Jon Jay Leads The Way For Cubs

Cubs 15, Reds 5

It’s always hard coming back from a vacation where my family and I did the whole Clark Griswold road trip adventure, and in many ways that’s how I feel about the Cubs late season push for the playoffs. Last night, the Cubs simply pounded division rivals Cincinnati Reds in a 15-5 debacle that saw a few moments where the team just were like the team of last season. Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo with back to back home runs and Jon Jay almost hitting for the cycle.

“Give us credit — offensively, some really good at-bats,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “We have to tighten it up on defense. I don’t want to be ‘Debbie Downer,’ but we’ve got to be tighter on defense.”

I was glad to see Jon Jay in the lead off spot. He’s an underrated player who always comes through and last night felt like a playoff game if only to see Jay hit for the cycle which he came close but just a little short missing on the home run.

“Everyone kind of mentioned it — ‘Take a shot, take a shot,'” Jay said of his teammates’ advice for his last at-bat. “We got the win, so it’s cool.”

It almost feels like Jay’s the David Ross of 2017. The guy you’re cheering for and the feel good story of the year. Let’s just hope he’s not on Dancing With The Stars after the season’s over.

“He’s done a lot of other little things, talking to younger players,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “He does a nice job of mentoring. He wants to play, loves to play and likes what’s going on. He’s definitely stirred our drink.”

The Cubs are in great shape as the season winds up. Their next 13 games are against last place teams, so without explaining the obvious, it’s an important step on the road to the post season.

Their next series in particular is going to be interesting for me because the Toronto Blue Jays are coming to town and my family are divided in their loyalties. During last night’s broadcast, Len Kasper mentioned that Don Cherry of Hockey Night in Canada fame will be singing the seventh inning stretch so it’s going to be pretty cool seeing that. However, there was a little debate on what is Cherry’s favourite hockey team, is it the Toronto Maple Leafs or the Boston Bruins? I say it’s the Boston Bruins. Although he works for the CBC and cheers for the Maple Leafs, his heart is with the Boston Bruins. Cherry is a Canadian icon and I hope Len gets a chance to ask him what his favourite team really is and settle this debate once and for all.

Believe it.

 

Is It Time For Spring Training To Count?

Arizona League

As Spring training officially got under way, the excitement or honeymoon phase of the Chicago Cubs World Series victory is in full force. Yesterday, in front of a sold out Sloan park in Arizona, the Cubs treated the Oakland Athletics to a lesson of why they have the hardware. A 4-3 win.

“It was different,” Chicago starter Mike Montgomery said of the loud reception. “I’ve been in a few Spring Trainings now, and it was definitely a different experience. It was hard to control the adrenaline today a little bit. Usually in spring, it’s more laid back. Today, there was a lot of energy out there.”

This also marks an important transition for Kyle Schwarber as he takes on the Lead off role vacated by Dexter Fowler.

“What does a leadoff hitter look like anymore?” Maddon said. “There aren’t many of those high-on-base-percentage basestealing types. Guys don’t want to run as much because it beats their bodies up. It’s not easy to be a 50-bag guy or more because of what it does to your legs, your wrist, your hands. You’ll see, on occasion, guys who will go, but not like [Lou] Brock or [Maury] Wills or [Tim] Raines or guys who went all the time.”

A high point in yesterday’s game occurred when Len Kasper asked Joe Maddon some questions and Rajai Davis went up to bat and Maddon quipped, ‘You remember him?”

Yeah, we remember him Joe. These are the cool moments that happen in spring training that don’t necessarily occur during the regular season.

For the first time in a long while, the Cubs have a lot of expectations. They’re the champs after all. They’ll have to whip out the WD-40 and remove any rust from the machine, which brings me to another topic.

We all know that Cactus League games don’t amount to much other than an opportunity for players to strut their stuff and for rookies vying for a spot on the roster come Opening Day and for Canadian snowbirds to enjoy Cub baseball and the Blue Jays in Dunedin.

But what if spring training meant something?

With the recent rule changes regarding intentional walks, I believe it’s the right time for baseball to create a Sunshine Series pitting the Cactus League against the Grapefruit League.

Whether it be for bragging rights or playing for a different charity, it would be an opportune time to showcase some of the best rookies and players that might not make it onwards. It would also satisfy those south bound snowbirds. They could even have the defending World Series champion having to host it for example, this year’s championship would be in Arizona.

What do you think?

