Archive | Dexter Fowler

Lackey Carries Cubs Past Cards in Return to Busch

Posted on 19 April 2016 by Bob

In his much-ballyhooed return to St. Louis, John Lackey put on quite a show. He may wear a Cubs jersey now but the man clearly still feels at home in Busch Stadium scattering four hits over seven innings while striking out 11, just shy of his career high. More importantly, he allowed zero earned runs, building on his 1.93 home ERA at Busch last year. Pretty impressive for 37-year-old. He even added an RBI single late in the game; perhaps to let the Cardinals know he was worth more than just a qualifying offer.

Lackey Mows Down Cards

“You could tell he was amped up,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. That’s one way of putting it.

On a night when much of the attention was supposed to be on Jason Heyward; it was his older, less sought-after  teammate who stole the headline. That’s not to say J-Hey didn’t contribute.  Heyward struggled at the plate, going 0-4, but  compensated with his fielding, leaving his feet to make several catches in right field to support his pitcher. They did all this amidst a chorus of boos from the Red Bird faithful; something that seemed to invigorate rather than intimidate the two former Cardinals.

“I’ve seen booed, that ain’t booed,” Lackey said. “That was pretty soft boo.”

The escalation of this rivalry has been hastened by the results of last year’s NLDS and the defection of two key players to the North Side. Now the action on the field threatens to elevate it to a fever pitch.

Chicago Cubs' Dexter Fowler, right, rounds the bases after hitting a solo home run off St. Louis Cardinals' Mike Leake, left, during the sixth inning of a baseball game Monday, April 18, 2016, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Even though the Cubs were able to pile on, beating the Cards by a final score of 5 – 0, the game was very much a pitcher’s duel heading into the sixth inning. To that point, Lackey and Card’s starter Mike Leake had allowed just a few hits apiece, each displaying the ability to work out of jams with men in scoring position. Then Dex Fowler came to the plate and ignited the Cubs offense; depositing a monster home run 435 feet to dead center (his third of the year) and breaking the stalemate. The Cubs piled on in the seventh with Jorge Soler launching a zinger to shortstop Aledmys Diaz who could not corral it cleanly and then sailed the throw to first over first baseman Brandon Moss’ head, allowing Kris Bryant to score from third, Miguel Montero to advance to third, and Soler to take second on the errant throw. Addison Russell would then hit a sac-fly to center to plate Montero before Lackey delivered his RBI-single to score pinch runner; Matt Szczur.

The Cubs would add their fifth and final run in the eighth when Kris Bryant would single home Ben Zobrist, who had doubled to lead off the inning in breaking out of an 0 for 24 slump that I’m sure was as much a relief for him as it was for fans of the new second baseman. All around it was a night full of positive takeaways for the Cubs as they got a leg up on their division rivals at their house and did so with some moxie and swagger that will prove helpful should the teams find themselves in a playoff chase/series yet again.

The series continues tonight as Jason Hammel takes the ball against the Cardinals’ Jaime Garcia. First pitch is 7:15PM CST at Busch Stadium.

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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Cubs Romp Over Angels to Kick Off ’16

Posted on 06 April 2016 by Bob

The Chicago Cubs got things off to a rousing start in 2016, unloading on the Los Angeles Angels in a two game series at Angel Stadium to the collective tune of 15 – 1. Jake Arrieta picked up where he left off going seven strong innings and allowing only a pair of hits while striking out six and walking one on Monday night. He was backed by the revamped Cubs offense that got on the board early and often. Dexter Fowler was the catalyst collecting three hits and setting the table for the heart of the order. Miguel Montero hit the Cubs first home run of the year and Matt Szczur drove in 3 RBI’s on a bases clearing triple.  It was a perfect start to the season, flexing both pitching dominance and an incredibly versatile lineup.

Game 2 was much of the same with Jon Lester doing his best to mirror Arrieta throwing seven innings of four-hit, one-run ball while striking out four. Fowler and Rizzo led the way with two hits a piece as the Cubs offense once again lit up the scoreboard, throwing up six runs. Lester allowed the only run for the Angels in the brief series and Chicago’s pitchers combined to hold the Angel’s big guns, Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, hit-less over the two games. The two teams are set to meet again in August at Wrigley for another two game set.

