School’s In For The Professor

Chicago Cubs

National League MVP Kris Bryant signing a jersey. 

Perhaps it’s the vision of seeing grass at these spring training games that is exciting at this time of year or it could be reminiscing about last November’s World Series but as we get closer to the regular season, hearing the “Pop” of the bat is music to this baseball starved fan.

The Cubs lost to the Reds 8-4 yesterday but in a league where the focus is more on getting the kinks out of the machine than going for victories, the Cubs will take what they can get. In the case of prospect Eloy Jimenez, he hit his first home run and the 15, 000+ fans took it all in. Chances of him making the squad are slim to nil but it’s the opportunity to strut their stuff.

The pressing questions that I have for this year’s team are:

“He is a left fielder slash catcher right now,” Maddon said of Schwarber. “Maybe as the years progress and the knee gets better, we’ll look at him differently, but for right now, him understanding all of that is very important to his success and ours.”

One of the locks for this season is the Opening Day starter. Jon Lester gets the call and that’s the wisest choice. He was a bulldog in the playoffs and garnered my total respect for him.

“Not many groups have that luxury — we do,” Maddon said. “Jake, two years in a row, has done an outstanding job, so has Jon Lester. Of course, there’s the ascension of Kyle. It has to go to Jon Lester based on the body of work. We feel good about that. However we want to set up three, four, five will follow.”

The ascension of Kyle Hendricks has been awesome. Whether he continues that ascension is up to him but “The Professor” is my favourite Cub and although it was incredible to see the Cubs win the World Series, for me it was that NLCS game 6 that was pure poetry. Hendricks carved up the Dodgers and if that is the defining game that turns this Dartmouth grad into Hall of Fame material, well for me, it was the most thrilling ballgame I’ve ever seen.

The Professor gets the start today against the Dodgers. Consider it a rematch of sorts. I’m not expecting much today but baseball is officially begun when your favourite player takes to the mound.

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.

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Cubs Take Game 1 on Montero’s Grand Slam

Chicago Cubs

Hollywood can’t write this stuff better than what happened in the bottom of the eighth inning last night in Game 1 of the NLCS. Miguel Montero hits a grand slam with two out to put the Cubs up 7-3 before Dexter Fowler scripted it with a back to back home run to make it 8-3. The Cubs finished with an 8-4 win.

“Obviously, after the first pitch, I’m looking something middle, middle in, and he threw me that slider,” Montero said. “It was a really good pitch to hit, and I missed it. And in my mind, I was like, ‘oh, my God, I missed that.’ That was a perfect pitch to hit. But you have to step out of the box and just pull yourself together and try — all I was trying to do was get a base hit. Don’t strike out right here. Get a good pitch and try to put the ball in play and make something happen.

“But to be honest, in the back of my head, I was like, ‘I want that slider back,’ because it was such a good pitch to hit,” Montero said. “And I guess he heard me because he threw it back, and luckily I hit the ball pretty good.”

After the two strikes, the FS1 commentators were saying how Montero “Could be a hero tonight in game 1” Two strikes, two out and Boom!

Wow, the Cubs have a way of answering the call and providing the fireworks. It almost didn’t happen that way.

Jon Lester who pitched a great game, was yanked in the 6th inning and he looked upset.

“It is what it is,” he said. “I don’t get paid to make decisions; I get paid to pitch. So that’s his decision to make. … Would I have liked to have gone out for the seventh? Absolutely. But you got to understand the situation and put yourself kind of [into] what the manager’s trying to do.”

Did anyone catch Javier Baez’s steal home that erupted Wrigley Field? It was the first time a Cubs player achieved this feat since 1907, when Jimmy Slagle stole home. If the Cubs do go on and win the World Series, Javier Baez has got to be Playoff MVP.

“I went a little bit too early,” Baez said. “But I saw him ready to throw the ball, and I didn’t want to get in a rundown, so I just kept going home.”

But if it got the ire of Joe Maddon, he didn’t let it show.

“Give Javy credit for what he did,” Maddon said. “One percent or less of all Major League players would have done what he did. Honestly. He’s just that good on the bases. Sometimes he’s going to look bad because he’s going to make what appears to be a mental mistake. But he had that all plotted out. That’s purely good baseball instinct by a kid that’s a baseball player.”

That’s what makes baseball the great.

Tonight will be the most important game for the Cubs this post season. Clayton Kershaw vs Kyle Hendricks. If the Cubs can get by Kershaw and go up 2-0 in the series, the momentum will be on their side. Kershaw has pitched 4 times in the last 10 days but he’s the league’s best. Hendricks though, is the Professor.

