minor Leagues is what did a guy look like in April, and what does he look like in August. You see the development. He’s a perfect example — everything’s gotten better.”

It’s no secret that Joe Maddon is a huge fan of the incredible shortstop. Russell became an All Star this season and no doubt it improved his confidence immensely. In fact, he’s on everyone’s radar for a gold glove award this season.

“He’s definitely got to be in the conversation, legitimate conversation,” Maddon said of Russell. “This guy on defense, it’s getting to the point where there’s no one else like that right now.”

So, as the Cubs prepare for the opening of the NLDS on Friday, the Cubs are heavy favourites to win baseball’s biggest prize. The gambling odds website, Bovada, lists the Cubs at 12-5 favourites to win the World Series. I’m not a gambling man, but those seem to be great odds. As we know, odds mean nothing until the end.

The Cubs have gelled together as a team these past couple of years. Joe Maddon and his crew have built a foundation of respect and camaraderie amongst the veteran and young players that have carried forth into the on field success of the baseball team. Fans like me love this team because there’s no egos. There’s not one person that sits alone at the end of the bench or dines for dinner for one. It’s a true team effort.

“These are people who have been there and done it and understand that’s the old-fashioned part of this game,” Jason Heyward said. “It’s getting lost and kind of sad to see. It’s awesome to be able to help or lend experience, comfort, anything like that and pass along, not even the torch, but hospitality of becoming part of the fraternity.”

Maybe that’s what’s so appealing about these Cubs? They feel old fashioned, born of a different era. This team cares about their community and each other. There’s no star on this team. Bryant would be happy to play anywhere as long as he’s playing.

I’m hoping he’ll be happy to play in the World Series.

Believe it.