Kris Bryant Powers The Cubs To Victory

Chicago Cubs,  Kris Bryant

Yesterday’s game against the Pirates started thirty minutes later than intended. Good things come to those who wait. Well, the Cubs waited again after an unfortunate incident when a fan was injured by a deflected ball behind home plate. Last I heard she was doing as well as can be expected. It was scary.

Now, for any of those fans that were wondering about when Kris Bryant would show up, needn’t worry any longer. He crushed an inside-the-park-sort-of-a-homerun-we-think-it-was-a-homerun type of play which scored three.

The cool, calm and collected demeanour of Kris Bryant almost jogged around the bases until he was caught in a run down between third and home but managed to dodge weave and bob his way into home plate. The Cubs went on to beat the Pirates, 5-2

“Coming out of Spring Training, it just seemed like he was that guy,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of Bryant. “He’s not going to be overly impressed or concerned or enamored or starry eyed. He’s just going to come play baseball, and that’s what he does.”

So now that Kris Bryant is carving out his path in the Big Leagues, the Cubs have decided that Addison Russell, the next kid shouldn’t be left out. He’ll be in for today’s game.

“We’re just trying to give him that opportunity to play there,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said before Monday’s game about Russell’s move from shortstop to second. “Personally, I like guys like that playing a bunch of different spots in the Minor Leagues if you can. You never know where the need will be on the Major League level.

It’s not the best circumstances as Arismendy Alcantara is being sent down for more conditioning and training which I understand, but the game is a tricky game and sometimes no matter how good a player is, if their focus isn’t quite there, the confidence goes out the window.

One thing is for certain though, this season’s edition of the Chicago Cubs has got to be the most exciting season in a long time. I love the base running, I love the way Anthony Rizzo is stealing and I love the unpredictability of Joe Maddon. Everyone’s game is elevated this year.  Maybe it’s a shift in the way the game is played? Maybe it’s a eulogy for the Alex Rodriguez crush em’ out of the park mentality? (The sooner Rodriguez is gone the better.)

There’s amazing baseball happening on Chicago’s Northside this year but fans have known it for quite some time.

Believe it.

Alcantara Hero For Cubs As they Battle Back

Chicago Cubs Win

There’s something you don’t see everyday, the Chicago Cubs in first place in the National League Central. Yeah, it’s only April. Yes, they’re still tied with Cincinnati Reds, but there’s an upswing; Kris Bryant still isn’t here, Javier Baez could be back and Jon Lester is just getting warmed up. Cubs beat the Reds 7-6 in ten innings.

Another reason for this being great news is the Cubs are doing it without the usual suspects.  Arismendy Alcantaragetting a walk off RBI in the tenth last night proved for the second straight day that the Cubs can dig down deep and find a way to win.

“When you start doing things like this, you believe you can win late, and that’s really important,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “It’s also really important to feel you can come from behind, which we’ve done two days in a row late. Those are two of the best things you can possibly get across to a young team. Yes, I’ve enjoyed it.”

Most importantly, the Cubs are feeling a different vibe this season. You can start to see it last season, but with the addition of Maddon, the Cubs have become a believing bunch.

My favourite moment during last night’s festivities came when Jorge Soler sent a rocket to third base after Jon Lester threw over Anthony Rizzo’s head. With a cannon like Solar’s, no runner is safe.

“This guy is really good out there and he’s going to keep getting better,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Obviously, he comes to play every day. He really sets high standards for himself. He’s quiet, but his standards are high.”

Yup, Jorge Soler is going to be an anchor out there for the Cubs and an offensive juggernaught after nothing two home runs yesterday

“His power is just ridiculous,” Jon Lester said of the young outfielder.

Speaking of Lester, he’s still struggling to find his rhythm but as the game went on, he got better. Cubs fans were worried after he gave up three runs in the first.

“Obviously, I haven’t hit my stride yet,” Lester said, “but I don’t want to use anything as a crutch by any means. Things have to be better. When you have four [relievers] going out there doing their jobs, and you’re the loose end of the chain, it’s never good.”

