Archive | September, 2015

Cubs Magic Number Down to 2; Head into Showdown with Bucs

Posted on 24 September 2015 by Bob

After 152 games over the course of five and a half months, the big picture is starting to come into focus as the Cubs magic number to clinch a postseason berth for the first time since 2008 is down to two. Any combination of Cubs wins and Giants losses that adds up to two will do the trick meaning the Cubs could clinch a spot by Friday at the earliest. It’s pretty incredible to see how far this team has come in just a years time and now that the payoff is on our doorstep, well it feels pretty damn good.

KB ROY

This team is playing very good baseball of late and despite being in third place in our division behind two teams that have already clinched postseason berths, there seems to be a consensus forming that this Cubs ball club is the one opposing teams would least like to face. Just this month alone, Chicago has taken 4 of 6 from the Cardinals and their best record in baseball, while also collecting 3 of 4 from Pittsburgh with a pivotal series looming this weekend at Wrigley.

The Cubs currently sit three games back of Pittsburgh for the top Wild Card spot and seven back of the Cardinals for the division lead. With ten to play, the division dream is slowing fading as the Cardinals would basically have to suffer a complete meltdown and the Cubs would probably need to win almost every game from here on out. Stranger things have happened but this is still far-fetched. What is not out of the question though is Pittsburgh catching the Cardinals to overtake the division lead. They remain just four games back and do face St. Louis head-to-head in the three game series early next week. So while it’s almost 99.9% certain that the Cubs will lock down the final, at-large playoff spot, the seeding is still very much wide open. The only thing that’s certain is that the NL Central currently has the three best teams in all of baseball record-wise and that it’s a damn shame they will have to beat up on each other in the first two rounds of the playoffs when anyone of them could go the distance this year.

But let’s not worry about that just yet, as the Cubs are still very much in control of their destiny. After their last off-day of the season today, the Cubs open up a three game series with the Bucs at the Confines that could go a long ways towards determining who will host the National League Wild Card game. A Cubs sweep would draw the clubs even with seven to play, while even a series win would narrow the gap enough to make this a race to the finish. Yes, it’s an exciting time to be a Cubs fan and I hope that most fans take the time to appreciate just how special a year this has been to date and we haven’t even reached the postseason yet.

Cubs Galore

Look at the multitude of successes this Cubs club has achieved so far:

*They have the de facto Rookie of the Year in Kris Bryant, who has hit 26 homers (A Cubs rookie record), 98 RBI’s (and counting), and a .276 BA.

*They have an MVP candidate in Anthony Rizzo, who in just his fifth season is the leader of the Cubs resurgence. He boasts 30 home-runs  to go with 95 RBI’s of his own. He’s batting .282 and he has been the consistent and guiding presence on a team full of youth and inexperience.

*They have a Manager of the year candidate in Joe Maddon, who has taken a club that lost almost 90 games a year ago and brought them to the brink of the postseason. He has done this with patience; he has done it with fun. He has put players in a position to succeed and used mistakes as “teachable moments” rather than public beratements. He’s used psychological tricks and magicians, philosophical quotes and zoo animals. As Cubs GM Jed Hoyer put it:

“Joe was the perfect manager for this team. He’s just got a great blend of the player-development side of managing and the ability to really use the analytics. He knows the right time to step on the gas and the right time to give guys a hug. Players love playing for him. That’s the bottom line.”

There’s no way to know how anyone else would have manged this team, or how far they could have gone under different leadership which is why we should be thankful for what we do know and what we have; a manager who is about take his team to the playoffs.

*They have done this with an influx of youth, at one point starting four rookies and at critical positions. From Kris Bryant at 3B, Jorge Soler in RF, Addison Russell at SS, and Kyle Schwarber as jack of all trades, platoon man. Each had big moments to propel this team to the heights they’ve crested today and each figures to play a large role in the future of this Cubs team. They have exceeded expectations and then some, and there are more on the way as players like Javier Baez have shown signs of improvement in their brief time since being called up.

*They have had veterans and castoffs step up and shine throughout the season. Guys like Chris Coghlan, Dexter Fowler, Miguel Montero, David Ross,  and Starlin Castro all helped contribute, sometimes out of position and in nontraditional ways.

