Archive | Addison Russell

Addison Russell Delivers in Win over Brew Crew; Cubs Reach Ten over .500

Posted on 27 April 2016 by Bob

The Chicago Cubs upped their record to an MLB-best 15 – 5, on a chilly Tuesday night at the Friendly Confines behind a sharp outing by Kyle Hendricks who pitched five innings while giving up just two hits and one earned run. Hendricks was lifted in the bottom of the fifth but not due to his performance. Manager Joe Maddon simply found an opportunity to manufacture runs on a night that cold temps had made runs hard to come by.

Hendricks

Facing a 1 – 0 deficit with just one out and two men in scoring position; Joe Maddon figured this was the time to strike. With the pitcher’s spot due up; Maddon lifted Hendricks, after just 69 pitches, in favor of Tommy “3am” La Stella. With runs at a premium, Maddon went all in and although La Stella merely walked; he extended the inning and allowed the next man up the opportunity to drive one in, which Dexter Fowler ably did sending a deep sac-fly to center and scoring Soler from third to knot the game up one-all.

Russell Triple Flex

This set the stage for Addison Russell’s late-game theatrics in the sixth inning. After Kris Bryant reached on an error and Ben Zobrist walked, Russell smacked a two-out triple to deep right-center scoring both men and breaking the game wide open for the Cubs. Anthony Rizzo, thankfully added an RBI single in the bottom of the seventh to make it 4 – 1; a margin they would use to hang on as the Brewers Ryan Braun delivered an RBI double off the bench in the eighth to bring Milwaukee within a run.

Hector Rondon came on to close in the ninth and made things interesting. After recording the first two outs on a strikeout and groundout, Rondon gave up a single to CF Kirk Nieuwenhuis eliciting some unease from Cubs fans not accustomed to tight contests this year. Brewers third baseman Aaron Hill stepped to the plate next and almost delivered a Brewers’ walk-off celebration, as he flied out to deep left field with Cubs fans holding their breath. The ball appeared to be held up in the wind, saving the Cubs from a potential collapse.

The Brewers and Cubs seemed to be in agreement on this as Milwaukee center fielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis intimated:

“He’s been a good guy in these spots lately and almost came up with that one at the end there; I think that ball is gone for sure if the wind is not blowing.”

Hector Rondon gave off a look of relief as catcher David Ross came out to congratulate him; knowing how close the Cubs had coming to being on the other end of the one-run game.

Still, the results persist as the Cubs had to play through the wind and cold as well and came away with a 4 – 3 ‘W’. They were able to hang on for the victory and ascend to pole position in the the MLB standings. Their 15 – 5 record gets them off to their best start in over 100+ years and their ten game margin over .500 is a benchmark in how far this team has come from even a year ago. Last year, it took until the dog days of August to reach the milestone; a full three months later than the club this year. That’s a nice testament to this team getting hot of the gate but doesn’t mean anything in terms of how they will handle the grind of a long season. Nevertheless, it shows how dialed in these guys are; the focus and drive of players not only wanting to be better than last year, but the best version of themselves. The Cubs know the expectations and are embracing them fully.

“We talked about this in the spring,” Anthony Rizzo said. “About turning up the levels to get ready for this.”

It appears that the dial has been turned to ’11’ with little chance of being turned down. A formidable combination of excellent pitching with batting-practice type power at the plate has taken the league by storm.

A storm is where we find ourselves tonight as cold temps and rain have enveloped Wrigley creating a dreary atmosphere for Jake Arrieta’s first start post no-no. He is set to face off against Milwaukee’s Taylor Jungmann with first pitch coming at 7:05Pm CST.

Here’s to hoping the rain clears up so Arrieta and Co. can stay on schedule.

Let’s Go Cubs!

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Cubs Win Home Opener in Epic Fashion After Bats Come Alive Late

Posted on 13 April 2016 by Bob

After a relatively mild Chicago Winter; after an expensive off-season that brought in top-level talent and championship pedigrees; after all the pomp and circumstance of a new season’s beginning, Baseball returned to the Friendly Confines Monday night and for the better part of the evening, all that cheer and hoopla surrounding this 2016 edition of the Chicago Cubs had been bottled up by Reds starting pitcher; Brandon Finnegan. You had to look closely to see it; past a series of walks and line-outs, but there in the bottom of the seventh inning, the Cubs sat on the wrong side of a no-hitter in progress and the tension was palpable throughout the stadium.

