Cubs Prove Too Much For Pirates

Jason Heyward

Baseball can be a lonely game. I’m not talking about the player staring at the pitcher in a game 7, bases loaded, two out, bottom of the ninth type of loneliness. No, in last night’s Chicago Cubs 14-3  blowout of the Pittsburgh Pirates, there was a loneliness that crept into the beautiful PNC Park around the mid innings when you can practically hear every fan that was left to watch the onslaught. The heckling and the whistling were on full display like ancient Greek theatre’s call and response.

Last night was the kind of game the Cubs should be playing on a regular basis. Jason Heyward won’t crush the ball the first time he sees the plate everytime, but guys like him and Addison Russell, who had a career high four hits, need to be consistent in every game.

“It’s great but it’s not over,” Heyward said. “It’s one game at a time. This game is hard, it’s not easy, and you’re always going to be humbled. It’s great to see hard work pay off but I have to keep going because that’s the way the game goes.”

It isn’t easy when you’re the player who makes a Gajillion dollars and underperforms. So I’m glad to see Heyward doing well this season. As for Russell? Well, one of baseball’s under appreciated players is consistent. He’s turning into the guy who someday could win an MVP.

“I expect to hit every first inning,” Russell said. “We have guys that grind out at-bats from their first at-bat until their last at-bat. Guys will get on somehow, some way. And guys with big knocks along the way.”

So the Cubs haven’t digressed this season but rather matured a little bit perhaps and the style of play isn’t always, like last night, going to knock out of the park every game. The more I watch them this year, I’ve decided that the wins might not always be pretty but they’ll win.

Kyle Schwarber will have to get used to the outfield. Even though he certainly wasn’t a weak spot in the Cubs lineup last fall, he might just be the weakness in the field this season. I think he’ll be better than us bleacher bums think he’s going to be but the growing pains will still be there.

“It’s not easy to just move people around,” Joe Maddon said. “The ball always moves toward the line, whether it’s a righty or left-handed hitter. It’s a different method of thinking on the other side of the field. Can he do it? Of course, he can do it.”

With the order pretty much solidified for the season, I’m hoping for Kyle Hendricks to showcase his stuff for the season. Perhaps the spring training wasn’t enough. Once the warm weather kicks in.

“Overall, still just need to kind of find that groove and lock it in,” Hendricks said. “My mechanics have been a little off, I’ve noticed, the last two weeks or so. I ramped up my throwing, so maybe throwing more has caused that. I just got to find the right balance right now. I just don’t feel strong out there, so I got to get my arm strength and feel like I can step on it (and) get the velocity back. And then from there, my changeup will just play off it.”

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Cubs Snap Losing Streak But Baseball Is a Long Season

Miguel Montero

The Chicago Cubs won 9-7 yesterday over the Milwaukee Brewers. They snapped their losing streak, Miguel Montero and Kyle Schwarber each knocked out two run homers but  there’s a few problems that are heading the Cubs way.

“We have a pretty good hitting lineup from top to bottom,” Montero said. “Obviously, they have a five-run lead in the game but there was still a long way to go. We knew we’d be able to come back.”

Um, yeah, that’s what I’m talking about right there. The Brewers had a five run lead going into the third inning. The Brewers! They’re not expected to do anything this year and are beating the Cubs at their own game. That’s what I’m talking about.

“I don’t think we’ve played the kind of baseball we played last year,” General Manager Jed Hoyer said. “We’ve been sloppier at times than last year. That’s the only part that, when I watch the games, we didn’t do that last year. We were very clean, we took care of the ball, we didn’t give the other team outs.”

That’s precisely it. There’s no other way to put it when teams like the Brewers are racking up the runs on the Cubs the way they’ve been doing except to blame it on sloppiness.  They can even blame it on their bullpen but as the weather warms up, the bullpen should get looser. If the Cubs win the World Series, and that’s a big if, then it’ll be based solely on the fact of them overcoming these smaller market team wins.

“We’re gonna be fine out there,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “It’s all about confidence. We just have to keep getting them out there. As they get more successful innings — which they shall — their confidence will come on because they’re really good.”

See, now I’m starting to sound frustrated with the Cubs and April isn’t even over with. All right, so I’m going to put something out there that a lot of you folks might not like but I feel that Kyle Schwarber should be moved at the trade deadline. Yup, they need to move him and it’s going to hurt. Hitting lead off isn’t where he should be. They need to resolve that by going out and finding a premium lead off hitter if they want to make it through the Fall.

“So right now, you look at left-right-left-switch-right, I kind of like that, the way we have it set up,” Maddon said. “So to move (Schwarber in the order), it’d have to be either an acquisition of either a really legitimate lead-off hitter or somebody getting so hot down below that you felt comfortable about putting him in front of that guy.”

Is that Maddon confessing that Schwarber as a lead off hitter isn’t working as well as he thought it would? Don’t get me wrong, Schwarber is good but he isn’t a lead off hitter. If the Cubs can solve that problem, then they’ll be fine.

