Szczur Comes Through In Grand Fashion, Lester Needs To Get A Grip

Chicago Cubs

Chicago Cubs’ Matt Szczur watches his grand slam during the eighth inning a baseball game against the Atlanta Braves, Friday, April 29, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)

Good teams win ball games but great teams find ways to win in close games. Yesterday, the Chicago Cubs did just that as Matt Szczur found a way to help his team come through and defeat the Atlanta Braves 6-1.

It was a Grand Slam. It was his first career Grand Slam. It was magnificent.

It was fitting that Szczur connected with the ball during the game. He’s the type of guy the Cubs rely on in these situations. The type of guy who fills in when others are injured, and the type of guy who provides that depth that the Cubs are proud of on the team.

“He’s kind of a manager’s, a coach’s dream player,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He stays ready, he’s very versatile. There’s so many good things about him. The last step for him was for him to realize he belongs in the Major Leagues and he could do this. You could hear it conversationally. He talks differently. He’s more confident. … Once you know it, you can do well here.”

But then maybe it’s the excitement of being in the Cubs organization this season. There’s an electricity that carries itself throughout the clubhouse and connects with the players. Could it make the player more focused and able to go yard in a bases loaded situation?

“I want to be the best guy off the bench,” Szczur said. “I feel it’s the same thing for everybody else on the team. We just want to make an impact.”

If there is an Achilles Heel on the Cubs team this season, then it’s got to be Jon Lester. I’m not talking about his pitching. We know he’s got the stuff of champions, but it’s that inability to throw to first that is wreaking havoc on a Cubs rotation.

In the seventh inning, Lester struggled with a bunt off of Erick Aybar and he never recovered.

“No matter what I say about the bunt in that inning, nobody’s really going to believe what I say,” Lester said. “You know, I never had a handle on it. I fielded it. The ball kind of rattled around in my glove and I reached for it twice and didn’t have a handle on it. I ate it. You can believe me or not on that. But there’s no point in rushing a throw when I don’t have a handle on the throw.”

I believe him, but the question everyone needs to ask is why?

Why does Lester have problems throwing to first and how can he fix it? Without knocking the guy, I don’t understand how a pitcher with one area of concern, can’t seem to get a grip on the problem?

It’s early in the season, but I’d bet a dime to a Loonie that Lester will be a reason the Cubs might not hoist that shining trophy in October.

Believe it.

Arrieta and The Cubs Roll Out The Barrels

Jake Arrieta

Jake Arrieta didn’t get a back to back no hitter but the Chicago Cubs still came out on top of the Milwaukee Brewers, Arrieta improves to 5-0 and the Cubs are off to their best start since 1907.

It’s hard to think of yesterday’s performance by Arrieta to be a case of, “Meh?” but it’s those expectations of the dominant North Sider that fans and critics have come to believe in.

He could have pitched the whole game being the iron dude that he’s become, but so what if Bob Gibson’s record wasn’t broken for quality starts(Gibson has 26, Arrieta at 24). I’m not in these athletes position and I’m sure Jake’s feeling a little bummed this morning but baseball is first and foremost a team sport, so Jake had a good run and the Cubs won another series, they’re off to their best start since before the Titanic sunk and Arrieta’s ERA is 1.00.

That is awesome.

“In this position last year, I might have been a little more frustrated with that decision,” Arrieta said. “I think it was 92 pitches after five, and I really had to work through that outing. You take everything into consideration and the extra off-days and the rainout [Wednesday], cold weather, extended pitch counts, long first inning — it is the right way to go. Our most important ballgames are still ahead of us. From this point moving forward, we’re still lined up well.”

Cubs’ 2015 Rookie of the Year, Kris Bryant  will undergo an MRI to see if there was any further damage to his leg after he hobbled out of the fourth inning and the game. Let’s hope it’s not serious.