Opening Night at Wrigley 16

Seven outs from being no-hit in their home opener, in the year in which Vegas odds-makers and baseball writers alike had crowned them the prohibitive favorites; this is not how a contender begins their campaign for World Series glory. So David Ross flipped the script. He of the .176 batting average in 2015; playing out his last year in the Majors. With all the young guns in their arsenal, the Cubs still require a veteran presence for moments just like this. It was only a two-out single to center  but with that hit the Cubs had not only broken up the no-no, but had set the stage for fireworks (both figuratively and literally) in the innings to come.

After the Ross’ single, pinch hitter Matt Szczur drew the walk bringing Finnegan’s pitch count to 111 and chasing him from the game. Caleb Cotham came on in relief for the Reds and promptly walked Dexter Fowler to load the bases. Tony Cingrani replaced Cotham for the penultimate at-bat of the game and Jason Heyward stepped into the box with a chance to deliver some Cubbie magic for the first time at Wrigley Field. After falling behind 0-2, Heyward slapped a single to right field, plating Ross and Szczur to make it a 3-2 game and put the Cubs right back in it. Even though Bryant grounded out to end the inning, the entire dynamic of the stadium had changed as Cubs fans came alive to restore the raucous atmosphere that the evening began with. A fan set off some fireworks outside of the bleachers that got the crowd and players whipped into a frenzy that proved contagious throughout the remainder of the game.

Heyward Opening night single

Things only got worse for Cincinnati as Cingrani prolonged the damage in the eighth inning issuing a walk to Ben Zobrist before battling in a seven pitch at-bat that ultimately ending in Jorge Soler being hit by a pitch. With one out and two on, Reds skipper Bryan Price had seen enough and pulled Cingrani in favor of Jumbo Diaz, who with his first pitch served up the game-winner to short stop Addison Russell in the form of a three-run homer to left center that got the concourse at Wrigley shaking.  From a potential no-hitter to a three run lead over the span of six outs; that’s how potent this Cubs offense is. Just when you think you have them locked up, they find a way to bust out.

Russell Homers in Opener

You have to tip your hat to Brandon Finnegan who was the hard luck recipient of the night, seeing his impressive outing spoiled by the Reds bullpen. Still, it’s not as if he was perfect through seven innings, issuing five walks that caused his pitch count to eventually become an issue.  Jon Lester had a so-so night for Chicago, surrendering three runs and five hits in six innings of work while striking out five. It wasn’t great but it wasn’t horrendous either; it was simply just enough to keep the Cubs in it and sometimes that’s really all you can ask for in baseball. Trevor Cahill and Adam Warren were solid, each surrendering only one hit in their one inning of work, respectively, before Hector Rondon came on to close the ninth and absolutely slammed the door on the Reds throwing just twelve pitches, nine of which went for strikes to strike-out the side. All three batters he faced struck out looking on some filthy pitches. Game over: Cubs 5, Reds 3.

It’s not how you would draw it up, but this is a game Cubs fans will remember for a long time.  The ability to battle through adversity, relish the big moments, and play all 27 outs are becoming hallmarks of this team in this still young season. Here in a partially revamped ballpark with old, iconic fixtures beginning to blend in with shiny, new technology; a team with tested and proven veterans is coalescing with some powerful, young talent; complementing each other in a beautiful symbiosis that is producing some damn fine baseball. The future looks bright for this club and that future is now.

 

Up Next:

Tonight it’s John Lackey on the bump for the Cubs vs. the Reds’ Alfredo Simon. First pitch is 7:05PM CST.

Let’s Go Cubs!

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Kris Bryant Wins N.L. Rookie of the Year; Maddon Takes Home Manager’s Top Honor

Posted on 18 November 2015 by Bob

Two down. One to go. That’s the attitude of most Cubs fans after Kris Bryant earned Rookie of the Year honors on Monday, only to see Joe Maddon take the Manager of the Year award the following night. Now all attention turns to tonight when the winner of the N.L. Cy Young Award will be revealed and the Cubs Jake Arrieta is a good bet to take that one home too.

