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.

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Cubs Force Game Six in Thrilling Win

Wrigley Field

There’s no denying that Joe Maddon is baseball’s most creative manager out there, but last night at Wrigley Field, with the Chicago Cubs down 3-1 in the series, he pulled the most creative stunt to date; Aroldis Chapman‘s entry into the seventh inning. The creativity worked. Eight outs later, and the Cubs defeated the Cleveland Indians 3-2 and force a game 6 in Cleveland.

“That was our best opportunity,” Maddon explained. “I thought right now, based on the bullpen usage recently, he’s actually kind of fresh. He hasn’t been overused in the last part of this season nor throughout the playoffs. So, again, with him, like a lot of relief pitchers, late-inning relief pitchers, you want to talk in advance of the moment. We did. So he was definitely aware of what may happen tonight.”

I’ve always thought of Chapman as a three out pitcher as we’ve witnessed earlier in the postseason. He has a tendency to get into trouble if he’s stretched out for at least six outs.

“I always appreciate it if they let me know that I’m going to pitch more than the ninth inning,” Chapman said. “I physically prepared myself to come in as early as possible.”

The Cubs are facing elimination. It sucks, but there’s no use in sugar coating it. The big bats have to come out and in the fourth inning they did. Kris Bryant led off with a home run and the faithful at Wrigley roared. Anthony Rizzo didn’t want to be out done by his Cub  brother and connected with a double one At Bat later. Addison Russell launched a single and then, in his final Wrigley Field appearance, David Ross sacrificed a fly ball in order to get the  three runs in. Jon Lester was brilliant through six innings.

“It’s a grind,” said Lester, who threw 90 pitches allowing two runs and four hits while walking none and striking out five. “I mean, that’s what postseason … that’s what makes it fun at the same time.”

That’s what they pay him the big bucks for.

“There’s not a crazy sense of urgency, but certainly we want to get some runs there so that they’re not going to go to [Andrew] Miller and Allen with the lead,” Bryant said. “For me, I wasn’t going out there trying to hit a homer or anything like that. It was, ‘Have a good at-bat,’ and it’s nice that it went over the fence. Obviously, I haven’t been swinging the bat too great, but it was nice to kind of get one to kind of help us all out.”

So there you have it. The Cubs are sort of back in the series, although I’m hesitant to say that facing elimination. They go back to Cleveland tomorrow with Jake Arrieta on the mound and the DH rule in effect. I think normally this wouldn’t fare in the Cubs favour but with the way Kyle Schwarber‘s been swinging, it could be the series changer. The Cubs were down in their series against Los Angeles and look how that turned out?  The Cubs are in good shape. They’re two wins away and I’m confident that if they win Tuesday, they’ve got the series.

“From an entertainment perspective, if you’re a baseball fan or looking to become a baseball fan, it was wonderful tonight, outstanding. But I like to believe we’re going to catch or gain some momentum from this game going back over there.”

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Cubs Down 1-0 In Series. That’s All Right

World Series

There’s a reason that these two clubs are playing in the most important series in baseball. Both teams are lights out dominant on both sides of the plate. In last night’s 6-0 shocker at the hands of the Cleveland Indians, the Chicago Cubs didn’t look sharp but then again, Corey Kluber is the best ace the Indians have on their roster and he made the Cubs pay a hefty price for those World Series tickets.

“We knew [the Indians’ formula] going in,” Cubs catcher David Ross said about facing Kluber, Miller and Allen, “but I think the moral of the story is we got to see those guys on Day 1. Hopefully, that will pay off later.”

Blubber had eight strikeouts over three innings. When that nasty stuff is thrown over the plate, it will befuddle batters if they haven’t faced it before. Jon Lester looked awkward trying to figure out Cleveland’s batters after a frustrating bottom of the first inning where he walked two batters and loaded the bases that resulted in a 2-0 lead.

“I didn’t throw strikes,” Lester said. “There’s no beating around the bush. It’s not like I all of a sudden forgot how to throw a strike, I just didn’t throw a strike. I didn’t get ahead, didn’t execute pitches. It can’t happen. It’s not acceptable.”

Now, it may seam that I’m harping hard on the Cubs after that game but there were signs that it wasn’t all bad. Ben Zobrist hit into the gap for a double and the return of Kyle Schwarber was welcomed as he was a mere two feet from sending the ball over the wall but instead settled for a double.

“We put really good at-bats up against these guys,” Schwarber said. “We just didn’t come up with the knock when we needed to, but that’s baseball. I can hound myself for not getting a knock against Miller with two guys on, but it’s baseball. You just have to move on to the next day.”

This is game one. There’s no locker room rant or talk that’s going to get them amped up for game two. These guys are here for a reason and if that’s the best that Cleveland’s got, then the Cubs should adapt well in game two. Getting Kluber out of the way was a blessing. The way I look at it, the Cubs started slowly in the NLCS as well. I wouldn’t call this a hole but rather an opportunity for the Cubs to “feel out” the opposition. This is the magic of the World Series. These teams don’t know each other very well and in a way, sends a message regarding Inter-league play and perhaps limiting it.

Tonight, Jake Arrieta gets the call and he has to be focused and sharp. The reigning Cy Young winner will find his control and settle the Cubs down.