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Cubs Trying To Get Losing Streak Done Early

Chicago Cubs

The Chicago Cubs are in the midst of a losing streak as they dropped their fourth straight yesterday 6-3 in the series opener to the Brewers. The good news is that last year, the Cubs longest losing streak was five games. That didn’t occur until July, so if baseball is a superstitious game and, well, you know the Cubs are no stranger to superstition and freaky things, then this could be a good sign to get it out of the way early.

“I don’t remember what our record was at the beginning of last year. People are going to come here gunning for us, for sure. We’re the world champs, and people want to come here and play well. We’ll have to match that intensity and play better.” said John Lackey.

While Kyle Schwarber lays down some pretty impressive bunting skills, it’s good to see that Joe Maddon’s creativity is still intact. It was the first bunt that Schwarber hit in the majors.

“The situation dictated it right there,” Schwarber said. “We’re down two runs and I needed to get on base. If it’s wide open in that spot, I’m going to take it.”

What’s pretty unique about the situation the Cubs are finding themselves in is that once upon a time, fans didn’t expect much from the North Siders but now that there’s a World Championship under their belts, well that’s different. The Cubs are playing .500 ball and although players are trying to keep their heads about it, I can’t help but sense an undercurrent shifting and a little bit of worrying.

“It happened to us last year right before the All-Star break,” Schwarber said. “We hit the skids. Hopefully, maybe we’re hitting it early. We’re super-early in the season still. Like I said, no panic.”

It’s the back end of the game where the Cubs find themselves struggling. Closing out games and their bullpen needs to get caught up with the rest of the team. Here’s the thing though, Wade Davis and Kojii Uehara are new additions to the squad that last year featured Aroldis Chapman after the All Star break. So, like it or not the Cubs are a much different team than last season.

On an up note, three former Cubs received their rings yesterday. Travis Wood, Jorge Soler and Jason Hammel all had a chance to bask in the limelight again and visit with their former team.

“Travis walked in, and it’s like, ‘OK, how do you feel for today?'” Maddon said. “It’s just very, very normal. … The weird thing about that is it’s like he belongs here. It’s not even weird — there’s nothing awkward about it. That’s not normal. When a guy from another team walks in your locker room, even though he may have been with you in the past, it’s still awkward.”

Yes, the awkwardness is there but in the end, the Cubs have to find a way to move past the jewelry, pageantry and those banners out beside the scoreboards and get back to what made them great.

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Cubs Shutout Dodgers With Help From Wrigley Weather

Chicago Cubs

It goes to show you what a day can make. Just one day removed from all of the pomp and pageantry of getting their rings and the wind blowing out at Wrigley Field, the Cubs got right back to business with a dominant display of just how they deserved that sparkling jewelry. They defeated the Dodgers 4-0 with Brett Anderson recording the shutout. It was almost as if Anderson, who is the only Cubs player on the roster to not have won a World Series was trying to prove he belongs on the team.

“A lot of envy, especially now being the only guy on the active roster without a World Series ring. That’s not fun. It gives me, personally, that much more incentive to do my part and fill the holes going forward.” Anderson said.

The one problem I have with this year’s squad is Kyle Schwarber. The Cubs have a dilemma with him being in the outfield. His skills on defence are not the greatest but as we know he’s no slouch in the hitting department, there’s the problem of To Keep Him or Not To Keep Him? I believe he’s destined for a DH role somewhere soon. It could be this year year or next and it’ll be sad to see him go.

On the other hand, he’s learning the outfield. His overturned bobbled catch off the sprouting ivy was certainly brilliant and flashy but he’s nowhere in the same department of Jason Heyward nor may never be.

“If I’m going to make a mistake, it’s going to be an aggressive mistake, not a passive mistake,” Schwarber said. “The ball’s to the wall, and you’re trying to make a play, and no one can second-guess you.”

Yesterday kind of proved the curse theory at Wrigley Field. It was the wind all these years that messed up chances and opportunities. Whether it’s hitting or defence which ever way the wind blows will guide which way the game will be played.

“It’s just Wrigley for you,” Schwarber said. “There are going to be those days when you don’t know what’s going to happen with the ball, and you have to approach your at-bats the same.”

Both Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell got their first home runs of the season during that weird weather day at Wrigley. In particular Russell’s HR.

“That ball was mangled,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said.

It practically left some lucky fans a souvenir outside the park.

On a side note, I believe that part of the excitement and importance of the Cubs winning the World Series is they’ve finally inked their place alongside the greats like Boston, New York and the Detroit. No more are they the team that are pushovers, with that win, they’re forever taken seriously. That 2016 team is a legend in sports history that will be forever enshrined in our hearts and imagination.

