Cubs Stymied By Reds

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You have to hand it to the Cubs, they can’t seem to beat the Reds or are the Reds really that good? Yesterday, the Cubs tried desperately to make it seven in a row but fell short in the 3-2 loss.

“You look at the numbers on the stat sheet and they’re pretty good up and down, and the bullpens, too,” Joe Maddon said of the division’s pitching staffs. “[The Reds’] bullpen is a lot better than it had been, Milwaukee, ourselves, etc. The pitching is good in this division. But so is the offense. It’s turned out to be a tough division.

“It’s very strong, which is good. I want that. I want us to play in what’s hopefully considered the best [division] in baseball. That should bring out the best in your players on a nightly basis.”

It does bring out the best in this tight division. It’s also been a tough Wild Card race as well. Going into the break, the Cubs will have to finish strong.

“Look where we’re at — we’re in a good spot and right there. We have what we feel like is the best baseball to be played.” Mike Montgomery said.

He’s right. Although baseball is a peculiar game. Why can’t the Cubs beat the Reds? The Reds could be playing spoiler down the road if the Cubs can’t pick it up.

The real question concerning the break is who the Cubs are going to pick up, if they’re going to get anyone to solidify an all ready potent team?

“You’re always looking to fortify and add a little bit, and you always have Plan B and Plan C in case of injury or bad performance,” Epstein said. “There’s no way we’re going to go out and acquire starters the caliber of a locked-in Kyle Hendricks or a locked-in Jose Quintana. The majority of our answers lie within, that’s for sure.”

The struggle does come from within. I’m confident Hendricks will turn the corner but what about Yu Darvish? His critics are real and perhaps he’s the one who needs to carry the rest of the team on his back?

“I just want him to be well,” Maddon said. “That’s what I talked to him about specifically. ‘It’s not about rushing. Just get back out there. Get back in your routine. Get back in your work. Then, as this plays, we’ll get you back out there. Of course, we want you back sooner rather than later, but if biology’s not going to permit it, it’s not going to permit it.'”

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Cubs Let Everything Slide With Win Over Pirates

Cubs 7, Pirates 0

On a day where people paid tribute to the brave heroes who have served and continue to serve, it’s fitting that Mike Montgomery had the opportunity to step onto the pitcher’s mound and deliver the Cubs to a 7-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

“I was just trying to make good pitches throughout and keep my mindset on giving this team as much innings as we could get,” Montgomery said. “Obviously, [Sunday] night and with the travel, the bullpen needed as much help as they could get, and I knew that. I was doing it for those guys.”

I’m glad it was Montgomery with the shutout. It couldn’t happen to a more deserving guy. In the wake of Yu Darvish‘s injury, it’s guys like Montgomery that should come through with the big stuff.

Speaking of big stuff, Anthony Rizzo got into a little bit of controversy after Rizzo slid home and swept the catcher Elias Diaz‘s leg forcing an errant throw to second, thus stopping a potential double play.

Was it wrong? Should Rizzo have not swept the leg? I’m biased on this one folks, Rizzo was doing what players do and that’s helping their teammates, nothing more. He wasn’t trying to hurt Diaz. A little friendly competition but what if he did hurt Diaz? Then it would have been a little different debate.

“You just say, ‘Man, are you all right? I’m not trying to hurt you there,'” Rizzo said of his conversation. “I think there’s a clear sense when someone is doing something with intent and trying to hurt someone [versus] just playing hard. I’m going to take the side of playing hard. That’s what I pride myself in.”

Of course we don’t know what Diaz’s response to that was, now do we?

“It’s the perfect play by Rizzo,” Maddon said. “My concern is they’re teaching fans the wrong thing. The fans’ reaction to ‘Riz’ the next time up indicates they think he did something wrong and that’s what’s so wrong about all of that. The player did not do anything wrong but because of new rules, it makes him wear the black hat for the moment. That’s how you should teach your kids to slide to break up the double play at home plate.”

The Cubs have won two in a row and now have the momentum heading into the final game of the series.

Do you think it was a bad slide?

