Cubs Prove Too Much For Pirates

Jason Heyward

Baseball can be a lonely game. I’m not talking about the player staring at the pitcher in a game 7, bases loaded, two out, bottom of the ninth type of loneliness. No, in last night’s Chicago Cubs 14-3  blowout of the Pittsburgh Pirates, there was a loneliness that crept into the beautiful PNC Park around the mid innings when you can practically hear every fan that was left to watch the onslaught. The heckling and the whistling were on full display like ancient Greek theatre’s call and response.

Last night was the kind of game the Cubs should be playing on a regular basis. Jason Heyward won’t crush the ball the first time he sees the plate everytime, but guys like him and Addison Russell, who had a career high four hits, need to be consistent in every game.

“It’s great but it’s not over,” Heyward said. “It’s one game at a time. This game is hard, it’s not easy, and you’re always going to be humbled. It’s great to see hard work pay off but I have to keep going because that’s the way the game goes.”

It isn’t easy when you’re the player who makes a Gajillion dollars and underperforms. So I’m glad to see Heyward doing well this season. As for Russell? Well, one of baseball’s under appreciated players is consistent. He’s turning into the guy who someday could win an MVP.

“I expect to hit every first inning,” Russell said. “We have guys that grind out at-bats from their first at-bat until their last at-bat. Guys will get on somehow, some way. And guys with big knocks along the way.”

So the Cubs haven’t digressed this season but rather matured a little bit perhaps and the style of play isn’t always, like last night, going to knock out of the park every game. The more I watch them this year, I’ve decided that the wins might not always be pretty but they’ll win.

Kyle Schwarber will have to get used to the outfield. Even though he certainly wasn’t a weak spot in the Cubs lineup last fall, he might just be the weakness in the field this season. I think he’ll be better than us bleacher bums think he’s going to be but the growing pains will still be there.

“It’s not easy to just move people around,” Joe Maddon said. “The ball always moves toward the line, whether it’s a righty or left-handed hitter. It’s a different method of thinking on the other side of the field. Can he do it? Of course, he can do it.”

With the order pretty much solidified for the season, I’m hoping for Kyle Hendricks to showcase his stuff for the season. Perhaps the spring training wasn’t enough. Once the warm weather kicks in.

“Overall, still just need to kind of find that groove and lock it in,” Hendricks said. “My mechanics have been a little off, I’ve noticed, the last two weeks or so. I ramped up my throwing, so maybe throwing more has caused that. I just got to find the right balance right now. I just don’t feel strong out there, so I got to get my arm strength and feel like I can step on it (and) get the velocity back. And then from there, my changeup will just play off it.”

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Cubs Come Roaring Back, Dominate Reds and Take First Place

Willson Contreras

I’m not bragging here, but yesterday’s 12-8 victory over the Cincinnati Reds was the kind of win I’m talking about. That dominating offensive juggernaut from the North Side came roaring to life with home run contributions from Wilson Contreras, Jason Heyward and Anthony Rizzo.

“The ball was absolutely flying,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “These balls were well-struck, don’t get me wrong, but the ball was definitely in the air and it was gone.”

What really stood out in the win was contributions from guys like Heyward and Contreras, heck, even Jake Arrieta hit the ball well. The Cubs can’t always leave it up to Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Ben Zobrist to get the job done.

During the offseason, Heyward worked hard on his swing and so far this season, it’s working.

“His whole setup is different, how he’s starting the bat,” Joe Maddon said. “He is much more active with his hands throughout the swing process, and that’s why you are seeing harder contact. Less arms, more hands, that’s how I look at it. It’s been very effective.”

We know how good he is in the field but with the absence of Dexter Fowler, Heyward has to lead a young outfield but he also has to replace the bat of Fowler as well.

“The good signs are getting hits, being able to be aggressive in the strike zone,” Heyward said. “Solid contact, consistent. Home runs are going to happen, but it’s not going to happen if you’re not doing that stuff.”

So, let’s shift over to the pitching of Jake Arrieta. If last season was a come down period for the former Cy Young winner, then this year is his comeback season. The rotation as a whole has been a little shaky but so far, Arrieta is 3-0 and yesterday’s victory he pitched five innings striking out 8 batters. It wasn’t pretty but,

“We’ve had some hiccups, but we’ve been picked up by our offense,” said Arrieta, who gave up five runs in six innings. “As starting pitchers, we have to take advantage of our offense.”

If they’re taking advantage of their offence, then the Cubs are back in first place in the National League Central where they belong, the Cubs could be on the roll that they need. John Lackey will take to the mound today before the Cubs go to Pittsburgh in another key divisional matchup.

 

So here’s your chance to jump on the Cubs bandwagon don’t worry, there’s plenty of room for everyone. It’s hard to figure out how folks can suddenly cheer for teams. It could be birthright, you know, generations of long suffering fans. It might be that of location and hometowns.  I’m the Canuck Cubbie, I wasn’t born in Chicago but came across the Cubs while watching WGN when it was available in Canada. That was many moons ago. When WGN ceased to exist up here, I subscribed to MLB.TV. We’ve been to Wrigley Field and followed the team whenever they play near us.  We try to have Opening Day parties when we can and celebrate everything that is good about the Cubs and great about baseball. If you are new to the game, I encourage you to read up about the history and most importantly, take a trip to Wrigley Field, it’s a 12 hour drive for us but it was so worth it. Cubs fans are amazing. A Chicagoan we talked to a couple years ago was amazed that we drove so far to see them. He lived around the corner from Wrigley! “You came all the way from Canada?”

