Chicago Cubs Embraced The Target

Joe Maddon

 

Despite having an unspectacular performance during yesterday’s 7-4 comeback win over the Cincinnati Reds, Kyle Hendricks still won the ERA title. His ERA of 2.13 is the best in baseball, the Chicago Cubs are the best in baseball heading into the post season and they have a four day rest before the post season starts for the storied franchise.

“At this point in my career, now it’s all said and done, definitely got to sit back and reflect a little bit on it,” Hendricks said. “I just personally never thought I’d be in this situation. … But behind that number, getting guys out, there’s a lot that goes into that. Defense, I’m such a pitching-to-contact type of guy. Defense has to play for me, and catchers, they’re a big part of it too, just preventing runs. So couldn’t have done it without all of those guys.”

Whether the lanky pitcher wins the Cy Young or not, he’s had an incredible season emerging into a great ace on a solid pitching staff. Sometimes I wonder just how good he’d be on another club, say Atlanta? Being on a team that’s as good as the Cubs are, only adds to his growing legend.

Now that the Cubs have won 103 games and have the best record since 1910, what will the guys do for the week as they prepare to face the winner of the National League Wild Card game set for Wednesday? They’ll either face San Francisco Giants or the New York Mets. Personally, I’d like to see go head to head with the Mets. The Cubs have some unfinished business to do against that team and for some reason I think they’ll have an easier time than the always frustrating Giants.

“This is 2016, so [the Giants] are going to be tough to beat, no doubt,” Anthony Rizzo said. “And with the Mets, the experience they gained last year — so that’ll be a fun game to watch, especially with [Noah] Syndergaard and [Madison] Bumgarner, I’m sure they’re both going to throw 200 pitches each if they have to. It’s fun for baseball, those Wild Card Games, and we’re happy we’re not partaking in that this year, that anxiety and stress level.”

Ah yes, that stress level of the one and done, loser go home playoff scenario has gathered the ire of many baseball executives and fans alike but until the baseball brass fix the series to a more fair three game event, manacurists will continue to have their busiest season in October.

So, what does Joe Maddon have up his sleeve?

“The boxes have been checked in the regular season,”  Maddon said. “We won the division, we stayed relatively healthy, we’ve played well. … All this stuff we talked about in camp regarding embracing the target and dealing with the pressure, we’ve done all those things.”

There’s only one thing left to do.

“We’re ready,” Rizzo said. “Everyone is pretty much healthy. It’s just about going out and executing now.”

Believe it.

Cubs Looking Forward To A Long October

Anthony Rizzo

If there’s one thing we learned in the Chicago Cubs 7-4 loss to the Cincinnati Reds is that Ben Zobrist is on fire. Last night he picked up another home run to make it three in the last couple of days. I think though, the real star of the day was Jon Lester. Even though he didn’t get his 20th win of the season, he proved to be a workhorse and notched his 200th inning pitched, which was his goal from the start of the season. His ERA is 2.44, which will make it tough for this afternoon’s pitcher Kyle Hendricks when it comes to Cy Young voting.

The Cubs will wrap up this magnificent season today knowing that they lived up to expectations. With the potential to finish with 103 wins, this year’s Cubs is one of the best.

“I don’t want to sound like a [jerk] or anything, but we haven’t done anything yet. The 100 wins are great. We’ve had a lot of personal achievements. The big thing for this team is we’re consistent. We show up every day ready to play, and that’s huge, especially with the young group we have. That’s a hard thing to learn at a young age. … What it comes down to, this season isn’t anything unless we do what we showed up in Spring Training to do and win a World Series. The 100 and whatever wins is great, all the personal stuff is great. This is go time now. Now we have to live up to the expectations and the hype.” Lester said.

He’s right. The Cubs do show up ready to play. They’ve stayed relatively healthy through the season and it’ll pay dividends Friday. They’ll have plenty of rest and yesterday’s lineup was probably a glimpse into the lineup for Friday.

“I think we’ve been doing a nice job,” Joe Maddon said. “I’m happy with what we’re doing now. It’s not about this. It’s about four days off (before the first playoff game) — that’s the bigger concern.”