“I think what you really learn with the more experience you get in the postseason is the finer details,” Arrieta said. “Controlling the running game, not allowing mental mistakes to — not allowing your opponent to capitalize on your mental mistakes. Because, obviously at this point in the season, the team that makes the fewest mistakes typically wins the ballgames.”

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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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Chicago Cubs Are Going To The World Series

#FlyTheW

What should have been the most raucous of celebrations in sports history is somehow filled with quiet reflection. It wasn’t supposed to end like this, there was supposed to be a curse attached to this near mythical baseball team. They were supposed to blow it but somehow, some way, the Chicago Cubs changed history. They righted a wrong and for baseball fanatics and casual observers alike, on October 22 2016 the Cubs became 2016 National League Champions.

Last night will go down in Chicago Cubs history as one of the most thrilling games ever played at Wrigley Field. The Cubs beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 and advance to the World Series for the first time since 1945.

The Professor Kyle Hendricks not only won the ERA title but pitched a gem. In the biggest game of his life to date, he not only pitched seven innings of shutout baseball but he went up against the greatest pitcher in the game Clayton Kershaw, and taught him a lesson he’ll never forget.

Wrigley Field is Hendricks ‘ classroom.

“It doesn’t really seem like reality around here,” said a champagne-soaked Hendricks. “There’s so much going on around here. I’m just trying to soak in the snapshots right now, so I can remember later.”

It was fitting that Hendricks was on the mound. He took apart the Dodgers inning by inning with “old school” tactics by keeping the ball down and not allowing the Dodgers access to those three bags in the infield.

Chicago Cubs

Both Javier Baez and Jon Lester won playoff MVP and rightfully so. Baez was unstoppable on defence and behind the plate. Lester? Well, he was Jon Lester doing Jon Lester things.

People everywhere will remember where they were the night the Chicago Cubs won the 2016 National League pennant. I was surrounded with my wife, family and friends we haven’t seen in a while. It was fitting that our friends came for a visit because Chicago hasn’t seen the pennant in quite a while.

The Cubs are only four wins away from a place they haven’t been since 1908. This isn’t over by a long shot but for a day we can all rejoice knowing that we’ve witnessed something very special.

“Getting to the World Series is a big accomplishment,” said the manager Joe Maddon. “Of course, winning it would be even greater than that. But I still believe that, in seasons to come, people are going to believe more easily now. They’re not going to look for the next shoe to drop. They’ll believe that something good is going to occur, as opposed to something bad.”

The Chicago Cubs are going to the World Series.

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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.”

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Cubs Give Dodgers a Little R & R

Anthony Rizzo

I’m not bragging, but yesterday I predicted that Anthony Rizzo would have a big game and now we know the truth; he reads the Canuck Cubbie everyday, takes the words to heart and applies all my finer points of baseball to his game.

Yeah, right.

The Cubs played “Cubbie baseball” as Addison Russell puts it, by crushing the Los Angeles Dodgers 10-2 and tying up the NLCS at two games a piece. If anyone were just tuning into the series from the ALCS, they’d never have known that Russell and Rizzo were in the midst of a slump.

“This is a big win, for sure,” Rizzo said. “To even up the series, we have a chance to take another one here [Thursday] and go home with a 3-2 lead. In a way, this is just one game and we know it’s going to be a quick turnaround, but this was definitely a big game for us.”

It was a huge game fore sure. If the Cubs lost last night, they’d have been in a hole of 3-1. Yeah, they could have bounced back tonight with Jon Lester on the mound but then they’d have to face Clayton Kershaw. Instead, the win guarantees a return trip to Wrigley Field and an opportunity to win it all at home. I said the Cubs needed a miracle, and last night it looked like they had Angels in the outfield.

“It should help their confidence, there’s no question about that,” manager Joe Maddon said. “When you’re going through the moment they were, it’s a confidence issue. It always is. So going into [Thursday], I know when they show up at the ballpark, there’s going to be a good bounce about them. Probably going to see the ball better, slow things down a little bit.”

While Rizzo borrowed Matt Szczur‘s bat to get his three hits and a homer, Russell relied on something else to get his homer and three hits. I don’t know what it was, but keep using it.

John Lackey was yanked in the fifth inning but pitched well. He got into trouble by walking a couple of batters and that’s when the bullpen took over. You can clearly see that Lackey wanted to stay in. The tough Texan wanted that win and I do believe he was the spark that fired up the Cubs who are two wins from their first World Series appearance since 1945.

“How I feel personally is irrelevant now,” Lackey said. “It was a great team win and good to see our guys swing the bats.”

Lackey is known throughout the baseball world for his fiery personality and he didn’t disappoint. After a few questionable calls, Lackey raised his hand up to his chest, signalling to the umpire if that’s how high the strike zone should be. He’s a fierce competitor who isn’t afraid of telling anyone how he feels. He pretty much set the stage for tonight’s tie breaker with Jon Lester on the mound.

“What you’ve seen so far. It’s been a pretty interesting series to this point,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “I did not expect it to be such a lopsided victory for us today. Although [the Dodgers] had theirs yesterday. Like I said, it’s two out of three right now. We know it’s at least going back home at some point. [Thursday] will be a pretty nice day to come out on top and going back home, having to win one of two. We’ve been pretty good at Wrigley all year.”

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