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.

Believe it

 

Chicago Cubs Defending World Series Champions

cubs-cream-2016-world-series-champions-patch-model-after-1907-champions-logo-patch

It’s hard to believe that over two months ago, the Chicago Cubs became 2016 World Series Champions. It seems so long ago and yet like it happened yesterday.

For the longest time I wanted to distance myself from the Chicago Cubs. Perhaps it was just to wallow in the warm glow of being champions or it could be the unspeakable fear of them reaching that height which has alluded them for so long, now what can a Cubs fan do?

They’ve won the big prize, they’re no longer lovable losers or curse laden wannabes.

The Chicago Cubs are champions. In 2017, they’re defending World Series Champions.

Say that again my friends, say it out loud (preferably in a room without anyone, we don’t want to jinx anything).

The real test for these Cubs is how they’re going to be lovable winners?

“There’s no more history we have to worry about, no more goats, none of that stuff,” Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts said. “It’s all looking forward. With continued success, we’ll make that ‘C’ into a symbol of winning and not a symbol of not winning, like it was.”

That’s so true. It used to be that people would come up to me and almost feel sorry for me but I tell ya that during that World Series run, I had so many phone calls. Everyone watched it and it felt different. Usually people jump on the band wagons to cheer for a team when their own team didn’t make. That’s normal, but when people cheered for the Cubs, you could tell that deep down there were a lot of Cubs fans. People could like the Red Sox but a part of them likes the Cubs. That’s why the 2016 World Series felt different.

Besides, guys like Anthony Rizzo, David Ross and Kris Bryant captured the imagination of fans everywhere. In a way, they brought baseball back to where it should be. Last fall, it wasn’t about contracts, free agency or other monetary deals; it was about the game.

From David Ross’s home run in game 7 to Bryant to Rizzo’s final out, the look on Bryant’s face said it all.

Elation.

Anthony Rizzo tucked that ball in his pocket to secure the memory.

“You kind of think you know what it would mean to people, but you really can’t know how much it means to so many people until you get there. It’s really been overwhelming. I don’t know how else to put it. It’s something that meant so much to so many people. I’m glad we could be here for it and be a little part of it.” Ricketts said.

Oh yeah, it’ll come again. They could be the first to repeat since the Yankees in the 90’s.

Baseball is unlike any other professional sport. It begins in spring. Hope springs eternal. New life, new dreams and new beginnings. It’s a game played with the utmost simplicity.

“You throw the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the ball” Crash Davis Bull Durham

One of my greatest memories was from last year’s series against the Pirates before the All Star Break. We were at the game and watching Carl Edwards Jr throwing rockets during the warm up, my son turns to me and says, “Daddy, I want to be a pitcher.”

That’s baseball.

Believe it.

Cubs Force Game 7. Tonight, One Drought Will End

World Series

The Chicago Cubs accomplished the near impossible in their 9-3 demolishing of the Cleveland Indians to force a game 7 tonight. They came back from a 3-1 series hole to tie it. When young Addison Russell hit his grand slam, the packed Cleveland crowd fell silent and suddenly, the hearts of Cubs players beat a little faster. In fact, Russell became the second youngest player in the history of the game to hit a grand slam in a World Series. Geez, they have stats on everything.

“I think tomorrow we’re going to come to the clubhouse with a lot of confidence and a lot of energy,” Russell said. “Game 7, it’s a kid’s dream.”

Tonight, one team will hoist the Commissioner’s Trophy. Tonight, the Chicago Cubs have the chance to end the longest championship drought in sports history. It’ll be one of the most watched sporting events in the history of broadcast television.

No pressure.

Joe Maddon’s decision to move Kyle Schwarber to the number 2 position proved to be the difference in the game. It provided a cushion for Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo to do their Bryzzo things. They did. Each got a solo home run and the Cubs never looked back.

The head scratching began when Maddon made the call to the pen in the seventh for Aroldis Chapman. Why would he call Chapman with the Cubs having such a huge lead?

“I mean, seventh inning there because they came up, the middle of the batting order was coming up — Lindor, Napoli, Ramirez possibly — all that stuff,” Maddon said. “So I thought the game could have been lost right there if we did not take care of it properly.”

So here we are Game 7 tonight. This is the night that every Cubs fan has been waiting for. It’s fitting that Kyle Schwarber will bat probably second. It’s stunning and thrilling that Aroldis Chapman has pitched more than he has in such a long time. He might be tired, he might not. Is he ready?

“One hundred percent,” Chapman said through Cubs translator Mateo Moreno. “Last game? Of course, yes. I’m ready for whatever he asks me. I don’t recall [throwing so many pitches]. It’s only mental. It’s the seventh game, the reason they brought me here.”

Kyle Hendricks gets the start. My favourite player in baseball’s most important game. Baseball’s ERA leader for the season and NLCS hero over the Dodgers and Clayton Kershaw has an opportunity to go into the history books. It’s fitting it should end this way. Whether the Chicago Cubs win or lose tonight makes no difference. They fought back in the World Series to be at this point. Underdogs to the end. That’s the Chicago Cubs way.

“Anybody who plays this game grows up dreaming of winning a World Series,” Kris Bryant said. “You know, we get to play in a Game 7. That’s pretty special.”