Yes, we did.

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Cubs Beat Brewers, Bring On Home Opener

Chicago Cubs

It seems like the Chicago Cubs have settled into their Defending World Series Champions roles as they cruised to a 7-4 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers yesterday. Behind the stoic Jake Arrieta, who threw 10 strikeouts, the Cubs also connected with home runs from Kyle Schwarber and Ben Zobrist.

So this is what I don’t understand, some folks are worried about Arrieta’s drop in velocity, myself included because I don’t expect him to return to form from winning that Cy Young award a couple of years ago. I think Jake’s an amazing pitcher and worthy of most of the accolades bestowed upon him(I’m talking about contracts) but a drop in velocity shouldn’t signal a drop in pitching performance.

“Everybody wants to talk about it — I don’t care about that,” Arrieta said. “I know I’m smart enough to work around that, and the velocity is still good enough to get it by guys and do certain things in certain situations with it.”

He’s right. Look at Kyle Hendricks? Not too many times over 90MPH and all the guy does is get batters out. Perhaps control and command is far better than speed?

There’s also another large contract looming over the Cubs like an albatross in Jason Heyward. He had a rough first season with the North Siders but so far this season has proven that he’s a hot commodity on both sides of the plate(Sorry JD). Yesterday, Heyward drove in three runs and has continued to challenge critics on his inflated contract.

“I’m relaxed up there, not thinking a whole lot,” Heyward said of his approach now. “I’m really trying to focus on what the pitcher’s going to do, how they’re going to attack you, that kind of stuff, and not thinking about the swing or anything like that, which is where you need to be as a hitter. Go up there and do that and be aggressive in the strike zone, be on time, relax and go up there one pitch at a time, one at-bat at a time — same stuff as anybody else who is trying to do well.”

In yesterday’s game, Heyward launched a ball deep in centre field only to be snared by Keon Broxton. Heyward tipped his hat to him. It was all class.

Tonight though is another story all together. It’s the Chicago Cubs home opener and the festivities will be plenty. There’s the banner raising and the Cubs will be wearing special gold lettering to commemorate that special victory last fall.

“I love banner raising,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “Rings are wonderful, but I love banner raising. That’s symbolically there all the time. Every time a kid shows up at the ballpark, he’ll see that banner. Hopefully, we’ll be able to hang more.”

The only downfall is it’s a night game. I loved it when the openers were during the day and we’d take time off of work to ceremoniously open the BBQ and ring in spring with Cubs baseball. I’m disappointed that it’s at night. However, tonight is for those fans who trudged day and night to Wrigley Field throughout the years and are being rewarded along with the team on the end of professional sports longest drought.

“That resonated pretty hard for me,” Jon Lester said. “That was a pretty cool moment that these fans shared with their family members, that they’ve had so many years of heartache, and we were able to give them the championship that this city deserves.”

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Cubs Learn Humility in Loss To Brew Crew

Chicago Cubs

In the Chicago Cubs 2-1 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers last night, the Cubs learned a lesson in humility. It’s great that they got it out in the open early in the season but could spell trouble down the road.

Brett Anderson delivered his first start of the season with a cool steadiness only giving up one run and five hits over five and some change.

“Anderson was outstanding,” manager Joe Maddon said. “It looked like everything was working from the side. I thought he and [catcher Willson Contreras] played well together. When you pitch well, we normally expect to win that game.”

On the down swing, Javier Baez took an elbow to the eye when he and Jason Heyward collided in the outfield chasing after a ball. He went down hard and even though the Cubs have erased curses in the past, it was exactly one year to the day that Kyle Schwarber busted up his knee and left for the season.

“It looked like it was going to start swelling. He said he was all right, but I didn’t feel good about it,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He insisted he was good, but I wasn’t convinced. I’m certain he’ll be fine by tomorrow.”

They say old habits die hard but even Heyward doesn’t want to be reminded of the anniversary.

“Stop. I’m just saying,” Heyward said when a reporter brought up the anniversary. “He said he was OK. Hopefully, he’s OK tomorrow.”

There is good news in all of this, Kris Bryant notched his first hit of the season after going 0-14 getting a single in the fifth but the reigning NL MVP shouldn’t worry about any kind of slump. The notoriously slow starter will eventually find his groove and get back to striking fear in opponents across the nation.

It almost seams pointless at this stage of the season to be looking at the standings but here I am gazing at the standings and seeing the Cincinnati Reds sitting on top of the NL Central, a game up on the Cubs worries me just a little bit. I don’t like the Reds. It could be their scorching Red uniforms or just they’re dull. I would rather have the Pirates a game up on the Cubs instead of the Reds.

So, I’m going to just chalk up the Cubs sluggish start to their swings being out of whack and I’m confident they’ll be able to turn up the heat soon. Perhaps I’m expecting too much from the champs too soon or I’m waiting for the movie based on their historic run. The Cubs want to build a dynasty and in order to do that, they must settle down and get back to playing Cubs baseball before the curse broke.  Of course, Monday could be another story when baseball officially begins with the home opener.

Kyle Hendricks gets the start today in his season debut. Game time is 2:10 Eastern.

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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.

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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.

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