Archive | Jorge Soler

The Song Remains the Same; Cubs Pitchers Get it Done on the Mound & at the Plate (AGAIN!)

Posted on 20 April 2016 by Bob

For the second night in a row, a Cubs pitcher held the opposing team in check and delivered an RBI single. This time it was Jason Hammel’s turn as he threw six innings of five-hit, one-run ball while striking out six. Facing a one run deficit in the top of the fourth inning, Hammel stepped to the plate with two outs and bases loaded. He proceeded to slap a grounder right between the third baseman and shortstop to drive in not one, but two runs as Jorge Soler and Ben Zobrist came around to score.  They would be the only runs the Cubs would score, but ultimately all the runs they would need as the bullpen combination of Warren, Wood, Strop, and Rondon would work innings seven through nine to keep the Cards at bay and make the one-run lead hold up. The Cardinals lone run coming on a Yadier Molina triple in the second inning that scored Randal Grichuk.

ST. LOUIS, MO - APRIL 19: Starter Jason Hammel #39 of the Chicago Cubs hits an RBI single against the St. Louis Cardinals in the fourth inning at Busch Stadium on April 19, 2016 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

It was in many ways a replay of the night before when John Lackey went seven strong innings and nabbed himself an RBI single, albeit not the game winner as Lackey was already working with a lead. This night was “Hammel Time” for sure but Jason Heyward grabbed some of the headline yet again this series.  In the bottom of the fourth, with Matt Holliday on third base representing the tying run, Yadier Molina flied out to right field. Holliday was sent by the third base coach and Heyward, using those defensive instincts we’ve heard so much about, got in perfect position to make the catch while already preparing his body to make the throw home. He rifled the ball to Catcher Miguel Montero who was able to apply the tag just as Holliday was sliding towards the plate. Despite another  ‘0-fer’ night at the plate, Heyward’s defense has not only helped us to forget the lack of hits but also preserved the Cubs lead at 2 – 1, which would become the final score.

Heyward throws out Holliday

There’s been a bit of fussing lately concerning the low batting averages of some of the Cubs big hitters and rightfully so. After all, we can’t expect Dexter Fowler to keep up the torrid pace he has begun the season with. Still, it ultimately comes down to if you win the game or not, and to date, the Cubs have done a lot more winning than losing. No one says the heart of your order has to bat  over .200 to win; sure, it helps, but it’s not required. Sometimes taking a walk, or finding a way to get on base, coupled with a stellar defensive effort is enough to get you in position. The Cubs bats will surely wake up as April gives way to May and (hopefully) warmer temperatures. In the mean time, the Cubs don’t need to apologize for anything. They have won big and now they have won a tight contest; the bottom line is that they are finding ways to win, always the hallmark of a good ball club.

The series finale is currently in progress with the Cardinals jumping on Kyle Hendricks early, notching 2 runs apiece in each of the first two innings. The Cubs got one back in the fourth against Carlos Martinez on an Anthony Rizzo solo home run, but it’s been pretty much all Cards so far. Given how well the Cubs pitchers had kept St. Louis in check in over the first two games, the Red Birds were due to break out a bit, especially at home against the Cubs #5 starter. The game is currently in a prolonged rain delay in the seventh inning.

Here’s hoping the Cubs can get the runs and weather to climb back into this thing and complete the sweep. If not, two out of three ain’t bad.

Let’s Go Cubs!

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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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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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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 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 Train Keeps Rolling; Within 3 Games of Pirates For 1st Wild Card Spot

Posted on 05 August 2015 by Bob

A month ago Jake Arrieta was left off the All-Star roster. Now he is firmly entrenched in the Cy Young discussion. I would normally say”what a difference a month makes” or some other platitude here but that would be simplifying what Arrieta has done this season. He hasn’t just “come on strong” this last month and half; the guy has been doing this all year and in doing so has the Cubs in a playoff race for the first time in seven years.

Arrieta dominant again

One could make the argument that Arrieta has been the most consistent Cub this season; yes, even more so than Rizzo, who is putting up impressive numbers in the N.L. as well. Arrieta (12 – 6) is flat out dominating opponents, the latest being the Pirates who managed a measly two hits and three walks in Arrieta’s seven innings of work last night at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. He  now has a 2.50 ERA and Manager Joe Maddon seems to think there’s another gear in him.

“He’s an interesting pitcher. I will say it again, he’s not there yet,” Maddon said. “He’s still learning how to utilize all his weapons. There’s another level of Arrieta.”

A pretty scary thought given where the man is at right now. If the regular season ended today, are you sure it’s Jon Lester and not Arrieta you want on the mound for a one game playoff? I’m not so sure, and anyone who is, clearly would be banking their opinion on past performance, and not what is happening right now. Jon Lester is definitely rounding into the form we expected after his off-season signing but Arrieta’s presence has been a stabilizing influence on the club all year long and may be what the Cubs need in a pressure situation. Long way to go still, but this guy has been something else and is finally getting the credit and respect he deserves. He has earned it.

“Each win breeds more confidence throughout the ball club,” Arrieta said. “We need to keep it rolling as long as we can. It’s important to find your stride at this point in the season.”

With the defense posting a shutout, all the offense had to do was scratch one across. They got five, and the guys looked on-point last night. Jorge Soler took a nice walk to bring the first run in while Starlin Castro and David Ross doubled and singled in runs, respectively.  Castro added another RBI double in the fifth inning and Soler singled in the final run in the sixth.  The Cubs posted 14 hits, including three from Chris Denorfia. They still left quite a few men on base, but when your Ace is hanging zeros on the other team, five runs is good enough to get the job done as the 5-0 win made it six straight W’s for Chicago who moved to 11 games over .500 and within three games of the Pirates for the first Wild Card spot while maintaining a half game advantage for the second spot over San Francisco.

Dan Haren Cubs

These Cubs are hot right now and will need a big start from newcomer Dan Haren in the finale tonight vs. the Bucs’ Jeff Locke to send the Cubs home with a nice six-win road trip. Game time is 6:05PM CST.

Let’s Go Cubs!

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Rizzo Homers Again as Cubs Cruise Past Brew Crew

Posted on 01 August 2015 by Bob

Anthony Rizzo is on a roll, homering in each of the last three games as he led the Cubs past Milwaukee on Friday night at Miller Park. Jason Hammel gave up a solo-shot to Ryan Braun in the bottom of the first to make it 1-0 but Chicago got that run right back in the second inning when Starlin Castro singled in Kris Bryant. From there Hammel scattered five hits over the remainder of his almost six innings of work to pick up the W, his seventh straight decision vs. the Brewers.

RIZZO HR - 3 in  row

While Rizzo and Jorge Soler each had two hits a piece, it was the oft-maligned Castro who drove in two runs and looked rejuvenated after slogging through a rough year at the plate.

“He had three really good at-bats for us,” Maddon said. “(He) did a nice job at shortstop, but he’s capable of that. I mean, that’s who he is.”

Hector Rondon picked up another save, his 15th this year and the Cubs are now back to eight games over .500 at 55 – 47 and only one game game for the second Wild Card berth as San Francisco lost to Texas on Friday night. The Cubs also posted a 15 – 12 record for the month of July, and have now played .500 or better in every calendar month of this 2015 season.

Yes, things are looking up on the North Side and they get a chance to go nine games over .500 tonight as Kyle Hendricks takes the mound vs. former Cub Matt Garza with first pitch coming at 6:10PM CST.

Let’s Go Cubs!

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