Then there was David Ross. On his farewell tour, he hit his second home run of the season and needs two more to reach that coveted 100 spot. If he reaches that milestone, it’ll be quite the retirement party. Last week, he was caught his first no hitter and is on his way to having his best season.

“Two more,” Ross said. “I’m trying not to think about it. I’m a lot happier with my approach this year and feel so much better in the box. At least I’m contributing and working at-bats and making guys throw more than three pitches to get me out. [My teammates] pride themselves in going out there and being tough outs, I just want to be in the mix.”

The Cubs are 16-5. It’s still early in the season but the injuries are piling up with Kris Schwarber, Kris Bryant and Miguel Montero. I’m not worried because the depth is there but just a little concerned. Can the Cubs keep up their winning ways? Arrieta is 5-0 to start the season. Will beat his win total from last year and most importantly,

Will the Cubs go all the way?

Believe it.

Russell Powers The Cubs Past Brewers

Addison Russell

 

If you look up the statistics, triples are a lot more difficult to get then home runs. Very rarely, do you see a player with more than 10 triples in a season. In fact, Curtis Grandson is the only active player with over 20 in a season. Last night, Addison Russell came through when the Chicago Cubs needed him most by destroying a two run triple in the sixth inning as the Chicago Cubs went on to down the Milwaukee Brewers 4-3.

Now, I’m only a little bit superstitious but the Cubs are off to their best start since 1907 with a  15-5 record.

“He’s not shy,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “Well, he’s shy, but he’s not shy. He’s not afraid of that moment. He hits that gap in big moments, that right-central gap. This last road trip, the part I liked about his at-bats was that he was accepting walks. A big part of what you’re seeing now is that he’s swinging at better pitches.”

That’s what the Cubs have been doing. With a league leading 103 walks, the Cubs are getting on base and playing great small ball. It really doesn’t matter how you get on base as long as you get on and keep moving the runners. Do you remember a couple of years ago when the Cubs were horrible with runners in scoring position? The Cubs have been solving that problem this year. Second in the league with 116 RBI’s just slightly behind league leaders St. Louis Cardinals.

That’s how you win ballgames.

I was blown away by the pitching of Kyle Hendricks.  His pitching is fast and surgeon like. A low baller, with no style, he got to work in the cold confines of Wrigley Field and lasted for five innings. When he was pulled, although he could have gone deeper in the game, he was a professional.

“I want to say about Kyle right there, a lot of guys would’ve been crying, a lot of guys, ‘Why me?'” Maddon said. “He did not do that for one second. He understood the situation completely. I want to tell you that doesn’t happen every time. He was pitching great. There was no reason to take him out. It was a National League move entirely right there, it’s a National League move with the wind blowing in your face. … I really commend him for getting it.”

He’s the perfect pitcher for the five slot and arguably the best bottom of the rotation pitcher in the game.

Which sets the stage for tonight’s game with Jake Arrieta. Will he make it two in a row? Before last night’s game, Jake was presented with a watch, framed jersey and photos of his big day. With Arrieta’s recent success, there’s been some rumblings on the use of performance enhancing drugs. It’s hard not to get the rumour mill turning when a guy pitches two no-hitters in 11 outings.

“I think it’s funny,” he said. “I’ve always been in good shape. I just sucked early in my career from a statistical perspective. My body has always been very similar to how it is now. The results are different, so people want to question things. That’s the nature of sports.”

Say it ain’t so, Jake.

Believe it.

The Unofficial Blogger of The Chicago Cubs In Canada

Chicago Cubs

The love fest continues for Jake Arrieta. Yesterday, he was named “National League Player of the Week” add that to his growing collection of trophies and accolades.

Now, being the tried and true blue Chicago Cubs fan that I am, waiting for the wheels to fall off or some other tired cliche of things that could happen this season, I’m sceptical that this streak of success will continue.

Of course he’s going to have bad games, that’s a given but let’s just enjoy the ride while we’re still on it.