Len Kasper, the Cubs and I in The Chatting Cage

This was a great chat with  and the Edward Jones Chatting Cage. Check out the 11:49 mark of the video for a question by yours truly.

Two of the best broadcasters in the game, Len Kasper and  Love em! Hey Jim, my favourite player was Guy Lafleur too!

The Cubs have hit 24 home runs this spring. That’s a lot but then again, there are certain factors to that total. Of course there’s a steady stream of pitchers trying to crack the rotation so it’s not always a case of, “Lights out” stealth.

Yesterday, the Cubs cruised past the team that shares a city the White Sox 10-7.

Players trying to crack the team like Junior Lake, who’ll more than likely start the season in Triple A, hit a two run double. Then there’s Arismendy Alcantara crushed a two run homer in the seventh to break a tie.

Do you think he’ll make the team? Yeah, that’s what I thought.

So, I’m liking the idea of keeping both Edwin Jackson and Travis Wood. I like this idea a lot.

“There’s different ways to utilize both of them,” manager Joe Maddon said Friday. “It’s hard to say they’re both starters, but we’ve talked about different ways to make it fit.”

Why not keep both of them and rotate that five spot.

A)They’re both pitchers going out this season with something to prove.

B)Edwin Jackson has shown flashes of being amazing this spring. Plus he’s a pitcher who can hit.

C)Joe Maddon is known to be a creative guy, so why the heck not?

Another problem is Javier Baez. He’s struggling to find his groove. Should he start in triple A? Perhaps. The numbers don’t lie. Baez is 3 for 30 and you don’t have to be a baseball aficionado to realize that adds up to well, as my son would say,”That’s a potty word, Daddy”

Javier Baez knows it and he’s a pro. If this were the regular season, he’d be in a whole lot of potty words. Fortunately, this is spring training and now’s the time to spend on the potty.

“I talk to him all the time,” Starlin Castro said. “It’s tough. I try to tell him to try to get his confidence. No matter what, if you strike out every day, look for your confidence. When you’re confident, something good is going to happen because you trust yourself. I think he’s a little lost at the plate right now, but that’s what I tell him, try to get your confidence back and you’ll be all right. And don’t think too much. It’s Spring Training, we’re here to learn.”

Believe it.

Cubs’ Baker Johnny On The Spot

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The Cubs continued their winning ways last night, er should I say this morning. This game had all the elements of a classic North Side matchup. It was windy. Damn windy. It was damp and chilly forcing Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies to run for cover. In the end, the Cubs proved mighty in their victory over the Colorado Rockies in the 16th inning with a walk off hit from the new and improved(and a slightly more mature) Starlin Castro 4-3.

It was also in true Wrigley wonder, well it was weird. John Baker, yes that John Baker, pitched. He did his job and then in the bottom of the 16th inning, he drew a walk. I tell you folks, these kind of things don’t come around too often. A Pennant Race? Who needs one. A World Series ring? Probably end up in a pawn shop anyways. The Cubs are all about these kind of grind out wins.

“They asked if I’d be willing to do that, and I said, ‘Yeah,'” he said. “I’m not going to say I don’t want to pitch at Wrigley Field in the longest game of Cubs history in the 100th anniversary season and give myself a chance to get the win. I trust my stuff.”

But Baker wasn’t the only star in Chicago. Emilio Bonifacio was a triple away from hitting for the cycle.

Sometimes it’s these kind of games that make fans forget of the struggle that the Chicago Cubs have gone through these one hundred plus years. They don’t come around too often but when they do, it’s marvel to see.

“It’s really cool,” Baker said. “It’s really, really cool. I was having trouble not smiling on the mound. You never get opportunities to do things like this. I think about how many guys I played with who were pitchers and never got a chance to pitch in the big leagues. This is something I’ll cherish for a long time.”

Believe it.

—Mark

Cubs Lose And Other Cliches

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It’s easy to forget that there’s a whole team when a player like Arismendy Alcantara comes along and captures the imaginations and starry eyed dreams of a potential post season(not this year)but can anyone blame us Cubs fans for buying into this wonder kid who put a dent in the books by collecting his first career Home Run? Don’t blame us. The kid is awesome, but beware a sophomore slump AKA Junior Lake.

Yesterday was a frustrating game by all accounts. One part maddening, and another part inspiring. I love Jim Deshaies banter with Len Kasper. They have one of the toughest jobs in sports. Trying to be neutral about a team going through challenging times and remaining optimistic about their future. Hey, that’s me!!!

