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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Cubs’ Dexter Fowler is Back, Baby!

Dexter Fowler

The Chicago Cubs welcomed Dexter Fowler back with open arms last night. The Cubs downed the Milwaukee Brewers 5-2. Fowler came back in style, crushing a home run and a double in his first game back with the team since June 18.

“I was just happy to be back around the boys, I was happy to see everybody,” Fowler said after the game. “It’s like coming back home.”

It seems a long time ago when Fowler walked onto that practice field during spring training and surprised players that he’s landed back in Chicago after an offseason which he tested the free agent market.

I have to give Theo Epstein credit, he knew Fowler’s worth to the club and after last night, the rest of us knew it as well. With Fowler leading off, the Cubs are 43-18 but when he’s not in the lineup the team is just 11-17.

Good to see ya again Dexter, we missed you!

What can I say about Carl Edwards Jr. We had a chance to see the lanky pitcher warming up in Pittsburgh a couple of weeks ago and man, his stuff is incredible. My son’s mouth dropped watching him play catch. Last night, Edwards came into the sixth inning and struck out two. He’s certainly been an underrated part of the Cubs pitching staff this season.

“Experience, really, is all he needs,” Jason Hammel said. “The later in a game you go, the harder it gets. He definitely has the stuff. You can see the improvement and the confidence. Execution for him, too, has gotten better. He’s definitely not afraid. He weighs about 140 pounds, but he can attack a ton worth of weight.”

He’s a hard thrower and I know he’ll just keep getting better and better.

“The funny thing is I come in after a clean inning and the guys are constantly motivating me,” Edwards said. “They’re keeping me humble, too, but I’m keeping myself humble. Today, runner at second, no outs, I was talking to myself on the mound, telling myself, ‘Hey, do whatever you’ve got to do to not let this guy score.’ I went out there and got the first out, groundout, and I was telling myself, ‘Hey, you’re not finished.’ And then two outs, I told myself, ‘Hey, you’re not finished.’ Every time I go out there with runners on, [my goal] is to go out there and make sure the runs do not score.”

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Cubs Have Some Serious Questions

Theo Epstein

The trade deadline is coming up and there’s been a lot of discussion involving Kyle Schwarber. I’m going on record to say that I hope the Cubs do not trade him. What happened to Kyle at the start of the season was unfortunate with his season ending injury but the team has endured.

“Kyle is a huge part of our personality and our culture,’’ Epstein told USA Today. “It wouldn’t be right to trade him.’’

Of course we know money talks and rightfully so that he shouldn’t be discussing any trade deals. My take on a possible Aroldis Chapman deal is that the Cubs should not go for him. Sure, he can throw a 105 MPH rocket but his off field drama would probably weigh too heavy on a young Cubs organization. His arm would be a huge asset to a struggling Bullpen but at what cost and he would more than likely be a rental player.

Bleed Cubbie Blue has an interesting scenario should the Cubs deal Schwarber, it involves Tampa Bay’s Chris Archer. It would work. The only reason the Cubs would trade Schwarber is due to his defensive abilities. He struggles a bit but nobody is disputing his plate approach, the kid has the tools.

The trade deadline is less than two weeks away and there are many questions to be answered. The Cubs have built up a lot of prospects that they have at their disposal should they be in the market to acquire some more firepower at the deadline.

“We also haven’t touched certain parts of our prospect inventory. That will keep us really viable for every opportunity that’s still out there between now and August 1. Sometimes you can be in an uncomfortable spot if you haven’t done anything and you’re sitting there July 31 – August 1 this year – waiting for a ‘yes’ or a ‘no.’ It’s hard not to throw that last player in just to get a deal done if you haven’t done anything. It’s something to fall back on. It gives you the ability to say ‘no’ or draw a line if you need to. But it also keeps all our opportunities open. The prospects we moved weren’t in any other deals that we were talking about. We haven’t touched the prospects that we were potentially going to move in some bigger deals that didn’t come to pass and may be resurrected in the future.” Epstein said.

Right now, the Cubs are looking at an easy schedule when they face the Milwaukee Brewers and the Chicago White Sox back to back. if they want to make up any ground and lay the foundation for October, this is the time to do it. Dexter Fowler should be back sometime this series.

“It’s important that they send a strong message to the team,” veteran catcher David Ross said. “You have to (with) a team that is in first place and was four wins away from going to the World Series last year. You’re looking at the big prize at the end of the season.”

