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 Get Stymied By Clayton Kershaw

Chicago Cubs

For all of those people who like saying that “Watching baseball is like watching paint dry” did not tune into the Cubs NLCS. It’s been edge of your seat pitching duels and just watching Javier Baez strut his stuff is pure magic. last night, the Cubs were literally stymied by the Los Angeles Dodgers 1-0. Three time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw dismantled the Cubs batting order pitch by pitch. As a Cubs fan it was tough to watch, but as a baseball fan, it was like watching a magician carving up the assistant in the box trick.

Kyle Hendricks was impressive in his return to the mound after getting hit in the throwing arm in his last start. The Dodgers only got one run off of him and that came at the hands of an Adrian Gonzalez long ball. No, Hendricks was solid and showed us a peek into what could be a Hall of Fame career. Did he learn anything from Kershaw?

“He was impressive,” Hendricks said. “Watching a lot of it from inside, he wasn’t missing any spots, mixing his pitches well, keeping us off balance — that’s the kind of game I was trying to pitch. It was fun to go against him and a tough one to lose.”

The toughest part about losing that game is how silent Bryzzo’s bats have been. Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant haven’t got the hits. Rizzo has only collected 1 hit out of 24 playoff At Bats, while Bryant, who is a front runner for League MVP isn’t hitting well either.

“I’m trying to get six, seven, eight hits at one time,” says Rizzo. “I’ve done that before in my career and it doesn’t work, so you just go about the process, keep grinding and keep battling”.

Even guys like Addison Russell has been somewhat absent during this post season 1 for 22, stretching back to the regular season. So the Cubs have their issues. Sure, Miguel Montero hit that grand slam, but it really should have been Anthony Rizzo or Kris Bryant’s job to do that. Javier Baez? well, there’s nothing wrong with him. He’s been outstanding.

“It’s very nice to be in this moment with young players,” Joe Maddon said. “It’s really nice two consecutive years to be in the Championship Series with a very youthful group. Again, putting your scout’s cap on, it bodes well for the future. Of course, I want it to happen right now and get to that next round.”

Which poses another interesting option; Since the Cubs’ bats have fallen silent, the NLCS will go down to management. Joe Maddon will have to rely on his craftiness with bullpen shuffling, player swapping and good ol’ fashioned creativity to get past the NLCS.

“No, you have to continue to play through the bad lie,” Maddon said. “That’s just — it is what it is. You stay with your guys. Dodgers have good pitching. Cubs have good pitching. I’m sure they’re saying the same thing about some of their guys right now too.”

Believe it

Chicago Cubs Face Los Angeles Dodgers in NLCS

NLDS

It’s the matchup I didn’t want but the Cubs will face the Los Angeles Dodgers tomorrow in the NLCS. The Cubs won the season series this year but they didn’t face Clayton Kershaw. These are both teams hungry for a pennant. Chicago hasn’t won a pennant since the war ended while the Dodgers last pennant was 1988.

With a team like the Dodgers who finished last in the league when it came to left handed pitching with .214 batting average. The Cubs will get that advantage in game 1 but when it comes to facing right handed pitching, well, they’re ranked second in the league.

“Experience matters,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said Thursday. “Last year, a lot of us were doing it for the first time. We have a couple guys who are new, but we have a wonderful support group. At the end of the day, you learn how to win. What does that mean? It’s something you have to participate in daily, and there’s a support system in the group.”

That’s true. The Cubs were in this boat last year when they faced the New York Mets and as curses go, most Cubs fans will remember that Daniel Murphy almost single handedly destroyed the Cubs chances of going to the World Series. By the way, for those of you who are jumping onto the Cubs band wagon, the goat’s name in Cub history who got kicked out of Wrigley Field; his name was Murphy.

People can talk up experience all they want but it only makes a difference on paper. These Dodgers are dangerous and they’ve been to the post season the past four years. However, this is a different year for the Cubs and the Dodgers. They’re two very hungry teams wanting to move to the next level. This series can go either way. I’m leaning towards a long drawn out pitching duel. The key for the Cubs is to forget playing long ball. Get that pitch count up and exhaust the heck out of Clayton Kershaw. If they can do that, then they should be in good hands. Corey Seager’s first trip to the NLCS will certainly rattle his cages a bit.