“It feels different the second time,” Arrieta said. “I was a little more relaxed as the game progressed. Based on the way I threw the ball before the game started, I anticipated having to grind through some at-bats and some innings a little more than I did. I was able to get the ball in on left-handed hitters for some called strikes and then go below the strike zone when I needed to for some big swings and misses. You put it all together and have conviction with what you’re throwing out there and good things can happen.”

Now, it’s easy to say that both the Washington Nationals and the Cubs have had easy games so far, with records of 14-4 and 14-5, but nothing is a sure thing. The Cubs have set out to deliver on their promise that they just don’t want to compete anymore, they’re in it for the long haul of making it to the end of October.

So, what is it with the chemistry that the Cubs have together?

“I think it’s because how close our group is,” Anthony Rizzo said. “Jake throws a no-hitter and 20 guys are hanging out at the hotel.”

Just as the Cubs are on a quest for the World Series and end all droughts and curses, I’m on a quest of my own to be recognized as the “Unofficial Blogger of The Chicago Cubs in Canada” Sure, it’s self promotion and maybe a little bit lame, but I want that title Officially/Unofficially. To be known as the flag waver of the North Siders across the border in the Great White North of Canada, would be an honour(notice the spelling) and a privilege. When the Cubs finally hoist that trophy of flags up high, I want the Chicago Cubs to know that they’ve got huge support North of Lake Michigan.

If you want to have this title bestowed on me, tag it #CanuckCubbie with “Eh!” and share it around.

Believe it!

Rizzo Gets Two As Cubs Bring The Hammer Down

Anthony Rizzo

It almost seemed like the loss that the Cubs took from the Reds awoke a sleeping Giant(I’ll save this for their series against San Francisco). Yesterday, the Cubs came roaring back and pummelled the Reds 9-0.

Anthony Rizzo put on a hitting clinic by hitting two home runs. Rizzo is a hitting machine this season going yard eight times. He’s in good company and now belongs in the top 20 all time Cubs with 109 moon shots. He’s only 26.

“It’s just baseball,” Rizzo said. “I opened up my stance a little bit but nothing out of the ordinary.”

On the other side of the plate, Jason Hammel pitched six scoreless innings giving up only three to improve his record to 3-0. The Cubs are in third place with an ERA of 2.51 and second in strikeouts. Hammel is second in the majors in ERA with .75.

“The offence gives us chances to go out there and be aggressive in the strike zone,” Hammel said. “Where you usually get into trouble is when you’re not throwing strikes. As a starting staff, we want to be the backbone, we want to be that foundation. I feel we’ve done a good job of that so far.”

It’s funny because my spell check picked up “Hammer” instead of Hammel.

With the win, the Cubs sit at second place overall and first in the National league Central division.

The difference with the Cubs this season is they’re hitting the ball a lot. Wayne Gretzky once said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” Well, it’s the same in baseball. Is there a different approach to the way the Cubs have been outscoring their opponents in 2016? Is it more batting practice?

“If they need it, go ahead and do it,” said Joe Maddon. “We have cages inside that accomplish the same thing. If you want to see where the ball goes, come outside. Guys working on hitting the other way or keeping the ball out of the air, do it outside. But, just to come out here and stretch out … not a big advocate of that.”

The Cubs return to Wrigley Field tomorrow when the’ll host the Milwaukee Brewers. Kyle Hendricks gets the start. Although, Hendricks is 1-2 for the season, I believe we haven’t seen what Hendricks can do. The success of the first four will determine how he can improve. Tomorrow could be a turning point in Hendricks’ season.

Believe it.

 

Cubs Get Taste of Own Medicine

John Lackey

It was an ugly game last night as the Chicago Cubs were stopped by the Cincinnati Reds 13-5. Despite strong efforts from Dexter Fowler who got on base at will and a home run by Addison Russell, the Cubs had a rough time against their division rivals.