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Extra!, Extra! Cubs Win It In Ten

Chicago Cubs v Miami Marlins

The importance of starting pitching was never more on display than in last night’s extra inning 10-6 all nighter win by the Chicago Cubs over the Miami Marlins. In this case, the hot ticket free agent signing of Yu Darvish came up short lasting just a mere 4 1/2 innings. Call it stage fright or just plain Opening Week jitters, but Darvish looked mortal in his Cubs debut.

“He wasn’t really sharp overall,” Joe Maddon said. “A lot of pitches for 4 1/3. He showed glimpses where the command was good. His fastball command was off a little. I would say, overall, he didn’t have his best stuff tonight.”

Five runs on five hits, that’s a big, “Whoops, sorry about that guys.” moment. I hope he bought his teammates a round or two afterwards.

When you think about it, Darvish has a lot of pressure put on him being the big money man that he is for the Cubs.

“It seems like every time I pitched the first game in Japan things went not so well,” Darvish said through his interpreter. “I don’t know why that happened. … It could have been a location problem with my pitches. I don’t think I was able to command whatever I wanted to, in terms of fastball.”

So, to show the depth in the Cubs this year, and this is why they’re going to be scary good,  the offence picked up the pieces with Kyle Schwarber, Ben Zobrist and Kris Bryant contributing in big ways for the team.

Schwarber’s monster blast combined with Bryant’s 4 run 10th inning was just what the Cubs needed to bring the fireworks and put on display their ferocity and endurance especially after Friday night’s epic outing.

“We did some really nice stuff,” Maddon said. “How about Zobrist? He’s swinging the bat as well as anybody on the team right now. Schwarber hits a big bomb, and [Bryant] continues to have good at-bats. It’s almost like some of them are trying way too hard. Let’s just back it off a little bit, see the ball, don’t try to do too much. Get back to the whole field — we’re getting too pull conscious too early.”

Don’t forget that Mike Montgomery appeared in his third straight game. I don’t think people imagined that this was the kind of start to 2018 they had in mind for the North Siders.

“I was not expecting to get in there today,” Montgomery said. “In the eighth inning, all we had left was Strop, and the Marlins tied it up. When we didn’t take the lead in the ninth and the 10th comes around, everybody said, ‘Hey, can you go?’

The Cubs had better dial back these extra inning nail biters and save them for October because we all know what extra inning Octobers can do for these Cubs.

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Cubs Beat Pirates and Reflecting on Philly

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It could be the easier schedule the Cubs have been playing since the All Star Break but as the old saying goes,” We’ll take it” as the North Siders downed the Pittsburgh Pirates 6-1. Give Mike Montgomery credit for filling in for the injured Jon Lester, they’re big shoes to fill but he delivered big 0 through seven innings.

“I’m going to assume I’m going to be asked to start again,” Montgomery said. “If it changes, it changes. I’ll be able to adjust from there. I let them know, ‘Hey, I’ll do any role.’ I feel comfortable. For now, it’s just coming to the park tomorrow and get my work in and be ready to go.”

The Cubs are in a playoff race and now are 2 1/2 in front of the Brewers. It’s hard to say if they’re on a roll or not and with Lester nearing a return, will they stick Montgomery in the bullpen or add a sixth spot to the rotation?

“I’ve been in different roles this year,” said Montgomery, who subbed earlier this season and was making his 10th start of the year. “You’ve got to look at it and say, ‘Hey, I get to start for the Chicago Cubs and it’s going to be a fun day.'”

So, our family travelled to Philadelphia this past weekend to see Kyle Hendricks and the Cubs demolish the Phillies. It was a great trip, a beautiful city and yes, we ran the Rocky steps.

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The park is really cool and I have a gut feeling that there were just as many Cubs fans as there were Philly fans(no offence, Philly). One of the most special parts was seeing Kyle Hendricks pitch. Throwing eight strikeouts and collecting a couple RBI’s was extra special.

It was dubbed our “Cubs Weekend” because we scooted over to Cooperstown to pay homage to the 2016 champs.

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Of all the trophies, this one has to be that much more special. That was a great moment in history and to see it up close with  2016 World Series Champions chiseled into the base was amazing.

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The Hall of Fame is so great. Whether it’s the drive along the lakes or reflecting on a bench in the gardens of the great hall, it’s like a time warp of those special moments, not just of baseball but in your life.

