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

 

Cubs Down 2-1 in World Series. They Will Win Tonight.

Chicago Cubs

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Billy Williams threw out the first pitch and Bill Murray sang the seventh inning stretch. The first World Series game played on Wrigley Field soil was in fitting style, a loss.

The Cleveland Indians blanked the Chicago Cubs 1-0 in game three to take a 2-1 series lead. Nobody could blame Kyle Hendricks for getting into a tough situation early on. By keeping the Cubs into the game by not allowing a run and still not finishing the fifth inning, says a lot about how the game went.

“I wasn’t sharp, but they had a good game plan against me,” Hendricks said. “They were laying off some good pitches, putting together good [at-bats]. I didn’t have the feel today for myself, so I just had to battle through it.”

Of course he didn’t have the “feel” because in reality, last night’s game was centre stage for Chicago and sports. If there was anyone who needed to take the mound, it was Hendricks.  His cool demeanour and always thinking stance kept the excited crowd calm. However, the Cleveland pitching dictated the events. Josh Tomlin kept the ball away from the explosive bats of the Cubs. If there are curses to be had, then blame the fact that the wind was blowing out and the game ended in a one run victory.

“It’s rare that you see those conditions, and it’s a 1-0 baseball game,” Joe Maddon said. “But that’s how it works out sometimes. … From our perspective, we got out of the zone way too much. We’ve got to get our strike zone organized again for tomorrow night’s game.”

It’s easy to think that every game is a must win game, but tonight is exactly that. John Lackey gets the call and he’ll have to be razor sharp, competitive and bring his temper because Corey Kluber is his opponent. The Cubs will have to run the pitch count, get some foul tips and really work the count against Kluber. The long ball need not apply tonight regardless if the wind blows out or not. The Cubs have been shutout four times this post season and still end up in the World Series. So they’ve faced great pitching and their bats haven’t erupted lately, big deal! Tonight, it’s grind it out, sandlot baseball. Get mean, get dirty and if Anthony Rizzo has to draw a walk by getting hit, so be it?

“This is why you play the game,” Lackey said. “This is why I’m still playing at this stage of my career, at this age. I’m trying to win championships and trying to be a part of something special.”

Yeah, tonight’s going to be the game that decides which way the Cubs are going. I predict that if the Cubs win tonight, they’ll win it all. I know it’s a bold prediction but when you think about it, their #4 guy going up against Cleveland’s #1 if he wins and guys like Kyle Schwarber and Rizzo come through, well history will be rewritten.

Believe it.

Wrigley Field, Where Dreams Come True

Chicago Cubs

Kyle Schwarber gets ready to take to the field.

There hasn’t been a game played at Wrigley Field this late in the season in 71 years. The city of Chicago is embracing a celebration tonight. A chance to welcome their hometown Cubs back to October baseball. This is a story that’s bigger than sports. It transcends any high salary that the players will be making, this goes deeper than any supposed curse. The Chicago Cubs playing tonight at Wrigley Field is about hope.

Why should people care if the Cubs win the World Series?

“Ray, people will come Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won’t mind if you look around, you’ll say. It’s only $20 per person. They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they’ll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon.

“They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us all that once was good and it could be again. Oh… people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.”

Terrence Mann–Field of Dreams

You can substitute Chicago for Iowa but that’s it. The reason people care about this team, this field and this opportunity to become World Champions is simply because, as Terrence Mann says, It reminds us all of what was once good and it could be again.

People can trace back the roots of other professional sports leagues but baseball, man? They’ll be debating that for centuries. The game of baseball is a common thread throughout North America and the world. A game marked by no time limit. Imagine that? We are not reminded by our own mortality, we are enthralled by legends past like Ted Williams and Babe Ruth. These heroes doing extraordinary things and this year’s version is Kyle Schwarber. He went out two games into the season with a torn ACL but is back in the World Series without missing a beat.

Tonight, we all have reserved seats at Wrigley Field. Most of us will be in the cheap, cheap seats but our hearts are there at the corner of Clark and Addison. We will be brought back in time as we watch Kyle Hendricks dissect the Cleveland order, cheer when Kyle Schwarber steps up to the plate, nod our heads when Dexter Fowler reaches base and pass Bill Murray a tissue when he needs one the most. If you’re lucky enough to catch a glimpse of Steve Bartman, give him a hug, say you’re sorry but please let him sit somewhere else.

