Cubs’ Hendricks Shuts Out Pirates

Chicago Cubs

Kyle Hendricks could make open heart surgery look simple, that’s how confident he is in his abilities. Last night, the Cubs shutout the Pittsburgh Pirates 1-0 in what folks deem as Hendricks’ “Comeback game”. We’ve seen him pitch better but we’ll take it.

“It’s just one start but definitely a lot better,” Hendricks said. “I got away with some pitches early. It almost clicked the second time through the order, like about the end of the third inning. My fastball command got better, I could mix it in and out, up and down a lot better. My changeup kind of followed from there, I started throwing better curveballs. … We’ll take it. One step, one step.”

One step for sure, but what was interesting about this game is Hendricks kind of had a #TBT moment with his style. Nothing flashy, just letting it all happen. That’s the best part about his game. He gets it done.

Sure, there are people who believe his drop in velocity is a reason to voice some concern but I’m not convinced that last season was a fluke. He’s not quite a seasoned veteran where he can lock in his pitches at will like Jon Lester, so perhaps there needs to be a warming up period and this could be it.

“Something in my mechanics clicked, or maybe I fell into the flow of the game or something,” Hendricks said. “I was closer. It’s one start but definitely better.”

So, all right, what if last season was his season for batters to get used to his style of pitching and this season is their chance to understand how he works because I can guarantee that teams across the nation were sitting in the office studying the way Hendricks pitches. In an era used to fastballs and heat, along comes Hendricks and changes things up. See what I did there?

“I always talk about the way hitters take pitches against him and you can see it kind of surprises them,” Joe Maddon said. “When you get that kind of look from a hitter, then I know the pitch is there. More than anything, an uptick velocity-wise, and a little more separation between the numbers on his fastball and his changeup — that’s the one item that will make him take off quickly.”

He isn’t perfect. He needs to get his speed up a bit and that’ll happen. Until that happens, it’s a relief to have the old Hendricks back on the mound doing what he does best which is getting batters out.

“I’m not in the zone dialed in the way I was at the end of last year,” Hendricks said. “That was a completely different feeling and sensation.”

That sensation wound up earning them a World Series.

Believe it.

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.”

Believe it

 

 

Cubs Blame Yankees For April Woes

Chicago Cubs

I guess the Chicago Cubs are learning first hand the problems associated with winning a championship. Every team wants it. Yesterday, the Pittsburgh Pirates defeated the Cubs 6-1 and took the series. It was their first series win since 2014 at Wrigley Field.

Despite the Cubs taking a 1-0 lead into the seventh inning or Jon Lester getting a goose egg for seven innings(On Easter Sunday, no less!). So, the Cubs are 6-6 this April. Whether it’s a World Series hangover, or other teams have caught on to the Cubs’ weaknesses, but the team has started 2017 in a mediocre way.

“We had some good games, we’ve played a lot of close games. We taxed our bullpen quite a bit, which we really don’t want to do. Our starters pitched really well but late in the game, we didn’t score enough runs to give our bullpen any breathing room. I think that falls on the offence.” Ben Zobrist said.

On the other hand, it could be the absence of their grandfatherly figure in David Ross. He caught all of Lester’s games while providing a spark and spark in the clubhouse. Then again, it could be the problem of holding leads and wearing down their bullpen.

“That’s been more of our problem than anything, not getting a clutch hit and holding a lead at the end of the game,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said.

There isn’t really any cause for concern this early in the season. This is roughly the same team that won the hardware last fall. However, missing Dexter Fowler has had a bigger impact than they thought. I mean Fowler’s struggling with the Cardinals right now. Now that’s an interesting theory on a curse placed on the Cardinals when they do business with the Redbirds.

‘‘Last year was kind of a fairy-tale year for us. It’s not always going to be like that, so it’s important to kind of realize that early on, so that we’re not hitting that panic button like we did around the All-Star break last year.’’ NL MVP Kris Bryant.

True, it’s not always going to be like that and I fault us Cubs fans for the pressure of the expectation for greatness. I mean, C’mon, after a 108 years would you expect anything less? Cubs fans have a lot of catching up to do. After the Cubs won, a friend of mine congratulated me on their win but continued to say that they need 23 more championships to catch up to his beloved New York Yankees.

There’s the real reason behind the Cubs early futility. Blame the Yankees. After all, it wouldn’t be the Cubs way to just blame it on the bullpen, blown leads and missed opportunities. It’s almost as if a new curse has been placed on the North Siders. A curse by a Yankees fan.

‘‘We won the World Series last year, so there will be questions, but that’s just natural,’’ Jake Arrieta said. ‘‘That comes with the territory. It’s a business of results, and we still expect really good results from the group we have this year.’’

