Cubs Come Roaring Back, Dominate Reds and Take First Place

Willson Contreras

I’m not bragging here, but yesterday’s 12-8 victory over the Cincinnati Reds was the kind of win I’m talking about. That dominating offensive juggernaut from the North Side came roaring to life with home run contributions from Wilson Contreras, Jason Heyward and Anthony Rizzo.

“The ball was absolutely flying,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “These balls were well-struck, don’t get me wrong, but the ball was definitely in the air and it was gone.”

What really stood out in the win was contributions from guys like Heyward and Contreras, heck, even Jake Arrieta hit the ball well. The Cubs can’t always leave it up to Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Ben Zobrist to get the job done.

During the offseason, Heyward worked hard on his swing and so far this season, it’s working.

“His whole setup is different, how he’s starting the bat,” Joe Maddon said. “He is much more active with his hands throughout the swing process, and that’s why you are seeing harder contact. Less arms, more hands, that’s how I look at it. It’s been very effective.”

We know how good he is in the field but with the absence of Dexter Fowler, Heyward has to lead a young outfield but he also has to replace the bat of Fowler as well.

“The good signs are getting hits, being able to be aggressive in the strike zone,” Heyward said. “Solid contact, consistent. Home runs are going to happen, but it’s not going to happen if you’re not doing that stuff.”

So, let’s shift over to the pitching of Jake Arrieta. If last season was a come down period for the former Cy Young winner, then this year is his comeback season. The rotation as a whole has been a little shaky but so far, Arrieta is 3-0 and yesterday’s victory he pitched five innings striking out 8 batters. It wasn’t pretty but,

“We’ve had some hiccups, but we’ve been picked up by our offense,” said Arrieta, who gave up five runs in six innings. “As starting pitchers, we have to take advantage of our offense.”

If they’re taking advantage of their offence, then the Cubs are back in first place in the National League Central where they belong, the Cubs could be on the roll that they need. John Lackey will take to the mound today before the Cubs go to Pittsburgh in another key divisional matchup.

 

So here’s your chance to jump on the Cubs bandwagon don’t worry, there’s plenty of room for everyone. It’s hard to figure out how folks can suddenly cheer for teams. It could be birthright, you know, generations of long suffering fans. It might be that of location and hometowns.  I’m the Canuck Cubbie, I wasn’t born in Chicago but came across the Cubs while watching WGN when it was available in Canada. That was many moons ago. When WGN ceased to exist up here, I subscribed to MLB.TV. We’ve been to Wrigley Field and followed the team whenever they play near us.  We try to have Opening Day parties when we can and celebrate everything that is good about the Cubs and great about baseball. If you are new to the game, I encourage you to read up about the history and most importantly, take a trip to Wrigley Field, it’s a 12 hour drive for us but it was so worth it. Cubs fans are amazing. A Chicagoan we talked to a couple years ago was amazed that we drove so far to see them. He lived around the corner from Wrigley! “You came all the way from Canada?”

Yes, we did.

Believe it

 

Cubs’ Find a Way To Win

One thing’s for certain when these two teams butt heads during the regular season and that is it usually develops like it’s the playoffs. The dramatics are abundant. Don’t believe me? What about Albert Almora‘s stunning grab to the away what was likely to be a home run in the seventh inning.

“The moment of the night was when I came in and Jake gave me a big hug. That was awesome,” Almora said. “The hug was fine.”

The Cubs went on to a 2-1 victory.

It’s obvious too that every team is still excited to be back playing baseball and if you look closely, you’ll see rust dust in the infield with sprinkles in the dugouts and outfield.

Except for Jake Arrieta.

The man must either need something on his mantle piece or he’s been doing more pilates and yoga because he looked like his award season self of a couple years ago by striking out 5 of 6 batters he faced.

“Jake really looked good from the side,” Maddon said. “The ball was moving a lot, it was very reminiscent of a couple years ago. His strike throwing and the way the hitters reacted to the pitch, I thought, was really nice to watch from the dugout.”

If this were a couple of years ago, fans would just be getting the parade started if the Cubs played like this but in light of the events that transpired last November, the Cubs looked good. A little shaky at times but they’re slowly looking like that well oiled machine from last fall.

Speaking of championships, the Cubs will have the ceremony on April 12 when they’ll receive their rings. David Ross will throw out the first pitch and the banner will be raised. It gives me the warm and fuzzies thinking about it.