CY YOUNG

Not that Arrieta is without stiff competition; in fact, this may be the closest race in MLB history with Arrieta, Zack Greinke, and Clayton Kershaw all having legitimate claims for the award given their performances this season judged by a variety of metrics. Greinke only managed a 1.66 ERA over the course of a full season, winning 19 games in the process. Then there is Arrieta, with his 1.77 ERA to pair with 22 wins and a 0.75 ERA since the All-Star Break. There has never been a performance like his in that time frame. Ever. Then there is Clayton Kershaw, who in any other year would have been a lock for the award with his league -leading 301 strikeouts to pair with his league-leading 232.2 innings pitched. Sure he had a 2.13 ERA which is higher than his counterparts but given his impressive numbers elsewhere, he is hard to overlook. It’s crazy that he is probably going to wind up in third place, but that shows you just how incredible these three were this year. Someone has to go home empty-handed; I just hope it’s not our Jake. We’ll find out tonight at 5:00PM CST on MLB Network. Hopefully the Cubs have one more ‘W’ up their sleeve in 2015.

Kris Bryant ROY

Looking back, the Cy Young campaign makes the ROY and MOTY races look like cakewalks.  Early on, the Dodgers Joc Pederson jumped out in front of the rookie race, mashing 20 homers prior to July 1st but he faded down the stretch, ending up with 26 homers(the same amount as Bryant) but as one man faded, another continued to climb, using every at bat to get better and weathering slumps like a veteran rather than the first year player that he is. He was the unanimous selection garnering all 30 first place votes, in what felt like a predestined coronation coming to fruition.  Bryant clearly lapped the field down the stretch, using his talent and instincts to help guide his club to 97 wins and a Wild Card berth. He batted .275 with 99 RBIs and led all N.L. rookies in OBP, slugging and OPS. Yes, he had the dubious distinction of leading ALL N.L. hitters in strikeouts at 199, but the Cubs will surely take the bad with the good when the good is this great. Besides, it’s not like that trend should continue as Bryant has shown the approach and intellect to learn from his mistakes, make adjustments, and get better as the season progresses. He did it well in year one, imagine what this guy will look like in a year or two once he’s been at it for a while.  The future is bright for Bryant and his other young Cubs teammates who exceeded expectations in their first year together.

Joe Maddon MOTY

The Manager of the Year race, while much closer than the ROY, still felt like it belonged to one man and one man only. Sure, the Cardinals Mike Matheny did a phenomenal job leading his injury-ravaged club to an MLB-leading 100 wins in the toughest division in baseball but the Cards were expected to do as such. While no one can predict injuries, the Cardinals are as good as any team in baseball at creating redundancies in their system and the “next man in” philosophy, so it’s hard to say Matheny deserved the award just for plugging in pieces he had because his hand was forced. When you have a winning culture, that’s expected.  Likewise, Terry Collins finally got the most out of his Mets squad behind a stable of young pitchers, the trade for Yoenis Cespedes, and getting most of his guys healthy after the All-Star break but still; the Mets managed the lowest win total on any N.L. playoff participant in a weak division and probably don’t sniff the playoffs without acquiring Cespedes. Clint Hurdle also did an excellent job in guiding his Pirates to 98 wins and a third consecutive playoff berth, but all these accomplishments pale in comparison to the job Joe Maddon did, turning a 73 win team into a 97 win club, while starting four rookies in the field, and displaying incredible dexterity managing up a group of youngsters from the bottom of the barrel  to the third best record in baseball in the Major’s toughest division. Maddon had an answer for everything it seemed, from slump-busting tactics(See: Petting zoo, pajama trips), to position changes (See: Castro to 2B, Russell to SS), all while fostering an encouraging environment where rookies were free to make mistakes without looking over their shoulders.

It’s hard to put a quantitative value on what a Skipper does exactly, but it’s easy to see the impact he had in getting this team to coalesce around him and believe that playoffs were not just a hope, but an expected destination in his first year at the helm. He said as much at his introductory press conference, but then more importantly, backed his words up and gave Cubs fans a whole lot to cheer for and an incredibly fun summer to remember. Sure, Maddon inherited a roster chock-full of young talent but how often does a team this young produce the results we saw in 2015? More often than not, rookie years feature flashes of brilliance paired with prolonged slumps as young men and young teams go through the growing pains required to mature in this league. Maddon was able to weather and even diminish the speed bumps his team faced as proven by the contributions of Bryant, Russell, Soler, and Kyle Schwarber who all provided outstanding performances down the stretch when summer had begun to fade and October beckoned.

