Chicago Cubs 2016 Central Division Champions!

Chicago Cubs

Congratulations Chicago Cubs on becoming the 2016 Central Division Champions!

It wasn’t the best way to clinch the National League Central Division but after the Cubs lost to the Milwaukee Brewers 5-4 they had to watch the St. Louis Cardinals. That’s right, the Cubs watched the Cardinals lose to the San Francisco Giants 6-2. There were no champagne corks bouncing off of the ceiling, no plastic laid on the dressing room floors and no goggle wearing Jake Arrieta shaking a bottle and spraying Jon Lester but they’re in.

“It would have been wonderful to do that for the fans right there,” Maddon said. “We were unable to do so. That’s part of the uncontrollable nature of the game.”

They’ll have to hold on to the celebrations for another day, that’s all. As for their loss to the Brewers, the Cubs played a good game despite the score. Jorge Soler was ready to party after sending a rocket into the stands for a take home in the second but the Brewers bounced back.

“Last year was exactly the same,” Cubs catcher Miguel Montero said after Thursday’s game. “Regardless, we have to come back tomorrow and win the ballgame. We’ve been playing good enough to not quit now. We want to keep rolling.”

There’s no need to rest on laurels after the the clinch. You see, one of the pesky parts about the now important All Star Game is that the winner gets home field advantage during the World Series. I like the idea,but the Cubs won’t have it this season because of the American League winning the summer classic. However, the Cubs have an opportunity to gain home field advantage if they can snag first overall. The magic number is 10 for that. Any combinations of wins/losses by the Cubs or the Washington Nationals will secure that advantage.

“The Cardinals won 100 games last year,” Lester said. “No matter what you do during the season, it’s nice, it’s fun, it’s the process, but what matters here is another month. What this team will be remembered for is next month, not during the season and how many wins and all that stuff.”

Leave it to Jon Lester to bring us down to earth. He’s right. Next month is a whole new ballgame. It doesn’t matter that the Chicago Cubs have been in first place all but one day this year. When the team that pops champagne at the end of October hoists that trophy, it’s going to be about what they did in October. The pitching, the offence and the error free defence that will get them to the end of the month. The acrobatic grabs Anthony Rizzo made this year mean nothing now.

“To be this young, to be this good, that’s the part that’s a little bit different to me,” Maddon said Thursday. “That’s the part that really stands out. … Everybody’s saying how good we are, and that’s wonderful, but I’m telling you, these guys are going to get better. They are that good. They deserve every moment they’re going to have this season, but they are going to get better. They just need more experience. As they gain more experience, we are going to get better.”

Believe it.

Cubs Need To Worry a Bit

Chicago Cubs

Chicago Cubs starting pitcher John Lackey reacts after giving up a home run to Houston Astros’ Alex Bregman during the third inning of a baseball game Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Never back a hungry beast into the corner. That’s how the Houston Astros beat the Chicago Cubs yesterday 2-1. With two teams on the opposite ends of the spectrum, one all ready in the playoffs and the other battling for a Wild Card position, the Cubs just couldn’t get it done with runner’s in scoring position.

“We need to move the baseball with runners in scoring position or just move it in general,” manager Joe Maddon said after the game. “The strikeout is something we’ve worked on to knock down. And we have.”

It could have been Maddon was resting players but then again, players like Jorge Soler has to come through in order to make it through October. Who knows? Perhaps Maddon doesn’t care about the end of September with the huge lead in the standings?

One thing that concerns me is the Cubs small ball. We know they can send rockets into the stands and that’s fine during the regular season, but the playoffs are different. Playing long ball will help a team get to the post season, but it’s small ball that wins series and gets your name on trophies.

“It doesn’t really matter if there is a man on base or if there isn’t a man on base, I’m going to try and attack the ball and try to get a hit no matter what,” Jorge Soler said through the team interpreter. “I’m not really thinking about that. I’m worried about caring about driving the ball and getting it out to the outfield.”

The good news about was the Cubs lost a one run game. It’s not the ideal way to lose but they kept it close. On the flip side, they should have won the game by getting runners in.