Ernie Banks and Ron Santo are smiling. Harry Carey is calling the game and sharing a Bud with St. Peter. This one’s for them and all those Cubs who built the brick work piece by piece. The heartache, the joy and now the reward. There’ll be no speech from Joe Maddon, the player’s know what’s at stake. It took 71 years to get here again and before I suggest the next comet be named “Cubbie’s Comet” enjoy this moment with family and friends.

“You’re blessed and you’re healed the first time you walk into Wrigley Field.”

Eddie Vedder- All The Way

Believe it.

 

Cubs Win, Now It’s Sweet Home Chicago!

Anthony Rizzo

Last night’s win was a must win situation for the Chicago Cubs and they delivered. The Cubs sent payback to Cleveland with a 5-1 victory and now head home to Wrigley Field for Game 3 on Friday. The series is tied and the next three are in Chicago. How sweet is that? On a night which saw Kris Bryant receive the Hank Aaron award, the Cubs delivered.

Jake Arrieta restored the order by pitching the longest no hit in a World Series since 1969 with 5 2/3rd innings of zero hits. Arrieta’s been seeking a new contract worth 150 million stretched through seven years. He’s going to make it tough on the Cubs but first things first, that’s a World Series ring.

“I knew I hadn’t given up a hit all the way to the sixth,” Arrieta said. “That’s really not the focus in a game like this. You really want to try to continue to pile up outs as often as you possibly can. Whether they get a hit or not really doesn’t affect the way you continue to approach that lineup, especially with a five-run lead.

“I wanted to stay aggressive and continue to allow these guys to put the ball in play on quality pitches in the bottom of the strike zone, and that was the mindset throughout, regardless of whether I gave up a hit or not.”

The first inning was beginning to look like game one’s struggles when Cleveland loaded the bases which led to the announcers suggesting that the addition of Willson Contreras over Miguel Montero, who’s backstopped Arrieta through the majority of the season, wasn’t the wisest decision by Joe Maddon. It got Arrieta out of his comfort zone but Contreras’ arm is stronger than Montero’s so he’d be more able to throw runners out at second.

Kyle Schwarber has pretty much shaken off any signs of rust,  but there’s one question that needs to be answered going back to Chicago for the next three games where National League rules will apply.

Where to put him?

He’s been in the designated hitter role but will Maddon stick him in the outfield or pinch hit? Does he give up Jason Heyward‘s defence for Schwarber’s offence? Tough decision which will be answered soon.

So the Cubs head back to Wrigley Field for Friday’s game three. Folks, there hasn’t been a World Series game on Wrigley Field soil in 71 years. The place will be packed and full of energy, we’ll see Bill Murray crying and one of baseball’s hallowed grounds just soaking it all in.

Game time is 7:30 eastern with Kyle Hendricks on the mound.

“It’s going to be incredibly special,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “It’s the finest venue there is in professional sports, and maybe in all of sports.”

Believe it

 

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.

Believe it.

 

 

Chicago Cubs. We Believe.

Chicago Cubs

The Chicago Cubs have been in this position before. A 3-2 NLCS series lead. That was thirteen years ago and we know the outcome. There was blame put on this poor guy so unjustly criticized for hoping to catch a souvenir, instead catching hell and shame.

Tonight is different. The Cubs have earned this right to be here. They finished the season with the best record in baseball, fought back from adversity in this NLCS and now they can entertain the thought of advancing to their first World Series appearance since 1945.

Baseball fans across the world will be tuned in tonight, holding their breaths, praying for hope. This game will beat you up, staying up well past bedtimes and coming into work as if you’ve caught the red eye from Los Angeles back home to Sweet Chicago.

Celebrities can crash White House briefings all they want declaring their love for Chicago’s North Side darlings but in the end, once 8PM eastern hits, it’ll be Kyle Hendricks on the mound in front of 48 000+ faithful who will have his back because baseball is a lonely game. There’s only one player on one base at one time. One batter facing one pitcher waiting for a 90MPH piece of rubber and leather to come hurling towards him like a planet expecting a meteor to change history.

