Archive | Javier Baez

Cubs Off to Best Start in Years; Win Streak at 7

Posted on 10 May 2016 by Bob

The Chicago Cubs game was postponed due to rain last evening but the club looks to keep their win streak intact as they host the San Diego Padres tonight at Wrigley Field and shoot for their eighth straight win in as many tries. They will send Jon Lester to the mound to take on Cesar Vargas with first pitch coming at 7:05PM.

The Cubs are ascendant right now entering a different stratosphere than much of the league. They are truly firing on all cylinders; getting the job done with quality starting pitching, a lock down bullpen, a potent offense capable of smashing homers or grinding it out base by base. Every game seems to produce a new hero stepping up on defense or at the plate. The only constant is that the Cubs just keep winning. Fresh off a perfect week that saw them sweep both the Pirates and Nationals, the Cubs find themselves with a 24 – 6 record, good for tops in the Majors and also the best start in the MLB in 32 years. The week culminated in a walk-off home run from Javy Baez in 13 innings on Sunday that sent the Wrigley faithful into hysterics and crushed the Nationals’ spirit on a day that it appeared they might break through.

Javy Baez walk-off

This is new and rarefied air for a Chicago team coming off several, mostly disappointing decades. While still very, very early this team is proving to be of contender-caliber as evidenced by their unbelievable +102 run differential through 30 games and a whopping 8 game lead in their division over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

This is shaping up to be a special season and the Cubs hope to keep the magic rolling despite heavy rains on the north side of Chicago the last couple days. Here’s hoping for clear and dry skies tonight.

Let’s Go Cubs!

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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 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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Looking at the Cubs Potential Trades & Rumors: Part 2

Posted on 17 July 2015 by Bob

Part 2 of this series takes us to the team I consider the most likely trade partner, the Oakland Athletics. These clubs have a history, most notably last summer’s blockbuster trade that sent Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the A’s in return for Addison Russell. We all know how that panned out. The A’s lost a heart-breaking Wild-Card game to Royals who rode that momentum all the way to the World Series. The A’s then shipped Samardzija to the White Sox, Hammel returned to the Cubs in free agency, and the Cubs now retain one of the best young players in the game in Addison Russell. Don’t tell me Billy Beane won’t want to make up for that now that the two club’s positions have been somewhat reversed. It is now the A’s who have what the Cubs need as they should be sellers after under-performing in the first half to the tune of a 41-50 record.

Scott-Kazmir-2

The Cubs need pitching and a veteran outfield bat. The A’s have both in Scott Kazmir and Ben Zobrist. Kazmir is a veteran pitcher who currently holds a 2.56 ERA and after a year away from baseball in 2012, has rebounded nicely. He should command a decent contract in free agency but would be a nice arm for the Cubs to add that could bolster the rotation. Package him with utility man Ben Zobrist, a Joe Maddon favorite from his days in Tampa, and would it be too crazy for the Cubs to entertain dangling Javy Baez or Billy Mckinney and a few other prospects to make this happen. A perfect marriage is somewhere with these two teams as the A’s would love to replenish their farm system after last season’s trades hurt them in the long run.

Verdict: Pull the trigger! (So long as Kyle Schwarber is NOT included in any deal.)

 

The last trade partner is also the most intriguing in terms of upside as any deal here would carry great risk but also great reward. It’s no secret that the Cincinnati Reds are going to be sellers at the deadline and after the All-Star game is over and the hoopla in the Queen City dies down, I expect that talk to intensify with the likes of Johnny Cueto, Aroldis Chapman, and Jay Bruce all being dangled as trade bait. Neither pitcher will be cheap to acquire and that means that the price paid will most likely be for a rental; always a gamble as Oakland can attest to firsthand after last year.

Apr 7, 2013; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Johnny Cueto (47) pitches during the second inning against the Washington Nationals at Great American Ball Park. Mandatory Credit: Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

Do the Cubs want to risk Schwarber or Baez in a Cueto deal? It would be a “wild card” move in hopes of making the Wild Card game, but would that be worth it if Cueto walks at season’s end? It’s never easy making these kind of decisions, but my gut says there would have to be more than just Cueto in any deal for prospects to afford the Cubs some insurance. This is intriguing and there will be many teams who jump into the Cueto market, but the Cubs do have pieces, it’s just a question of whether or not a move can be made that doesn’t trade on the Cubs future in favor of the now.

Verdict: Up in the air.

 

As you can see, there are a lot of potential trades and an equal, if not greater, amount of speculation out there. Ultimately, I think the Cubs will make a few moves but nothing that rocks the boat too much. Just a few pieces to stabilize the pitching staff and provide some depth, while picking up a veteran bat from somewhere. My instincts tell me that none of the Cubs top level players or prospects will be made available in any trade with the exception of Javy Baez. I think Theo Epstein wants to see what he has in this club for a full year before making the tough decisions on Starlin Castro, Kyle Schwarber, etc.  Hopefully, a few teams get desperate to offload some players and the Cubs can stay healthy. The next two weeks will tell us a lot. Enjoy the ride!