“Pressure, expectations … I want our guys to thrive on those two words for the years to come, I want the organization to,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “That means there’s a lot expected of you. Good. There should be. We should all have a lot expected of us. You’ve seen it all season. That’s actually … 106 wins … for the year. That’s pretty significant. So all those things, I want to have us channel in a positive direction.”

The Cubs bats are finally coming alive. I’m just lamenting those west coast night games.  They’re going to make for long nights and even longer mornings.

“You’re sitting in the dugout, and when you get to the final four … there’s only one other game going on,” manager Joe Maddon said. “That’s pretty impressive.”

Cubs in 7

Believe it

Cubs Sweep Phillies. Twenty Games Above .500

Ben Zobrist

CHICAGO, IL – MAY 28: Ben Zobrist #18 of the Chicago Cubs hits a run scoring double in the 1st inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Wrigley Field on May 28, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 607678467

 

It’s a cliche to say that “On Paper” when a team is amazing but in the Chicago Cubs case, they’re exactly that. putting things from paper into action can seem daunting but then the Cubs are proving that a team can have both.

Take Ben Zobrist. On paper, he’s pretty awesome but on the field he takes it to the next level of awesomeness, so it’s fitting then that after an extremely hot May, Zobrist was exceptionally hot at the plate. So far, he’s second in batting average in the league.

Not bad for a 35 year old.

“I’m trying to figure out myself if I can keep this up, to be honest,” Zobrist said. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a month where I’ve hit this well and just kind of all the way around. You just try and keep it going. That’s all I’m trying to do — doing the same things, the same drills, trying to manage my body well and have good at-bats. I didn’t have great at-bats today outside of the ball I hit out. It’s just a daily grind. You just keep working and try to have quality at-bats.”

The Cubs defeated the Philedelphia Phillies 7-2 and now their winning streak sits at five games.

So, just how good are the Cubs? Well, they’re 20 games over .500 That’s pretty darn good if you were to ask me. In fact, it’s scary to think that the Cubs have swept the Angels, Reds, Brewers, Pirates and Nationals this season. Two of those teams are contenders.

”Many times you’ll see a team not have the same sense of urgency on sweep day after you’ve won the series,” Joe Maddon said. ”I really like that our guys aren’t satisfied with just winning a series.”

He’s got a point about that. I believe that a team has to not put the nail in the coffin of opposing teams but come September, every game matters. So series sweeps I think are far more important than just winning series. It can be an intimidation factor.

John Lackey improved to 5-2 on the season and let me tell you that I think he’s become a far better pitcher than I thought he’d be for the Cubs.

“When (Lackey) grabs a lead he’s almost a perfect pitcher to have pitch because he treats every inning like it’s 0-0,” said  Joe Maddon. “He just keeps going after you (and) he ran with that lead extremely well.”

The Cubs are starting a series with the always dangerous LA Dodgers. I say dangerous because arguably Chase Utley is the best player in the game today. The Cubs won’t get the opportunity to face Clayton Kershaw .

“It’s just the way the cookie crumbles,” Maddon said. “Sometimes teams miss Arrieta. [Kershaw] is really good and I got to appreciate it over the last couple years that I’ve seen him more consistently. The game we had here last year with the lights going out, that was really fun. He is exceptional. I always want us to compete against the best. To save that for a little bit later in the season, I’m OK with it.”

Believe it.

Cubs Win Big Over Dodgers

Orange Sky Chicago

The night the lights went out in Chicago. Yup, that’s what they’ll be calling it years from now. Last night’s 4-2 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers could prove to be a pivotal one this season as both teams are evenly matched but what stood out the most was it came over Clayton Kershaw.

The fact that they won after losing Tsuyoshi Wada and Dexter Fowler early on in the game is a testament to how good this team can be.

“My reading was that we’re not really concerned right now,” Maddon said of the injuries.

They shouldn’t be concerned when they have a guy like Kris Bryant knocking two out into the stands and sending fans home with a souvenir. This was Bryant’s first multi home run game in his young career. I’ve got me a feeling that he just might break the single game record before his career is over with.

“It’s another notch in the belt, I guess,” Bryant said after his night. “It’s cool to do that. Those are always good games you’ll remember forever.”

The fact that there was a delay in the game while some of the lights dimmed and that really cool orange hue in the sky was also a reason for a special game. Although Joe Maddon was wrong about arguing with the umps when it came time to maybe cancel the game. A guy like Kershaw was dialled in but after the delay he was through. Not that I’m sticking up for the other guy but if I were Mattingly, I’d be slightly disgruntled.