When starting a new season, this is exactly how you would draw it up on paper. Jake Arrieta looked dominant and Jon Lester looked very comfortable, both good signs given Arrieta’s work load and Lester’s struggles early last year. The offense showed plenty of pop but also the ability to grind out at bats against some tough pitching, collecting twenty hits the last two days. This is precisely what people expected the 2016 campaign to be, leading many to believe that this Cubs team has the juice to go the distance. 2 games doesn’t make a season but the Cubs have come out firing on all cylinders.

Up Next: The Cubs begin a four game series in Arizona tomorrow with John Lackey facing off against Rubby De La Rosa in game one. Game time is 8:40PM CST.

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Spring Training Begins as Cubs Look to Build Upon 2015 Success

Posted on 04 March 2016 by Bob

After a brief and mild winter the Chicago Cubs full squad returned to Mesa, AZ last week to commence spring training and with it, another season in their quest for a World Series title that has eluded them for the last century and counting. Of all the squads that have come and gone since then, perhaps none have been better poised to lift the hardware over their heads in the crisp, November air. None have been as “hyped” as well.

Embrace the Target

Expectations are sky-high entering 2016, as they should be. Fresh off a turnaround season that saw the Cubs float from last place to the NLCS, there will be no sneaking up on teams this year. 2016 is the year that was circled in pen when Theo Epstein was signed back on October 12, 2011. ‘This is the year’, ‘The time is now’, and ‘Embrace the target’ are the mantras (old and new) that the Cubs will live by this season. While some will say pegging the Cubs as the favorites on paper is detrimental to the team’s success, I would ask “what choice does one have with a roster like this?”

The Cubs return an incredible young core led first baseman and MVP candidate, Anthony Rizzo. He is flanked by Rookie of the Year: Kris Bryant, phenom shortstop: Addison Russell,  and the one man wrecking crew that is Kyle Schwarber. Throw in the best right fielder in the game; the newly acquired Jason Heyward and World Series Champion/two-time All Star second baseman Ben Zobrist and it is clear why the prognosticators have chosen the Cubs as the favorites (and we haven’t even discussed the pitching yet).  This team amazingly got better without having to give up any of it’s highly-rated but largely unproven talent (the lone casualties being Starlin Castro and Chris Coghlan, who while solid contributors were not long term answers for this squad moving forward).

Heyward Cubs Spring training

As if the off-season hadn’t been kind enough to the North-Siders with the additions of Heyward, Zobrist, and starting pitcher John Lackey (on an incredibly affordable deal), the Cubs welcomed Dexter Fowler back last week on what is essentially a one year deal. Media reports had linked Fowler to the Orioles and many Cubs players thought that a deal had been finalized but Fowler had remained in contact with Cubs and ultimately wanted to be here with this team, even if he left money on the table to do so. The rich definitely get richer as the Cubs lineup will now be a veritable murderer’s row looking something like this on any given day:

  1. CF Dexter Fowler
  2. 2B Ben Zobrist
  3. 1B Anthony Rizzo
  4. 3B Kris Bryant
  5. C Kyle Schwarber
  6. RF Jason Heyward
  7. LF Jorge Soler
  8. P
  9. SS Addison Russell

It’s not as if the talent ends there either with Miguel Montero still likely to resume the starting catcher’s role and Javy Baez waiting in the wings as a super utility player capable of filling in at a number of positions both infield and out. Depth is a wonderful thing to have, as any big league skipper will tell you. The grind of a season coupled with a rash of injuries can sink a team faster than you think making the Cubs’ focus on redundancy and utility a needed insurance policy that any team with championship aspirations should carry.