Did you hear the boos when he didn’t throw to first? He’ll be changing that in a hurry.

Believe it.

Chicago Cubs have that Esprit de corps

Chicago Cubs Win

Now, what was a previously somewhat boring game yesterday, turned into a key game for the Cubs. The Cubs went on to defeat the Colorado Rockies, 5-3 with a two run blast from newcomer Dexter Fowler in the ninth inning.

Nobody can say the Cubs don’t have a flare for the dramatics.

With the win, the Cubs record is now 3-2  going into a division series matchup with the Cincinnati Reds tonight. A good place for the team to be.

“It was an entire team victory,” Chicago manager Joe Maddon said. “I love when you win that kind of game on the road, utilizing everybody. It’s really good for esprit de corps.”

“Esprit de corps”?

In many ways, you couldn’t have written the script any better. Top of the ninth with one on and two out. Former Rockies Dexter Fowler, new guy hitting it out of the park with a come from behind victory. When Joe Maddon says it was a total team victory, these wins are the kind of wins the Cubs are going to need if they want to make it to the post season. No more relying on Anthony Rizzo and the sometimes focused Starlin Castro with whom I’ll always have that like ability with him just because my son Darcy thinks he’s awesome. It has to be the Chris Coghlan’s(who had a pretty good game himself) and Dexter Fowler’s who chip away every game.

“LaTroy has a history of getting me out,” said Fowler, who is now 1-for-3 against Hawkins. “I get 0-2 right there, and I’m sitting there like, ‘Man, not again.’ I stepped out and took a deep breath. Hats off to my teammates. They battled in that inning. Welington [Castillo] comes in and gets a key at-bat, Arismendy Alcantara’s walk, that sets the table for everything.”

I was a little disappointed with Kyle Hendrick’s rough outing. It was his first game of the season, so this was his”Shake it off” moment.

“I don’t think we win this last year,” Hendricks said. “Just the confidence factor, all the new guys coming in here, the winning attitude, winning ways. These guys know how to win, and they showed it.”

Believe it

Opening Day is About Family

Baseball, Opening Day, Easter

Opening Day is almost upon us. As my son would say, “In two more sleeps, Daddy” Usually, we take the day off work, fire up the barbecue, throw something succulent on the grill and open all the windows. Yup, Opening Day is the unofficial start to spring.

This year, it falls on Easter Sunday so it’s going to be extra special. Family and friends will gather around for ham and potatoes and other untraditional ballpark eats. I’m only disappointed because I was looking forward to savouring nachos and cheese and something drenched with a lot of barbecue sauce.

So now that Spring Training is winding down with the Cubs set to take on the Arizona Diamondbacks tonight, what did you think of the new look Cubs? Do you think the predictions will come true or are they over hyped?

Then there’s the predicament of the Kris Bryant situation. Yeah, it’s not the ideal situation that he won’t be there Opening Day but he’ll get there soon. I think fans will get over it. Besides, it shows the amount of depth the club has if they kept him down.

“I don’t want to say I’m mad or anything,” Bryant said Thursday of his reaction to the news. “I’m extremely disappointed. I wanted to go out there and my performance mattered, and to me, it felt like it didn’t matter as much as I thought it would. I went out there and played as hard as I can and did everything I could. I’m just disappointed.”

Jon Lester was brought in to lead the Cubs to a place they haven’t been in a very long time. I’ve liked what I’ve seen this spring with him and he’s a very grounded pitcher. He comes in, does his job with no questions asked.

“At the field, he’s business,” Cubs pitcher Jason Hammel said of Lester. “When he’s not working, it’s pretty much all about fun. Obviously, you aren’t in the dugout with us, but during games, he’s hilarious. He’s watching the game, but he knows how to keep it light. He’s been around long enough to know you have to have some kind of quirkiness to get through the season. You get a bunch of different characters on a team.”

I believe this year will have a completely different vibe than the others. Of course, Wrigley Field has undergone some changes along with the team, but for once since 2008, the team are competitors. They’re not rebuilding, they’re building on the future.