Today is fitting that Kyle Hendricks will end one of the Cubs most historic seasons. Although he won’t see too many innings, it’s symbolic that the he kind of lead the Cubs into the post season.

“Now it’s go time,” Lester said. “This is the real season now. You play 162 to get to now. It’ll be completely different when you step on that field Friday with that crowd. I’m sure it’ll be electric. This is playoff baseball — that’s when it becomes a lot of fun and every pitch is do or die.”

Believe it

 

Cubs’ Ben Zobrist Hits Two Home Runs

Ben Zobrist

This is the final weekend of the 2016 regular season. The Chicago Cubs trounced division rivals, the Cincinnati Reds 7-3. It almost seemed like the Cubs were sending a message to the other playoff bound teams that they’re not going to show any mercy a week from tonight.

Ben Zobrist banged out a couple of homers in the game following some downtime. The results worked.

“Getting a few results, hitting the ball harder, driving the ball a few times in the last week has really helped,” said Zobrist. “Regardless of whether you make the playoffs or not, you want to finish the season strong and try to click on all cylinders at the last game.”

It’s important to finish the season strong because it keeps the engines working. I’m still a little leery about the Cubs getting a week off before the NLDS. I don’t know if that’s too much rest but in Ben Zobrists’s case it worked out well. Look at what he did last year in Kansas City’s run?

“That’s why you want to give them some time down,” Maddon said. “That’s what it can look like. The everyday major league player, people have no idea how difficult that is to do. Plus, he’s 35 years old.”

Maddon’s onto something. Despite high performance training facilities, the baseball season can appear long even though it’s the same length as an NHL season, the difference can be that hockey players play every other night while ball players have to be on just about everyday so when it comes around to October, the body’s going to wind down.

“Sometimes, you just feel like you’re just surviving for parts of the season,” Zobrist said. “The last couple weeks, knowing that we’ve clinched, and knowing some of these games weren’t going to matter all that much, I definitely tried to make a concerted effort to maintain an element of competitiveness and try to have good quality at-bats and not cash anything in. I think everybody in the clubhouse is trying to do that now. I’m consistently making adjustments. You’re going to have to do that in the postseason, too.”

The post season begins Tuesday for the Wild Card teams and it couldn’t come soon enough. The Cubs will begin play next Friday. It’s a new season filled with hopes, dreams and sometimes; heartache. Some people all ready have inside knowledge on the outcome,

Tattoo

While others choose to keep their fingers crossed for fear that a temptation of fate would cause irreparable harm to our great great great grandchildren’s yellowed W Flags.

I’m here to set the record straight on curses. There are none. The 2016 Chicago Cubs team is one of the best in history and someday they’ll be enshrined in upstate New York. They may or may not come out as champions but people will remember this team, this year and the way Joe Maddon and the rest of his Cubs captured the hearts of fans everywhere. There will be poetry written about this team like their last glory years of the early 20th century:

Baseball’s Sad Lexicon

These are the saddest of possible words:
      “Tinker to Evers to Chance.”
Trio of bear cubs, and fleeter than birds,
      Tinker and Evers and Chance.
Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,
      Making a Giant hit into a double—
Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble:
      “Tinker to Evers to Chance.”
Best of all, people might even forget there’s an election going on.
Believe it

Cubs Secure Home Field For NLDS!

Chicago Cubs

The Cubs seem to be turning back time in more ways than one. First, there’s the amazing season where the Cubs are looking more like they did in 1908 and now, David Ross chugging home off a hit by Jon Lester, a symbolic victory lap for the retiring catcher. Last night, the Cubs downed the Cincinnati Reds 6-1 in front of a packed Wrigley Field and Jon Lester was, well Jon Lester.

“This is the guy you were going to get when you signed him to the deal he signed,” said Cubs catcher David Ross, who scored on Lester’s double. “This was a guy that I know and I expected him to pitch like this. I think he expects to pitch like this. He’s pitching really well and it’s nice. It’s just one of many guys who are throwing good on the staff.”