The depth isn’t limited to position players either as, unlike last year, the Cubs have great depth and multiple, quality starters led by Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta. Jon Lester and John Lackey round out a top three that look to be as formidable as any in the National League save the NY Mets. Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks look to be in line for the final rotation spots but will need to prove it this year after somewhat rough outings in the second half and playoffs of 2015. In the event that they stumble, the Cubs added insurance in the form of resigning Travis Wood and Trevor Cahill, both former starters turned bullpen long men. They added Adam Warren in the Castro trade with the Yankees who could compete for the fifth of sixth spot, provided his value isn’t better served in the pen. They also acquired Aaron Brooks from Oakland in the Coghlan tried which freed up money to sign Fowler and netted another potential spot starter/bullpen arm who will most likely start the year in Triple-A.

The team, as is, appears set with the season a little over a month from starting but one has learned to expect the unexpected from this Cubs’ front office. Still, there is one thing that should not be unexpected and that is for this club to get every team’s best shot on the field, hence Maddon’s acceptance of the hype in his theme for this season: “Embrace the Target”.

Maddon Spring Training

“I’m really a big believer in running towards the fire instead of away from it,” Maddon said. “I want our guys to get comfortable with the concept of everyone speaking so glowingly of us.”

He steered a young and inexperienced club through rough seas in his first year but this season it will be mostly uncharted waters. Here’s hoping to churn that hype into a calm and steady wake as the SS Cub sets sail.

 

 

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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 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!

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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!

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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 Stay Red Hot in Winning 11 of 12; Beat Brewers 6 – 3

Posted on 12 August 2015 by Bob

It’s been quite a while since we’ve seen a run like this from our beloved Cubbies so let’s all take a moment and appreciate what this team has accomplished these last twelve games.

Here are some numbers:

*The Cubs have won 11 or their last 12 games to improve to fifteen games over .500 with a 63 – 48 record.

*The Cubs have a 3.5 game lead for the second Wild Card spot and after the Pirates loss to the Cardinals last night, are only 2.5 games back from the first spot.

*In the last 12 games, opposing starting pitchers have lasted on average 4.8 innings in games and only one has reached the seventh inning. In the last 8 games, no opposing starter has pitched six innings.

*The reason for opposing starter’s lack of success against the Cubs? This red-hot lineup is seeing 3.98 pitches per plate appearance, good for tops in the N.L. as the league average is 3.78.

*The Cubs have scored 58 runs the last 12 games, which is almost a five run per game average (4.83), a far cry from the earlier offensive grind the team experienced putting up one to two runs a game.

Chicago Cubs starter Dan Haren delivers during the first inning of a baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers, Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)

Yes, the Cubs are really putting it altogether of late, getting it done with pitching, hitting, and defense. They are getting production from rookies (Bryant, Schwarber, Soler, Russell) and veterans (Rizzo, Fowler). Even the Cubs weak spots are being converted into positives as Starlin Castro, resigned to the bench the last four games, returned as a late inning replacement at second base last night, and while he didn’t record a hit, he did impress fans and players alike with his hustle in attempting two rather difficult plays. He received a loud ovation for a difficult catch on an Elian Herrera foul pop out in the ninth. That had to feel good for the maligned veteran, struggling through the worst stretch of his still relatively young career.

CHICAGO, IL - AUGUST 11: Jorge Soler #68 of the Chicago Cubs is safe a s home as Jonathan Lucroy #20 of the Milwaukee Brewers makes a late tag during the second inning on August 11, 2015 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)

Dan Haren was serviceable in his second start with the Cubs (exactly what they brought him in for), as he pitched 5.1 innings of five hit ball while allowing three runs, two of which came on an Adam Lind home run in the top of the sixth. Otherwise, Haren and the Cubs bullpen did a fine job of keeping Milwaukee from getting anything going. The Cubs offense did their part, chasing Brewers starter Taylor Jungmann after 2.2 innings and stretching that Milwaukee bullpen early in this series. Anthony Rizzo and Jorge Soler each drove in 2 RBI’s and the Cubs pretty much took control from the onset and never let up. The final score was Cubs 6, Brewers 3 despite the teams both posting seven hits. The Cubs simply did more with their opportunities, something they seem to be doing with great regularity these days.

The look for more of the same tonight as Jason Hammel is set to face Matt Garza. 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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