Today, the Cubs get John Lackey up on the mound to face his old team. I think Lackey will be a liability for the rotation this season. Sure, he’s fiery and stubborn but his numbers are declining and he just doesn’t garner that stability like he used to. He makes me nervous. He shouldn’t be the third in the rotation, which I’m expecting Joe to juggle him around throughout the season. So what are his plans for 2017?

“You don’t have to top 2016. We just have to be better than everyone else in 2017. [Kyle] Schwarber is back. We got rid of Rossy [David Ross]. He stinks. He can’t hit. We should be better. I was just inside talking to Ross and he said that. … Willson Contreras is better than he is. Let’s be honest.”

All kidding aside, the Cubs have the potential to be better this year. Certainly, they’ll be a different team. I don’t believe they’ll put up the numbers like they did last year but they’ll find ways to win.

“It was all about defense tonight,” manager Joe Maddon said postgame. “That’s why we won the game.”

That is how they’ll win the season.

Believe it.

 

Cubs Rally But Drop Opener

No one ever said that the road to repeating would be an easy one, especially the St. Louis Cardinals. Last night in front of a nationally televised audience, the Chicago Cubs rallied in the ninth inning after a game tying home run by Willson Contreras but the World Series champion Chicago Cubs fell to their rivals St. Louis Cardinals 4-3.

“I struck out the first two at-bats, but I never lost my confidence,” Contreras said. “After I struck out the second time, I came up to watch video and I was overswinging a little bit. I told myself to be short to the ball because [Carlos Martinez] was throwing 94, 98, 99, 100 [mph] and he had movement. That’s why I had a little bit of success.”

Joe Maddon honoured the 2016 champions by starting the lineup that was on the field when the Cubs changed history and demolished curses last November.

“It’s a tribute to the World Series,” Maddon said. “Those are the guys who were on the field during the seventh game of the World Series, so I wanted as a tribute to them, what they did for us, put them on the field tonight. It’s no more complicated than that.”

It was a fitting tribute and all though Dexter Fowler is now a Cardinal, he faced Jon Lester at the first At Bat. It looked like Lester tried pitching around Fowler or it could have been Opening Night jitters but Fowler hit it to the outfield.

The Cubs might not get the 103 wins they did last season but then again, they might. After all, Kyle Schwarber is expected to play a full season and even though the champs dropped the Opening Night, they proved that they can still keep it close when it counts.

“We didn’t give up,” Schwarber said. “We grinded. Willie hits the big homer — that’s kind of the definition of our team. We won’t give up until it’s over. We didn’t, and things didn’t go our way tonight.”

There’s still plenty of baseball left. CSN Chicago thinks the team could be even better than last year. The way I look at it is this is the first title defence by a Cubs team in over a hundred years, if their Opening Night suffered with the weight of all those years’ expectations, then they’ll look no further than tomorrow night when they continue their opening series against the Cardinals. Jake Arrieta will get the start against Adam Wainwright.

It’s funny though, a few years ago no one would have been disappointed with last night’s loss but now that the Cubs have won the “Big one” suddenly they’re catapulted into that place where great teams reside. This is the first season in a long time where the Cubs aren’t “Lovable Losers” or cursed but they’re expected to win. There is no next year. In many ways, the Chicago Cubs have become the New Yankees.

“I’m proud of the way we went about it,” Maddon said. “Honestly, if you walked into our clubhouse during camp, I don’t think you could have recognized that we just came off winning the World Series. To me, that really blew my mind. The work was spectacular. The leadership was there. The young guys are still striving to get better.”

Then again, maybe they’re not the Yankees.

Believe it.

Cubs Prepare For Greatest Comeback In World Series History

World Series

The Chicago Cubs are in deep. last night, the Cubs fell to the Cleveland Indians 7-2 and have a 3-1 deficit in the World Series. It seemed that for everything the Cubs did, the Indians answered back . That’s October baseball. The real question is, Can the Cubs come back?

“We know we have to win out,” Chicago’s Kris Bryant said. “If we want to get to the last game, we have to win the first one, then the next one. It’s one game at a time, don’t change anything, have fun, smile, just be ourselves.”