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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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Cubs Can’t Frame Arrieta Masterpiece

Kris Bryant

The Cubs should have won that game. it’s a cliche I know but it’s true. They should have won it twice but instead succumbed to the New York Mets 2-1 in front of over 41 000 fans at Wrigley Field. That’s right, those fans witnessed the worse loss the Cubs have had this season.

First, Jake Arrieta pitched his finest game in over a month. Allowing one run in seven innings of work, the stoic hurler shut down twelve batters between the first and fifth innings. You can’t get much better than that. Jake is back! Not to mention his pitch count was incredibly low. In 27 pitches, he notched 25 strikes. Folks, that’s the fastest mark to 25 by any pitcher this season.

“That’s when I’m at my best, when I’m challenging guys right away from the first pitch and putting them on the defensive side and making them swing the bat,” Arrieta said. “I expect to pitch more like this as far as the aggressiveness and keeping the ball down in the strike zone.”

Things were going well for the Cubs up until the ninth inning when they had a bases loaded nobody out situation. In a perfect world, Matt Szczur should have stepped up, tapped the plate with dust and dirt clouding the air and staring down Jeurys Familia, the King of Clutch, Hail Szczur cracking that leather sphere into the stands, a grand slam sending some little kid who might be up past his bedtime, home with a souvenir.  Instead, he hit to first base.

That’s what legends are made of but this is the Cubs, where “There’s always tomorrow” is forever enshrined in the clubhouse. It would have been a perfect ending to a close game. It would have been awesome if Kris Bryant, who was waiting in the wings were to do his thing and surpass his home run total of 25 but he hit into a double play and what should have been, never was and the fans took the RedLine home a little disappointed.

“We had a chance late and didn’t get the hit when we needed to,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “Everybody did what they were supposed to do. We weren’t able to score that winning run. A bloop hit right there, we’re all very happy going home, jumping up and down. That doesn’t mean we didn’t play well.”

Another area that the Cubs did extremely well in was stolen bases. Chicago has stolen a base in four straight games. Could this be the beginning of a new style of play?

Today, my favourite pitcher and hopefully yours, Kyle Hendricks will try to turn things around. He hasn’t given up an earned run this month and is going for his fifth win.

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Cubs Go Downtown With Mets

Anthony Rizzo

There’s no denying that when Anthony Rizzo is hitting home runs the Cubs are going to win ballgames. There’s a reason why he’s tied Giancarlo Stanton for most home runs in the National League since 2013 with 108. That’s a lot of moon shots. Last night, the Cubs captain collected his 22nd home run of the season, a three run shot to help the Cubs down the Mets 5-1 in front of a packed Wrigley Field.

“He’s got that level of ability offensively, defensively, driving in runs — he’s the anchor of the group. … A lot of the other guys grab attention, and Anthony just keeps doing what he does. He’s almost like old news because he’s 26 going on 27. But this guy is the anchor of the group.” Joe Maddon said.

Another known fact is that when a pitcher goes deep into a game the way Jon Lester did last night when he went 7 2/3 innings, teams will win ballgames.

“Better location, better stuff — that’s really it,” Lester said. “I was up a lot in New York, and they were swinging the bats really well and they made me pay for it. I got the ball back down, got my cutter back in play, and got a lot of quick outs. There’s a few things in there that I needed to dust off as far as a little bit of rust delivery-wise. It hurt me throughout the game as far as the walks, kind of rhythm stuff.”

Lester’s had a tough July after being named NL pitcher of the month in June when he had a 4-0 record but this month’s seen stuff like giving up five runs during that Pittsburgh series last week. A veteran learns from his mistakes.

The real gem of the night belonged to Matt Szczur, whose substitute prowess has pretty much given him a position of his own where teams will be clamouring for his services in the future. Last night, the “Mighty” Matt had his first three hit game.

So, you wanna know why the Cubs won last night? It’s those little things that got the job done.

“He stays ready,” Maddon said of Szczur. “Here’s a guy who’s been playing sporadically but he’s always ready, He’s always engaged. There’s never a pout. He’s a wonderful team player. His football background probably helps with that. They understand the team concept.”

Just as the veteran guys were getting things done, Willson Contreras learned an important thing about the power of Yoenis Cespedes’s arm when he threw 206 ft to get Contreras out at home. It was an impossible play by any mere mortal’s arm, but Cespedes welcomed Contreras to the Show with that rocket.

The funny thing about this year’s Cubs is that despite the slump before the break, they still own the best run differential in the majors  with +144 and the lowest ERA at 3.06. If the Cubs can keep getting quality production from their supporting staff like Szczur, they’ll own October as well.