“Give them credit,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of the Reds. “They hit the ball really well tonight. They beat us. … We did leave a lot of people on base, but we did hit some balls well in those moments. The quality of at-bats and the pitches we forced them to throw up and down the lineup, I’m all about it. I thought it was great. With that kind of offensive output, we’re normally in the game. They just got us tonight.”

Baseball is filled with luck as much as there’s skill. I’m not saying the “Big Red Machine” got lucky against our heroic North Siders, but John Lackey had another great outing and if they say a great defence is the key to a great offence, or something like that, Lackey pitched pretty darn well for 5 innings.

“I felt really good,” Lackey said. “I had pretty good stuff for the most part. That inning they scored a couple runs in the fourth, little things added up on me. The last one, three-run homer first pitch action got me.”

The loss was bound to happen. The good news that’ll come out of this is the Cubs will be sharper today when they play the finale. It just seemed that the Reds were able to hit anything and everything the pitchers threw at them. It didn’t matter if it were Lackey or Reliever Neil Ramirez, the Reds had their number.

“I tell myself, let the game dictate to you what it wants you to do,” Joe Maddon said. “Right now, we’re in a good run with the starting pitchers. Hopefully, that lasts a long time. It probably won’t, so just be prepared for that particular moment.”

Does this loss indicate the holes in the Cubs armour or was it just a case of the better team showing up last night?

I don’t know.

If it’s vindication, the Cubs have the highest run differential in the league by outscoring opponents by 67 runs. This could have been the game that keeps the Cubs in check and in sight of the prize.

Today, the Cubs can get a chance at a do over when they play an afternoon game. Jason Hammel takes to the mound.

“Crazy game. They got us tonight,” Joe Maddon said.

Believe it.

 

Lester Brings His Stuff and Javier Baez Comes Into His Own

Javier Baez

A while ago when Jon Lester was hired to be the ace of the Chicago Cubs, every fan, myself included breathed a huge sigh of relief. Good times are here again! So, last season came as quite a surprise when Jake Arrieta took the league by storm and emerged as the dominant pitcher. Not slighting Lester in the least but Arrieta just came into his own.

Last night’s Chicago Cubs victory over the Cincinnati Reds 8-1 may have been the game where Lester could potentially have reclaimed his throne.  no, he didn’t have the game that Arrieta had on Thursday but he showed why the Cubs still pay him the big bucks.

“The scary part for the opponents is you look up at some of our guys, and they’re not really swinging the bat too great,” Lester said. “Our pitching has been really consistent, and I think that’s going to be the backbone of this team, and it will take us to where we want to go. The fun part for us is knowing a lot of these guys haven’t got hot yet, and you look at the start we’ve had. When you’ve had a good start, you can sit back, you’re not pressing as much.”

Lester pitched seven innings. That’s the difference to why the Cubs are doing so well. Their pitchers are going deep into the game.

“We’ve been consistent,” Lester said. “That’s been the best thing to see from my standpoint. We’ve consistently gone into the sixth, seventh inning, and sometimes deeper. I feel like last year, we burnt out our bullpen early on. We knew coming in we’d have a good staff. I’ve never been a part of a staff that has 1,000 innings before, and I’d like to see that. I think we have five guys who can push the envelope and do that.”

That would be something, wouldn’t it? That’s old school baseball. I’ll take that over no hitters any day.

Another surprise was the stellar play of Javier Baez. The often criticized and inconsistent play of the Cubs utility man, who played third base last night had the opportunity and came so close to completing a triple play.

“He brings a lot of athleticism to the field,” manager Joe Maddon said. “When he’s on the field, we have another good baseball player out there. I like his adjustments to the plate. I liked his base hit to right field a lot. He might get out of control with his swing once in a while, but he comes back down to earth after that. He’s learning, but you can see the quality of his defense and base running. It’s really high-end.”