Maddon is also an incredible talent that the Cubs had to have and he has proved to be worth every penny so far. Does this club get as far with Renteria at the helm? While there is no definitive way to answer that, my money is on NO. I’ll let the results speak for themselves.

So the Cubs will look to make it 3 for 3 in major awards tonight and can also hang their hat on Anthony Rizzo’s incredible season which, although it did not land him on the N.L. MVP ballot, clearly helped to carry the Cubs as far as they went. He was this club’s  proverbial captain and provided veteran leadership despite being a young Cub, himself.

Let’s Go Cubs!

Cubs beat cards

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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!

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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!

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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!

 

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Cubs Drop Finale Vs. Sox; Win Streak Ends at 9

Posted on 18 August 2015 by Bob

The Chicago Cubs finally dropped a game in the series finale vs. the South Siders on Sunday capping their win streak at nine games and 15 of their last 17. The Cubs simply ran into a buzz-saw in the form of Chris Sale and boy, did he make the streaking Cubs look silly in striking out 15 batters while allowing only one hit in seven, dominant innings of work. It’s a lot easier to take such a loss when the team has been playing as stellar as these Cubs have the last two and a half weeks. Whereas earlier in the season, a performance like Sunday’s could be viewed as the norm, it has now become the exception; a sign of how far this team has come and how even talented hitters on a hot streak aren’t immune to struggles against one of the game’s best.

Chris Sale

That’s not to downplay how lights-out Sale was though. He carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning before Dexter Fowler was able to single into left. He struck out the side in the first inning and did so in the seventh as well, his last inning of work. The White Sox backed him with three solo home runs from Jose Abreu, Alexei Ramirez, and Melky Cabrera off of Cubs starter Dan Haren, to jump out to a 3 – 0 lead. Despite his dominance, the Cubs had a one last opportunity in the ninth inning against Sox reliever David Robertson. Down to one out left and nobody on, Jorge Soler homered to right to make it 3 – 1, followed by an infield single from Addison Russell which brought the tying run to the plate in Starlin Castro. He grounded out to end the game keeping the final score at 3 – 1.

Manager Joe Maddon tried to spin the positives on a day when there weren’t many at the post-game presser:

“The best thing we did was get his pitch count up enough to get him out before the ninth inning,” Maddon said, half-smiling, after the game. “He’s really tough for us.”

While that’s an understatement, at least the Cubs can rest easy knowing they won’t have to face him again this year. For all their hard work these past couple weeks they now sit at 67 – 49, with a four game lead over San Francisco for the final Wild Card spot, and are only two back of the Pirates for the top Wild Card position. That’s a pretty good place to be right now and makes the eight game deficit they face in the division that much more incredible. Put this team in almost any other division in baseball and they would be the front runner; in the N.L. Central, they’re a third place team which doesn’t sound great until you consider they’re also the third best club in the entire National League and sport the fourth best record in all of baseball.

Wild card preview

We’re definitely in for some fireworks down this stretch run, for if everything holds as is, the Cubs would be setup to potentially face both division foes who currently reside ahead of them. That’s still a ways off, but October 4th is beginning to get a little larger on the horizon and the Cubs are playing not only meaningful, but exciting baseball this late into the season.

Here’s to hoping the team can stay hot. Tonight it’s Anibal Sanchez vs. Jason Hammel as the Detroit Tigers come to Wrigley for a two game Inter-League series. First pitch is 7:05PM CST.

 

Let’s Go Cubs!

 

 

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Cubs Bust Out the Bats & Brooms vs. the Champs; Open Up Wild Card Lead

Posted on 10 August 2015 by Bob

It seems like all season we’ve been waiting for this Cubs team, a year ahead of schedule, to put it all together and go on one of those hot streaks that playoff-caliber teams do. This weekend we finally got our wish as the Cubs bats not only exploded but they did so against the defending World Series champion, San Francisco Giants in a historical four game sweep at Wrigley Field in which the Cubs trailed for all of one inning.

