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?

Believe it.

 

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Cubs Win Streak Snapped And It’s A Good Thing

Addison Russell

You see, no matter how badly a team can do in a season, when it comes to bitter rivalries, there’s few that can match the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs. Where else can a team dominate the game and watch a lead evaporate right before their eyes like what happened in the Cubs 8-4 loss to the Cardinals yesterday?

The loss had nothing to do with the outstanding pitching of crafty right hander Kyle Hendricks. Nor was the loss attributed to the great home run from Addison Russell. The Cubs did their job but in the end it came down to a depleted bullpen caused from injuries to Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon. The game was tied when Carl Edwards Jr. got lit up in the late innings. Welcome to the rivalry Carl, it’s not your fault.

“That’s an example of what the team looks like without Strop and Rondon,” Maddon said. “I felt really good about C.J. in that moment. He’s been outstanding.”

He has been outstanding but this is the Cubs, right? Where else can a guy like Hendricks tie his career strikeouts in a game and still come up with no decision? Wrigley Field, that’s where. Those ghosts from Chicago Cubs past can rear their ugly head sometimes to ruin a guy’s day.

“He’s throwing the ball exactly where he wants to,” Maddon said of Hendricks. “He was executing outstanding. The heavy strikeouts were a surprise, because [the Cardinals] will move the baseball. That tells you how much [Hendricks’] stuff was on today. There were two elevated changeups to Moss and to Gyorko that caused the home runs. That’s a pitch he normally never throws up there.”

Sure, the Cardinals snapped the Cubs 11 game win streak but in the end it gave the Cubs a dose of reality. What if they continued their winning ways to the end of the season? Imagine a 20 game win streak and then get destroyed in the playoffs. I’m glad the Cubs are just that good but not too good to breach that reality barrier. For a young team, these kind of losses are good. It can give them a strong foundation in October.

“You’re going to lose some ballgames in baseball. It happens. The best thing about it is there’s one tomorrow. We had a good stretch there. We have to try to pick it back up tomorrow.”said Hendricks.

Believe it.

Cubs Prove The Kids Are All Right

Albert Almora

As much as baseball is a team sport, it’s also an individual effort. Last night, Albert Almora Jr. had his moment to shine and go down in Cubs lore with an RBI double. The Cubs rookie broke a 3-3 tie in the ninth and the Cubs went on to edge the Washington Nationals 4-3.

It’s the stuff of of films.

“You try to stay calm for that,” Almora said after the game. “That’s the biggest thing. Knowing I belong and wanting to come through for the guys right there. Just trying to stay calm and do my job.”

In what is probably the biggest series so far against the Nationals, Almora is humble enough to know that it’s not all about him. Even as the other Cubs “new guys” like Kyle Schwarber, who in last year’s playoffs kept his cool under pressure along with Addison Russell and 2015 Rookie of The Year Kris Bryant have all carried themselves well which doesn’t always occur on young teams.

“The guy has been up here for five minutes, and he’s not passive,” Joe Maddon said. “A really interesting game of baseball. The Giants were a team we had to earn our stripes against. The Nationals are the same kind of team.”

He’s not kidding either. Last night was a huge game for the Cubs and like I said yesterday, it could be a potential playoff preview. The other thing that impressed me so much were the Cubs ability to stay focused in the ninth. Of course, a team doesn’t have a record of 44-19 without remaining cool. Another thing to look at is it’s the middle of June and the team has remained strong even through a mild road slump last month and injuries to Jorge Soler and Kyle Schwarber.

“I did it for [John] Lackey,” Almora said. “I did it for [Pedro] Strop, I did it for [Hector] Rondon, for [Travis] Wood, for all those guys. I did it for Ross as well. I could go on and on. I’m trying to be a team guy.”

As the trade deadline approaches, the rumours are heating up about Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller becoming Cubs but as I’ve written here, I remain steadfast in my opposition against Chapman becoming a Cub. It’s not going to be right for the Cub’s Way in the clubhouse no matter how good he is.

The Cub’s bullpen did a fine job last night with Hector Rondon recording 5 outs. They’re still fresh and although they don’t have that 104MPH fastball that Chapman has, they know the team’s chemistry and that’s all that matters.

“I told them, if they want to put me in for three innings, I’m sure I can go,” Rondon said. “I don’t care what inning he puts me in.”

Believe it

Cubs Turn Back The Clock On the Cardinals And See The Future

St Louis Cardinals v Chicago Cubs

So, there were a few great things that came out of the Cubs valiant effort last night against the St. Louis Cardinals. Ok, there was many great things.

Another amazing grab by the exciting Emilio Bonifacio. The Cubs carried a tie into the ninth inning and well, Hector Rondon discovered just how frustrating baseball can be.

“For me, this helped me a lot,” Rondon said of facing the Cardinals. “In my mind, I know I need to be more aggressive. It happened today, and OK, we lost the game, but we won the series, and that’s a good sign for us.”

That’s exactly what the Cubs did, they won the series and now improve their record to 11-18. That’s right folks, the Cubs win record is in the double digits. Whew!

Hey, how about those spiffy 1929 retro uniforms? The Cubs looked great yesterday and were in tough with the Cardinals, but they kept it close in the 5-4 loss.

“We had to capitalize on the limited chances we had, and we did that with the bat,” Jason Hammel said. “It was a grind all the way through.”

I think after Bonifacio’s incredible grab in center field, the other Cub’s play of the game goes to Luis Valbuena who had that great triple. He’s that quiet guy who goes about his business and gets the job done.

The Cubs were aggressive yesterday and that’s a great sign of things to come.

“OK, we lose the game,” Hector Rondon said, “but we win the series.”

Look out, the Cubs are on their way!