Even though the Cubs lost to the Braves, there were a lot of good points. The Cubs fought back in late innings which is a sure sign of a team on the rise. What once was a struggle with Runners In Scoring Position is now a challenge to win from behind. There’s still the problem with RISP, but the Cubs are clearing a hurdle.

“For myself, I’m not happy with it at all,” Travis Wood said. “A lot of stuff to improve on. A lot of stuff to do better in the second half. … Every year is different. It’s kind of what I’ve taken into spring — that you’re never going to be the same as you were last year. Nothing is ever going to go the same way it did. It’s just a new year, different challenges, and you’ve got to overcome them.”

The Cubs have a strong front end with Chris Coghlan, Arismendy Alcantara, Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro. How will the Fantastic Four carry the momentum in the second half or will we see sightings of Javier Baez, Kris Bryant or Jorge Soler?

“I’m having fun,” Alcantara said. “I just try to do my job. If they want me to stay here, I will. It’s not my decision.”

“Dance with the one who got you here” is the cringing cliché, but even in a limited role, Arismendy will help. The Cubs are in a great position to try new things out and just go for it all. I’m excited about the second half.

For now though, we have two All Stars to watch!!!!

Believe It,

—Mark

Cubs Looking For First Home Win

Go Cubs Go!

Go Cubs Go!

It’s great to see Wrigley Field back. Sure the Cubs lost their home opener and things got slightly better yesterday in the 2-0 loss to the Phillies, but it’s stuff that we weren’t all ready expecting, right? We had a great day despite the Cubs loss. Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and the pride of Canada Fergie Jenkins singing Take Me Out To The Ball Game made it awesome. Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies provided the backbone and an excellent job as usual.

In particular, yesterdays loss had some shining spots for Emilio Bonifacio and Starlin Castro. Both Bonifacio and Castro had great days with Bonifacio getting two hits and Castro three hits. Is it time to brand them a nickname? Not yet.

The Cubs are a more exciting team this season than in a while. Bonifacio’s strength on base and Anthony Rizzo attempted bunting yesterday. The Cubs are trying to find ways to win, plain and simple.

“It’s OK if it’s a broken record — you keep repeating it and you keep talking about it,” Rick Renteria said. “You never stop talking about it until you start to understand it and get a good feel for it. A lot of it is more games, just keep getting in more games. I know we didn’t come up with a victory today, but for me, it was a ballgame we were in the whole way.”

Maybe the Cubs should use this season as a practice season for when the prospects come up? The Cubs have to cure that Runners In Scoring Position problem they have. There’s the broken record right there. Once they fix that problem, they might be contenders because they’ve got the talent and hey, it’s great seeing Starlin hitting the ball again. They’ll be singing a different tune.

Carlos Villanueva gets the start today.

Yup, “Baseball season is underway, so you better get ready…”

Believe it.

Mark

Cubs Make It Four in A Row

As I waited for the final out in yesterday’s game against the Giants, I couldn’t help but get misty and weepy eyed when Len Kasper cheered, “Cubs win! Four in a row!” Yup folks, the Cubs are playing .500 ball. The Cubs my friends, are winners. So, let’s switch it over to Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks and his thoughts:

Ok, now that everyone has gotten their tissue in hand and checked their calendar for validity; it is still March. This is real and in a few weeks we’ll start all over again. Just so you know.

They played against the Giants Former World Series champions, and some folks feel are still that championship calibre team. I don’t. They’re still very good, but not the same team. Yet, the Cubs did something yesterday that eluded them for much of last season and that was to come from behind in the late innings.

“They’re a great team to work against, a former world championship team,” Jeff Samardzija said. “They come with a plan, a lot of smart players who have played together for a long time. You really get tested on days like this. I thought it went excellent. I gave up a couple runs, and singles that score runs, you can live with that.”

The Cubs are four games out of first in the Cactus League. They’re capitalizing on other team’s errors and showing their mettle with the young players. It’s only practice but what the Cubs are doing is really playing smart ball. Amid trade rumours with Jeff Samardzija, the Cubs are soldiering on which is the way it should be. I don’t think The Shark is going anywhere as long as he’s winning, and he shouldn’t. Jeff’s earned the right to lead the rotation and help bring a World Series to the long suffering fans of the North Side(check Wikepedia again)

“I’m not about to come in and say my mind’s shaken because of this or that — it’s not going to happen,” he said. “I’m going to go out and do my job. If I win, I win because I did that, and if I don’t win, it’s because I don’t perform up to the task. That’s how I look at it. I’m a very practical guy and it’s black and white for me. Right now I’m wearing a Cubs uniform and that’s how I’m approaching it.”