We know his bat is a cannon, but it’s his timing that isn’t always on cue however, in the ninth inning his bat connected and he hit his first home run of the season. He’s out to prove something and this is the season where he can turn the corner and prove that he’s the player the Cubs hoped for.

“We all know he can flat out play defense and pick it,” Lester said. “He has some good at-bats. You can see him mature a bit last year. I wasn’t around the year before and had the hearsay of his approach and all that. But it goes along with the rest of the young guys. You see them grow up and get at-bats, and that’s the biggest thing from him. He knows he’s going to have a chance to play different positions and be our Ben Zobrist. It’s good for Javy. Hopefully he can get going and be a big contributor to this team and can continue to do that for us.”

Believe it.

 

Arrieta’s No-Hitter Is A Thing Of Beauty

Jake Arrieta

There are nights when I go to sleep that I think I’ll wake up in the morning and Carlos Zambrano is still the pitcher and Carlos Marmol is the closer. Of course this is just a dream, probably a nightmare. Then when I wake up and realize that Jake Arrieta‘s dream season of 2015 is a reality and last night’s historical game happened the way it happened.

In the Cubs demolishing of the Cincinnati Reds by a score of 16-0, Arrieta threw a no-hitter. I was skeptical of Arrieta’s status as an ace. I swear last year was a fluke and that he couldn’t pull another no-hitter this year.

I was wrong.

Here’s some of the accolades that the game evoked:

  • It was the second largest margin of score since 1884 when the Buffalo Bisons beat the Detroit Wolverines 18-0 that a no hitter was thrown.
  • The Cubs 15th no hitter (Jake threw the 14th)
  • Arrieta is 3rd Cubs to have multiple no hitters
  • It was the 24th consecutive quality start by Arrieta.
  • Arrieta also went 2 for 4

Arrieta has certainly continued his amazing streak into this season. His record now is 4-0. It’s always hard to follow an award winning season with another that is equally as sharp but the stoic pitcher went out last night in front of a sparse Cincinnati crowd of 15, 000 and did his job the only way he knew how.

“It feels different the second time,” Arrieta said. “I was a little more relaxed as the game progressed. Based on the way I threw the ball before the game started, I anticipated having to grind through some at-bats and some innings a little more than I did. I was able to get the ball in on left-handed hitters for some called strikes and then go below the strike zone when I needed to for some big swings and misses. You put it all together and have conviction with what you’re throwing out there and good things can happen.”

Of course, he had help from the rest of the Cubs team like Mr. David “Grampa” Ross and 2015 rookie of the year, Kris Bryant who hit a grand slam.

Ross who is on his farewell tour, never caught a no-hitter but last night, he wanted to help out his ace by going 2 for 4 including his first home run of the season. Not bad for an old man. However, the night belonged to Arrieta.

“As a catcher and a guy who prides himself on calling a game and all that stuff, it’s one of those things I really, really wanted to do, or be a part of,” Ross said. “I feel like I didn’t do a whole lot. That animal was in control the whole time and knew exactly what he wanted to do, and he locked it in when he needed to.”

There was a time during the game that Joe Maddon considered yanking Arrieta to give him a rest but when a pitcher is dialled in, even if it’s this early in the season, you just want to let the man play.

“You never want to interfere with somebody’s greatness,” Maddon said. “That’s really special for him and the organization to have another no-hitter thrown. As a manager, you try to stay out of those moments.”

Congratulations Jake, you deserved it.

Believe it.

 

 

Cubs Fall To Cardinals But Win Series

Anthony Rizzo

 

I knew a Cubs sweep over the St. Louis Cardinals would be too good to be true. After a rain soaked three hour delay, the Cubs fell to the Cardinals 5-3.

But–

You knew there was going to be one of these didn’t you?  Anthony Rizzo crushed his fourth home run of the season. So, the Cubs took two of the three, but sent a message to Cardinal land that the rivalry between the two division opponents has been renewed with a visor.

