Cubs Come Roaring Back, Dominate Reds and Take First Place

Willson Contreras

I’m not bragging here, but yesterday’s 12-8 victory over the Cincinnati Reds was the kind of win I’m talking about. That dominating offensive juggernaut from the North Side came roaring to life with home run contributions from Wilson Contreras, Jason Heyward and Anthony Rizzo.

“The ball was absolutely flying,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “These balls were well-struck, don’t get me wrong, but the ball was definitely in the air and it was gone.”

What really stood out in the win was contributions from guys like Heyward and Contreras, heck, even Jake Arrieta hit the ball well. The Cubs can’t always leave it up to Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Ben Zobrist to get the job done.

During the offseason, Heyward worked hard on his swing and so far this season, it’s working.

“His whole setup is different, how he’s starting the bat,” Joe Maddon said. “He is much more active with his hands throughout the swing process, and that’s why you are seeing harder contact. Less arms, more hands, that’s how I look at it. It’s been very effective.”

We know how good he is in the field but with the absence of Dexter Fowler, Heyward has to lead a young outfield but he also has to replace the bat of Fowler as well.

“The good signs are getting hits, being able to be aggressive in the strike zone,” Heyward said. “Solid contact, consistent. Home runs are going to happen, but it’s not going to happen if you’re not doing that stuff.”

So, let’s shift over to the pitching of Jake Arrieta. If last season was a come down period for the former Cy Young winner, then this year is his comeback season. The rotation as a whole has been a little shaky but so far, Arrieta is 3-0 and yesterday’s victory he pitched five innings striking out 8 batters. It wasn’t pretty but,

“We’ve had some hiccups, but we’ve been picked up by our offense,” said Arrieta, who gave up five runs in six innings. “As starting pitchers, we have to take advantage of our offense.”

If they’re taking advantage of their offence, then the Cubs are back in first place in the National League Central where they belong, the Cubs could be on the roll that they need. John Lackey will take to the mound today before the Cubs go to Pittsburgh in another key divisional matchup.

 

So here’s your chance to jump on the Cubs bandwagon don’t worry, there’s plenty of room for everyone. It’s hard to figure out how folks can suddenly cheer for teams. It could be birthright, you know, generations of long suffering fans. It might be that of location and hometowns.  I’m the Canuck Cubbie, I wasn’t born in Chicago but came across the Cubs while watching WGN when it was available in Canada. That was many moons ago. When WGN ceased to exist up here, I subscribed to MLB.TV. We’ve been to Wrigley Field and followed the team whenever they play near us.  We try to have Opening Day parties when we can and celebrate everything that is good about the Cubs and great about baseball. If you are new to the game, I encourage you to read up about the history and most importantly, take a trip to Wrigley Field, it’s a 12 hour drive for us but it was so worth it. Cubs fans are amazing. A Chicagoan we talked to a couple years ago was amazed that we drove so far to see them. He lived around the corner from Wrigley! “You came all the way from Canada?”

Yes, we did.

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Cubs Blame Yankees For April Woes

Chicago Cubs

I guess the Chicago Cubs are learning first hand the problems associated with winning a championship. Every team wants it. Yesterday, the Pittsburgh Pirates defeated the Cubs 6-1 and took the series. It was their first series win since 2014 at Wrigley Field.

Despite the Cubs taking a 1-0 lead into the seventh inning or Jon Lester getting a goose egg for seven innings(On Easter Sunday, no less!). So, the Cubs are 6-6 this April. Whether it’s a World Series hangover, or other teams have caught on to the Cubs’ weaknesses, but the team has started 2017 in a mediocre way.

“We had some good games, we’ve played a lot of close games. We taxed our bullpen quite a bit, which we really don’t want to do. Our starters pitched really well but late in the game, we didn’t score enough runs to give our bullpen any breathing room. I think that falls on the offence.” Ben Zobrist said.

On the other hand, it could be the absence of their grandfatherly figure in David Ross. He caught all of Lester’s games while providing a spark and spark in the clubhouse. Then again, it could be the problem of holding leads and wearing down their bullpen.

“That’s been more of our problem than anything, not getting a clutch hit and holding a lead at the end of the game,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said.

There isn’t really any cause for concern this early in the season. This is roughly the same team that won the hardware last fall. However, missing Dexter Fowler has had a bigger impact than they thought. I mean Fowler’s struggling with the Cardinals right now. Now that’s an interesting theory on a curse placed on the Cardinals when they do business with the Redbirds.

