Cubs Slide By Padres

Canuck Cubbie

When the going gets tough…Anthony Rizzo surprises again with a lead off bunt on route to a 3-2 win over the Fighting’ Friars. The Cubs looked good in last night’s victory. Not last year scary good but a more controlled and balanced good with Willson Contreras kicking in with a home run on the anniversary of his first big league hit.

“His growth from getting thrown into the fire last year of the best team in baseball to now being the starting catcher for us, for the defending [World Series] champions, that’s a lot of responsibility,” Jon Lester said.

It is a lot of responsibility, but the young catcher always brings a positive work ethic and a smile to every game. Especially when he’s catching Jon Lester, Contreras has shown a certain maturity.

“The sky’s the limit for this kid,” Cubs starter Jon Lester said. “He’s stuck with me and I’m stuck with him for the next three or four years, so hopefully he keeps getting better.”

The Cubs struggles are real with even Lester giving up a couple of home runs early and throwing 111 pitches before leaving the game in the 6th inning. So what can return the Cubs to their dominance?

Anthony Rizzo

It is often said that when a team is struggling, their leader is the one who’ll carry them on their backs. Anthony Rizzo has been that guy this year, always digging deep and finding ways to score runs and continue to push the Cubs despite their record. Even last night when he was running home with Matt Szczur throwing a rocket home, Rizzo crashed into Padres’ catcher Austin Hedge in a questionable play depending on which team you’re cheering for.

“I went pretty much straight in,” Rizzo said. “He caught the ball and went toward the plate. It was a hard slide. I play this game hard for 162 games-plus, every day. I pride myself on it, running the bases hard, doing everything hard. I can’t see that being dirty.”

I don’t think there was any intention to hit Hedges at all. It was a collision with no room to maneuveur around him. Everyone is thankful that Hedges wasn’t hurt.

“I loved it, absolutely loved it,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “That’s part of the game. If the catcher’s in the way, you hit him.”

Which makes a valid point because if Rizzo avoided Hedges, he might have been safe but in the end, he was thrown out and nobody was seriously hurt.

“It’s a fairly egregious violation of the rule,” Padres manager Andy Green said. “The rule exists to protect that catcher. … I think it’s a cheap shot. I’m not saying [Rizzo] is a dirty player at all. No one is saying that. But he clearly deviated from his path to hit our catcher and took our catcher out. The rule exists to protect him.”

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Cubs Russell Makes Catch of Year

Addison Russell

The Cubs are doing all right. They closed out August with a sweep over division rivals Pittsburgh Pirates 6-5 at Wrigley Field. Jason Hammel kicked it into high gear with his 14th victory of the season. That’s good news for the remainder of the season. If you remember, Hammel was pulled after two innings last Saturday, so it’s really good that he’s back in the win column and regaining that confidence.

“That’s rear-view mirror now,” Hammel said. “Joe and I talked it out. There’s no room for off-the-field b.s. or disagreements or to hold a grudge. He told me how he felt. I told him how I felt. We’re grown men; we solved it. You have to respect each other’s views and opinions. To carry something like that would mess up something special.”

The Cubs pitching staff now has four pitchers with 13 or more wins. That’s awesome now with one month to go in the season.

But let’s talk about Addison Russell‘s amazing catch. Here it is again for you none believers.

“I thought there was no way I was going to make that play,” Russell said of the Gregory Polanco popup. “Just got a good read on the ball. I anticipated him hitting it up the middle, but he hit it the other way. Pounced on it as quick as I can.”

The Cubs are poised to do some really big things this coming month. They’re 15 ahead in the National League Central and en route to enjoying the first overall. Last time was 2008. This was also the first time the Cubs finished with 22 victories in a month since 1945. Again, I’m not a superstitious dude, but it just seems that all the signs are pointing to 2016 being the big year.