2016 could go down as one of the strangest years in history. Donald Trump could be President of the United States of America and the Chicago Cubs might be World Series Champions. I’ll let you digest that for a moment.

“Don’t anyone tell you that it’s just a game.” few truer words have been sung. Yesterday morning I tried to wake my son up for school, he’s six years old and getting up at 7AM is hard sometimes when it doesn’t require cartoons and Shreddies. I whispered in his ear,

“The Cubs won.”

He raised one finger, his eyes still closed, “One win away.” then he went back to sleep.

Tonight, the Chicago Cubs can punch their tickets to the World Series. In order to do that they must play like kids. No pretence, no knowledge that the pitcher they’re facing is the best in the world. Pure sandlot ball. The belief that when that ball connects with maple, it’s going to go far. There’s no other pitcher I’d rather have on the mound than Kyle Hendricks. He’s earned the start.  He’ll need to go deep into the game allowing Aroldis Chapman to do his thing. That’s it.

You see, the Chicago Cubs have escalated into something more than a baseball team. If they win tonight and advance to the World Series, it’ll mean that everything we teach to our children will be true. If they believe in something, it’ll happen.

Wrigley Field is a place like no other. We all can’t be there tonight but for those who haven’t been there, like Vedder said, “I’m sorry for you” the smells of freshly cut grass, hot dogs and sticky beer. The sounds of Pop! as baseballs get tucked into gloves and the sun’s heat,  the comfort food of the soul.

Ernie Banks knew it. Ron Santo believed it. Eddie Vedder is right.

We’re going all the way

Tonight, “Let’s Play Two”

Believe it.

 

 

 

Cubs Get Stymied By Clayton Kershaw

Chicago Cubs

For all of those people who like saying that “Watching baseball is like watching paint dry” did not tune into the Cubs NLCS. It’s been edge of your seat pitching duels and just watching Javier Baez strut his stuff is pure magic. last night, the Cubs were literally stymied by the Los Angeles Dodgers 1-0. Three time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw dismantled the Cubs batting order pitch by pitch. As a Cubs fan it was tough to watch, but as a baseball fan, it was like watching a magician carving up the assistant in the box trick.

Kyle Hendricks was impressive in his return to the mound after getting hit in the throwing arm in his last start. The Dodgers only got one run off of him and that came at the hands of an Adrian Gonzalez long ball. No, Hendricks was solid and showed us a peek into what could be a Hall of Fame career. Did he learn anything from Kershaw?

“He was impressive,” Hendricks said. “Watching a lot of it from inside, he wasn’t missing any spots, mixing his pitches well, keeping us off balance — that’s the kind of game I was trying to pitch. It was fun to go against him and a tough one to lose.”

The toughest part about losing that game is how silent Bryzzo’s bats have been. Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant haven’t got the hits. Rizzo has only collected 1 hit out of 24 playoff At Bats, while Bryant, who is a front runner for League MVP isn’t hitting well either.

“I’m trying to get six, seven, eight hits at one time,” says Rizzo. “I’ve done that before in my career and it doesn’t work, so you just go about the process, keep grinding and keep battling”.

Even guys like Addison Russell has been somewhat absent during this post season 1 for 22, stretching back to the regular season. So the Cubs have their issues. Sure, Miguel Montero hit that grand slam, but it really should have been Anthony Rizzo or Kris Bryant’s job to do that. Javier Baez? well, there’s nothing wrong with him. He’s been outstanding.

“It’s very nice to be in this moment with young players,” Joe Maddon said. “It’s really nice two consecutive years to be in the Championship Series with a very youthful group. Again, putting your scout’s cap on, it bodes well for the future. Of course, I want it to happen right now and get to that next round.”

Which poses another interesting option; Since the Cubs’ bats have fallen silent, the NLCS will go down to management. Joe Maddon will have to rely on his craftiness with bullpen shuffling, player swapping and good ol’ fashioned creativity to get past the NLCS.

“No, you have to continue to play through the bad lie,” Maddon said. “That’s just — it is what it is. You stay with your guys. Dodgers have good pitching. Cubs have good pitching. I’m sure they’re saying the same thing about some of their guys right now too.”

Believe it