‘‘Last year was kind of a fairy-tale year for us. It’s not always going to be like that, so it’s important to kind of realize that early on, so that we’re not hitting that panic button like we did around the All-Star break last year.’’ NL MVP Kris Bryant.

True, it’s not always going to be like that and I fault us Cubs fans for the pressure of the expectation for greatness. I mean, C’mon, after a 108 years would you expect anything less? Cubs fans have a lot of catching up to do. After the Cubs won, a friend of mine congratulated me on their win but continued to say that they need 23 more championships to catch up to his beloved New York Yankees.

There’s the real reason behind the Cubs early futility. Blame the Yankees. After all, it wouldn’t be the Cubs way to just blame it on the bullpen, blown leads and missed opportunities. It’s almost as if a new curse has been placed on the North Siders. A curse by a Yankees fan.

‘‘We won the World Series last year, so there will be questions, but that’s just natural,’’ Jake Arrieta said. ‘‘That comes with the territory. It’s a business of results, and we still expect really good results from the group we have this year.’’

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Bucs’ Frustrate Cubs

Chicago Cubs

The Chicago Cubs lost yesterday 4-2 not because of poor playing, I mean they’re the freakin’ World Series champs, right? No, they lost because the Pittsburgh Pirates are that kind of team that is always a tough team to play. They’re deceptively good and no team should take them for granted. Of course,in baseball anything can happen.

“They were putting together some good at-bats on me. I had to grind a little bit there but I thought I was pitching pretty well and the sixth inning is just kind of unfortunate. What are you going to do about that? Just move on to the next one.” Kyle Hendricks said.

This season is going to be quite different than last year because the Cubs won’t be as dominant. Plain and simple. They won’t get over a hundred wins but they’ll still be just as commanding as they were last year with the exception that they’ll have to earn that trophy or more in proving that they’re just as good as what happened last season.

“I love the fact that we are seeing a lot of pitches, we are seeing good at-bats,” Joe Maddon said. “We actually look really good at the plate. Guys that normally hit who are not — head’s up, they’re going to start doing it. To be in pretty good shape record-wise in spite of not having the offense clicking on all cylinders, it’s kind of a good sign.”

The season is still young and the Cubs have to make adjustments. The Cubs are known to battle back but I feel that this season it’s going to be a little bit tougher than last.

“We put ourselves in position to get a chance in the last few innings to tie the game at least,” Ben Zobrist said. “And that, right now with a lot of us — I think the rhythm just isn’t quite there at the plate. It’s early in the season, it’s chilly, it’s been tough to get it going this week for everybody, but I like how we battled late in the game.”

Yet, the sophomore jinx might be rearing its’ ugly head.

Today, Jake Arrieta gets the call to the mound. With a record of 2-0, the former Cy Young winner and Chicago Fire star is out to prove his mettle and so far this year, he’s finding his groove back. People will again Fear The Beard.

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Cubs Beat Brewers, Bring On Home Opener

Chicago Cubs

It seems like the Chicago Cubs have settled into their Defending World Series Champions roles as they cruised to a 7-4 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers yesterday. Behind the stoic Jake Arrieta, who threw 10 strikeouts, the Cubs also connected with home runs from Kyle Schwarber and Ben Zobrist.

So this is what I don’t understand, some folks are worried about Arrieta’s drop in velocity, myself included because I don’t expect him to return to form from winning that Cy Young award a couple of years ago. I think Jake’s an amazing pitcher and worthy of most of the accolades bestowed upon him(I’m talking about contracts) but a drop in velocity shouldn’t signal a drop in pitching performance.

“Everybody wants to talk about it — I don’t care about that,” Arrieta said. “I know I’m smart enough to work around that, and the velocity is still good enough to get it by guys and do certain things in certain situations with it.”

He’s right. Look at Kyle Hendricks? Not too many times over 90MPH and all the guy does is get batters out. Perhaps control and command is far better than speed?

There’s also another large contract looming over the Cubs like an albatross in Jason Heyward. He had a rough first season with the North Siders but so far this season has proven that he’s a hot commodity on both sides of the plate(Sorry JD). Yesterday, Heyward drove in three runs and has continued to challenge critics on his inflated contract.

“I’m relaxed up there, not thinking a whole lot,” Heyward said of his approach now. “I’m really trying to focus on what the pitcher’s going to do, how they’re going to attack you, that kind of stuff, and not thinking about the swing or anything like that, which is where you need to be as a hitter. Go up there and do that and be aggressive in the strike zone, be on time, relax and go up there one pitch at a time, one at-bat at a time — same stuff as anybody else who is trying to do well.”