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Cubs Winning Streak Continues

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The phrase, “Turn at the right time” is synonymous throughout the sporting world. It’s a term associated to a team or a player that does all the right things going down the stretch of the regular season. You can attach that phrase to the Cubs but the only caveat being they’re playing teams that are struggling more than the Cubs.

Does it count?

In last night’s 9-3 massacre of the Cincinnati Reds, the Cubs extended their winning streak to five games. With home run contributions from Kyle Schwarber and Tommy La Stella, the Cubs are doing all the right things at the right time, if you wanted to through cliches around.

“You can struggle in the second half or you can learn from your mistakes and get better,” winning pitcher Mike Montgomery said after the Cubs moved 11 games over .500 for the first time this season. “Now it’s all about getting into the playoffs. We’re completely over last year.”

Hey Mike, I was over last year in April. All right, I still get a little choked up every time I see this:

 

What got me is that there is no other team in professional sports that triggers emotions quite like the Cubs. Their championship brought a nation together in a common unspoken bond. There were nods as we passed people on the streets, a few fist bumps and the, “I was rooting’ for your Cubbies”

Yeah Mike, I’ve put last year behind me too.

This weekend is Player’s Weekend. It’s a weekend where players across the league can have a little fun and celebrate everything that is awesome with the game that is woven in a nation’s fabric. There will be tributes from players to those that helped them throughout their careers and they’ll wear funky jerseys displaying nicknames such as “Cutch” , “Joey Bats” and “KB”. With all the excitement, I’m disappointed that Kyle Hendricks will be wearing “Hendo” as his nickname. I figured it might be “Prof” or Professor but seeing that these nicknames are representing the Little League spirit, I can see why they chose “Hendo”

“The fans will get to know more about you this way,” Javier Baez said. “They can find out why or how you got the name. I’m sure it’ll be a fun weekend.”

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Cubs Sweep Braves, Head Home To Face Cardinals

Mike Montgomery

So, there’s been a dramatic change in the second half and the Chicago Cubs have been leading the way. Yesterday, the Cubs swept the Atlanta Braves in an 8-2 victory. Yeah, the Cubs are feeling pretty darn good about themselves after sweep. It’s six games in a row and have become baseball’s hottest team next to the Dodgers, who by the way have extended their streak to 11 games.

What?

“We won six in row, and we have this momentum,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “I guess, synonymously, the vibe has been different. The vibe and energy has been great, and I want to see that continue.”

Of course you want it to continue. As fans, we want it to continue. If this were say like four years ago, this would be an amazing season, we’d be rejoicing that they’re four games over .500 and 1 1/2 games back of first in the Central Division, but this is the Cubs circa 2017, World Series Champs, so no, we’re not settling for that mediocre first half. Right now, at this time, the Cubs are playing like champs.

All right, so Mike Montgomery hit his first home run. I love it when the pitcher goes yard.   It validates the importance of pitchers hitting in the National League and adds that extra excitement to the game.

“I was happy about that. I got done pitching and came back in here and the ball was at my locker,” Montgomery said with a smile before getting serious. “The All-Star break was great for us. Since we’ve been back, there is a great vibe around here. We’re not too worried where we are in the standings, but we’ve been playing really good baseball.”

On a down note, the Cubs are worried about Kris Bryant after he left the first inning with a strained pinky finger sliding into third base. The good news is he’s listed Day-To -Day so he’ll be back in no time.

“I was kind of scared to look at my finger, and I was like, ‘Uh-oh,’ as this never ends up good,” Bryant said. “I don’t think anyone slides into someone’s foot and walks away from it. That was my initial reaction.”

The Cubs have an off day today but head home tomorrow to play heated rivals, the Cardinals. It’ll be their first home series since the break and a chance to unwind. They have momentum going into the series.

“We’re all on the same page,” Addison Russell said. “We’re all-in. We’re back to playing some Cubby baseball. Aggressive, having some fun and winning some ballgames.”

Perhaps that was the problem of the first half, they were missing the “Fun” part of the game.

“It is going to be great to get back home, and it is probably going to be hot,” Cubs outfielder Kyle Schwarber said. “It is going to be a lot of fun, as the bleachers are going to be packed, I’m sure.”