*Most of all, they have had Jake Arrieta, arguably the best pitcher in baseball. He is currently Major League Baseball’s only 20 game winner and owner of a sparkling 1.88 ERA. His second half has been historic and he finds himself in the thick of a Cy Young Race. This team would be nowhere near where they are now without him.  He has helped anchor a staff that has shown signs of promise throughout the year, getting better production from Jon Lester in the second half and provided rest to a bullpen that has at times been shaky except for closer Hector Rondon. He is the unquestioned Ace of this team and the Cubs will no doubt pin their Wild Card hopes to his arm.

Take a good look at that list of accomplishments and tell me how no matter what happens the next two to six weeks that this season cannot be considered a success. It has been special, it’s been fun, and it’s not over yet. Ask any Cubs fun what kind of season they want and I believe the answer would be a season just like this. So take the time to stop and smell the roses as we all know moments like these are never guaranteed. Enjoy it and appreciate that it is a year ahead of schedule. The next few weeks are just icing on the cake.

Tomorrow the quest enters it’s final stretch as Jon Lester takes the mound against the Pirates ace Gerit Cole with first pitch coming at 1:20PM CST. A win could put them in and a step closer to hosting playoff baseball on the Northside for the first time in seven years.

Let’s Go Cubs!

Comments (0)

Cubs Split DH with Bucs; Remain 4 Back of Top Wild Card Spot

Posted on 16 September 2015 by Bob

The Cubs split a day/night double header with the Pirates in Pittsburgh yesterday dropping the opener 5 -4 before taking the night cap 2 – 1. Both contests featured lots of drama from the two N.L. Wild card front-runners but ultimately the day ended as it began, with the Cubs 4 games out from the top Wild Card spot.

Game 1 saw Cubs starter Jason Hammel struggle early allowing three runs in a disastrous first inning where he gave up a walk, HBP, an RBI-single, another walk, and a 2 run, RBI single all while recording just one out. Thankfully he got out of the inning after that but giving up those early runs, especially after your team strikes first, is no blueprint for success.  Hammel would give up an RBI-double in the fourth inning to Neil Walker before being pulled to start the fifth frame. Trevor Cahill came on in relief and pitched a couple of steady innings, allowing just one hit while punching out four. That would be enough to get them to the seventh where the Cubs were finally able to break through and chase Bucs starter Gerrit Cole from the game on Tommy La Stella’s RBI double making it a 4 – 2 game. Joakim Soria came on and got Addison Russell to line out to short before hurling two wild pitches, that each allowed a run to score and knotted the game up four all before getting Kyle Schwarber to strike out and end the inning.

Both sides went 1-2-3 over the next inning before the Cubs were undone by a throwing error from Miguel Montero that allowed pinch runner Pedro Florimon to reach third base with only one out. Starling Marte then hit a sac fly to left which would plate Florimon and provide the winning margin as the Cubs side went down 1-2-3 yet again in the ninth. It was a disappointing finish as the Cubs had their chances to steal this one despite the calamitous first inning, but a couple of mistakes doomed them. Still, the Cubs had a chance to get even in the nightcap with Jon Lester on the bump and boy, did they take advantage.

Lester Complete Game Gem

Lester was outstanding; hurling a five-hit, one-run, nine strike-out, complete game on 111 pitches in Game 2. He was just what the doctor ordered for a pitching staff (outside of Arrieta) and bullpen that had been scuffling of late.  He gave manager Joe Maddon no reason to turn to his pen, pitching with confidence and working out of the few jams he got into, the most notable being the seventh inning when after allowing two straight singles to lead off the inning, he got Michael Morse to ground into a double play. Although a run would score on the play, major damage was averted and Lester was able to get through the rest of the game unscathed.

Run support was minimal at two, but that would be all Lester would need as he made his 2-1 advantage hold up over nine frames. Anthony Rizzo provided the game’s initial run on an RBI single in the first. Dexter Fowler contributed the game’s difference maker, an RBI-double in the fifth. This one was more about pitching anyways and tonight was all Jon Lester. He showed why the Cubs signed him this off-season and while no one will confuse him with Jake Arrieta (A sentence that would seem very strange 12 months ago), he is rounding into form as  the #2 in the Cubs 1 – 2 punch. Hell, he even picked a man on first as Starling Marte tried to do what so many have done this year; run rampant on the base paths. Lester calmly stepped off the mound and threw to Rizzo who was able to eventually catch Marte in a rundown.

“This is what he does,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He likes pitching in big games in the latter part of the season. It’s not a surprise.”