He’s partially right. If you’re going to play that cliche, then yeah, it is one game at a time. The good news is that next up is Jon Lester tonight, then Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks. Now is not the time for the Cubs to panic. Within a 24hr period, they’ll have to reconnect with the team that won 103 games and reach down deep and play ball. They can come back in this series. They’ve had 16 three game winning streaks this year. Of course, none of them were against this Cleveland Indians team. Only five teams in World Series history have come back from a 3-1 hole.

1985 Kansas City Royals

1979 Pittsburgh Pirates

1968 Detroit Tigers

1958 New York Yankees

1925 Pittsburgh Pirates

So you see, it’s not impossible. If there is any team in baseball capable of staging the greatest comeback in post season history, it’s these 2016 Chicago Cubs.

Why?

They’ve gotten to know this Cleveland team. Joe Maddon is going to keep things loose in the locker room by not allowing players to report until 90 minutes before the game. Hey, they know what’s at stake and I feel that if they try to do too much at this point, it might throw the equilibrium way off balance.

“They’re all trying to hit a grand slam with nobody on,” Miguel Montero said of the Cubs’ young hitters. “It’s not going to happen. We need to take our walks. We need to be a little bit more patient at the plate. We need to play small ball. … We’re all trying to launch the ball 110 miles per hour off the bat, launch angle, whatever. No, we need to get a freaking ground ball through a hole. As simple as that.”

There you have it. Small ball. Forget Bryant’s home run capabilities, get Dexter Fowler on base, move the runners and perhaps lay down a bunt.  They key is exactly what Montero said. Guys like Javier Baez, Addison Russell and Willson Contreras have to keep the ball on the ground because if the Cubs win tonight, it goes back to Cleveland where the DH rule applies and you know what that means?

Kyle Schwarber is back in the game.

“We have to have a one-game winning streak tomorrow,” manager Joe Maddon said. “And if we do that, I really would be feeling pretty good about going back to Cleveland.”

Believe it

Chicago Cubs Advance To NLCS

NLDS Champions

In what will go down as one of the most thrilling playoff games in MLB history, the Chicago Cubs came from behind in the 9th inning to win the NLDS three games to one and a final score of 6-5.

To tell you I was starting to get worried yesterday was an understatement. The Cubs sure didn’t look like that behemoth team that won 103 games during the regular season.Their bats fell silent. Where was Anthony Rizzo or Kris Bryant? No, it was up to David Ross to provide any of the long ball excitement in game #4. I’ll tell you though, I’ve gained so much respect for Javier Baez. He’s been the spark plug for the team providing what Fox analysts described as “Not humanly possible!” stuff by the second baseman. He’ll surely be an MVP candidate this post season.

“He was incredible,” Pedro Strop said. “Javy can do anything. He owned this series. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Baez got the game winning hit in the ninth to put a damper on the Giants series.

John Lackey settled into a groove but it was Matt Moore’s steady workmanlike approach that kept the Cubs at bay. Now, it may sound like I’m heaping so much praise on the Giants but call it what it was, playoff baseball. The Cubs caught a break in the ninth with that rally.

“We’ve had several games that feel like that during the season but when you do it in the postseason, it gives you a whole ‘nother level of confidence late in the game,” said Ben Zobrist, who delivered a key RBI double in the ninth. “Once [Kris Bryant] and [Anthony Rizzo] got on, you kind of felt like, something good is going to happen here. Really, the last two nights, that’s what the Giants have done, they’ve put great at-bats together, rallies together. Tonight was our night.”

That “Something good” was Willson Contreras who crushed a two run single. You could see it on his face and who better to do it than the rookie? A symbolic gesture to the Cub’s Way and the brass in head office who built this team.

The Cubs needed this kind of adversity. I was hoping for a Mets/ Cubs matchup in the NLDS but in hindsight, this was the series that the Cubs needed. They haven’t been tested to this degree all year and the San Francisco Giants taught these young Cubs what playoff baseball is all about. One streak comes to an end but hopefully a new tradition begins and a curse finally brought to rest.

“We don’t quit,” Joe Maddon said. “That’s really what it comes down to. You hear that all the time, everybody says it, but you have to actually live it. And I have to tell you, I’ve seen it so many times from this group. That’s a big part of our philosophy. And I like to keep things simple, and that’s simple. … We just play 27 outs.”