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Cubs Get Humiliated By Phillies

Brett Anderson

We don’t live in a perfect world we know that. In a perfect world, the Cubs would be beating their chests while other teams try to take away what is theirs. So far this season, the Cubs have put that trophy on a table and tell all teams who pass through Wrigley Field,” We had our turn, now’s your time. It’s your time.”

In last night’s stinging 10-2 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies, the Cubs looked more like the team Theo Epstein inherited and less like the one who steamrolled back against the Cleveland team in the World Series.

“I’m not trying to rationalize anything — we had a horrible night — but I think the takeaways are stretching out pitcher Mike Montgomery and Kyle Schwarber getting behind the plate a little bit,” Maddon said.

If this is the sound of a manager that’s worried about his team, I’m expecting big changes coming up. Schwarber behind the plate? Let’s face it, the experiment of Schwarber hitting leadoff isn’t working out as well as everyone hoped it would. Whether the addition of Schwarber behind the plate in the late innings of the game signalled a change was on the horizon, it’s anyone’s guess.

“You look around baseball, right now the best teams in baseball have seven or eight losses,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “What we did last year [starting 25-6] is the anomaly. Realistically, you expect your team to grow and get sharper as the season goes along, and I think that’s going to happen with us.”

It won’t happen if they don’t make changes to the order. Whether it’s Jon Jay, Ben Zobrist or Addison Russell in the leadoff spot, it’s worth a look.

Brett Anderson had a night he’d like to forget. He gave up seven in just over an innings worth of work. perhaps the Friendly Confines hare getting too friendly?

“There were no positives to gain from this outing,” Anderson said. “I have five starts, and I’m averaging three or four innings a start, which is embarrassing from my perspective. Hopefully going forward I can pitch better and give us a chance.”

Last year’s April start wasn’t an anomaly at all. The Cubs, for whatever reason known to them, bonded together and came out and crushed all competition. Whether it was the Dexter Fowler factor or some other magical ingredient, it’s true, the Cubs need to mix it up a bit.

“I could not be happier with the group right now, with the way guys are going about their business,” he said. “It’s just going keep getting better.”

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Cubs Peaking Over Rockies

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Chicago Cubs relief pitcher Mike Montgomery delivers to Colorado Rockies’ David Dahl in the first inning of a baseball game Saturday, Aug. 20, 2016, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

The Chicago Cubs dominated the Rockies in a 9-2 victory while trying to make a case for the accolades to continue in Kris Bryant‘s career after he took the cover off of the ball for his league leading 31st home run of the season.

“There’s still a lot of season left, but for me, I just kind of went into this year working on making a little more contact, and I think having that approach has allowed me to tap into more power,” Bryant said. “I’ve always been the type to hit the ball in the air and hit home runs, so if I’m going to be able to make more contact, I just think more home runs are going to result from that.”

But like every win, it starts with pitching. Mike Montgomery, who was placed in the rotation after John Lackey went to the DL, did 4 1/3 innings of work with 5 strikeouts. The Cubs need this kind of pitching when their regulars go down to injury. Although he did’t get the win, Joe Maddon is confident Montgomery can step in again.

“He has great command of his off-speed pitches, and the fastball has been located really well. A very good curveball, and a nice changeup off that and with that a two-seam fastball that runs and gets the ball on the ground and a four-seam fastball that he can strike you out with. He’s got really good command of everything right now, but the thing that’s impressive is the ability to throw a breaking ball for a strike.” Maddon said.

If the Cubs are peaking, then they’ve certainly have it going at a good time. The MVP race is picking up steam and there’s no shortage of Cubs in the mix. The Cubs have a lot of depth and they could wind up with their first 100+ wins since 1935 but in the end the only thing that matters is the World Series.

Today, Jason Hammel takes to the mound with hopes that the Cubs will win this series against the always tough Colorado Rockies. Game time is 4:10 EST

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Cubs Get Barrelled Over By Brewers

John Lackey

Chicago Cubs starting pitcher John Lackey reacts after giving up a two-run home run to Milwaukee Brewers’ Jonathan Lucroy during the first inning of a baseball game Saturday, July 23, 2016, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Benny Sieu)

I feel bad for John Lackey, I really do. After last night’s loss to the Milwaukee Brewers 6-1 The Texan hasn’t won since June 8th. It’s just not that he hasn’t pitched well either, but it boils down to tough luck.