If the Cubs win it all this season, Cubs President Theo Epstein is going to come off looking like a genius. Jon Lester will win the Cy Young award over Kyle Hendricks even though he trails the crafty “Professor” in ERA. Sure, Hendricks would be the sentimental favourite and I feel he deserves it more than Lester because everybody knows what Lester can do, he’s just good. However, what Hendricks has done this season is incredible and he has matured into a bona fide ace on the staff.

“Obviously Kyle has had an unbelievable year,” Lester said. “If I had a vote, he’d be my vote. Just because I get to see him every day. I get to see how he goes about it, how he prepares and executes. He’s my guy. That’s who I would vote for right now, tomorrow, the next day or whenever.”

Awe man, I just liked Lester that much more. He’s saying all the right things but for a guy to go out and be that good and still acknowledge what his teammate is doing, well that just says everything about who the Chicago Cubs are.

With the win, the Cubs have officially secured home field advantage for the NLDS after the Los Angeles Dodgers lost last night to the San Francisco Giants 2-0. I’m sure people are getting a little frustrated with me when I rattle off the stats on why this year is a special one. My friends and family sometimes roll their eyes at my excitement but all you guys know that this is a special season unlike any other. This is an historic one. Here’s a question that might be on the wrong side of hypothetical.

What if the Cubs won in 1945?

Would the magnitude be on the level that it is?

No matter how good the Cubs are, there’s still one more thing…

“If you ask anybody in that clubhouse, the MVPs, the Cy Youngs, the Rookie of the Years, all that stuff, it’s all great and dandy,” Lester said. “At the end of the day, we want to win a World Series. I think guys are kind of seeing the light at the end of the tunnel right now.”

Believe it.

Cubs Snap Losing Streak In Style

Willson Contreras

The longest drought in professional sports history and the oldest serving Major League baseball team squared off against each other last night and to say that the Chicago Cubs needed that victory is an understatement. In their 5-2 defeat of the Cincinnati Reds, three important things happened; Jason Heyward, Addison Russell and Willson Contreras all hit home runs to secure the victory but the big fourth important thing was Jason Hammel. He broke out of his funk and received his 15th win of the season.

“Overall, it was a good sign for me,” Hammel said of his outing. “Fastball command got better as the game went along. And the team continues to prove that if you hang around for a little while, they’ll make it exciting.”

Does that include sticking around for 108 years? After the win, the Cubs became the first team this season to have four pitchers with 15 or more wins. That’s impressive and what’s more impressive is Jason Hammel’s resiliency. With his 15th victory, Hammel has kinda been struggling this season so it’s great to see him with the win. It really hasn’t been the best second half for the hurler. If people believe that it’s an audition for the playoffs, it could just be a warm up.

“[My] individual numbers would be a lot better minus those runs, but overall, it’s the whole body of work and continuing to trust the process and the things that I’ve been working on,” Hammel said. “Everybody’s going to have a bad one, and unfortunately for me, they were really bad. But we continue to move on. Obviously, tonight was a step in the right direction. I felt good about it.”

It’s always better to look at the overall team accomplishment than the individual performance. Sorry if I pulled out that horrendous sports cliche but there’s no other way to put it.

If the season were to end today, the St. Louis Cardinals would have that final Wild Card position and man, wouldn’t that be great for the Cubs to face the Cardinals in the division series? Of course the Cardinals would have to get by the New York Mets but it would be worth the wait.

“Right now, it’s only about winning,” Joe Maddon said. “That’s it. We want to get this whole thing functioning properly, so when we get to the postseason, we’re able to do the things that we want to do.”

If the Cubs make it to the World Series, I hope Cubby Bear will save two seats for a couple of Canuck Cubbies.

Believe it

 

 

Cubs Become Slaves To The Grind

Wrigley Field

There’s something not quite right with the World Series favourites lately. In truth, the Cincinnati Reds should have crumbled to the Cubs in the series but instead claimed the series with a 5-3 victory at Wrigley Field.

So what is the Cubs problems?

“You don’t execute a pitch and a guy hits a three-run homer and that’s that. I can’t connect a bunch of negative thoughts. It happened. I think it is a snapshot [of the season] and I’m not overly concerned.” Joe Maddon said.