Believe it

 

 

Bucs’ Frustrate Cubs

Chicago Cubs

The Chicago Cubs lost yesterday 4-2 not because of poor playing, I mean they’re the freakin’ World Series champs, right? No, they lost because the Pittsburgh Pirates are that kind of team that is always a tough team to play. They’re deceptively good and no team should take them for granted. Of course,in baseball anything can happen.

“They were putting together some good at-bats on me. I had to grind a little bit there but I thought I was pitching pretty well and the sixth inning is just kind of unfortunate. What are you going to do about that? Just move on to the next one.” Kyle Hendricks said.

This season is going to be quite different than last year because the Cubs won’t be as dominant. Plain and simple. They won’t get over a hundred wins but they’ll still be just as commanding as they were last year with the exception that they’ll have to earn that trophy or more in proving that they’re just as good as what happened last season.

“I love the fact that we are seeing a lot of pitches, we are seeing good at-bats,” Joe Maddon said. “We actually look really good at the plate. Guys that normally hit who are not — head’s up, they’re going to start doing it. To be in pretty good shape record-wise in spite of not having the offense clicking on all cylinders, it’s kind of a good sign.”

The season is still young and the Cubs have to make adjustments. The Cubs are known to battle back but I feel that this season it’s going to be a little bit tougher than last.

“We put ourselves in position to get a chance in the last few innings to tie the game at least,” Ben Zobrist said. “And that, right now with a lot of us — I think the rhythm just isn’t quite there at the plate. It’s early in the season, it’s chilly, it’s been tough to get it going this week for everybody, but I like how we battled late in the game.”

Yet, the sophomore jinx might be rearing its’ ugly head.

Today, Jake Arrieta gets the call to the mound. With a record of 2-0, the former Cy Young winner and Chicago Fire star is out to prove his mettle and so far this year, he’s finding his groove back. People will again Fear The Beard.

Believe it

 

Cubs Get Rained On and October is Around The Corner

Kawasaki

PITTSBURGH, PA – SEPTEMBER 29: Munenori Kawasaki #66 of the Chicago Cubs on deck in the second inning during the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park on September 29, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

For the first time since 1993, the Chicago Cubs finished in a 1-1 tie against the Pittsburgh Pirates. It won’t be made up due to the amount of time left in the season.

So, I want to talk about the other night a bit. We know Jake Arrieta was a little bit upset not knowing there’d be a catching change. There were arguments that it felt like a spring training game but you know, I disagree. The Cubs have the best record in baseball with 101 wins. Everything’s guaranteed except the wins in the playoffs. Home field advantage through the NLCS? Check. So putting in non starters and experimenting a bit should be all good, right?

“Going into the game, I was really unaware we were going to go with a catching change,” Arrieta said.

Well Jake, you probably weren’t listening at the meeting or Maddon’s message did’t get through the beard. Arrieta’s Cy Young season was last year, not this season. Sure, he’s still having a great season–By mere mortal standards–but this is Jake “Freakin” Arrieta and we kind of expected him to continue with the run he had in 2015. The game on Wednesday was a terrible game for Jake. He didn’t have his stuff and was rocked in the first inning.

Big deal.

Every pitcher throws a bad game now and then. Get over it and move on. In fact, I think it’s smart that they put Willson Contreras in to play because next week he’s a going to get his first taste of post season action and he’d better be ready to play, there’s no do overs in October.

“They all knew what was going to happen before that game,” Maddon said Thursday afternoon. “There were no surprises. And there’s been no surprises.”

Ok, so to weigh in on the Epstein extension, he’s got his work cut out for him. This year is probably going to be the peak year in his tenure. The next five years are going to prove difficult.

How does he negotiate contracts for players like Kyle Hendricks and Javier Baez? They’re going to want their cut and market value. There’s no denying that this season has been a special one for the North Siders but nothing’s going to last forever regardless if a guy like Theo Epstein is at the helm of one of baseball’s most iconic franchises. It would be nice if Hendricks turns in a Greg Maddux style career with the Cubs. It would be fitting if Anthony Rizzo becomes the face of a team just like Derek Jeter playing with the New York Yankees and I would love to see Kris Bryant‘s number waving out to the Lakes years from now when I’m old and grey, a stiff breeze rocking my joints when my son takes me out to Wrigley in an April home opener and as they call out the player introductions, my son yells in my ear, “Dad! Dad!” as I fumble with my hearing aids and cursing “Today’s” players. There’ll never be another guy like Bryant, you remember his MVP 2016 season?

The best part about baseball is the worst part. It brings us back to our childhood. A moment where time is limitless until years from now when we see our memories in marble halls and think the glory days were just last year. Children live for today. No tomorrow. Enjoy it, Chicago Cubs. 2016 is your childhood.

Believe it.