“This team is going to be really good for a long time,” Hammel said. “They continue to dazzle — can’t say surprise because we’ve come to expect all these great plays and the big knocks they’re driving in. We’re witnessing greatness with a lot of young kids right now.”

I think guys like Addison Russell have been a huge part of this year’s success. If Kris Bryant, with his 36 home runs is the key to the offence, then Russell has been the anchor on defence. Last night, that amazing catch, man, we’re going to see more of that in October.

“That was one of the better catches I’ve seen,” said Kris Bryant, who had a front-row seat. “I thought it was Matt Szczur‘s ball and Addison comes out of nowhere. It’s no surprise to me; he’s been making plays like that all year long. That was huge in that situation. We had to really work for that win, and that was one of the plays that was a turning point.”

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Cubs Walk Off Thriller Stuns Marlins

Chicago Cubs

If you’re a Chicago Cubs fan, and I know most of you who follow the Canuck Cubbie do at least have a passing interest in the lovable North Siders, you’ll probably agree that yesterday’s 5-4 walk off victory over the Miami Marlins will go down as one of the season’s most thrilling wins.

“A big part of that rally at the end of the game is just our fans, purely,” Maddon said. “So much energy. Long day for us — it was a hot day out there, sunshine, we’ve got to get on the road, all those mental factors. I just want to recognize them.”

The ninth inning wasn’t just about the fans, the ninth inning was all about the depth of the once not so mighty baseball club that has turned around in the last couple of years to become the leading contender for October’s most coveted hardware.

It was Miguel Montero, Javier Baez and Dexter Fowler who set up the comeback in the ninth with Matt Szczur trotting home for the win. However, John Lackey pitched his 16th quality start of the year, it was also his third in a row and he went 2 for 2 recording his first multi extra base hit game of his career.  Sure, he didn’t get the win, but the grizzled veteran sums it up on what the expectations and goals of baseball’s longest suffering team are up against.

“Fair expectations? We’re trying to win a World Series. I didn’t come here for a haircut,” Lackey said. “I came here for jewelry.”

I think he wanted the win.

So the Cubs swept the Marlins. They have a day off before heading to Oakland to face the constantly rebuilding Athletics. The Cubs need a sweep and should be able to collect valuable distance from the rest of the National League Central. Normally, I love the races until October but this season is extraordinarily different; the Cubs need to dominate the Central and prove just how good they are.

“We just never quit,” Chicago’s Ben Zobrist said. “As a team, that’s kind of a mantra, and that’s something all good teams have to believe when they’re down that they can come back and win games, and this series was true for us to believe that for ourselves. When you get in those situations again, everyone believes they can do it again.”

Also, this next series should see an end to the Cubs homerless streak which sits at five games.

The Cincinnati Reds had the “Big Red Machine” of the 1970’s, so what should the newly powerhouse Cubs be called?

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Cubs Can’t Frame Arrieta Masterpiece

Kris Bryant

The Cubs should have won that game. it’s a cliche I know but it’s true. They should have won it twice but instead succumbed to the New York Mets 2-1 in front of over 41 000 fans at Wrigley Field. That’s right, those fans witnessed the worse loss the Cubs have had this season.

First, Jake Arrieta pitched his finest game in over a month. Allowing one run in seven innings of work, the stoic hurler shut down twelve batters between the first and fifth innings. You can’t get much better than that. Jake is back! Not to mention his pitch count was incredibly low. In 27 pitches, he notched 25 strikes. Folks, that’s the fastest mark to 25 by any pitcher this season.

“That’s when I’m at my best, when I’m challenging guys right away from the first pitch and putting them on the defensive side and making them swing the bat,” Arrieta said. “I expect to pitch more like this as far as the aggressiveness and keeping the ball down in the strike zone.”

Things were going well for the Cubs up until the ninth inning when they had a bases loaded nobody out situation. In a perfect world, Matt Szczur should have stepped up, tapped the plate with dust and dirt clouding the air and staring down Jeurys Familia, the King of Clutch, Hail Szczur cracking that leather sphere into the stands, a grand slam sending some little kid who might be up past his bedtime, home with a souvenir.  Instead, he hit to first base.