“I didn’t like the idea that we had to play against a guy that’s really, really, really, really, really, really, really good,” Maddon said. “You had to see spin and everything, and I didn’t like the fact that we had to go out and play without all the lights on”

Speaking of really, really, really, really good. The Chicago Cubs are in a wild card position. If they make the playoffs it’ll be the first time since 2008. Now, of course there’s a lot of baseball left to play but these next two series are turning points with the team. LA now and then the Cardinals. With the trade deadline approaching I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Starlin Castro could be moved.

“I don’t think you’re ever happy where you are,”Theo Epstein said. “Otherwise, you’d just go home or wish the season was over. We’re just constantly trying to improve, gain more consistency, but, of course, we’re thrilled with the character of the team, identity of the team.”

Believe it

Cubs Boost The Dodgers Ego

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Let’s be honest with ourselves, the Los Angeles Dodgers aren’t exactly the same as the Cincinnati Reds. The Dodgers have a higher payroll and they have Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke.

Last night, what seemed like the Chicago Cubs might have taken the game away from the mighty western team, Logan Watkins made a crucial mistake in the seventh inning and then well, everything went wrong from there. The Cubs lost 8-4

“Uribe hit a pretty hard ball, right up the middle, and the first instinct was to knock it down and keep it in front of me, and it kicked to the left,” Watkins said. Which is fair enough Logan, but your first instinct should have been to try and catch it. However, it is what it is and that’s why the Dodgers are as good as they are.

Chris Coghlan made a great catch near the wall, proving that he’s becoming that great player.

So you see, it wasn’t all that horrific. In fact, I’ve been preaching that this year has been more of an audition to the now much hyped season where the young kids will shine. Just like Neil Ramirez getting lit up last night.

At this point in the season, we’re going easy on the kids because

A) The season’s almost done.

B) The year’s been a success. Rick Renteria has proven he can guide the youth movement into the future.

“They know they have to make those plays,” Renteria said. “The last thing I need to do is pounce on [Watkins]. … He wants to make those plays, and I’m sure he’ll tell you that he should’ve made those plays. The next time, hopefully, he will make those plays.”

Believe it.

—Mark

Adam Wainwright The Greatest Pitcher?

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Cubs fans will probably massacre me for this post, but here goes. Yesterday I was looking through some statistics and one of the great bar room questions is, “Who is the greatest pitcher in the game today?”

There are many great and fantastic pitchers in the game today. Everybody’s got their favourite pitcher and they could be right with their opinions. In this day and age with the advanced usage of Sabremetrics and other complex statistics, I’m basing my opinion on old school tactics.

Is it Clayton Kershaw? What about Stephen Strasburg, Cliff Lee, Max Sherzer(One of my favourites) Yu Darvish and Justin Verlander? All those guys are amazing throwers. What makes them the pitchers they are and what determines their greatness?

Is it WHIP’S What about WINS or STRIKOUTS and ERA’S. All these statistics have been used to determine a pitcher’s performance, but let’s go back to school, to the beginning and the basics.

The best way to determine “Who is the greatest pitcher?” is to look at plain old hard work and adversity.

My pick is St. Louis Cardinal ace Adam Wainwright. That’s right folks in Cub’s Nation. I said it and I stand by it. Saying that name comes close to a Yankee fan genuflecting before the World Series champion Boston Red Sox. However, you have to admit that it’s great giving credit where credit is due.

So, this is how I came to this decision:

Complete Games. Good old fashioned, slug it out complete games.

Adam led the league with five last year. He led the league in Innings Pitched. He also faced the most batters (TBF) He finished fifth with total pitches thrown. The most common statistic and probably best statistic that determines how great a pitcher is comes down to plain old WINS. Adam finished second to Matt Scherzer with 19.

That’s a hard working pitcher. Where did that hard working pitcher end up? The World Series. Runner up to the Cy Young. Sure they didn’t win, and believe me, there was a little bit of satisfaction that they didn’t, but giving credit where credit is due is what this post is all about. To me, the greatest pitcher in the game today is Adam Wainwright.

Agree with me or not, he’s a force to be reckoned with. If you’re into baseball fantasy pools then he’s the guy to pick up. A future Hall of Famer.

Believe it.

—Mark