We get to watch the Chicago Cubs play in a game 7, that’s pretty special too.

Believe it

Chicago Cubs Staring History In The Face

Chicago Cubs

Tonight’s game in Cleveland is poignant in many ways. The Chicago Cubs are down in the World Series 3-2. They’re underdogs. Despite having the best record in baseball all season, the Cubs at this point in the season are true underdogs; and they like it.

Yesterday, I pointed out which teams were the ones that came back in their series to go on and win but today, I’m going to tell you exactly how the Chicago Cubs are going to win. Yes, I said win. I am a Cubs fan and even if they lose, they’ll still win.

Why?

There’s always next year.

It would have been nice to win it at Wrigley Field. The Cubs were tied in the series. All they had to do was go back to Wrigley and win three straight. BOOM! done History has been rewritten, Bill Murray gives Joe Maddon the biggest hug he’s ever had and becomes the celebrity spokesman for Kleenex.

Things aren’t that simple in Wrigleyville. Here we are in game 6 at Progressive Field in Cleveland a day after all spirits rose to walk the earth, including curses and dead goats. Tonight, the Cubs have their reigning Cy Young winner on the mound. Who better to stare down batters a day after Halloween than Mr. Fear The Beard himself, Jake Arrieta.

“We know if we lose we go home,” Arrieta said. “We’ve won three in a row many times this year, even more than that.”

Forget about tomorrow, the Cubs concentrate on tonight and get the job done. They know what they have to do. There’s no speech Joe Maddon could give that the players don’t all ready know in the back of their heads.

“Getting back to Cleveland with Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks rested and Kyle Schwarber back in the lineup presents itself differently,” Maddon said. “I think everything changes at that point.”

This is how it’s going to play out. There’ll be no shutouts, no hitters or perfect games. Arrieta’s pitch count will be between 85 to 90 before handing the ball over to Aroldis Chapman. You see, there won’t be an opportunity for set ups because Arrieta will be focused and his pitches will be controlled. He will go 8 1/2 innings of lock down baseball. There you have it.

Under strange circumstances, Schwarber was made for this series. At Progressive Field the Cubs will look to his bat for guidance.

“I don’t know there’s anybody in the league that can do that,” Ben Zobrist said. “It’s really, really difficult to wake up and get out of bed after six months … and be a great hitter like he is.”

Yes, Schwarber will be the home run kid tonight. The bats will be out tonight after been woken up on halloween. Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo will contribute and lead this team where no other Chicago Cubs team has been in over 100 years.

“It’ll be nice — especially there,” Anthony Rizzo said of getting Schwarber’s left-handed bat back. “It’s a shorter porch to right. It’ll be warmer. He’ll have good at-bats and he’ll be ready for them.”

Believe it.

 

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.”

Believe it

Cubs Prepare For Greatest Comeback In World Series History

World Series

The Chicago Cubs are in deep. last night, the Cubs fell to the Cleveland Indians 7-2 and have a 3-1 deficit in the World Series. It seemed that for everything the Cubs did, the Indians answered back . That’s October baseball. The real question is, Can the Cubs come back?

“We know we have to win out,” Chicago’s Kris Bryant said. “If we want to get to the last game, we have to win the first one, then the next one. It’s one game at a time, don’t change anything, have fun, smile, just be ourselves.”

He’s partially right. If you’re going to play that cliche, then yeah, it is one game at a time. The good news is that next up is Jon Lester tonight, then Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks. Now is not the time for the Cubs to panic. Within a 24hr period, they’ll have to reconnect with the team that won 103 games and reach down deep and play ball. They can come back in this series. They’ve had 16 three game winning streaks this year. Of course, none of them were against this Cleveland Indians team. Only five teams in World Series history have come back from a 3-1 hole.

1985 Kansas City Royals

1979 Pittsburgh Pirates

1968 Detroit Tigers

1958 New York Yankees

1925 Pittsburgh Pirates

So you see, it’s not impossible. If there is any team in baseball capable of staging the greatest comeback in post season history, it’s these 2016 Chicago Cubs.

Why?

They’ve gotten to know this Cleveland team. Joe Maddon is going to keep things loose in the locker room by not allowing players to report until 90 minutes before the game. Hey, they know what’s at stake and I feel that if they try to do too much at this point, it might throw the equilibrium way off balance.

“They’re all trying to hit a grand slam with nobody on,” Miguel Montero said of the Cubs’ young hitters. “It’s not going to happen. We need to take our walks. We need to be a little bit more patient at the plate. We need to play small ball. … We’re all trying to launch the ball 110 miles per hour off the bat, launch angle, whatever. No, we need to get a freaking ground ball through a hole. As simple as that.”

There you have it. Small ball. Forget Bryant’s home run capabilities, get Dexter Fowler on base, move the runners and perhaps lay down a bunt.  They key is exactly what Montero said. Guys like Javier Baez, Addison Russell and Willson Contreras have to keep the ball on the ground because if the Cubs win tonight, it goes back to Cleveland where the DH rule applies and you know what that means?

Kyle Schwarber is back in the game.

“We have to have a one-game winning streak tomorrow,” manager Joe Maddon said. “And if we do that, I really would be feeling pretty good about going back to Cleveland.”

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