That’s what legends are made of but this is the Cubs, where “There’s always tomorrow” is forever enshrined in the clubhouse. It would have been a perfect ending to a close game. It would have been awesome if Kris Bryant, who was waiting in the wings were to do his thing and surpass his home run total of 25 but he hit into a double play and what should have been, never was and the fans took the RedLine home a little disappointed.

“We had a chance late and didn’t get the hit when we needed to,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “Everybody did what they were supposed to do. We weren’t able to score that winning run. A bloop hit right there, we’re all very happy going home, jumping up and down. That doesn’t mean we didn’t play well.”

Another area that the Cubs did extremely well in was stolen bases. Chicago has stolen a base in four straight games. Could this be the beginning of a new style of play?

Today, my favourite pitcher and hopefully yours, Kyle Hendricks will try to turn things around. He hasn’t given up an earned run this month and is going for his fifth win.

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Cubs Go Downtown With Mets

Anthony Rizzo

There’s no denying that when Anthony Rizzo is hitting home runs the Cubs are going to win ballgames. There’s a reason why he’s tied Giancarlo Stanton for most home runs in the National League since 2013 with 108. That’s a lot of moon shots. Last night, the Cubs captain collected his 22nd home run of the season, a three run shot to help the Cubs down the Mets 5-1 in front of a packed Wrigley Field.

“He’s got that level of ability offensively, defensively, driving in runs — he’s the anchor of the group. … A lot of the other guys grab attention, and Anthony just keeps doing what he does. He’s almost like old news because he’s 26 going on 27. But this guy is the anchor of the group.” Joe Maddon said.

Another known fact is that when a pitcher goes deep into a game the way Jon Lester did last night when he went 7 2/3 innings, teams will win ballgames.

“Better location, better stuff — that’s really it,” Lester said. “I was up a lot in New York, and they were swinging the bats really well and they made me pay for it. I got the ball back down, got my cutter back in play, and got a lot of quick outs. There’s a few things in there that I needed to dust off as far as a little bit of rust delivery-wise. It hurt me throughout the game as far as the walks, kind of rhythm stuff.”

Lester’s had a tough July after being named NL pitcher of the month in June when he had a 4-0 record but this month’s seen stuff like giving up five runs during that Pittsburgh series last week. A veteran learns from his mistakes.

The real gem of the night belonged to Matt Szczur, whose substitute prowess has pretty much given him a position of his own where teams will be clamouring for his services in the future. Last night, the “Mighty” Matt had his first three hit game.

So, you wanna know why the Cubs won last night? It’s those little things that got the job done.

“He stays ready,” Maddon said of Szczur. “Here’s a guy who’s been playing sporadically but he’s always ready, He’s always engaged. There’s never a pout. He’s a wonderful team player. His football background probably helps with that. They understand the team concept.”

Just as the veteran guys were getting things done, Willson Contreras learned an important thing about the power of Yoenis Cespedes’s arm when he threw 206 ft to get Contreras out at home. It was an impossible play by any mere mortal’s arm, but Cespedes welcomed Contreras to the Show with that rocket.

The funny thing about this year’s Cubs is that despite the slump before the break, they still own the best run differential in the majors  with +144 and the lowest ERA at 3.06. If the Cubs can keep getting quality production from their supporting staff like Szczur, they’ll own October as well.

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Cubs Beat Rangers, Take Series.

Javier Baez

They say it could have been the potato chips, but whatever Jason Hammel ate during the break paid off yesterday with the Cubs 3-1 over the Texas Rangers.

“For my cramps, if it’s a chronic thing, [the doctor] said, ‘Potato chips,’ because they have a lot of potassium and the sea salt helps retain water,” Hammel said. “So I focused on that over the break and ate a lot of potato chips, and I think it turned out pretty well. Potato chip prescription … that’s what I’m going to try to go with.”

