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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Bryzzo Souvenir Company Adds Another Gem To Collection

Albert Almora

The Chicago Cubs certainly have a flair for the dramatic. In extra innings, the Cubs defeated the Cincinnati Reds 6-5 after an Anthony Rizzo 3 run long ball to tie it in the ninth. Their, “We do not quit” motif is some serious stuff this season being their third straight victory in a come from behind way. If it was Anthony Rizzo in the ninth, then it was Kris Bryant with the sacrifice in extra innings.

“You never think home run,” Rizzo said. “These guys do pitch me up-and-in a lot. Off the bat, I thought, yeah, but the wind was kind of strong. I thought it might be a long single if it hit the top of the wall.”

Have the Cubs turned a corner after a not so awesome start to April? I hope it’s true, but how much longer can they sustain their, “Comeback Kids” moniker?

“That’s what we always say, the comeback kids,” Rizzo said. “In the ninth, we’re saying here comes the comeback. It’s a good feeling to know none of these guys quit. It’s a cliché, but it’s true. We know we can score at any given time.”

I have to admit, I do like the entertainment of watching them comeback in late innings, although nerve racking in many ways, it gives it that post season vibe, I just get the feeling that they won’t be able to sustain the momentum for long. Awe shucks, perhaps it’s just my inner pessimistic Cubs fan rearing its ugly head.

The are many things I’m certain of but when it comes to the Chicago Cubs, these are the best days to be a fan. They’re exciting, thrilling and of course the World Series team of 2016 have a seat reserved in Cooperstown. Now, the team could be better than last season only because of the close games and the “Bryzzo” factor. These Cubs have personality just not one or two superstars but an entire team that contributes each game.

Speaking of the Bryzzo factor, catch David Ross’s last adventures as an intern with the Bryzzo Souvenir Company

In many ways though, the Cubs got lucky in those come from behind victories. Their pitching hasn’t been solid, Lester gave up 5 earned runs. It’s not hard to figure out that if the pitching isn’t there, then no matter how many hits the team gets (unless of course, they score runs) the teams not going to win. The Cubs have to get their rotation going.

“Would like it to go the other way, being up early, but a win is a win,” Cubs starter Jon Lester said. “When you come back, it always makes it a little bit better.”

You can tell through Joe Maddon’s thoughts on the “Comeback Kids” that he too would like to see a more viable and solid play of his squad.

“I’m OK with that identity, but I’d rather do it in more conventional means,” he said with a smile. “It’s what we talk about. We just don’t quit.”

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Russell’s Walk Off a Thing of Beauty For Chicago Cubs

Addison Russell

How much more can the 2017 edition of the Chicago Cubs keep coming back in games? Yesterday they did just that, a come from behind walk off three run home run from Addison Russell to steal the win from the Milwaukee Brewers 7-4.

“I was just trying to put the ball in play, something over the middle of the plate to start me out,” Russell said of his at-bat in the ninth. “[Feliz] threw me two sliders away, and I was looking for something a little more in. He threw a fastball.”

Oh the modesty. He absolutely crushed that ball. So, that’s two come from behind wins in a row. It’s a dangerous way to start a season. All though the Cubs are proving their worth with these wins, it’s inevitable that time will run out. As the season wears on, the Cubs might be riddled with injuries and exhaustion.

“It’s one of those ugly wins but we’ll take it any day of the week,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “It is the resiliency, it is the fact that we do not quit. It’s on the ring. We don’t quit. It’s on the ring, man, and that’s a perfect example today.”

He’s right but where was Kyle Hendricks? The ERA leader last year, is noticeably absent on the mound with a 6.19 ERA this season. It could be cold weather or a slow start but he has to get his mechanics going. He walked four batters and only lasted five innings. Not that I’m too worried because he’s the type of pitcher who studies the game with all its’ nuances.

“We went in with one game plan, and we noticed they were sitting on a few of the things we were trying to do,” Hendricks said. “I didn’t realize it right away. By the time he came over to me, we could talk about it and find out where we wanted to go with the game plan. I got better contact in the later innings. I still need to find that groove and lock it in.”

So, the Cubs can talk all they want about resiliency but the main issue is in the games they lost, well, they just looked lost. The honeymoon is over, baseball season is underway. They’ll have to hear that familiar song a lot more if they want another parade.

“You definitely want to go into Cincinnati with the sense we can come back in any part of the game,” Russell said. “That’s what we did today. Just don’t give up. That’s the type of style that we play.”

The style the Cubs should be playing is Javier Baez‘s leaping air catches and reaching for the tag, Anthony Rizzo‘s Rizzo Wrap snags, Hendrick’s controlled mechanics and Kris Bryant‘s Long Ball. You see where I’m going with this?

“That was an unbelievable win today,” Hendricks said. “There’s been a lot going on. A lot of outside factors pushing against us, so to be able to focus on the game and get big wins … these teams we’re playing are coming for us. The target is on our backs.”