In yesterday’s game, Heyward launched a ball deep in centre field only to be snared by Keon Broxton. Heyward tipped his hat to him. It was all class.

Tonight though is another story all together. It’s the Chicago Cubs home opener and the festivities will be plenty. There’s the banner raising and the Cubs will be wearing special gold lettering to commemorate that special victory last fall.

“I love banner raising,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “Rings are wonderful, but I love banner raising. That’s symbolically there all the time. Every time a kid shows up at the ballpark, he’ll see that banner. Hopefully, we’ll be able to hang more.”

The only downfall is it’s a night game. I loved it when the openers were during the day and we’d take time off of work to ceremoniously open the BBQ and ring in spring with Cubs baseball. I’m disappointed that it’s at night. However, tonight is for those fans who trudged day and night to Wrigley Field throughout the years and are being rewarded along with the team on the end of professional sports longest drought.

“That resonated pretty hard for me,” Jon Lester said. “That was a pretty cool moment that these fans shared with their family members, that they’ve had so many years of heartache, and we were able to give them the championship that this city deserves.”

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Chicago Cubs Staring History In The Face

Chicago Cubs

Tonight’s game in Cleveland is poignant in many ways. The Chicago Cubs are down in the World Series 3-2. They’re underdogs. Despite having the best record in baseball all season, the Cubs at this point in the season are true underdogs; and they like it.

Yesterday, I pointed out which teams were the ones that came back in their series to go on and win but today, I’m going to tell you exactly how the Chicago Cubs are going to win. Yes, I said win. I am a Cubs fan and even if they lose, they’ll still win.

Why?

There’s always next year.

It would have been nice to win it at Wrigley Field. The Cubs were tied in the series. All they had to do was go back to Wrigley and win three straight. BOOM! done History has been rewritten, Bill Murray gives Joe Maddon the biggest hug he’s ever had and becomes the celebrity spokesman for Kleenex.

Things aren’t that simple in Wrigleyville. Here we are in game 6 at Progressive Field in Cleveland a day after all spirits rose to walk the earth, including curses and dead goats. Tonight, the Cubs have their reigning Cy Young winner on the mound. Who better to stare down batters a day after Halloween than Mr. Fear The Beard himself, Jake Arrieta.

“We know if we lose we go home,” Arrieta said. “We’ve won three in a row many times this year, even more than that.”

Forget about tomorrow, the Cubs concentrate on tonight and get the job done. They know what they have to do. There’s no speech Joe Maddon could give that the players don’t all ready know in the back of their heads.

“Getting back to Cleveland with Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks rested and Kyle Schwarber back in the lineup presents itself differently,” Maddon said. “I think everything changes at that point.”

This is how it’s going to play out. There’ll be no shutouts, no hitters or perfect games. Arrieta’s pitch count will be between 85 to 90 before handing the ball over to Aroldis Chapman. You see, there won’t be an opportunity for set ups because Arrieta will be focused and his pitches will be controlled. He will go 8 1/2 innings of lock down baseball. There you have it.

Under strange circumstances, Schwarber was made for this series. At Progressive Field the Cubs will look to his bat for guidance.

“I don’t know there’s anybody in the league that can do that,” Ben Zobrist said. “It’s really, really difficult to wake up and get out of bed after six months … and be a great hitter like he is.”

Yes, Schwarber will be the home run kid tonight. The bats will be out tonight after been woken up on halloween. Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo will contribute and lead this team where no other Chicago Cubs team has been in over 100 years.

“It’ll be nice — especially there,” Anthony Rizzo said of getting Schwarber’s left-handed bat back. “It’s a shorter porch to right. It’ll be warmer. He’ll have good at-bats and he’ll be ready for them.”

Believe it.

 

Cubs Down 1-0 In Series. That’s All Right

World Series

There’s a reason that these two clubs are playing in the most important series in baseball. Both teams are lights out dominant on both sides of the plate. In last night’s 6-0 shocker at the hands of the Cleveland Indians, the Chicago Cubs didn’t look sharp but then again, Corey Kluber is the best ace the Indians have on their roster and he made the Cubs pay a hefty price for those World Series tickets.

“We knew [the Indians’ formula] going in,” Cubs catcher David Ross said about facing Kluber, Miller and Allen, “but I think the moral of the story is we got to see those guys on Day 1. Hopefully, that will pay off later.”