I knew it was the dill pickle flavour.

So it appears that the Cubs woes are behind them. In this series with Texas, the Cubs are providing the fireworks and once again showing fans why this team did so well in the early months. If “Respect 90” was the buzz word in the first half, Joe Maddon’s phrase for the second half of 2016 is confidence.

“It’s all about confidence,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “We’re the same group, a little more rested at this particular time. You’re seeing pitchers throwing the ball where they want to. Everything’s sharp. Of course, it’s good to get off to a wonderful start post All-Star.”

To be fair, the Rangers aren’t exactly having a great time these days. They’ve lost 11 of 14 games and in the ultra competitive race to the finish, the Rangers are quickly slipping out of contention with Houston gaining traction.

A player that doesn’t get enough attention is Matt Szczur. Maddon pulled Hammel in a pinch hit situation and Szczur came through to put the Cubs up 3-1. The Cubs marquee players get a lot of the attention but it’s guys like Szczur who come through in these potential game breaking situations and help put the team ahead.

“It’s tough to do that job,” Jason Heyward said. “He and [Tommy] La Stella, they don’t play every day, but they give you good at-bats every time. They grind it out. It’s not about the result with them, you just want to know they’re going up there trying. They put the team first and they prepare, so it’s awesome to see it pay off.”

It is awesome because it’s those type of players that’ll propel the Cubs through the playoffs. We know Anthony Rizzo will always be Anthony Rizzo in the big games, which he did yesterday when he connected with a two run double but Matt Szczur, who likely won’t make the hall of fame, but I can guarantee that someday he’ll be the answer to a trivia question about the Chicago Cubs and a World Series.

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Cubs Dominate Pirates, or Was it Arrieta Dominating?

Jake Arrieta

I’m going to be honest with you guys. Jake Arrieta is not the best pitcher in the game. Sure, he threw 11 strikeouts yesterday and his ERA is second only to the immortal Clayton Kershaw. Oh yeah, then there’s that Cy Young award he won last year.

Wait. I almost forgot he’s 11-1 on the season, but he’s not the best pitcher in the game.

Yesterday he went to work and his command wasn’t the best but he still found a way to help the Cubs win a 6-0 shutout over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

“Execution is the most important aspect of facing a team multiple times, especially a short time span or a division rival that you see a lot,” he said. “The more times a guy sees you, the more exposed you’ll be on mistakes. I don’t care if a guy is 0-fer against me in 30 at-bats. The more he sees me, the more comfort that’s probably gonna be there. When you face a team multiple times like that, you have to try and minimize the mistakes, because at some point they will take advantage of it.”

Ah, but he’s the most realistic pitcher out there and that makes him dangerous. That’s why he’s able to craftily pick apart opposing batters with ease and skill. Maybe he’s the most empathetic pitcher in the game?

“We have no reason to be fearful of anything,” said Arrieta. “We’re what, 2 1/2 months into the season? And we’ve all shown the ability to have a lot of success consistently thus far. I think that breeds more confidence. The mindset going out there is [the starters] seem to be in attack mode from the get-go and trusting their stuff. That’s kind of what happens when you have that mindset. You have guys with good stuff, who know how to pitch, who learn from each other.”

But he shouldn’t stop at the pitching, they’ve also got guys like Matt Szczur, who launched a home run at his first At Bat of the game. I think it’s those guys that have been crucial to the Cubs’ success this season.

Yesterday, the Cubs called up Willson Contreras as their much coveted rookies are making their presence felt in the Cubs lineup. If the Cubs do make it to post season glory, and I’m not just talking about the playoffs folks, the Cubs will have a had a season to remember and in many ways, it’s almost cinematic the way that the young Cubs are doing so well.

“My first thought was, ‘Wow, now is my time,’” Contreras said. “Since I got here, I’ve been living my dream.”

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