Coming into this series the Cubs sat a half game behind the Giants in the Wild Card chase and hoped to remain competitive against a squad with loads of playoff experience; a 2-2 split would not have been shocking. Instead, the Cubs exited on Sunday with a 3.5 game lead for the second Wild Card spot and all the confidence and bravado one acquires when they outplay a good baseball team in four consecutive games.

Arrieta the General

There were stars aplenty throughout the series, most recently Jake Arrieta, who on Sunday pitched 7.2 innings of four-hit, shut-out ball while striking out six and capturing his 13th win of the season. He was bordering on dominant yet again  He also legged out a triple in the second which would prove beneficial after Addison Russell hit a sac-fly to bring him into score and upped his lead to 2 – 0, which would remain the final score, but not without some indigestion in the ninth.

Hector Rondon came on to save the game in the ninth but quickly found himself in trouble as he allowed the first two men reach; Brandon Belt on a single and Brandon Crawford on a double, before hitting Ehire Adrianza with a pitch to load the bases with no outs. The odds were not good and I’m sure many Cubs fans had that sinking feeling they’ve felt so  many times over the past years when the club has managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory but in dramatic and perhaps narrative-changing fashion, Rondon struck out Hector Sanchez, Angel Pagan, and finally after 36 pitches in the inning, he got Gregor Blanco K’ed on a pitch just off the plate that was expertly framed by Miguel Montero to escape the jam and send the Wrigley Faithful into a frenzy, the likes of which we haven’t seen in seven, long years. These aren’t last years Cubs, that much is true.

Rondon Celebrates

After claiming 10 wins in their last 11 games and sweeping the Giants, the Cubs have put the N. L. on notice that they don’t desire to be just a cute, feel-good story. They want to win, and currently they have the leadership and execution to do so. Joe Maddon has been pulling all the right strings both on the field and off as he continues to lead this mostly young bunch to heights unknown to teams that start four rookies. It seems that all the people brought in this off-season are doing exactly what they were brought in to do. Jon Lester is back on his game and becoming the top of the rotation force they expected. David Ross has provided valuable experience in teaching Kyle Schwarber and has been a surprise bat in some clutch situations over the last several weeks. Dexter Fowler is working some deep counts to get on base and set the table while Miguel Montero is back from his injury behind the dish, framing pitches to get his team the W. Couple that with the impressive tear the rookies have been on and this team is primed for some October baseball.

With an off day on Monday, the team has a minute to take a breath after a successful and yes, FUN series. They return to action on Tuesday as Dan Haren will make his second start for the Cubs vs. Milwaukee’s Taylor Jungmann. Game time is 7:05PM CST and the Cubs look to improve upon their burgeoning, 62 – 48 record and try to close the gap on Pittsburgh who remains on top of the Wild Card heap with a 3.5 game cushion.

Let’s Go Cubs!

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Cubs Rounding Into Form Behind Schwarber’s Hot Streak; Go for Series Win vs. Giants

Posted on 08 August 2015 by Bob

What do you do with a man who has 8 hits, 9 runs, 3 home runs, 8 RBI’s and a .421 batting average in 19 at-bats the last seven days?

You find a way to keep him in the lineup, that’s what.

It doesn’t matter if you have to play him out of position because you have two other catchers who bring their own talents to the position. It doesn’t matter if said move means bumping a veteran, three-time All-Star at shortstop to the bench in favor of the more-talented, hotter-hitting rookie to make room. It doesn’t matter what you do as long as it’s done with the macro, the big-picture, driving your reasoning. None of it matters so long as the Cubs win and lately they have been doing a lot of winning; for that, they have that man, Kyle Schwarber, to thank.

Schwarber stays

Schwarber had another excellent day on Friday collecting a double, an infield single, and a stolen base as the Cubs beat the Giants 7 – 3, increasing their Wild Card lead to 1.5 games and going a season high 12 games over .500 at 60 – 48. He is just on fire right now and providing a huge lift to a team all to dependent on Anthony Rizzo for much of the season. His vigor has been contagious as the Cubs have scored  4 or more runs the last eight games and getting just about everyone involved in the process; a sight for sore eyes coming from an offense that just a month or so ago was slogged down in a series of one and two run outputs for entire games.