Believe it

Cubs Snap Losing Streak In Style

Willson Contreras

The longest drought in professional sports history and the oldest serving Major League baseball team squared off against each other last night and to say that the Chicago Cubs needed that victory is an understatement. In their 5-2 defeat of the Cincinnati Reds, three important things happened; Jason Heyward, Addison Russell and Willson Contreras all hit home runs to secure the victory but the big fourth important thing was Jason Hammel. He broke out of his funk and received his 15th win of the season.

“Overall, it was a good sign for me,” Hammel said of his outing. “Fastball command got better as the game went along. And the team continues to prove that if you hang around for a little while, they’ll make it exciting.”

Does that include sticking around for 108 years? After the win, the Cubs became the first team this season to have four pitchers with 15 or more wins. That’s impressive and what’s more impressive is Jason Hammel’s resiliency. With his 15th victory, Hammel has kinda been struggling this season so it’s great to see him with the win. It really hasn’t been the best second half for the hurler. If people believe that it’s an audition for the playoffs, it could just be a warm up.

“[My] individual numbers would be a lot better minus those runs, but overall, it’s the whole body of work and continuing to trust the process and the things that I’ve been working on,” Hammel said. “Everybody’s going to have a bad one, and unfortunately for me, they were really bad. But we continue to move on. Obviously, tonight was a step in the right direction. I felt good about it.”

It’s always better to look at the overall team accomplishment than the individual performance. Sorry if I pulled out that horrendous sports cliche but there’s no other way to put it.

If the season were to end today, the St. Louis Cardinals would have that final Wild Card position and man, wouldn’t that be great for the Cubs to face the Cardinals in the division series? Of course the Cardinals would have to get by the New York Mets but it would be worth the wait.

“Right now, it’s only about winning,” Joe Maddon said. “That’s it. We want to get this whole thing functioning properly, so when we get to the postseason, we’re able to do the things that we want to do.”

If the Cubs make it to the World Series, I hope Cubby Bear will save two seats for a couple of Canuck Cubbies.

Believe it

 

 

Kyle Hendricks Will Win Cy Young

Kyle Hendricks

Kyle Hendricks is leading the National League in ERA with 2.19. The last time a Cubs pitcher did that, they played in a World Series. That was 1935 and the dude’s name was Ray Prim. I tell you folks, the star’s are aligning this season for the Chicago Cubs and after their 6-3 victory over the San Diego Padres, the Cubs are 36 games over .500 the last time they compiled that record was 1945. Um, they went to the World Series that season too.

Halley’s Comet has come and gone twice since the last time the North Siders won the Commissioner’s Trophy.

Sure, it’s easy to talk about a team when they’re doing things right in the win column but when guys like Hendricks and Willson Contreras have emerged into the budding superstars they’ve become and hardly anyone saw it coming this quickly, it adds to the excitement of the upcoming post season.

“You don’t see the velocity and don’t think there’s a strikeout in there, but it’s the movement and the changeup that provide the strikeout and his know-how,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of Hendricks. “It may not be his best effort, but I still thought he was pretty good today.”

That’s the key to Hendricks’ pitching. It’s not pretty and certainly not fast but he manages to get things done by confusing batters with the changeup. I’m not going to be surprised when batters catch on to his style but in the meantime, he’s ironically enough, become baseball’s most thrilling and exciting pitcher to watch.

“Where I’m at, I’m just trying to stay where I’m at,” Hendricks said. “Keep the consistency, keep my pitches feeling good. I’m staying in my routine, not doing too much and just riding it out until I feel something change.”

Then there’s Willson Contreras, the young backstop for the Blue Bears that contributes on both sides of the plate. He’s emerged out of the catcher’s crowded place on the Cubs team to become that bona fide starter the North Siders need going forth. Yesterday, he banged a a home run for his eighth of the season and don’t let anyone fool you into thinking that he hasn’t been a part of the Cubs pitching success either.

“Everyone in this clubhouse is like family,” Contreras said. “Once you get here, you start feeling comfortable from the first day. Even if you’re a rookie, and you just come up, you’re spending time with your family.”

For the Cubs, it’s that youth movement that’s paying dividends for the team this season. They’re not as connected to the history of the organization as a lot of the rest of the fans so it’s making it so much fun to be a fan this season.

Let’s just hope that Halley’s Comet doesn’t pass a third time.

Believe it