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Cubs Blame Yankees For April Woes

Chicago Cubs

I guess the Chicago Cubs are learning first hand the problems associated with winning a championship. Every team wants it. Yesterday, the Pittsburgh Pirates defeated the Cubs 6-1 and took the series. It was their first series win since 2014 at Wrigley Field.

Despite the Cubs taking a 1-0 lead into the seventh inning or Jon Lester getting a goose egg for seven innings(On Easter Sunday, no less!). So, the Cubs are 6-6 this April. Whether it’s a World Series hangover, or other teams have caught on to the Cubs’ weaknesses, but the team has started 2017 in a mediocre way.

“We had some good games, we’ve played a lot of close games. We taxed our bullpen quite a bit, which we really don’t want to do. Our starters pitched really well but late in the game, we didn’t score enough runs to give our bullpen any breathing room. I think that falls on the offence.” Ben Zobrist said.

On the other hand, it could be the absence of their grandfatherly figure in David Ross. He caught all of Lester’s games while providing a spark and spark in the clubhouse. Then again, it could be the problem of holding leads and wearing down their bullpen.

“That’s been more of our problem than anything, not getting a clutch hit and holding a lead at the end of the game,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said.

There isn’t really any cause for concern this early in the season. This is roughly the same team that won the hardware last fall. However, missing Dexter Fowler has had a bigger impact than they thought. I mean Fowler’s struggling with the Cardinals right now. Now that’s an interesting theory on a curse placed on the Cardinals when they do business with the Redbirds.

‘‘Last year was kind of a fairy-tale year for us. It’s not always going to be like that, so it’s important to kind of realize that early on, so that we’re not hitting that panic button like we did around the All-Star break last year.’’ NL MVP Kris Bryant.

True, it’s not always going to be like that and I fault us Cubs fans for the pressure of the expectation for greatness. I mean, C’mon, after a 108 years would you expect anything less? Cubs fans have a lot of catching up to do. After the Cubs won, a friend of mine congratulated me on their win but continued to say that they need 23 more championships to catch up to his beloved New York Yankees.

There’s the real reason behind the Cubs early futility. Blame the Yankees. After all, it wouldn’t be the Cubs way to just blame it on the bullpen, blown leads and missed opportunities. It’s almost as if a new curse has been placed on the North Siders. A curse by a Yankees fan.

‘‘We won the World Series last year, so there will be questions, but that’s just natural,’’ Jake Arrieta said. ‘‘That comes with the territory. It’s a business of results, and we still expect really good results from the group we have this year.’’

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Cubs Let The Good Times Roll Over Brewers

Chicago Cubs

National Beer Day was on Friday so it was fitting that the Brewers won but last night was another story. The Chicago Cubs beat the Milwaukee Brewers 11-6 but it was the slump breaking play of reigning NL MVP Kris Bryant that cemented the victory, contributing with 3 RBI’s in the win.

“I don’t feel anywhere near comfortable up there, but it’s nice to get some hits out of the way,” Bryant said.

It’s no secret that spring training is much different than the regular season. Pitchers find their accuracy and batters are studied more in depth and let’s face it, Kris Bryant is probably the most studied hitter in the game right now. If he gets into a slump, it’s not entirely his fault.

“Just get more determined,” Bryant said of his approach when things don’t go right. “I realize this is part of being a big leaguer is to deal with the 0-for-12 and the 0-for-13 and the bad stretches and know it will turn around because it always does. It’s part of the learning process. I’m planting the seeds to keep learning and taking notes in the back of my head. For me, it’s be more determined up there.”

Albert Almora Jr is a player whose presence is going to grow more as the season wears on. He had three hits last night and let’s not forget the defensive plays after making a nice grab in the fifth inning.

“The way Almora has been playing center — that catch he made for me today was huge — and the day he had at the plate,” Kyle Hendricks said.

Hendricks, in his regular season debut, racked up six strikeouts and matched his career tying two hits in a game and get the win and yet, he remains humble.

“It wasn’t the start I was looking for, but luckily we came out swinging today. Finding the strike zone wasn’t the problem. I was throwing across my body, and things were kind of off.” Hendricks said. “Once the game started going, I started to find my groove a little bit, by the fifth inning, it was pretty good. The sixth was really good. I just needed to get into a groove.”

So, it’s the Home Opener Eve. Tomorrow the Cubs can celebrate their first World Series Championship with the Wrigley faithful. The banners will be raised and for all those fans that have stood by their side for all the years, the young and the old will rejoice. It’s pretty exciting stuff. Guys like Al Yellon from Bleed Cubbie Blue who pours his heart out each and everyday with his devotion to North Side’s noble heroes, tomorrow will be a special day. As much as it is a great day for the players, it’s also a great day for the Wrigley staff. Those hard working folks who put the tarps on the field, serve your hot dogs and bring the beer to your seat. If you’re at the game tomorrow, don’t forget to thank the Wrigley staff. It’s the players that win the games but it’s that staff that keep it friendly.

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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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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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