That is perhaps, all there is to it. Of course there are injuries. We all know that a healthy team has a better chance of winning but what about that infamous Grind as outlined in Barry Svrluga’s book? Baseball’s an endless season. It’s the same length as hockey but it feels longer. They play almost everyday. Think about it. From the beginning of March to the end of October, there’s baseball on pretty much all of the time. Players go down with injury.

The Cubs woes could lie in the bullpen. They’ve got the firepower as we know with the Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Ben Zobrist‘s on the team.

But is it enough?

No. If they win the World Series this season, it’ll be on the bullpen. The hitting will get them there but the grind will be the bullpen.

“We have to really be vigilant not to abuse anybody and make sure everyone is fresh,” Maddon said. “It starts with the starting pitchers. If the starters are on, the rest of the game is going to play well.”

The problem is that in the first couple of months, the pitching has been exceptional. The bullpen hasn’t been used as much but now that the grind of the season is beginning to wear on the staff, the bullpen is a little bit green.

“I believe that the talent pool is absolutely here,” Maddon said. “We know Clayton Richard is able to do that. Getting Justin Grimm back on the mound [is important]. Grimm is one of our lefties actually. We have it right here. We just have to get the performance. We will. I feel confident.”

Maybe it is there and maybe it isn’t there. With the trade deadline approaching on July 31st  and Dexter Fowler expected to return soon, the Cubs are going to make a blockbuster deal much like the deal that catapulted the Toronto Blue Jays into October last season. I’m confident that a big name closer is coming to Chicago’s North Side. I’m almost sure that another big bat is going to be squeezed into the middle of the lineup come the deadline.

The Cubs have seven All Stars for Tuesday’s classic. Any one of those all stars will trade that in for the big prize.

Believe it.

Cubs Send Seven To All Star Game

Joe maddon

There are seven Chicago Cubs starting the All Star Game in San Diego. At first base and your North Side hero, Anthony Rizzo. Starting at second base Ben Zobrist. Shortstop, but not short on talent is Addison Russell. National league home run leader and your 2016 third base All Star, Kris Bryant.

There’s your infield. Not to mention Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta on the mound with Dexter Fowler in outfield. Seven All Stars. Seven Chicago Cubs.

“It’ll be really cool starting the game and throwing to those guys in San Diego,” Anthony Rizzo said.

That’s the first time since 1985 that five players have started the game. That’s pretty awesome.

“Among all of them, I wanted them to realize — especially the new guys — to make sure you slow it down and enjoy every second of it,” Joe Maddon said. “‘You’re an All-Star right now, you earned this right to be there. Go play, but make sure you enjoy every second.'”

That’s the good news.

Yesterday, the Cincinnati Reds defeated the Chicago Cubs 9-5, you know the team that just sent seven All Stars to San Diego for the 2016 MLB All Star Game? Yeah, they lost to a team that is sending only one All Star in Adam Duvall.

Yeah that team.

This is the second time that John Lackey couldn’t get into a groove but it’s not just Lackey that’s struggling, we know it’s the rest of the team as well(Ok, except maybe Kris Bryant and Addison Russell).

It was a frustrating game even for manager Joe Maddon who was thrown out of the game after arguing a 3-0 count when the next pitch was called a strike. He thought it was a ball and argued the call.

“It was the culmination of calls that have gone against us recently at the plate, and it kind of boiled over in that particular moment,” Maddon said. “I haven’t had a day off in a while, so that was an appropriate time to do it.”

The Cubs will try to close out the Reds today before a one game series against the Atlanta Braves, which is a make up game from earlier, then it’s off to Pittsburgh on the weekend and yours truly will be there on Sunday.

So as the Cubs try to turn the corner before the All Star Game next week, a game which I believe shouldn’t be left up to the fans to decide who’ll play in the classic; the team is hurting and needs to find their groove.

Hopefully after the break that groove will be back.

“I think what that says is we have an incredible fan base that’s in our corner,” Ben Zobrist said. “As players, we become the benefactors. … We’re glad we’re Chicago Cubs now, and I think that’s why a lot of players want to be here.”

Believe it.