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Cubs Mess With Texas

John Lackey

The Cubs lost to the Texas Rangers 4-1 yesterday but they won the series and it’s a huge victory over the American league leading team in wins. The Cubs also learned a valuable lesson in the series; Jason Heyward needs to learn how to hit better. If the Cubs want playoff success, his behind the plate work needs to improve. Whether it’s tweaking his swing or pushing him farther down the order, I don’t know but something needs to improve.

“He’s honestly been, and I’ve said this before, the most unlucky fellow,” Maddon said. “Well-struck balls at people all year. That’s a game changer in that particular moment — line drive right at the first baseman. What else can you possibly do?”

No matter Heyward’s playing, it boiled down to pitching. Cole Hamels was on target, so for the Cubs to take two was a great achievement.

“That’s a really good team,” manager Joe Maddon said of the Rangers. “We won two out of three against a really good team. You had really good pitching, good starting pitching. You look at their lineup, and you look at those names and the numbers and what they’re capable of, and they’re a very good offensive club also. To take two out of three here post-break is pretty impressive. That’s exactly what you’re looking like in the postseason, those kind of teams.”

Just as the Cubs finish the series with the Rangers, they go back into the fire with their nemesis New York Mets, today. They have to win this one. Last year they beat them seven times in the regular season but were stymied in the playoffs. This is a big series and I’d go out on a limb to say it’ll be the biggest of the season.

“I didn’t even know, to be honest, that we were playing the Mets,” Cubs center fielder Albert Almora Jr. said. “It’s another team. … We just have to take care of the next series.”

As the trade deadline ticks closer, the rumours are heating up that Andrew Miller might end up a Cub. He’s heard them too and is even willing to play the outfield should the Cubs sign him just like Travis Wood and Pedro Strop.

“I’m not surprised that (manager) Joe Maddon did it,” Miller said. “It seems like he’s at the center of stuff like that all the time. But it’s pretty cool and shows how athletic pitchers can be, so it’s good to have relievers out there. I think I can probably field OK. The pressure of a game situation might stress me out a little bit, but as long as I don’t have to have any at-bats, I think I’ll be all right.”

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Cubs Beat Rangers, Take Series.

Javier Baez

They say it could have been the potato chips, but whatever Jason Hammel ate during the break paid off yesterday with the Cubs 3-1 over the Texas Rangers.

“For my cramps, if it’s a chronic thing, [the doctor] said, ‘Potato chips,’ because they have a lot of potassium and the sea salt helps retain water,” Hammel said. “So I focused on that over the break and ate a lot of potato chips, and I think it turned out pretty well. Potato chip prescription … that’s what I’m going to try to go with.”

I knew it was the dill pickle flavour.

So it appears that the Cubs woes are behind them. In this series with Texas, the Cubs are providing the fireworks and once again showing fans why this team did so well in the early months. If “Respect 90” was the buzz word in the first half, Joe Maddon’s phrase for the second half of 2016 is confidence.

“It’s all about confidence,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “We’re the same group, a little more rested at this particular time. You’re seeing pitchers throwing the ball where they want to. Everything’s sharp. Of course, it’s good to get off to a wonderful start post All-Star.”

To be fair, the Rangers aren’t exactly having a great time these days. They’ve lost 11 of 14 games and in the ultra competitive race to the finish, the Rangers are quickly slipping out of contention with Houston gaining traction.

A player that doesn’t get enough attention is Matt Szczur. Maddon pulled Hammel in a pinch hit situation and Szczur came through to put the Cubs up 3-1. The Cubs marquee players get a lot of the attention but it’s guys like Szczur who come through in these potential game breaking situations and help put the team ahead.

“It’s tough to do that job,” Jason Heyward said. “He and [Tommy] La Stella, they don’t play every day, but they give you good at-bats every time. They grind it out. It’s not about the result with them, you just want to know they’re going up there trying. They put the team first and they prepare, so it’s awesome to see it pay off.”

It is awesome because it’s those type of players that’ll propel the Cubs through the playoffs. We know Anthony Rizzo will always be Anthony Rizzo in the big games, which he did yesterday when he connected with a two run double but Matt Szczur, who likely won’t make the hall of fame, but I can guarantee that someday he’ll be the answer to a trivia question about the Chicago Cubs and a World Series.

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Cubs Get It Done Behind Hendricks

Kyle Hendricks

Followers of my blog know about my admiration for Kyle Hendricks. He’s the type of pitcher who won’t fill the middle of the strike zone regularly, instead peppering the corners with his command. He did just that in yesterday’s 6-0 shutout of the Texas Rangers.