It’s starting to feel different at Wrigley as the season enters it’s third act and the Cubs show little signs of waning, turning on the after-burners with a playoff spot in their grasp. Jon Lester is no stranger to this vibe having played on the World Champion Red Sox teams and his performance of late has reflected that. He was tough yesterday scattering six hits and two runs in seven innings of work while lowering his ERA to 3.22. He has now gone seven or more innings in seven consecutive starts becoming the workhorse leader this team signed him to be.

Castro sits

All the Cubs pieces are currently functioning at a high level as the bats are popping, the starting pitching has been going deep into games, and the bullpen has, for the most part, been shutting the door. Manager Joe Maddon has been pushing all the right buttons, none more important than realizing he must keep his young, hot hitters on the field regardless of position or reputation. This has come at the cost of sitting Starlin Castro to allow Schwarber to play left field when not catching, and moving Addison Russell to his natural position at shortstop, and bumping Chris Coghlan to second base. This can’t be easy for Castro but everyone watching knows that he is not producing at the rate of those given the nod ahead of him. It is necessary for the Cubs to put their best team on the field that gives them the greatest chance to win. So far, so good. It will be interesting to see how this plays out and affects Castro moving forward but you can’t argue with the results so far.

Today it’s Kyle Hendricks vs. Matt Cain in game three as the Cubs go for the series win. Game time is 3:05PM CST.

Let’s Go Cubs!

 

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Win Streak Ends But Cubs Don’t Go Down Without a Fight

Posted on 06 August 2015 by Bob

The Pirates jumped on the Cubs early Thursday night as Gregory Polanco went deep in the first at-bat for Pittsburgh against Cubs’ newcomer, Dan Haren. Pedro Alvarez added an RBI single in the first inning as well to give the Bucs and early 2 -0 lead. Andrew McCutchen homered to center in the third to make it 3 -0 before Anthony Rizzo finally put the Cubs on the board with an RBI-Sac fly in the top of the fourth. Haren was not at his best and is prone to give up the long ball but was able to go more than two innings so it’s progress in that department.

Schwarber slide

Even after getting down 4 – 1, the Cubs battled back behind Kyle Schwarber and Anthony Rizzo’s big bats. Each of the sluggers hit home runs in the sixth inning (Schwarber’s was a two-run shot), to tie up the game and show the Pirates that these Cubs are coming for them. Unfortunately, the Cubs bullpen let them down as Travis Wood, Pedro Strop, and Jason Motte all gave up a run in their respective appearances in the later half of the game, putting the Cubs in a three-run hole, 7 – 4.

The Cubs stuck with it though as the top of ninth saw Starlin Castro single and Matt Szczur double, to put men on second and third with only one out. Addison Russell then grounded out to the shortstop allowing Castro to score from third to tighten up the game, but Dexter Fowler came to the plate as the tying run and struck out swinging to end the threat and the game, 7 – 5. The Cubs win streak was snapped at six.

Dan haren

It’s hard to nitpick the Cubs, who battled fiercely in this one but came up short, especially since they just completed one of the most successful road trips they have had in years. They went 5 – 1 on their stops in Milwaukee and Pittsburgh to up their N.L. leading road record to 31 – 24. Now they need to apply the same tenacity on the road to their home contests as starting tonight the team will be in Chicago until August 23rd, with 13 homes games at Wrigley and 3 “road” contests on the South Side vs. the White Sox. Hopefully, this will lead to a more comfortable and relaxed squad, free from the toll that excessive travel can take on the body.  Throw in playing in front of the home crowd who are hungry for a winner and this could be a special opportunity for the Cubs to turn up the heat on their division rivals, something voiced by Jake Arrieta and Anthony Rizzo over the last few days.

“It’s definitely something you circled and highlighted,” Rizzo said. “I’ve been looking forward to it all year, really. It will be nice to be home for that long.”

It all starts tonight against a team the Cubs have been dancing with in the Wild Card Standings for what seems like all season. The defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants come to town for a four game set that could see one of these clubs open up a little breathing room in the standings that currently have the Giants a half game ahead of our Cubs. Tonight the Cubs trot out Jason Hammel to square off against the Giants’ Chris Heston. First pitch is 7:05PM CST.

Go Cubs Go!

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