Did everyone get their fantasy teams picked and ready for the season? I picked up Kyle Hendricks, Anthony Rizzo, Miguel Montero, Arismendy Alcantara and Neil Ramirez. I know, I know that’s way too many Cubs players, but I’m predicting a Wild Card entry and perhaps, cross your fingers, an extended playoff run.

Cliches of “every team is in first place” will surely be written throughout the nation but there’s something more magical about Opening Day.

It transcends the game. It goes beyond baseball contracts, television deals and sports agents. Opening Day is about togetherness, unity and the spirit of fairness.

For the players, it could be their first Opening Day. All the years of practice and hard work for this moment to stare into an afternoon sunshine knowing that this is their moment. The Coach is putting them in. This is the one day of the year that even if the team loses, they’re winners.

For parents it’s an opportunity to take pride watching their sons thinking back to those T Ball days and Little Leagues. On Opening Day, their children are grown up and instead of tote bag giveaways and promotions, maybe teams should give out tissues.

Opening Day is about believing

Len Kasper, the Cubs and I in The Chatting Cage

This was a great chat with  and the Edward Jones Chatting Cage. Check out the 11:49 mark of the video for a question by yours truly.

Two of the best broadcasters in the game, Len Kasper and  Love em! Hey Jim, my favourite player was Guy Lafleur too!

The Cubs have hit 24 home runs this spring. That’s a lot but then again, there are certain factors to that total. Of course there’s a steady stream of pitchers trying to crack the rotation so it’s not always a case of, “Lights out” stealth.

Yesterday, the Cubs cruised past the team that shares a city the White Sox 10-7.

Players trying to crack the team like Junior Lake, who’ll more than likely start the season in Triple A, hit a two run double. Then there’s Arismendy Alcantara crushed a two run homer in the seventh to break a tie.

Do you think he’ll make the team? Yeah, that’s what I thought.

So, I’m liking the idea of keeping both Edwin Jackson and Travis Wood. I like this idea a lot.

“There’s different ways to utilize both of them,” manager Joe Maddon said Friday. “It’s hard to say they’re both starters, but we’ve talked about different ways to make it fit.”

Why not keep both of them and rotate that five spot.

A)They’re both pitchers going out this season with something to prove.

B)Edwin Jackson has shown flashes of being amazing this spring. Plus he’s a pitcher who can hit.

C)Joe Maddon is known to be a creative guy, so why the heck not?

Another problem is Javier Baez. He’s struggling to find his groove. Should he start in triple A? Perhaps. The numbers don’t lie. Baez is 3 for 30 and you don’t have to be a baseball aficionado to realize that adds up to well, as my son would say,”That’s a potty word, Daddy”

Javier Baez knows it and he’s a pro. If this were the regular season, he’d be in a whole lot of potty words. Fortunately, this is spring training and now’s the time to spend on the potty.

“I talk to him all the time,” Starlin Castro said. “It’s tough. I try to tell him to try to get his confidence. No matter what, if you strike out every day, look for your confidence. When you’re confident, something good is going to happen because you trust yourself. I think he’s a little lost at the plate right now, but that’s what I tell him, try to get your confidence back and you’ll be all right. And don’t think too much. It’s Spring Training, we’re here to learn.”

Believe it.

Cubs on Paper look like Champions

If the Cubs win it all, Joe's buying the first round Chicago!

If the Cubs win it all, Joe’s buying the first round Chicago!

It’s always a dangerous thing making early predictions, but it’s also pretty darn cool to make them anyways.

One prediction that’s going to loom large over the Chicago Cubs this season is of course, Ernie Bank’s passing. The poignant part is that as the Cubs prepare to take a run at a post season birth and perhaps a World Series, “Mr. Cub” will be a part of it all. The Cubs will more than likely be wearing commemorative patches on their jerseys in tribute to this great man.

