Heyward Getting In The Swing Of Things

Cactus League

When the Cubs play the White Sox, it always makes for interesting games. No matter how good one team is or how bad the other is, when the two duke it out, they play each other hard. Yesterday’s game ended in a 4-4 draw.

Both Addison Russell and Wilson Contreras connected with their first home run of the season, even if it doesn’t count for much it means something for players trying to find their groove before the official season begins.

“It was good to get back in a game and face some competition that’s not your own guys,” Brett Anderson said after making his first start in over a year. “Hopefully, now I can get used to being in a routine every five days and multiple outings.”

One of the best parts about spring training is seeing these fresh faces like Anderson vying for their spot in the rotation. For Anderson’s case, he was off for a year with a back injury.

“He’s not trying to re-invent the wheel,” Anderson said of Pitching coach Chris Bosio. “It’s more trying to limit the pressure on my back and a mild mechanical adjustment so I don’t land on my heel as much and land on the ball of my foot or my toes so it’s not such a whiplash affect. It’s small things. He’s said he likes what my pitches do.”

This is probably going to be the most interesting season for the Cubs and their fans. It’s the first time in over a century that the pressure is on. The Cubs will receive their championship rings on the April 12th game. Call Joe Maddon superstitious but he has no plans on wearing the shiny reminder.

“I don’t wear that,” Maddon said Monday. “I gave [my] 2002 [ring] to my mom [Beanie]. She has it. [Wife] Jaye has 2008. So, 2016, I don’t know — my inclination, I’ll talk to Jaye about it [to see] if she wants to hold onto it or if she wants to give it to my mom.”

So as the Cubs do their best to prepare for the crucial season to define their legacy, another player looking to rebound from a not so spectacular season behind the plate is Jason Heyward. He’s changed his approach at the plate with a new swing.

“His hands are working so much better,” Maddon said. “Our game, as a hitter, is played between your fingertips and your elbows. Guys who get a little bit long, a little arm-y — we call it the ‘military swing’, they get a little bit arm-y. Get it? So, if you can engage from your elbows to your fingertips and use your hands and wrists — they used to talk about Hank Aaron — that’s where it happens. That’s what I’m seeing. A lot of it has to do where you start. He’s starting in a manner that promotes, for me, better hand usage.”

I think it’s going to work for him but maybe not so much Joe’s Dad jokes.

Believe it.

 

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 Trail In NLCS. Need Miracle Against Dodgers

Joe Maddon

The Chicago Cubs are in head scratching mode. How do they solve the Los Angeles Dodgers after falling behind in the series 2-1?  The Dodgers beat the Cubs last night 6-0 in what looked like the Cubs were left wondering about the Dodgers. The Cubs shuffled their lineup, they’ve cleared the Clayton Kershaw hurdle but still those powerful bats that rocked opponents all season have fallen.

“We’re just not hitting the ball well,” Joe Maddon stated. “We’re doing the same kind of routines, the work is the same, the batting practice is the same, or the lack of it is the same, and we’re just not getting the results right now. There is really no excuse. We just have to pick it up quickly.”

Time’s running out and the Cubs have got to start those bats swinging. Are they too patient, cautious at the plate? Or where is that creativity? One thing is for sure, they look flat at the plate. With the exception of Kris Bryant‘s two hits, the Cubs aren’t producing any serious offence.

“It happens,” Jake Arrieta said of the Cubs’ offensive struggles. “It’s not ideal to happen in the postseason in these sort of games, but these things are possible at any moment in any game. Our guys are prepared. When a guy makes good pitches like Rich did, along with their bullpen, it’s going to be tough on us.”

It’s not supposed to happen in the playoffs. Maybe sometime in August, early September perhaps the bats get silenced while fatigue sets in, but during the playoffs. Fire, man. That’s when everything changes. Aces become legends and hitters turn into heroes. It’s not that the Dodgers are an excellent team, but during this NLCS, they’re looking very much like a team that won 103 games during the regular season, not the Chicago Cubs.

Look, going down 2-1 in a series isn’t the end of the world. Slumps do happen and it can take a Javier Baez line drive or an Anthony Rizzo home run to change directions.

“Belief is very powerful, and we all have that here,” Kris Bryant said. “The peaks and valleys sometime make you go crazy, but we have more games to play.”

John Lackey gets the start tonight. The grizzled veteran is going to have to muster up all his wealth of experience to pull a gem from his glove for this one. Yup, the Cubs will need to pull out all the stops tonight. Put in Jason Heyward and his outstanding defence. I would put David Ross behind the plate with his competitive fire and get creative. Lackey’s going to have to grind it out tonight. Go late in the innings and show the Dodgers that Texas fire because tonight, more so than any other night is what playoff baseball is all about.

“This is a different situation,” Bryant said. “I feel like last year their pitchers just beat us. Right now we’ve had some chances. We’re only down 2-1. Last year at this time, we were down three. That’s obviously not good.”

Anthony Rizzo will be the hero tonight.

Believe it

Cubs Will Have a Giant Hurdle in The NLDS

NLDS

The Chicago Cubs NLDS is all set to go tomorrow. They’ll be squaring off against the San Francisco Giants after they defeated the New York Mets 3-0 last night. I was hoping for a Mets/Cubs series more for payback than anything and that it is an even year for the San Francisco Giants. We know what that means, right?

“It’ll be a fun time in Chicago — that’s what it’s been all year,” Chicago’s Jason Heywardsaid. “We don’t take it for granted. It’ll be a good time and we’ll have some fun with it. This is what you play for, you want to be on this stage. Don’t ever forget it or take it for granted, just have fun.”