“We play that game often, man,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “We had all those one-run games back at home in that last homestand. That’s the kind of game we play all the time, and I love it.”

I mean the Cubs went 0-10 with runners on base. With an offensive juggernaut like the Cubs, that’s going to prove unacceptable in the playoffs. They must get those runners in.

The Cubs are in a bit of a hitting slump. Three games in a row where they didn’t score more than two runs isn’t acceptable. Ah who am I kidding? Perhaps I’m expecting too much from the North Siders. It’s September, the players need a little rest before October and slumps happen.

“I believe that hitting is a little bit contagious,” Cubs designated hitter Miguel Montero said. “When we get a couple guys going, I think the whole offense is going to get going. Nothing to worry about. Guys seem to be putting good at-bats together. They just have to find holes, get in good counts, work the pitching.”

That’s always the most diplomatic thing to say when a team goes through slumps. All though it’s more representative of Casey At The Bat by Ernest Thayer

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
the band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
and somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
but there is no joy in Mudville — mighty Casey has struck out.

Obviously, Jorge Soler hasn’t read the poem.

Believe it

 

Cubs Beat Pirates in Thrilling Way

Miguel Montero

 

Heroes come in the most unlikeliest places. Last night, the Cubs beat the Pirates 8-7 with Miguel Montero‘s hot bat off of the bench in the 13th inning. They battled back, they fought hard and the game ended this morning. These two teams play each other hard, if it were a Wild Card contest it would be a classic.

“Look at how they played tonight — it must have been the onesies,” Maddon said. “If you’re flying on a charter airplane, and you have onesies on, you feel better the next day.”

It had to be the onesies but you’d never catch me in one of those things. Jake Arrieta had a great game. He had a hit, almost had a home run, battled a 14 pitch At Bat before striking out and was involved in a rundown where he got the always thrilling Starling Marte out at home. This is why I’m opposed to the designated hitter role. When pitchers are as involved in the game as Jake Arrieta is, there’s no easy outs. Anything can happen and becomes a much more thrilling game.

“The resiliency of our team was incredible,” Chicago starter Jake Arrieta said. “Just a crazy ballgame all the way around. So many things happened.”

See, here’s the other crazy thing about the game which makes it so endearing; Javier Baez made a mistake in the final Dodgers game and the Cubs lost but last night in the series opener at Wrigley Field against the Bucs, he had 4 hits including a triple in the 12th inning. Baseball is a game of redemption. When they say that every game is different, put the loss behind and move on, well they mean it.

“We’re not going to stop playing hard. This is a team that’s trying to win the World Series and we’re not going to give up, no matter how many runs we’re up or down. I saw [Montero] getting ready, and I said, ‘It’s going to be you.’ Baez said.

You can also say that about Jorge Soler, whom a lot of people wrote off this season and he almost ended up as trade bait, but last night’s home run in the ninth inning tied his totals from last year at 10.

If last night’s game was an indication of how the Cubs could do in the playoffs, well they’ll be tough. I think their goal for September is to reduce those pesky errors by the young guys and focus on small ball. It’s a cliche, I know it but it’s true, “Get the guys on base and bring em’ home” or as I like to say, “The long ball will get you into the post season but it’s the small ball that’ll win you the series.”

“That was a goofy game, boy,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said.

Believe it.

 

 

 

 

Cubs Give Fans Reason To Believe

David Ross

Sometimes the Chicago Cubs make it look too easy. Yesterday’s 6-1 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers was one of those kind of games. Jon Lester led the Cubs with his 13th win of the season and now owns a 7-2 home record. This is the guy, who in the winter of 2014, the Cubs held a big press conference announcing that,

“I want to win…I believe in the plan that they have in place right now for the future of the Cubs.”

A year and a bit later, the Cubs are 6-0 in the last six Lester starts. I’ve never been a huge fan of his style but I have to call it what it is, the guy’s been outstanding this season.

After throwing for 6.2 innings, Lester’s night was done and he walked off the mound to an elated Wrigley crowd.