Blubber had eight strikeouts over three innings. When that nasty stuff is thrown over the plate, it will befuddle batters if they haven’t faced it before. Jon Lester looked awkward trying to figure out Cleveland’s batters after a frustrating bottom of the first inning where he walked two batters and loaded the bases that resulted in a 2-0 lead.

“I didn’t throw strikes,” Lester said. “There’s no beating around the bush. It’s not like I all of a sudden forgot how to throw a strike, I just didn’t throw a strike. I didn’t get ahead, didn’t execute pitches. It can’t happen. It’s not acceptable.”

Now, it may seam that I’m harping hard on the Cubs after that game but there were signs that it wasn’t all bad. Ben Zobrist hit into the gap for a double and the return of Kyle Schwarber was welcomed as he was a mere two feet from sending the ball over the wall but instead settled for a double.

“We put really good at-bats up against these guys,” Schwarber said. “We just didn’t come up with the knock when we needed to, but that’s baseball. I can hound myself for not getting a knock against Miller with two guys on, but it’s baseball. You just have to move on to the next day.”

This is game one. There’s no locker room rant or talk that’s going to get them amped up for game two. These guys are here for a reason and if that’s the best that Cleveland’s got, then the Cubs should adapt well in game two. Getting Kluber out of the way was a blessing. The way I look at it, the Cubs started slowly in the NLCS as well. I wouldn’t call this a hole but rather an opportunity for the Cubs to “feel out” the opposition. This is the magic of the World Series. These teams don’t know each other very well and in a way, sends a message regarding Inter-league play and perhaps limiting it.

Tonight, Jake Arrieta gets the call and he has to be focused and sharp. The reigning Cy Young winner will find his control and settle the Cubs down.

“I think what you really learn with the more experience you get in the postseason is the finer details,” Arrieta said. “Controlling the running game, not allowing mental mistakes to — not allowing your opponent to capitalize on your mental mistakes. Because, obviously at this point in the season, the team that makes the fewest mistakes typically wins the ballgames.”

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Chicago Cubs Advance To NLCS

NLDS Champions

In what will go down as one of the most thrilling playoff games in MLB history, the Chicago Cubs came from behind in the 9th inning to win the NLDS three games to one and a final score of 6-5.

To tell you I was starting to get worried yesterday was an understatement. The Cubs sure didn’t look like that behemoth team that won 103 games during the regular season.Their bats fell silent. Where was Anthony Rizzo or Kris Bryant? No, it was up to David Ross to provide any of the long ball excitement in game #4. I’ll tell you though, I’ve gained so much respect for Javier Baez. He’s been the spark plug for the team providing what Fox analysts described as “Not humanly possible!” stuff by the second baseman. He’ll surely be an MVP candidate this post season.

“He was incredible,” Pedro Strop said. “Javy can do anything. He owned this series. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Baez got the game winning hit in the ninth to put a damper on the Giants series.

John Lackey settled into a groove but it was Matt Moore’s steady workmanlike approach that kept the Cubs at bay. Now, it may sound like I’m heaping so much praise on the Giants but call it what it was, playoff baseball. The Cubs caught a break in the ninth with that rally.

“We’ve had several games that feel like that during the season but when you do it in the postseason, it gives you a whole ‘nother level of confidence late in the game,” said Ben Zobrist, who delivered a key RBI double in the ninth. “Once [Kris Bryant] and [Anthony Rizzo] got on, you kind of felt like, something good is going to happen here. Really, the last two nights, that’s what the Giants have done, they’ve put great at-bats together, rallies together. Tonight was our night.”

That “Something good” was Willson Contreras who crushed a two run single. You could see it on his face and who better to do it than the rookie? A symbolic gesture to the Cub’s Way and the brass in head office who built this team.

The Cubs needed this kind of adversity. I was hoping for a Mets/ Cubs matchup in the NLDS but in hindsight, this was the series that the Cubs needed. They haven’t been tested to this degree all year and the San Francisco Giants taught these young Cubs what playoff baseball is all about. One streak comes to an end but hopefully a new tradition begins and a curse finally brought to rest.

“We don’t quit,” Joe Maddon said. “That’s really what it comes down to. You hear that all the time, everybody says it, but you have to actually live it. And I have to tell you, I’ve seen it so many times from this group. That’s a big part of our philosophy. And I like to keep things simple, and that’s simple. … We just play 27 outs.”

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