 

 

Cubs Extend Epstein’s Contract

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Pittsburgh Pirates

Sep 28, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jake Arrieta (49) delivers a pitch against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the first inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

What’s not to love about the Chicago Cubs right now? Their President Theo Epstein has just signed a 5 year contract extension, they have their most wins with 101 since 1910 and they finished first in all of baseball. Even the staunchest St. Louis Cardinals fan will be turning their heads and saying,”You know, the birds might not make October, but damn those Cubs are good!” All right, I might have went too far on that one.

Last night, the Cubs fell to the Pittsburgh Pirates 8-4 and I think what set the tone was a little squabble between Jake Arrieta and the umpire, Chris Guccione. There were a few questionable phrases that went along with those questionable calls that might have rattled the beard of Arrieta.

“He got a little upset in the first inning, and I don’t know if that took him away from throwing a good game,” Miguel Montero said. “I really thought he had good stuff going on. I don’t know what happened. Did it feel like Spring Training? I do believe that, and that’s not a good feeling for a pitcher or a player, knowing you’re going to play four innings, five innings.”

Perhaps Joe Maddon was giving all of his players a rest last night but yeah, it felt like a different ballgame, not the usual fire that the Cubs bring to the park. The fire was burning for Arrieta after the game. He was mad and I could tell just by the way he stared down Guccione after the altercation in the first inning.

“I don’t think you know how hard this game is unless you play it,” Arrieta said. “I feel I can have another season like that. People have done it before. Why can’t I do it? I can do it again. So, yeah, I appreciate it. But at the same time, that’s what you strive for. That’s why you work hard. You go out and you try to perform that way.”

There was some good stuff that came out of the loss. Anthony Rizzo knocked his 32nd home run into the stands and there was an odd switch of positions between Rizzo and Ben Zobrist but last night felt odd for this normally dominant Chicago Cubs team.

I like the stability that the organization is bringing to the Cubs. Signing Theo Epstein to an extension sends a clear message that they want this roller coaster ride to continue. The Cubs have become the class of the major leagues and to think that before Epstein was there, baseball was still reticent to look at stats and numbers when drafting and signing players. Embrace the change, that’s what Epstein brings to the table.

“This has been a wonderful environment in which to work, in which to build, in which to make great new friends and stand shoulder to shoulder with some amazing people from the top to the bottom of the organization, as we try to accomplish something that has a lot of meaning to all of us in the organization. I’m thrilled with the decision, I’m thrilled with how things have gone.” Epstein said.

Believe it.

 

2016 Chicago Cubs, Best Cubs Team Ever?

Kris Bryant

Sep 26, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant (17) celebrate his two run home run with left fielder Chris Coghlan (R) against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the sixth inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

I’m going to argue right now that the Chicago Cubs 6-4 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates means something. Sure, there are naysayers who think that a team in the Cubs position would have nothing else to play for and the Pittsburgh Pirates should just look towards next year for rebuilding. This series means something.  The Cubs need to keep focused and the machine well oiled because October isn’t going to be any kind of cakewalk.

John Lackey got the start on the mound last night. He pitched five pretty decent innings and when it comes to the post season, he’s going to be key. Lackey is the pitcher I’m worried about if only because he’s the older guy and he’s stubborn. He might want to stay in a little past his due date should a game go south, but on the other hand, when he’s on his game, there’s few that can match him.

“He’s thrown a lot of innings. He’s pitched extremely well,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “I think he’s been really good.”

Last night was a case of two teams going in different directions. When players like Chris Coghlan hit a three run triple, it’s going to be that kind of depth that will propel the Chicago Cubs through the post season.

Another thing that’s going to be the difference in the post season is Kris Bryant. He’s the guy that can be shuffled through the lineup and play 3rd base or the outfield, or just about anywhere Maddon’s going to put him. This has been one of the many strengths and keys to the Cubs’ success this season. The thing is that Bryant has been pretty good at every spot he’s put in.

“Versatility is great, but if you’re not doing a good job at the position, it doesn’t really matter,” Bryant said. “I just try to be that unselfish player who is willing to move around and do whatever I can to help.”

If the Cubs are going to be successful in the post season (which is 108 years in the making) then Bryant’s play has to shine. He’s been their best player all year and although Maddon is famously saying that when “Fowler goes, we go” in reference to leading off, I’m going to make the case that when Bryant is on his game, the Cubs are unbeatable.

“I’m looking forward to the four days off [before the playoffs begin],” Bryant said. “That will be great — just kind of decompress before the craziness starts and the most fun time of the year. Enjoy those days and get ready to go.”

Yeah, when I think about this season, I think about the bond that this team has. Bryant and Anthony Rizzo have been the leaders and the pitching staff has been the best in baseball, it’s been a good year and it’s only going to get better.

Believe it.