“I thought he threw the ball really well,” Maddon said of Lackey. “He had really good stuff. If we scored a couple of runs, he’s had himself a good night. It just didn’t work out. Their guy Davies pitched really well.”

It’s hard to lose to basement dwelling teams, but it’s even harder to suffer defeat at the hands of the Milwaukee Brewers. Division rivals and Ryan Braun is still their leader. That’s a tough pill to swallow.

“We’re playing fine,” Lackey said. “Won a couple of series coming out of the break. We have a chance to win another one tomorrow. Just have to play a little better.”

Last night’s game marked the debut of new Cub Mike Montgomery and well, it didn’t go quite as planned. He had a three run homer hit against him by Kirk Nieuwenhuis. That’s not the way you would like to start with your new team but he’ll turn the corner soon. That’s the best part of the game, there’s always tomorrow.

So, I’d like to mention Ben Zobrist‘s struggles recently. I’m not going to mention Jason Heyward because, well, we just don’t know what’s wrong with his playing. The Cubs signed him for his defence so I’ve resigned myself to the fact that he won’t be a beast at the plate, but Zobrist?

“[Zobrist] is not going to be what you saw at the beginning of the year all year long,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “I’ve seen him go through difficult moments in the past and he’s come out on the other side. He’s one of those guys who even when he’s going through difficult moments will get on base, take his walk. He’ll still do something on a particular night.”

While that’s true, Zobrist did get things going last night by collecting a hit and going 2 for 4. Zobrist will find his groove back, that I believe.

Jon Lester gets the ball today as the Cubs look to take series from the Brewers. Game time is 2:10 EST

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Kyle Hendricks Teaches Mets A Lesson

 

Kyle Hendricks

Kyle “The Professor” Hendricks teaches the New York Mets a lesson in the Chicago Cubs 6-2 victory.

It was throwback day at Wrigley Field and no better way to celebrate it than having Kyle Hendricks pitching a gem while channeling Greg Maddux and Anthony Rizzo digging deep into the vaults for his impression of Ryne Sandberg as the Chicago Cubs defeated the New York Mets 6-2 in front of a packed Wrigley Field.

Hendricks has quickly and quietly earned his place as the Cubs ace this season. Did anyone see that coming? He turned in his ninth victory of the season while striking out seven in six shutout innings. Is it too late to for a Cy Young nomination? Just kidding, Stephen. To give you an idea of just how good this kid has been, Hendricks is leading the majors with a 0.72 ERA since June 19th. The “Professor” has really been teaching lessons on the mound.

“I’m really just focused on what I can control,” Hendricks said. “Lately, that’s been simplifying everything. I feel good with my mechanics. I feel good with the rapport I’ve had with Willson [Contreras] and Miggy behind the plate. It’s just picking up where I left off every start.”

Wrigley Field has been very kind to the Cubs. Chicago has the best home record in the National League and Hendricks has the second lowest ERA at home with 1.36, the only one better is Clayton Kershaw.

I can go on all day about Kyle Hendricks, but there’s another hero in Anthony Rizzo. He blasted two home runs, boosting his season totals to 24. When Rizzo goes yard, the Cubs are 18-4.

“Even if they go out just over the yellow line, it’s just as good,” Rizzo said. “It did feel good. I just put good swings on the ball, and that’s really all I wanted to do.”

Rizzo is tied with Nolan Arenado for the National League lead in RBI’s with 71. While he’s one short of Kris Bryant for the team lead in home runs, the duo of Bryant/Rizzo evokes fond memories of the Bash Brothers of the late 1980’s. Talk about a throwback!

The MVP race is going to be too close to call this year.

“I’m just glad we played well,” Joe Maddon said. “We’ve played six really good games since the break. That’s the part that stood out to me.”

The Cubs also made a trade yesterday grabbing Mike Montgomery and Jordon Pries from the Seattle Mariners in exchange for Dan Vogelbach and Paul Blackburn.

The Cubs have a much needed day off before taking that hop, skip and a jump to Milwaukee to take on the Brewers tomorrow.

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