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Cubs Bullpen Stumbles and Dexter Fowler For MVP

Baseball

Even the the mightiest teams can lose. Last night’s 6-4 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals was an especially tough one to take. What started out as a classic pitcher’s duel, ended with John Lackey being yanked in the 7th inning with tightness. I could feel Joe Maddon’s stomach churning during that walk to the mound to tell Lackey he wasn’t going to play anymore.

“His shoulder stiffened up and that was it,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “He tried to talk me out of it, and I was not going to be talked out of it. I’m sure he’ll tell you he’s going to pitch his next start. That’s possible. I just don’t know anything yet.”

He’s worn the red cap and knows what these series are like. That was tough on him to come out of the game, but he did.

This is where the problems occurred. Justin Grimm took over and struck the batter out but when usually hard throwing and reliable Hector Rondon took over, the time off due to injury wasn’t kind to him.

“Today, I came in with the ball up and I didn’t have my best command and I didn’t mix in my breaking balls,” Rondon said. “Today, they got me.”

If there was the weakness in the tough Cub exterior, then it has to be the bullpen. It’s great that the Cubs have that cushion to fall back on. Their lead is 12 games ahead of St. Louis and they’ve still got some breathing room over the Nationals but nobody said this would be easy. It would be better if the Cubs duked it out right until the end and went to the Big Series clawing their way to the top.

Of course loading the bases with nobody out and not capitalizing like they did in the seventh is not a good situation. I’m sure those Mercedes and Ferraris parked outside had their Key Fobs pressing auto start with a big tanned Econoline following them in the rearview after the game.

“Offensively, we do need to do better in those particular moments and get those add-on runs on later in the game,” Maddon said. “That was a big moment, bases loaded nobody out, and they got out of it.”

The Cubs wanted to sweep the Cardinals. It wouldn’t have mattered if the Cubs only won 38 games and the Cardinals 75 or vice versa. The Cubs let these two games slip from their paws and perhaps the Cardinals showed them up but one thing is certain; the Nationals will put the pin in the Cubs fairy tale year balloon come October.

“You always take that split, but when you get in position to grab more than that, that’s the part you don’t necessarily like,” Maddon said. “But we played well. Every time we play well, even if we lose, I’m OK.”

They did play well. Kris Bryant‘s triple, Anthony Rizzo‘s home run and Willson Contreras‘ hustle were all out on display, but the irony is that this season the Cubs pitching is what’s keeping them in the games and it’s exactly the pitching that could end it for them.

Does anyone else think Dexter Fowler should be considered for MVP?

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Cubs Walk Off Thriller Stuns Marlins

Chicago Cubs

If you’re a Chicago Cubs fan, and I know most of you who follow the Canuck Cubbie do at least have a passing interest in the lovable North Siders, you’ll probably agree that yesterday’s 5-4 walk off victory over the Miami Marlins will go down as one of the season’s most thrilling wins.

“A big part of that rally at the end of the game is just our fans, purely,” Maddon said. “So much energy. Long day for us — it was a hot day out there, sunshine, we’ve got to get on the road, all those mental factors. I just want to recognize them.”

The ninth inning wasn’t just about the fans, the ninth inning was all about the depth of the once not so mighty baseball club that has turned around in the last couple of years to become the leading contender for October’s most coveted hardware.

It was Miguel Montero, Javier Baez and Dexter Fowler who set up the comeback in the ninth with Matt Szczur trotting home for the win. However, John Lackey pitched his 16th quality start of the year, it was also his third in a row and he went 2 for 2 recording his first multi extra base hit game of his career.  Sure, he didn’t get the win, but the grizzled veteran sums it up on what the expectations and goals of baseball’s longest suffering team are up against.

“Fair expectations? We’re trying to win a World Series. I didn’t come here for a haircut,” Lackey said. “I came here for jewelry.”

I think he wanted the win.

So the Cubs swept the Marlins. They have a day off before heading to Oakland to face the constantly rebuilding Athletics. The Cubs need a sweep and should be able to collect valuable distance from the rest of the National League Central. Normally, I love the races until October but this season is extraordinarily different; the Cubs need to dominate the Central and prove just how good they are.

“We just never quit,” Chicago’s Ben Zobrist said. “As a team, that’s kind of a mantra, and that’s something all good teams have to believe when they’re down that they can come back and win games, and this series was true for us to believe that for ourselves. When you get in those situations again, everyone believes they can do it again.”

Also, this next series should see an end to the Cubs homerless streak which sits at five games.