Not a surprise but just in time as the Cubs enter a critical stretch that features eight more contests vs. the Pirates and Cards combined. They will need every win along the way to catch those teams which makes these head to head match-ups so important as the results are two-fold. Chicago currently sits four back of the Bucs and seven off of the division-leading Cardinals. The Giants are the Cubs last true threat to a playoff spot as they sit 7.5 back with 18 games to play.

cubbies-bear-logo

We are in for a dramatic finish and what better way to kick off the home stretch of the season than throwing Jake Arrieta on the mound with a chance to make a big dent in the Pirates lead. He will face A.J. Burnett with first pitch at 6:00PM CST in Pittsburgh.

Let’s Go Cubs!

Comments (0)

Cubs Falter in Finale vs. Cards; Still Take series 2-1

Posted on 10 September 2015 by Bob

After an offensive explosion that saw Chicago score 17 runs in the first two games of the series, pitching and defense had their day in the finale; a tough 4 – 3 defeat that the Cubs probably should have won, but are now left to lament what might have been falling back to 7.5 games out for the division lead.

Things started out promising yet again for the Cubs on Wednesday as they opened the scoring early on an RBI-double from Anthony Rizzo and and ground rule double RBI from Tommy La Stella in the top of the first inning. Jason Heyward answered for the Cards with a single to left which plated Matt Carpenter. Dexter Fowler singled in another run in the top of the second to open up the Cubs lead 3 – 1, where it would remain until the eighth inning, when the Cubs bullpen sunk to it’s nadir after Jon Lester exited the game pitching seven innings and allowing only two hits and one run while striking out seven.

Cubs beat cards

Pedro Strop started the tumble recording the first out before giving up a walk and a hit. He was pulled for Clayton Richard who gave up an RBI-single to Carpenter, the only batter he would face. Fernando Rodney came on after that, serving up a two-run double to Stephen Piscotty and handing St. Louis a one run lead before recording the final two outs. Jon Lester deserved better but had to settle for a no decision as the bullpen cost the team a chance to sweep the Cardinals IN St. Louis and climb to just 5.5 games back for the DIVISION lead. They would instead have to take comfort in the fact that they outplayed the red birds for 26 out of 27 innings and won a series on the road against the team with the best record in baseball. Not so much moral victories or silver linings as valuable experience gained for a team ready to make a postseason run.

Still, the bullpen issues are beginning to linger at a time when they need to be fortified. I’m not sure there are any silver bullets but it’s disconcerting to drop a two run lead when you’re two innings from  victory. They need to shut them down and of late, they haven’t been, outside of Hector Rondon. While 5.5 was still a ways out, it was much more workable than the 7.5 games back they find themselves at now. Stranger things have happened but it appears as if the Cubs are most likely headed to a Wild Card berth. They are only 3 games back of the Bucs for the top WC spot and will face them seven more times. October is just 20 days away and the Cubs hold a 9 game lead for the final spot with 24 games left.

It’s tough to take the sting out of a tough loss but it’s clear that this Cubs team is light-years different from the club that came here in May and June and took some beatings. This September Cubs team showed it has pop and pitching and if not for one, incredibly poor inning, might have swept those always-pesky birds, putting them on notice that this thing ain’t over.

Chicago is back it at tonight in Philly as Jake Arrieta is on the bump vs. the Phillies Adam Morgan. First pitch is 6:05PM CST.

Let’s Go Cubs!

Comments (0)

Cubs Poised for Playoff Push; September Call-ups & Other Notes

Posted on 04 September 2015 by Bob

The Chicago Cubs are poised for a playoff push despite dropping 2 of 3 to the Cincinnati Reds earlier this week as they currently hold a seven game lead over the slumping San Francisco Giants who have dropped six straight and are only four games back of the Wild Card-leading Pittsburgh Pirates.  Today’s game is currently in progress as the Cubs hold a commanding 14 – 4 lead over the visiting Arizona Diamondbacks in the seventh inning. A couple of early walks by Kris Bryant and Javy Baez drove in runs  and a pair of home runs from Addison Russell put the Cubs out in front 6 – 1 after four. Then, in the bottom of the fifth, the Cubs tacked on EIGHT runs behind an RBI-single and a walk, followed by an Anthony Rizzo Grand Slam. Even newcomer Javy Baz, got in on the action added a two-run blast of his own to blow this game wide open.