“Winning the series is always your goal,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “You get greedy after winning the first two — you always want to try to sweep the series at that point. My takeaway is, after winning the first two games, being behind, three hours, 21 minutes hanging out in the clubhouse [during the delay] and going out with that kind of attitude, that speaks volumes for our group. That says a lot. Everybody was ready to play, everybody wanted to play, nobody shut the switch off. Beyond winning two out of three, that was the part that was most impressive.”

It almost seemed like this series was a continuation of October. These kind of series are so good for the game of baseball and they showcase the competitive spirit that the game has to offer.

“They’ve been a great team for a long time,” Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said. “The steadiness of the Cardinals organization is remarkable. We’re trying to get to that point. At least now, when we come in here, we feel there are two really good teams playing. We have to execute our pitches and make plays and get hits, but there’s not the sense that we don’t have the ability. We certainly have that ability.”

Much has been said regarding the Cubs progress and transition from “Lovable Losers” to contenders for the championship that has alluded them for over a century  but somehow that cloud will always hang over them. In many ways, the Cubs reminded me of that recent movie The Witch with the goat that was tied up always looming in the barn watching the family’s every move. Is something bad going to happen?

Naw.

The Cubs are 11-4 with last night’s loss but still sit atop the National League Central division.

Tonight, the Cubs head to Cincinnati to take on the Reds and have a chance to pad their lead.  Jake Arrieta gets the ball.

“I love having this kind of emotion on a daily basis,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of the rivalry between the two teams. “It’s good for you as a person, as a player. I know the fans are into it. I love the competitive nature in the game. It’s healthy.”

Believe it.

 

 

Cubs Destroy Myth of Designated Hitter

Jason Hammel

You have to hand it to the Chicago Cubs, it looks more and more like they have the St. Louis Cardinal’s number lately. Last night, the Cubs were in a nail biter but came out intact with a 2-1 victory over their division rivals.

It was Jason Hammel‘s RBI double that sealed the deal in the fourth inning. What is it about Cub’s patchers hitting a lot this season? Was that the reason that Joe Maddon kind of switched back to pitcher’s batting last? Was that his secret weapon? Forget Anthony Rizzo or Kris Bryant, I’m picking these guys as my hitters in my pool.

“We hit every day, but I’m not trying anything different,” Hammel said. “I’m trying to get the barrel out. I had a pitch down and in that I could handle. As long as I can put good wood on it, maybe I can squeak it through a hole.”

Although Jason Heyward hasn’t been the offensive weapon that the Cubs hope to have, his output in the field has been nothing short of awesome. Last night was no exception when Heyward threw a  heat seeker from way far out to get the Matt Holiday at home plate.

“I just want to work at it,” Heyward said. “I just try to know where everybody’s going to be on the field. I knew who was hitting, somebody who hits to right field often, know who’s running. You always want to think about those things before the play happens and it develops. Expect the worst thing to happen, expect to have to make a diving play, expect the ball to be hit to you. You want to be in every spot.”

Perhaps then, that it’s Heyward’s defence the Cubs wanted in the first place.

The Cubs are really on a roll now with the pitchers contributing behind the plate as well as the front. I’m not quite sure it was Maddon’s expectations of that happening during spring training but Cubs’ fans rejoice because it’s turning into some exciting baseball.

“You can’t expect that to continue,” Maddon said. “Technically, we have some guys with good swings. If a pitcher makes a mistake, they have the ability to do what you saw tonight. If you watch them all, and break them all down, they go up to the plate and do things right.”

No, we can’t expect that to continue but we also know that once a player finds their groove, then we can expect the consistency to continue throughout the season. I’ve always thought that pitchers should be able to hit maybe not quite as well as batters but be able to pose an offensive threat when the situation arises. There’s been a long standing debate on the roles of the DH’s but baseball is about every player putting their stamp on things in the game and not have one guy riding the pine waiting to wallop the ball into oblivion. It’s a two way game.

The Cubs prove that this season.

Believe it.

 

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