 

 

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Bryant to Start Season in Triple-A as Expected

Posted on 30 March 2015 by Bob

The Chicago Cubs made it official today trimming Kris Bryant and Javy Baez from the Major League roster and sending the pair to Triple-A Iowa as well as moving Addison Russell to minor league camp. Although the Baez move is intriguing given his call up late last year to the majors, these moves should surprise no one. It has been a foregone conclusion from day one that no matter what Bryant did he would be starting the season in Iowa. This is a service time issue and the Cubs weren’t going to trade 2 weeks of Bryant now for 6 months in 2021. Ask any reasonable Cubs fan and I guarantee you this move neither shocks nor offends them. Those columnists feigning outrage over the alleged disservice the Cubs are doing to their fans are simply sensationalizing a pretty cut and dry line of reasoning in the pursuit of controversial, eye-grabbing headlines.

Bryant

Yes, Bryant is one of the Cubs’ 25 best players and yes, he had the best spring of arguably anyone in baseball but I’d rather see Bryant in Cubbie Blue in 2021 than a few weeks earlier than I already will this year. I think even deep down that Bryant might be OK with this move. It gives him time to get in a good groove, demolishing minor league-early season pitching and then ascending at the right time to his spot in the Major League lineup potentially missing the hype-filled debut and subsequent lump-taking which befalls so many young rookies making the leap into the League (or at the very least minimizing those lumps).

Of course Bryant’s agent, Scott Boras, will tell you otherwise and the talking heads will tell you that the Cubs are only hurting themselves but the fact is that those in favor of his inclusion in the Opening Day lineup are either in it for the money or they simply cannot wait any longer to see what the hype is about and actually have some copy that doesn’t contain the words: “Kris Bryant” and “Cubs prospect” in the same sentence.  They will get their wish soon enough and something tells me that come July all this will all be an after-thought.

As for Baez, it’s pretty clear that for all his power and promise he won’t be doing anyone any good with all those strikeouts. It’s best to have him work out those issues in Triple A for a bit instead of attempting to break the strikeout record with a full year in the majors. He needs more time, as does Russell. The Cubs aren’t going to change their system no matter how extraordinary the talent surging up their ranks has proven to be.

Cubs fans should rejoice.  A new season is upon us with some actual reasons to cheer.  Next year is almost here and it’s an important one.

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Young Cubs Come to Play in Spring League Debut

Posted on 06 March 2015 by Bob

Yesterday’s Cactus League debut was a good one for Cubs’ youngsters Mike Olt, Javier Baez, and Kyle Schwarber with at-bats producing a strike-out, a fly-out, and grand slam respectively. The two former AB’s don’t sound so great taken out of context but situationally they show the growth required for these young Cubs to succeed at the Major League level. The grand slam is the cherry on top.

Mike Olt

Mike Olt’s strikeout came in his second at-bat(His first being a 2 run homer by the way). He worked the count to three and two before fouling off several pitches and eventually striking out on a change-up. At face value this sequence might not seem great but seeing a high number of pitches and battling pitchers deep into counts is precisely the medicine Cubs’ hitters need to improve their offense from a year ago. Especially from Olt; He of 100 strikeouts last season and demotion to the minors to work on his game. Olt needs to exhibit this type of plate discipline if he is to live up to the potential which brought him over in the Matt Garza trade.

Javier Baez

Baez, who has worked on shortening his swing this offseason, produced what appears on paper as an insignificant fly-out after two missed strikes but putting the ball in play is the preferred outcome over strike three in the catcher’s mitt. A scene Baez witnessed more than enough times last season despite not even being called up until August. These may seem like little things but it is the little things the Cubs need to improve upon in order to take the leap to playoff contender. Baez still seems like a wild card at this point. I don’t know how he fits into the Cubs’ future plans with a slog of middle infielders already in the Cubs system, but improving his plate discipline and getting on base will go a long way towards proving he can be the Cubs future at second base.

Kyle Schwarber

As for Schwarber, his Grand slam in his first spring at-bat is a welcome introduction; “Load ‘em up and drive em in” as they say. Getting on base is key but then you have to drive them in. Schwarber seems intent on doing just so even drawing comparisons to Kris Bryant within the Cubs organization. It’s only the first day but signs of improvement abound.

NEXT UP:
The Cubs take on Cincinnati today, which as of this moment is tied 0-0 in the 5th.
Saturday and Sunday, the Cubs take on the Rockies and Rangers respectively.

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