Rizzo & Bryant

It’s good to see the Cubs having a good day at the plate and getting everyone involved after a disappointing series vs. the Reds. Hopefully they can keep it rolling as today the Cubs announced that Kyle Schwarber will miss this weekend’s series with a strained right rib cage. While this is cause for concern upon first notice, it sounds like the move is more of a precaution than anything else. If anything, it will give the Cubs some time to tinker with some new guys and spread some playing time around to keep everybody on their toes. The Cubs have plenty of new faces on the roster after September call-ups and some waiver acquisitions, notably Austin Jackson who got the start in right field today due to Schwarber’s injury. Javy Baez got the start at third and has made the most of it thus far collecting three hits (including a home run) and a walk. Quentin Berry, recently signed to a minor league deal, has replaced Dexter Fowler in center field to start the seventh inning, and Tsuyoshi Wada is now pitching in the eighth as the Cubs are throwing pretty much everyone out there in this blowout of a game.

The Cubs appear poised to go up 7.5 on the Giants and only 3.5 back if they hold on to this 10 run lead in the eighth with each of those clubs set to play later tonight. Jon Lester pitched five innings of five-hit, two-run ball but there was no reason to keep him in this laugher with a 12 run lead. It was good to see him have a better outing this time around and build some momentum for the stretch.

Tomorrow it’s Jake Arrieta for our Cubs vs. Robbie Ray for the D-Backs with a 1:20PM start. Arrieta will be pitching for the first time since his no-hitter and hopes to continue his dominant stretch into September with a playoff chase and Cy Young race for motivation.

Let’s Go Cubs!

Comments (0)

Cubs Shelled by Reds as Bullpen Falters Late; Drop Opener 13 – 6

Posted on 01 September 2015 by Bob

One night after Jake Arrieta’s no-hitter and a red-eye flight from LA back to Chicago, it was probably expecting too much for this team to play aesthetically pleasing baseball, let alone get a win.  The Cubs offense did their part, tallying six runs which on most occasions would be more than enough for a win, but the bullpen completely crumbled as Justin Grimm, Travis Wood, and James Russell gave up 10 runs combined after Kyle Hendricks’ modest five innings of five-hit, three-run ball. Yes, six of those runs came in the ninth with the Cubs already trailing by two and the game seemingly over, but it’s still not a good sign when on the cusp of September the back end of your bullpen remains dicey.

Grimm struggles vs. REDS

The game was scoreless through three innings and 1 – 1 after four when Cincinnati’s Brandon Phillips broke the game open with a two-out, two-run RBI single to put the Reds out in front. The Cubs would battle back in the bottom half of the inning as Addison Russell had a two-run, RBI double to knot the game back up. Kyle Schwarber would single in another run, as would Kris Bryant, to tip the balance back in the Cubs favor, 5 – 3.

It all went out the window after Hendricks left the game and Grimm came on to start the sixth inning immediately walking Ivan De Jesus before serving up a homer to Eugenio Suarez. History would repeat itself as Grim allowed Tucker Barnhart to reach on a single to right before pinch hitter Adam Duvall went deep to left field with a two-run shot of his own to put the Reds in front for good. The score remained as such until the ninth inning; one of the worst you will see all year from this Cubs team as Travis Wood walked three batters while collecting only two outs. James Russell came on only needing to get one man out but gave up an RBI single and a double in addition to not one, but two errors from second baseman Starlin Castro that lead to runs.  Mercifully, Jay Bruce ground out to second to end the inning and the Cubs bullpen’s woeful night. Addison Russell added a solo home run off of Reds closer Aroldis Chapman in the bottom of the ninth to provide a minor silver lining. The Reds took the game 13 – 6.

Castro struggles

Cubs manager offered his assessment and from the sounds of it, he didn’t like the book:

“(It was) kind of a bad ending,” Maddon said. “It didn’t start too good, the middle part of the book was actually a pretty good read and then eventually it became a nasty ending. I’m over it already. Just throw that one away.”

That’s what the Cubs will look to do tonight as the calendar has finally flipped to September and the finish line has come into focus. They stand 5.5 games behind the Pirates for the top Wild Card spot, and are 5.5 games ahead of San Francisco for the second and final Wild Card position. They are firmly entrenched in a playoff race, something that would have sounded very hard to believe at this time last year.

They look to get back on track tonight in a make or break start for the struggling Dan Haren as the roster expands to 40. He will face Anthony DeSclafani for the Reds with a 7:05PM CST start. Hopefully, we will get a look at the newly acquired outfielder, Austin Jackson at some point for the Cubs. Javy Baez will also start at second base due to the roster expansion.

Let’s Go Cubs!

 

Comments (0)

Photos from our Flickr stream

See all photos

Advertise Here