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Cubs Beat Brewers, Bring On Home Opener

Chicago Cubs

It seems like the Chicago Cubs have settled into their Defending World Series Champions roles as they cruised to a 7-4 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers yesterday. Behind the stoic Jake Arrieta, who threw 10 strikeouts, the Cubs also connected with home runs from Kyle Schwarber and Ben Zobrist.

So this is what I don’t understand, some folks are worried about Arrieta’s drop in velocity, myself included because I don’t expect him to return to form from winning that Cy Young award a couple of years ago. I think Jake’s an amazing pitcher and worthy of most of the accolades bestowed upon him(I’m talking about contracts) but a drop in velocity shouldn’t signal a drop in pitching performance.

“Everybody wants to talk about it — I don’t care about that,” Arrieta said. “I know I’m smart enough to work around that, and the velocity is still good enough to get it by guys and do certain things in certain situations with it.”

He’s right. Look at Kyle Hendricks? Not too many times over 90MPH and all the guy does is get batters out. Perhaps control and command is far better than speed?

There’s also another large contract looming over the Cubs like an albatross in Jason Heyward. He had a rough first season with the North Siders but so far this season has proven that he’s a hot commodity on both sides of the plate(Sorry JD). Yesterday, Heyward drove in three runs and has continued to challenge critics on his inflated contract.

“I’m relaxed up there, not thinking a whole lot,” Heyward said of his approach now. “I’m really trying to focus on what the pitcher’s going to do, how they’re going to attack you, that kind of stuff, and not thinking about the swing or anything like that, which is where you need to be as a hitter. Go up there and do that and be aggressive in the strike zone, be on time, relax and go up there one pitch at a time, one at-bat at a time — same stuff as anybody else who is trying to do well.”

In yesterday’s game, Heyward launched a ball deep in centre field only to be snared by Keon Broxton. Heyward tipped his hat to him. It was all class.

Tonight though is another story all together. It’s the Chicago Cubs home opener and the festivities will be plenty. There’s the banner raising and the Cubs will be wearing special gold lettering to commemorate that special victory last fall.

“I love banner raising,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “Rings are wonderful, but I love banner raising. That’s symbolically there all the time. Every time a kid shows up at the ballpark, he’ll see that banner. Hopefully, we’ll be able to hang more.”

The only downfall is it’s a night game. I loved it when the openers were during the day and we’d take time off of work to ceremoniously open the BBQ and ring in spring with Cubs baseball. I’m disappointed that it’s at night. However, tonight is for those fans who trudged day and night to Wrigley Field throughout the years and are being rewarded along with the team on the end of professional sports longest drought.

“That resonated pretty hard for me,” Jon Lester said. “That was a pretty cool moment that these fans shared with their family members, that they’ve had so many years of heartache, and we were able to give them the championship that this city deserves.”

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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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Cubs Send Out The Sultan of Schwarb

Chicago Cubs

In the Cubs opening series win yesterday with a score of 6-4, the Cubs proved something; Everybody talks about the “Good ol’days” when legends like, Williams, Koufax and Ruth played but I guarantee in years to come there’ll be guys on this Cubs squad that people will sit in front of their plaques in Cooperstown, deep in thought taking in those “Good ol’ Days” or some dad telling his son about the man who wore those infamous spectacles.

Why?

Kyle “The Sultan of Schwarb” Schwarber crushed a two run homer yet again adding to his Babe Ruth comparison. First it was the ball that landed on the scoreboard and then it was the Comeback where he went 7-17 after spending a year off with an injury that would have derailed any other mere mortal’s career perhaps. Yet yesterday, Schwarber continued to build his legend.

“It was a good team win right there,” Schwarber said. “[John] Lackey battled his butt off. He gave us six quality innings. For things to kind of go our way there with Yadi and the ball sticking on the the chest protector, [then] a good at-bat by Jon Jay. I was able to get a good pitch and drive it.”

There’s something about the sound a bat makes when it connects on a home run hit ball. In many ways, someone could compare it to perfection. That right moment where everything in the universe is aligned and it connects to make that CRACK! I’ll tell you folks, if you’ve never been to a ballgame and heard that sound, you know the moment the ball leaves the stick and the direction of the batter’s eyes it’s gone.

“I was just more looking for a good pitch,” Schwarber said. “If it was a slider or fastball, whatever it was, I just wanted to jump on it. He’s a good pitcher. To get behind on guys like that, sometimes you just don’t want to do it. My approach is I’m going to be selective-aggressive. I got my pitch from pitch one, and was able to put a good swing on it.”

With the retirement of David Ross, John Lackey takes over the “Grampa” role. Yesterday, he proved he was their workhorse pitcher and leader on the mound. It wasn’t the prettiest of wins, giving up six and allowing four earned runs but as they say, a win is a win.

Tonight, the Cubs will square off against divisional foe, Milwaukee Brewers. Brett Anderson gets the start in a series which will showcase the season debut of Kyle Hendricks.

Then Monday, the banners come up.

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