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.

 

Cubs Ahead By A Century

Javier Baez

“First thing we’d climb a tree
And maybe then we’d talk
Or sit silently
And listen to our thoughts
With illusions of someday
Cast in a golden light
No dress rehearsal,
This is our life”

Ahead By A Century- Tragically Hip

There are two ways to look at the Chicago Cubs 12-2 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates last night. One being that the Cubs are so dominant and this is hopefully a sign of things to come in the post season, or the Pirates are so bad that this game was merely just a tune up for the post season. Either way, the Cubs showed the sparse crowd at the awesome PNC Park just how good they are.

The Cubs collected their 100th win as well. To reach the century mark for the first time since 1935 is an omen. It was a year that they made the World Series and hopefully if all superstitions are kept in check could mean a great sign for the October ahead.

Javier Baez hit a grand slam and drove in six runs to showcase why he’s exactly what the Cubs need and Kyle Hendricks pitched six scoreless innings in the rout.

“It’s not too often you get this much talent in one room on one team,” said Kris Bryant, who celebrated the 100th win by driving in his 100th and 101st RBIs on a two-run homer. “We need to realize what we have here and be grateful for it. I couldn’t have pictured a better first two years in the big leagues.”

If there were any doubters of the greatness of Hendricks, they’re quickly rewriting their ballots on the Cy Young voting card. He only struck out five last night but he made batters hit into grounders with ease and that’s all any manager can ask from a pitcher.

That and what’s the mascot’s name at Dartmouth.

“He says, ‘So, if I was to go to the bookstore at Dartmouth, what would I see as the nickname of the school?'” Hendricks said. “I said, ‘Big Green,’ and he walked away.”

We all know that history isn’t exactly on the Cubs side. A 100 win season doesn’t exactly carry over to a sure World Series thing but one thing is for sure, the Cubs have won 100 games before. Those years were 1906, 1907, 1909 and 1910. Kris Bryant has more home runs then those teams did in each of their seasons.

Huh?

“The guys wanted that 100th win. I kind of like that,” manager Joe Maddon said. “A 100 is very significant for us. I’ve been on teams that have lost 100 games, so it’s kind of nice to be on the other end of the stick. It means we’ve been pretty consistent all year.”

So as the Cubs are checking off their milestone bucket list, I can guarantee that there’s only one more thing for them to check off and if that doesn’t happen this season, it wouldn’t exactly be a failure but disappointment would be the right word. No manager, GM or team president signs players thinking that this is it. What I’m looking for in the Cubs at the end of October is that 7th game, bases loaded, two out and David Ross at the plate kind of season. You can write the ending.

Believe it.

 

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.”

Believe it.

Cubs Kyle Hendricks Is Best In The Game

Chicago Cubs

The Cubs beat the Pirates 3-0 yesterday. No big deal, right? Another win, magic number is 18.

Except for this guy.

My first impression of Kyle Hendricks a few years ago was that he looked like the kid who showed up one day at camp saying things like,”I know how to throw” followed by some ribbing from the other players and I’m sure Hendricks filled a bucket watching the other starters throwing heat. When he walks off the mound, it looks like he’s trying to apologize to the batter for striking him out. Those were and are couple of impressions I have from the pitcher known as “The Professor”

Not a Cy Young contender and certainly not the frontrunner for ERA title. There’s no other word for Kyle Hendricks, but awesome.

“He comes in every day and does his work, and executes his game plan really good,” Anthony Rizzo said of Hendricks, who began the season as the Cubs’ fifth starter. “He’s not a guy who’s getting away with plus-plus stuff. He’s executing his game plan, and he attacks hitters and he studies hitters. He went to Dartmouth and has a really good education.”

Not only has Kyle Hendricks lowered his ERA to 2.09 but he put another notch in the win column and now has 13 for the season. He even has the lowest ERA at home in the majors with 1.21. When voters look at the win column before the overall picture, they’re missing out on what this kid can do.

“He has to be Cy Young contention,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “Put the radar gun in your back pocket and look at what he’s doing. There has to be strong consideration.”

They’re all right. He has to be in contention. C’mon, he’s allowed three or less runs in 18 straight starts. There’s nothing flashy going on with him, but he’s getting things done. I guarantee he’ll never be that kind of pitcher who gets a perfect game or delivers a no-no. He’s just not that type of thrower, but what he does is dismantle batting orders so meticulously that instead of having the nickname of “Professor” they should be calling him “Assassin” or “Sniper”

“It’s a different game. I’m definitely a different pitcher than those [hard-throwing] guys. I’m just out there trying to pitch my game. Using the two-seam and four-seam fastballs, they don’t have the velocity, but it gives them two different looks.” Hendricks said.

So when John Lackey gets back to business, the Chicago Cubs have decisions to make with Hendricks. Do they put the guy in who brought them to the show, or do they go with that veteran experience?  No matter how the Cubs do in the playoffs, Kyle Hendricks has been teaching everyone a lesson.

“It means a lot in a way,” Hendricks said. “Where I was at last year, and my goals coming into this year, I definitely didn’t see myself a part of that, or I had my sights a little lower. To be up there, I’m taking it in stride. To stay there, I have to keep doing the same things I’ve been doing is consistency and keep a simple mind set.”

He deserves the Cy Young Award.

Believe it.

Cubs Beat Pirates in Thrilling Way

Miguel Montero

 

Heroes come in the most unlikeliest places. Last night, the Cubs beat the Pirates 8-7 with Miguel Montero‘s hot bat off of the bench in the 13th inning. They battled back, they fought hard and the game ended this morning. These two teams play each other hard, if it were a Wild Card contest it would be a classic.

“Look at how they played tonight — it must have been the onesies,” Maddon said. “If you’re flying on a charter airplane, and you have onesies on, you feel better the next day.”

It had to be the onesies but you’d never catch me in one of those things. Jake Arrieta had a great game. He had a hit, almost had a home run, battled a 14 pitch At Bat before striking out and was involved in a rundown where he got the always thrilling Starling Marte out at home. This is why I’m opposed to the designated hitter role. When pitchers are as involved in the game as Jake Arrieta is, there’s no easy outs. Anything can happen and becomes a much more thrilling game.

“The resiliency of our team was incredible,” Chicago starter Jake Arrieta said. “Just a crazy ballgame all the way around. So many things happened.”

See, here’s the other crazy thing about the game which makes it so endearing; Javier Baez made a mistake in the final Dodgers game and the Cubs lost but last night in the series opener at Wrigley Field against the Bucs, he had 4 hits including a triple in the 12th inning. Baseball is a game of redemption. When they say that every game is different, put the loss behind and move on, well they mean it.

“We’re not going to stop playing hard. This is a team that’s trying to win the World Series and we’re not going to give up, no matter how many runs we’re up or down. I saw [Montero] getting ready, and I said, ‘It’s going to be you.’ Baez said.

You can also say that about Jorge Soler, whom a lot of people wrote off this season and he almost ended up as trade bait, but last night’s home run in the ninth inning tied his totals from last year at 10.

If last night’s game was an indication of how the Cubs could do in the playoffs, well they’ll be tough. I think their goal for September is to reduce those pesky errors by the young guys and focus on small ball. It’s a cliche, I know it but it’s true, “Get the guys on base and bring em’ home” or as I like to say, “The long ball will get you into the post season but it’s the small ball that’ll win you the series.”

“That was a goofy game, boy,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said.

Believe it.