“You don’t want to be the loose link in the chain,” Lester said. “You want to keep pressing along where you’re not the guy and they go, ‘He stinks,’ and you’re letting the other guys down. I just try to stay in my bubble and go out and pitch well and give my team a chance to win. I don’t know if you look at that as being competitive, or not wanting to stink.”

But the fun didn’t just stop with Lester, Jorge Soler collected a three run home run that almost past the crowd and onto the streets behind. It’s fantastic to see Soler getting back in the swing of things since his return. He now has 7 home runs in his last 25 games.

Then there’s David “Grampa” Ross, who connected for a home run and got the crowd cheering on his swan song season.

“We’re just playing good baseball,” Ross said. “It’s nice to be healthy. [Soler] being back is a big piece. We don’t look at it as a long stretch of wins. We come in every day to compete that day against who we’re facing.”

There’s no doubt that this has been one of the most exciting seasons in Chicago Cubs history. It’s been the first season in a long time that fans weren’t just happy that the team is winning, it’s becoming dangerously close to expecting the team to be dominant which is not always the best way to go about things. My family is busy clearing off space in the house for talismans and other lucky charms for the October run. Yes, it’ll be heartbreaking should the Cubs fail to win the World Series but consider this; It doesn’t matter that the last time they won the big one, Ford was rolling off the Model T. What matters is that sports fans will have a chance to gather at the pub, the ballpark or at houses to witness history. A lot of fans cringe when playoffs come around because of the band wagon folks who display colours of the “Cool” team of the moment but these are the fans that will share in what could be the sporting world’s most celebrated victory. I’ll tell you right now that this October will be one to remember. It’s not about whether the Cubs win it all, but the unity they’ll bring in an October that fans will talk about for a long time to come.

Believe it.

 

 

Cubs Becoming Canada’s “Other” Team

Chicago Cubs

If this is the Cubs’ fairy tale season, then it’s fitting that Kyle Hendricks has been the hero of the story. Maybe it’s too early to call it a fairy tale but in their 3-1 victory over the Oakland Athletics and sweep of the series, Hendricks delivered another outstanding performance in his potential Cy Young season. Even though he’s only allowed three runs or fewer since May 22nd and he owns the number two spot in ERA with 2.17 behind Clayton Kershaw, it’s the way he goes about getting the outs. When he’s not getting a strikeout, Hendricks forces batters to hit into the infield where it becomes an easy out.

“Give him credit, man,” Maddon said. “A lot of people doing want to give a guy credit enough because he doesn’t throw hard enough, but this guy really knows what he’s doing as a pitcher.”

Hendricks record is now 11-7 but I think the most impressive thing about the young pitcher is that this is he goes deep into the games. Yesterday, he pitched 7 1/3 innings. Last start it was a complete game. It gives the bullpen that break it needs.

“You’re seeing his confidence getting higher and higher,” Anthony Rizzo said. “His stuff is unbelievable.”

It’s just not Hendricks that is getting things done, but the reemergence of Jorge Soler nothing another home run since his return. Two home runs in his last three games. Wow, less than eight weeks to go and it couldn’t have come at a better time.

“We knew we were just in a long stretch there before the break,” Hendricks said. “We knew we just needed to get a little breather, get a few days under our belt. We knew guys would get their legs back under them and we’d start feeling better. Definitely no panic, but we wanted obviously to play well and establish something out of the break.”

So, while the Cubs are continuing to strike fear in opponents each time they face them and hype is at an all time high on the North Side, it’s also garnering a lot of excitement north of the border. A lot of fans from the west coast shores of British Columbia to the waves of Nova Scotia are hoping for a Cubs/Blue Jays World Series. Yup, not patting myself on the back for this one but since Montreal lost the Expos in 2004, there’s a lot of fans who have shifted allegiance to the Cubs as their National League team of choice. Baseball fans that I’ve talked to who are die hard Jays fanatics often perk their ears when I bring up the Cubs. It’s exciting, I used to get ridiculed for waving the Blue Bear banner but guys like Rizzo have quickly become household names alongside the Josh Donaldson’s and Jose Bautista’s.