I’m always leery about the Giants. It’s almost like they play possum all year and then wake up in the post season. The good news is that the Cubs beat the Giants in the regular season but the Giants, as we know, have won World Series titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014. Do you see the pattern there? I’m not going to go into detail about the Cubs history in the playoffs but last year, the Cubs beat the Mets in the regular season and look what happened?

“This is 2016, so [the Giants] are going to be tough to beat, no doubt,” Anthony Rizzo said.

In a way, it’s best for the Cubs to be facing the Giants. If they haven’t faced adversity this season, then they’re going to get their fair share of it in the NLDS. The Cubs are a strong team and it’s going to be a tough series. It might not be a sweep, but the Cubs should and will come out of it on top.

We know that President Obama is a proud Chicagoan and a staunch White Sox fan, but will he be cheering for the Cubs on their quest? Press Secretary Josh Earnest has said,

“It’s been a long time coming, and Cubs’ fans have been waiting a long time for a team that looks like this. And there’s a reason that they are considered by just about everybody the favorites to win the World Series,” he said. “But you know, this is — the playoffs and baseball are exciting. And I know the president is looking forward to tracking their progress through the playoffs.”

So there you have it, sort of. It’s almost sacrilegious to wish away today, but Friday can’t come soon enough for this Canadian Cubs fan. Today though, we’ll be watching the Toronto Blue Jays try to get past the Texas Rangers. Game time is 4pm eastern. I’d love to see a Jays/Cubs World Series.

Believe it.

 

 

Cubs Respect The Game

MLB

There’s a lot of players that get lost in the shuffle of the Anthony Rizzo‘s, Kris Bryant‘s and Jon Lester’s but contribute so much to the success of the Chicago Cubs. This year, Addison Russell stepped out of the shadows to become one of the League’s premier defenders at shortstop.

“He’s just grown — he’s growing and growing,” Maddon said. “That’s the beauty of development. The biggest thing I used to focus on in the Minor Leagues is what did a guy look like in April, and what does he look like in August. You see the development. He’s a perfect example — everything’s gotten better.”

It’s no secret that Joe Maddon is a huge fan of the incredible shortstop. Russell became an All Star this season and no doubt it improved his confidence immensely. In fact, he’s on everyone’s radar for a gold glove award this season.

“He’s definitely got to be in the conversation, legitimate conversation,” Maddon said of Russell. “This guy on defense, it’s getting to the point where there’s no one else like that right now.”

So, as the Cubs prepare for the opening of the NLDS on Friday, the Cubs are heavy favourites to win baseball’s biggest prize. The gambling odds website, Bovada, lists the Cubs at 12-5 favourites to win the World Series. I’m not a gambling man, but those seem to be great odds. As we know, odds mean nothing until the end.

The Cubs have gelled together as a team these past couple of years. Joe Maddon and his crew have built a foundation of respect and camaraderie amongst the veteran and young players that have carried forth into the on field success of the baseball team. Fans like me love this team because there’s no egos. There’s not one person that sits alone at the end of the bench or dines for dinner for one. It’s a true team effort.

“These are people who have been there and done it and understand that’s the old-fashioned part of this game,” Jason Heyward said. “It’s getting lost and kind of sad to see. It’s awesome to be able to help or lend experience, comfort, anything like that and pass along, not even the torch, but hospitality of becoming part of the fraternity.”

Maybe that’s what’s so appealing about these Cubs? They feel old fashioned, born of a different era. This team cares about their community and each other. There’s no star on this team. Bryant would be happy to play anywhere as long as he’s playing.

I’m hoping he’ll be happy to play in the World Series.

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 Lose Final Home Stand Of Season

Anthony Rizzo

 

This wasn’t the way the Chicago Cubs were supposed to finish out the 2016 season at home, with a loss? The Professor Kyle Hendricks took the loss against those always frustrating Milwaukee Brewers at a score of 3-1. Despite a great game where the hurler struck out nine, the Cubs struggled to get runs.

“Here’s a guy who we have not supported run-wise a lot this year,” Maddon said. “He definitely pitched well enough to win. It’s just unfortunate. He didn’t have his best stuff, but nine punchouts and two runs over six innings is a pretty good day.”

Maddon’s right. There was no run support for the pitcher and when it comes to October, this could prove extremely frustrating for the North Siders. The Cubs rank 10th in Batting Average with runners in scoring position. Those aren’t great odds when it comes to the post season. This is an area of concern that’s plagued the Cubs before and you know something? It’s not going to get much better going forth unless they change their approach.

“We’re always trying to win. We’re always trying to do what we can approach-wise and get our pitch to hit. It doesn’t matter what the circumstances of the game are. We’re playing for ourselves, playing for each other and playing for home-field advantage in general. We respect the game. We haven’t done anything yet.” said  Jason Heyward.

That may be so, but it doesn’t explain how a team could lose to a bottom feeding division rival this late in the season. This is the time of the year when playoff teams should be warming up towards October. Am I mad?

Yes.

The Cubs should have had that series. Milwaukee is terrible, and the Cubs should have ran up the score against them, unleash the beast and practice stuff that they could have done next month.

“The game is not an easy game. You’re going to run into teams playing well,” Heyward said. “People would be talking about the Brewers making a push to make the playoffs if this was the first half. Sometimes there is less pressure on a team and they play better when they have nothing to lose.”

The Cubs are clawing their way to the top. it’s not enough for them to just finish at the top of their division, they must win first in the National League.

“It’s important to win,” Heyward said, looking at the question more in the abstract. “They don’t fly a ‘W’ for no reason. We don’t celebrate every win out here for no reason. That’s the bottom line, it’s important to win. If you go out there every day as if you’re going to put your best foot forward, then you don’t have to worry about anything else. That’s been the biggest thing, to kind of keep it where we don’t have to think too much. If you want to win, that means you want to keep the best record in baseball.”

Believe it.