Believe it!

—Mark

Every Story Needs a Villan

Scott Hairston was traded to the Washington Nationals for a pitching prospect following yesterday's game against the Pirates.

Scott Hairston was traded to the Washington Nationals for a pitching prospect following yesterday’s game against the Pirates.

Not only did the Cubs win yesterday, beating the smoking Pittsburgh Pirates 4-3, but Scott Hairston, who belted a home run, was traded to the Washington Nationals for a Class A pitching prospect.

“I was happy to contribute today, and it was nice getting the win,” Hairston said.

Carlos Villanueva got things rolling but it was a team effort because the bullpen was utilized. Hector Rondon, newcomer Pedro Strop, James Russell and Blake Parker all contributed in yesterday’s performance.

“You always don’t dwell too much about it, because I had to pitch out of the bullpen,” Villanueva said of thoughts of returning to the rotation. “I threw in some key situations out of the bullpen. I threw in the eighth inning a couple of times. It’s in the back of the mind, but you’ve got to get people out whenever you put me in.”

I have a feeling that we’re going to see a lot of shuffling and musical chairs for the rest of the season when it comes to the mound since the departure of Scott Feldman.

The Hero of The Day goes to Dioner Navarro, who got a walk off sacrifice to seal the deal after Anthony Rizzo and Alfonso Soriano got on base. Tony Rizzo scored.

So, where do the Cubs go from here? I see the Hairston trade as a positive move. In fact, I kind of anticipated it. It makes sense. Hopefully, they won’t have to trade Garza.

The only bad thing about yesterday’s victory was Darwin Barney’s errorless streak came to an end, but it was better to end the streak on a winning note.

“(The ball) hit my middle finger straight on,” Barney said. “It popped up on the lip (of the infield grass) and took a turn on the outfield grass. That’s what you have to deal with. That’s what outfielders deal with every day with the ball snaking like that. I will have to work on that.”

The Cubs don’t have far to go today as they travel cross town to meet their city rivals, the Chicago White Sox. Matt Garza gets the ball and game time is 8:10pm

–Mark

Pirates Spoil Matt Garza’s Return

Matt Garza

Matt Garza’s return last night created a lot of excitement for Cubs fans everywhere. It was looking good through four innings and perhaps there was a no hitter in the cards for him, but Andrew McCutchen landed on base, spoiling that. The pirates went on to defeat the Cubs 5-4

Then it happened.

Travis Snider walloped a grand slam in the sixth inning off of Shawn Camp and taking the lead 5-3.

The Cubs came within one run in the ninth and was turning into a rally for them, but things came up short when Anthony Rizzo, who was having an unusually off night, struck out swinging.

In all fairness, it was bad luck that the Cubs lost a 3-0 lead going into the sixth. I think part of baseball is those games where everything can be going right and all the momentum is shifting in the right direction, but it takes one pitch to change everything.

The positives to take from last nights gut wrenching loss is again, a pitcher lands on base. Matt Garza hits a double in the second inning to drive Wellington Castillo and Darwin Barney home that gave the Cubs a 3-0 lead.

“Two of our runs were driven in by a pitcher,” Dale Sveum said. “We have to be better and score runs and get those big hits and bust games open.”

Hector Rondon came in for Matt Garza in the sixth inning. maybe it was to ease him in slowly, who knows?

“I had a little nerves that I had to fight off early,” Garza said. “I was disappointed I didn’t go deeper. I don’t like coming out in the fifth. That’s not what I train for, that’s not what I strive to do. It is what it is — I felt great being back out there, but it [stinks] the way it ended.”

You’ll always get the naysayers who scream about, “How can they blow that lead?” but Matt Garza did everything right. In fact, he was down right filthy on the mound.

Baseball isn’t like hockey where a team can out play the opposing team and still get the loss. Baseball has that uniqueness to it that through carefully crafted plays and strategy, that one play can change everything.

There’s always the ninth inning. Other sports, you’re on the clock.

Welcome back Matt Garza, we missed you.

Game time is 7:05 pm eastern.

Carlos”The Villan” Villanueva Hits Rockies Bottom

Carlos Villanueva

The Cubs/Rockies game didn’t go well last night. First off, the Cubs lost 9-4. Carlos “The Villan” Villanueva did not have a great outing, and you know what that means? once Matt Garza gets back, Well, Cubs fans can fill in the blanks.

“Obviously, I have my own opinions,” Villanueva said. “Obviously, a move will be made. A night like tonight didn’t help my cause. I’ll take the ball whenever they need me to. I’d like to contribute and to win as many ballgames as we can. In the end, it really doesn’t matter that much what I think. Whatever happens will happen and they’ll make their decisions. We’re professionals here and we’ll handle it like professionals.”

Hector Rondon came in to replace Villanueva in the sixth inning after giving up seven runs over five.

The good news is Carlos is a great pitcher and I’m sure he’ll find a home in the organization.

“You chalk it up to a bad day at the office. It’s easy when you’re out there to put your head down in a game like today, but for me, it was try to get out of it and try to stay in as long as I could. It’s just a tough day all around.”

Maybe that was just it with last night’s game. it was a tough day at the office, lick your wounds and do it again.

“There wasn’t a whole lot he had tonight,” Sveum said.

I have to give credit to Dale Sveum for keeping The Villan in the game. Sure, it was a tough outing, but it also builds character and this is the time of year to try things out and experiment. Isn’t this the season for the Cubs to do that?

There was a fantastic play by Michael Bowden to ground out Edgmer Escalona. I can’t find a video to show you, but it was an amazing grab!!

The Cubs try to salvage the series tonight at 8:05 eastern before they host the Mets on Friday.

—Mark