The Chicago Cubs. Canada’s “Other” team.

Believe it.

 

Cubs’ Arrieta is Awesome Again

Jake Arrieta

Welcome back Jake Arrieta! The Cubs and Mr. Arrieta downed the Oakland Athletics 4-0 to extend their winning streak to six games. In a throwback game, it was fitting that Arrieta returned to form. Sure, it may have been a throwback of another era but the play on the mound was just like old the times of last year. It’s no secret that Arrieta had a rough July going 0-3 and making at least this Cubs fan, a little anxious about the pedigree of his 2015 Cy Young winning season but the stone faced hurler

“That was nice,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “He kept his command. He had two or three key pitches — the 3-0, 3-1 grounder where we didn’t get the double play and the 3-0 fly ball [to Khris Davis in the fourth]. Those were big pitches for him.”

The timing for Arrieta to regain his composure couldn’t be better as the Cubs’ 68 -41 record continues to dominate the majors and solidify their position as the best team in baseball.

“We’re having a nice stretch here,” Arrieta said. “It’s nice to have six in a row, but tomorrow it doesn’t matter.”

Today is a new day despite the Cubs winning 15 of their last 21 and the biggest surprise so far of the bottom half of the season is the return of Jorge Soler. It seemed too easy to write Soler off because of his injury but the hard hitting outfielder has effortlessly connected on almost everything he’s hit since his return. He homered on his first At Bat on Friday and yesterday collected an RBI.

“He always swings the bat well. His biggest obstacle is figuring out a way to stay on the field,” said Cubs starter Jon Lester, who picked up Friday’s win. “He’s young though, and any time he’s in our lineup he’s definitely a presence. I’m happy he’s back and helping us out.”

The versatility on the Cubs squad has proven to be their success this season with guys like Willson Contreras being able to play the outfield when called upon.

“He’s a good athlete,” Maddon said. “He runs well. If he played left field, even right field, all the time, he would be a very good outfielder.”

Today, the guy with the lowest home ERA with 1.19 takes to the mound to face the Athletics. Kyle Hendricks will try to stuff the ballot box when the Cy Young award is called out at the end of the season. Game time is 4.05 Eastern.

Believe it

 

Anthony Rizzo Leads Cubs Past Reds

Chicago Cubs

That was a wild and wacky series against the Cincinnati Reds but the Cubs managed to provide the fireworks. With the 2016 All Star game fast approaching, the Cubs will hopefully close out the first half of the season displaying their dominance over the New York Mets and then a weekend series against the Pittsburgh Pirates (which we’ll be at Sunday’s game!)

So, the Cubs beat the Reds 9-2 with Anthony Rizzo getting a three run inside the park home run.

“Right when it hit off of him, it kicked in,” Rizzo said. “Turned on my speed and turned the jets on. Yeah, even if [third-base coach Gary] Jones is holding me up there, I was probably still just going to truck through it.”

It was also great to see Albert Almora banging his first career home run. So far, he’s hitting.286 and has helped out tremendously with the injury to Jorge Soler.

“I didn’t know it was going to go over the fence when I first hit it,” Almora said. “I just knew I hit it well. It was a pretty exciting feeling, helped the team out.”

Kyle Hendricks had a tough day but still only managed to give up a couple of runs in 6 2/3 innings. Yesterday was one of those days when you chalk it up to, “We’ll take the win.” His record is 6-6 with an ERA of 2.76 I’m hoping that he’ll be pitching in the Pirates series next week. If I had to pick my favourite player for the Cubs it’d be him. I’ve marvelled at his control and changeup. He’s the type of pitcher who’ll hit his peak in about four years.

“I thought his last two innings were his best stuff,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “Combination of his command really got better, his aggressiveness in the zone got better and it looked like he normally does in the beginning part of the game. He was really good today.”

His ability to pick apart the zone is one of the best in the game. I always look forward to him pitching.

Ok, speaking of great players, the All Star voting ends tonight. Get your votes in! Let’s get David Ross into the All Star Game!

Believe it.