Here is an early version of the Cubs batting order which I’m predicting will be the Opening Day order:

  • Dexter Fowler– Simply because of his OBP being .375 You figure it out.
  • Javier Baez– Give him a break, he’s only 23 and last year he swung at more than he hit. This year will be different.
  • Starlin Castro- Starlin matured last year into a hitting machine. I’m placing him ahead of our captain Anthony, because he got more doubles(33) Stay focused, and Starlin is a winner.
  • Anthony Rizzo- He’s going to take 32 HR and turn them into 45. Wanna know why?
  • Jorge Soler- Because Soler is going to hit 32 HR right behind our captain.
  • Miguel Montero- New catcher on the block hit 72 RBI and a SLG of .370 playing for the Arizona GrassSnakes. Go ahead and say Boo Ya!
  • Mike Olt- I still believe in the guy. He’s underrated. Don’t forget he managed 33 RBI’s in 89 games. Not too shabby.
  • Arismendy Alcantara- Joe Maddon likes him, I like him and Arismendy will turn into that sabermetric machine that Epstein and Maddon love. You can quote me that.
  • Chris Coghlan- He ‘ll be adjusting into Alcantara’s slot

If you’re wondering why I didn’t start Kris Bryant on Opening Day, well here’s my reasoning. If the Cubs can’t win April then they’re not going to be there in October. It just won’t happen. Mike Olt is their third baseman for now. Bryant will see action sometime in May, but why spook the kid and turn him into a Javier Baez? No, Mike has to start at third on Opening Day. There’s no doubt about that.

Are expectations too high for the Cubs this season or are predictions justified. Spring couldn’t get here quick enough to see the likes of Jon Lester, Joe Maddon and Anthony Rizzo.

On paper, the Cubs are going to have one of the most dynamic teams this season. In the outfield there’s Alcantara, Fowler and Soler. Mike Olt, Starlin Castro Javier Baez and Anthony Rizzo in the infield. A fantastic starting lineup. If there’s going to be any weakness in the Cubs organization, it’s their back up guys like Junior Lake and Welington Castillo. Where do they fit in this potent lineup. It’s a great problem the Cubs are going to have.

It’ll be bittersweet should the Cubs make the post season, but something tells me that the 2015 season is going to be one magical year.

Tomorrow, I break down the rotation.

Believe it.

Cubs’ Valbuena Off To Houston For Dexter Fowler

CT game7.jpg

It was inevitable that Luis Valbuena would be traded. Hey, not because he wasn’t pulling his weight around the clubhouse, but c’mon, he played third base and we all know who’s been waiting in the wings just chomping at the bit to get a piece of the third bag on the diamond.

Kris Bryant.

During the Cubs Convention, a young fan asked Joe Maddon who he would pick at third base, Mike Olt, Luis Valbuena or Kris Bryant. We all know who the kid wants, but Joe still asked him anyway, “Who would you play at third?”

Kris Bryant

Of course the kid picked Kris Bryant. Of course Joe Maddon wouldn’t commit to an answer!

The reality is that the Cubs have been in such a great position lately stockpiling players to make room for these young kids coming up. Having too many guys at third was a great problem to have.

A fantastic problem.

Yesterday, the Cubs sent Luis Valbuena and David Straily to the Houston Astros for Dexter Fowler. On paper it doesn’t have any ink drying blockbuster deal but look closer and it’s a really good deal.

Luis Valbuena is a great guy and the kind of player teams need. He was consistent last year and at the odd time showed some pop. I’m a little sad seeing him go, but with too many elephants standing at third, there wasn’t a choice.

In comes Dexter Fowler. A switch hitting possible leadoff hitter(a position the Cubs are still pretty soft at) and hitting an awesome .366 On Base Percentage, he’ll anchor the outfield between Jorge Soler and Arismendy Alcantara.

“It’s tough leaving my teammates and relationships I’ve built,” Fowler said, “but going to a young team like that is awesome.”

So, in my mind the team is set for Spring Training. It’s going to be a battle in just about every position. No kid is a sure thing and no veteran is a lock.

Let me put this in perspective:

You’re a batter. One corner has Kris Bryant/Mike Olt. Then Starlin Castro separates Javier Baez from third. Who’s on first? Anthony Rizzo.

Jon Lester? Yeah, he’s that monster on the hill staring you down.

Believe it,

Mark