The Cincinnati Reds had the “Big Red Machine” of the 1970’s, so what should the newly powerhouse Cubs be called?

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Cubs Win The Tight Ones Too

Chicago Cubs

It’s amazing to think that going into the 2016 MLB season, Cubs fans were on a high with Jake Arrieta‘s Cy Young winning performance last year. Although, Arrieta’s pitched really well, he’s shown fans that he’s human. Last night, the Cubs behind Jason Hammel beat the Miami Marlins 3-2 in front of a raucous Wrigley Field crowd. It was Hammel’s eleventh win of the season, setting a career high. This is the second time in his career that Hammel has collected four straight wins.

“As long as we keep taking care of our business and not looking outside to see where other teams are located, nothing else matters. If the surge is now, if the surge is in September, if we surge all the way from August through September to October, that’d be great. We’ll just keep going one game at a time.” Hammel said.

It goes to show you that when pitchers are working hard on the mound, the results will happen. The Cubs are 12-6 since the All Star game and won five straight series at home. If you can’t win at home, you’re not going to win anywhere else.

Sometimes I lay in bed at night and think what the Cubs could have been like if Dexter Fowler didn’t go on the disabled list(Naw, he doesn’t really keep me up at night). What would the Cubs record be like? Last night he went 3 for 4 and has scored a run in his last five games. He truly is the master OBP with .403 and when it comes to triples nobody can touch him with 69 since 2009.

“Dexter got the whole thing rolling,” Joe Maddon said. “When he plays at that level, he picks everybody else up and it accelerates everybody’s confidence, hitting-wise. He’s a nuisance to the other team.”

The other impressive thing that I noticed about the Cubs is they haven’t been going yard in a while, last four games to be exact. So, it’s been the small ball that’s taking over. Man, that’s going to provide dividends come October. Look at the way Kansas City handled everyone else? There’s also the resurgence of Jason Heyward who has hit in his last eight games.

There’s two months left of baseball, or the equivalent of rounding second base. The Cubs are getting key performances from their low key guys and getting the wins in one run games 14-16. This is the way baseball should be played.

Also, Willson Contreras has proven that he’s the Cubs catcher of the future. He went 2 for 3 and has gained the respect of pitchers.

“He’s a great kid — I love him,” Hammel said. “He basically has gotten better every start I’ve worked with him. The game calling, the blocking — he’s even coming up to me and giving me hugs. He saw that I was frustrated coming out early and he’s like, ‘Hey, nice job.’ He’s got kind words, wise words beyond his young years. I was very proud of him.”

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Cubs’ Dexter Fowler is Back, Baby!

Dexter Fowler

The Chicago Cubs welcomed Dexter Fowler back with open arms last night. The Cubs downed the Milwaukee Brewers 5-2. Fowler came back in style, crushing a home run and a double in his first game back with the team since June 18.

“I was just happy to be back around the boys, I was happy to see everybody,” Fowler said after the game. “It’s like coming back home.”

It seems a long time ago when Fowler walked onto that practice field during spring training and surprised players that he’s landed back in Chicago after an offseason which he tested the free agent market.

I have to give Theo Epstein credit, he knew Fowler’s worth to the club and after last night, the rest of us knew it as well. With Fowler leading off, the Cubs are 43-18 but when he’s not in the lineup the team is just 11-17.

Good to see ya again Dexter, we missed you!

What can I say about Carl Edwards Jr. We had a chance to see the lanky pitcher warming up in Pittsburgh a couple of weeks ago and man, his stuff is incredible. My son’s mouth dropped watching him play catch. Last night, Edwards came into the sixth inning and struck out two. He’s certainly been an underrated part of the Cubs pitching staff this season.

“Experience, really, is all he needs,” Jason Hammel said. “The later in a game you go, the harder it gets. He definitely has the stuff. You can see the improvement and the confidence. Execution for him, too, has gotten better. He’s definitely not afraid. He weighs about 140 pounds, but he can attack a ton worth of weight.”

He’s a hard thrower and I know he’ll just keep getting better and better.

“The funny thing is I come in after a clean inning and the guys are constantly motivating me,” Edwards said. “They’re keeping me humble, too, but I’m keeping myself humble. Today, runner at second, no outs, I was talking to myself on the mound, telling myself, ‘Hey, do whatever you’ve got to do to not let this guy score.’ I went out there and got the first out, groundout, and I was telling myself, ‘Hey, you’re not finished.’ And then two outs, I told myself, ‘Hey, you’re not finished.’ Every time I go out there with runners on, [my goal] is to go out there and make sure the runs do not score.”

Believe it.