“Kyle’s one of the best pitchers in the National League now and nobody’s talking about it,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of Hendricks. “Because he doesn’t throw 95 [mph], it’s easy to overlook this fellow, but I promise you hitters don’t really dig going up and facing this fellow, right or left-handed.”

Apparently, Joe isn’t one of those followers.

He’s in third place with a 2.41 ERA. In that regards, he’s one of the most dangerous pitchers in the game today. When the norm for fastballs is in the upper 90’s, Hendricks quietly gets the job done by putting his mechanics on display. This was his third straight win and now he sits at 8-6 on the season. To give you an example of how good Kyle Hendricks is, the other two pitchers in front of him are Clayton Kershaw(1.79) and Madison Bumgarner( 1.94). That’s awesome company. He does it without throwing those high octane fastballs.

“That start helped me a lot, just going that many pitches that deep in a game,” Hendricks said. “It gave me a lot of confidence to know I could still make a lot of pitches that deep into my pitch count. You have to learn how to go deep in games, and the only way you do that is by actually doing it. The fact that [Maddon] gave me the opportunity to do it was big.”

But it just wasn’t Hendricks that played well, the newbies Willson Contreras and Albert Almora both did amazing defensive work. Contreras threw out a steal attempt by Jose Bautista’s sparring partner Rougned Odor and Almora had an amazing catch in the fourth. Could it be that the Cubs are shifting their approach in the second half?

This is a huge series for the Cubs. Both teams could possibly face each other in the World Series, should it come down to that and beating the Rangers will send confidence throughout the team and pave the way when Dexter Fowler returns.

As for Kyle Hendricks?

“He’s been kinda like a tone-setter, man,” Maddon said. “It’s not unlike what Jake had done last year. He’s been that good. Just doing it in a different way.”

We know how Jake’s season turned out.

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Cubs End Slump In Style

 

Chicago Cubs

The All Star Break officially begins today. The Cubs head into the All Star Break victorious over the Pittsburgh Pirates 6-5.  Anthony Rizzo was, well, Anthony Rizzo. He had four of the Cubs 15 hits yesterday.

“We really needed that win,” Rizzo said. “We didn’t want to get swept by them. We didn’t want to let them gain another game. … It was as much of a must win game as there is today.”

Starting pitcher John Lackey was the perfect guy to lead the turnaround. The mighty Texan was hit by a liner in the second inning and he wouldn’t come out of the game. He shook it off and the many Cubs fans in attendance applauded him. Yew could tell he wanted this win badly.

Pittsburgh Pirates

“He wanted none of that,” Maddon said. “PJ went first and I didn’t want to leave him hanging. I knew the reception wouldn’t be glorious. [Lackey] definitely told us where to go, and we did.”

I overheard a couple of Pirates fans behind me talking about the double threat of Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo. They were in awe and the mutual respect these fans had for the Cubs power duo as I have for Andrew McCutchen was inspiring. It was “Cutch” that connected with a sacrifice fly ball that tied the game up in the seventh inning that even I, the Cubs fan from Canada stood up and cheered for Pittsburgh’s hero. I couldn’t help it, it was contagious. When people talk about rivalries, there’s no other rivalry like these two teams have. There’s a competitiveness that brings the best out in these two clubs. When Kris Bryant broke the tie in the eighth, even those same Pirates fans almost cheered for Bryant.

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Almost, remember we’re in Pittsburgh.

“It was a fun game — it’s almost like, this All-Star break, we don’t want it to happen because that was a good win for us and things could turn from there,” Bryant said.

It was 81 degrees in the shade and the sun lit up PNC Park. This was our first trip to one of Pittsburgh’s crown jewels. When folks said that PNC Park is one of the finest ballparks in the majors, they weren’t kidding. Folks, this park is incredible. Without taking anything away from Fenway Park or Wrigley Field because those are shrines and last reminders of how important and timeless the game of baseball is to our culture, the feeling my family and I had was perfect. My son and I went down to the field level to catch practice and saw Carl Edwards and Justin Grimm throwing the ball around. We weren’t close enough to get an autograph or even give them some words of encouragement but Darcy was glued to Edwards throwing rockets and he told me, “Daddy, I want to be a pitcher”

As we walked out of PNC Park the rush of knowing that the Cubs slump could be over, I had Pittsburgh fans shake my hand, congratulating the Cubs on a hard fought game. Pittsburgh, you were an amazing host to my family. We’ll be back. Thank you.

The guy sitting behind me told me,”Hey, if your Cubs don’t make it this year, you cheer for the Pirates. We’ll be cheering for the Cubs.”

I’m taking him up on the offer.

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