We live in an era where there’s no loyalty in team sports, but somehow I truly believe that Samardzija wants to stay a Cub. There’s a certain familiarity to seeing that leader go to the mound on Opening Day and start fresh. It’s a new season and new expectations.

We talk about commitment and changing a team’s culture. Stability is the key. If Samardzija is having a tough season, make him happy and he’ll do great things for the club. Baseball’s funny that way.

In real life it’s all about us working Joe stiffs at the water coolers and the lunch rooms complaining about salaries, price of tickets and $200 jerseys.

Man, I wish I could hit a 95 MPH fastball off a guy named Shark.

—Mark

The Cubs Get Down To Business

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All the Pomp of opening a new facility with the Cubs Park is over. It’s an amazing venue and the sellout crowd wasn’t disappointed. Well, at least it was comfortable.

Len and JD were in fine form broadcasting from a warm sunny place. Welcome back boys. We missed you!

I think the thing to take out of any spring training game is that expectations are to evaluate what is working and what isn’t working. Starlin Castro went two for two and looked like the superstar the Cubs were looking for all those years ago. He hit the ball in the sweet spot between first and second. If you look throughout the history of the game, I believe that spot has scored more runs than any other spot on the field. Give me a good bounce any day. The question for Starlin is, “Will he just try to get on base?” He’s the lead off hitter. Get on base, that’s it. No fancy stuff, just hit the ball.

That was a good test for the Cubs facing the Diamondbacks and Paul Goldshmidt. They’re tough and will get everything rolling with the Cubs.

“It feels just like another game,” the Cubs’ Rick Renteria said. “We’re getting ready for the season and today’s the first day of basically a test to see how everybody’s doing. We’re going to use [Spring Training] to see what aspects of the game we need to improve on and basically see where everybody’s at.”

That comes from the man himself. Hey, I like Rick. He’s laid back, but his eyes are always on what’s going on the field. He’s taking notes and evaluating. Believe me folks when I tell you that the Cubs are in good hands.

In front of a sellout crowd hungry for baseball, even though the Cubs lost, they won the crowd.

—Mark

WGN & A Shameless Plug

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The Cubs deal with WGN is coming up for renewal at the end of 2014. Many Cubs fans, including myself or I did until recently, (but that’s another story) rely on WGN for the Cubs broadcasts. Many of you know that north of the border in Canada, baseball isn’t the hot commodity it is in the US. Ok, the Blue Jays are going to smoke this year in the AL East, but in order for my Cubs fix, I need to watch WGN on digital.

WGN is the oldest affiliation going back to 1948. Hockey Night in Canada goes back to 1952, so WGN has that beat. I think they have to renew their contract in order to keep their fans happy.

That being said; we got rid of cable. So no more WGN. I instead subscribe to MLB.TV This year, I can watch over 200 ballgames in my living room in HD! That’s right folks, we had an old 27inch tube tv and now we upgraded to 40′ of HD, I can see the blades of grass and the colour of Soriano’s spit out in the field. I’m excited about this because it’s the first time and I’m looking forward to using all the features and studying every single thing that happens on the field.

Thank you MLB TV!

WGN is also changing the way they handle the 7th inning stretch. Again, for those of you who don’t know, a celebrity comes in and sings,”Take me out to the ball game.” and proceeds to share in sometimes intelligent banter in the broadcast booth. Not anymore. Programming director Jim Oboikowitch says,

“I think we definitely want to focus on former Cubs players, people that are Chicago natives, people who know baseball and who are Cubs fans,”

No more Mr. T mumbling his way while Len Kasper and new braodcaster Jim Deshaies trys to call a Soriano Home Run.

Play Ball!

—Mark

WGN’s first broadcast of 2011

Yesterday was WGN’s first broadcast of the season and I was out and about but came back for the 6th inning.  I got to tell ya that it was great to see everyone back and it felt good to watch grass when outside we got more snow.

DJ LeMahieu.  What can I say?  Just after Len Kasper made a comment about DJ known for his defensive skills then WHAM! he sends the ball over the wall.  Great job!

As you can see, I’ve updated my profile picture.  That’s Darcy and I enjoying our first Cubs game.  My wife Mary Beth couldn’t resist taking the picture.  We’ll have to post a pic when Opening Day gets here.

Great game.  Cubs battled hard and it was good to see Dempster signing some autographs.

—Mark Gauthier