Archive | Kris Bryant

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 Go on a Walkabout in Rout of Reds

Posted on 14 April 2016 by Bob

With the drama and theatrics of Opening Night behind them, the Chicago Cubs got down to business Wednesday night and ensured in the first inning that this game would not be close. In fact, it was pretty much over from the start as the Cubs sent eleven men to the plate and Cincinnati Reds starter; Alfredo Simon, threw 49 pitches but was still unable to record a third out. The Cubs scored five runs in the inning with a combination of walks, hits, extra-base hits, and a HBP. Everyone got in on the action with exception of Jason Heyward who recorded two K’s in the first but would come through later in the game.

“I’m a pitcher who throws a lot of strikes, but today my balls were away, and that was the trouble,” Simon said.

Trouble, indeed, as Reds pitchers issued ten walks total on the night. That brought the Cubs’ season total to a Major League-leading 48 walks en route to a 7 – 1 start and first place in the division. This plate discipline has been a welcome change from a team that led the league in strikeouts a year ago. It has forced opposing pitchers to pick their poison; either try to get guys to chase with stuff off the plate and run the risk of issuing free passes and driving your pitch count up, or throw strikes over the plate against a team loaded with contact and power hitters. Not a fun position to be in, which is exactly the point.

Chicago Cubs starter John Lackey delivers a pitch during the first inning of a baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds Wednesday, April 13, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)

Chicago Cubs starter John Lackey delivers a pitch during the first inning of a baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds Wednesday, April 13, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)

“This lineup’s deep,” Cubs starter John Lackey said. “Looking from the other side as a pitcher, it’s tough to get through without suffering a little bit of damage.”

Anytime you can knock a starter out of the game early, that’s a good sign for your offense. To be so relentless as to chase a starter before the first inning is over? That’s a sign you’re primed for a big night. The Cubs never looked back after that five run first inning, tacking on a pair of runs in third behind Jason Heyward’s two-out single and then another pair in the fourth courtesy of a Kris Bryant solo home run (his first of the season) to left and a Miggy Montero score off a wild pitch. The Reds showed little resistance from there on, scoring only one more run in the seventh inning on a Ivan De Jesus RBI-ground out. Your final score: Cubs 9, Reds 2.

KB Homer in April

Not only do the Cubs lead the Majors in walks but their run differential currently sits at +36, also good for tops in baseball and a testament to not only the Cubs explosive offense but the excellent pitching they have had thus far. John Lackey, backed by tremendous run support yet again, went 6 and 2/3 innings while allowing two runs on six hits while striking out seven and allowing three free passes.  He even drew a walk himself in the protracted first inning, furthering his own cause while demonstrating just how contagious the team’s plate approach is.

The Cubs are clicking on all cylinders right now, avoiding the slow starts of years past and exhibiting a patience at the plate that has been sorely lacking the last several years. Tonight, they go for the sweep as Jason Hammel is on the mound vs. the Reds Raisel Iglesias. Game time 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 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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Arrieta Throws No-Hitter; Improves to 6 – 0 in August as Cubs Top Dodgers to End Road Trip

Posted on 31 August 2015 by Bob

Jake Arrieta capped an August to remember by throwing his first career no-hitter against the Dodgers in LA on Sunday night, snapping a four game skid in the process and getting the Cubs back on track as they end their west coast road trip and head back to the Friendly Confines.

Aug 30, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jake Arrieta (49) reacts after thawing his final pitch of the ninth inning for a no hitter against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. Cubs won 2-0. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports ORG XMIT: USATSI-217228 ORIG FILE ID: 20150830_mta_aj4_250.JPG

Arrieta had flirted with no-hitters before but this was different. It feels like this entire season has been building to this moment and Arrieta finally got to show the country just how good a pitcher he is. He was simply dominant, striking out 12 while walking only one man in 116 pitches to notch his MLB-leading 17th win. He was aided by some great defense behind him as well, and a fielding error by Starlin Castro at second base that some felt should have been ruled a hit, but was ultimately upheld as an error seeing as Castro should have made the play. Castro would atone for his “happy” accident later in the game by snagging a line drive off the bat of Carl Crawford that had hit written all over it.

Kris Bryant provided the game’s only score, a two-run homer in the top of the first off of Dodgers starter, Alex Wood that would prove more than enough as Arrieta was damn near perfect. He lowered his ERA in August to an astounding 0.43 and his season ERA to 2.11 while tallying his 14th consecutive quality start. There is no more beating around the bush; this man is the Cubs ace, their true #1, their stopper, and almost 100% positively their starter in a potential one game, Wild Card playoff. If you need any further proof (and you shouldn’t), take a look at this road trip. The Cubs finished 2-4 with both wins coming courtesy of Arrieta. Sure, they had to face Madison Bumgarner and Clayton Kershaw so that record comes with some qualifiers, but Arrieta has put this team on his back and carried them into September contention. It’s rare for a team to come home after a roadtrip with that record and feel good about it, but Arrieta’s gem on Sunday Night Baseball changed the narrative and sent the Cubs back home fired up as they near the stretch run.

Arrieta no hitter 2

Arrieta HAS to be included in the Cy Young discussion now as even before his No-No he had been among the game’s best this season statistically. While much is made of the ROTY and MVP campaigns for Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, Jake Arrieta has been the team’s north star; consistently giving them his best stuff and keeping the good ship Cub afloat in rocky waters.  He personifies what this team is all about and the Cubs will undoubtedly go as far as he can take them. Hopefully this inspires the back end of the rotation to step their game up and try to emulate Arrieta’s discipline and confidence on the mound. Lord knows we need it right now if we have any shot of catching the Pirates.

Arrieta No hitter

Up Next:

The Cubs return home tonight to Chicago to open up a three game set with the Cincinnati Reds. It’s Kyle Hendricks vs. the Reds Michael Lorenzen with first pitch at 7:05PM CST.

Let’s Go Cubs!

 

 

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Cubs Win 5th Straight as Kris Bryant Hits Walk-Off Home Run to Down Tribe

Posted on 24 August 2015 by Bob

The month of August can be a grind for MLB teams with the All-Star break behind them but October still a ways off. It’s hot, guys are tired, and five months of almost daily baseball can leave a team fatigued mentally as well. It’s usually when the playoff picture begins to come into view, as contenders rise to occasion and the pretenders fall back to the pack. I think it’s safe to call these Cubs contenders after the incredible month they’ve had, with still one week left in August.

The Cubs are 17 – 4 this month so far and after playing an incredible seventeen straight games in Chicago (14 at home, 3 on the south side), finished the “extended” homestand at 14 – 3. Is that home cooking? Some might argue such, given the winds have been blowing out at Wrigley resulting in a high number of balls leaving the yard, but that argument doesn’t hold much water when you consider that each team has to play in the same conditions. This Cubs team is, simply put, very good.

KB Wrigley Walk-off #2

After starting the most recent part of the homestand by getting absolutely mauled by Tigers for two straight games, the Cubs regained their rhythm against Atlanta resulting in a four game sweep and put the cherry on top today as the Cubs won in walk-off fashion behind Kris Bryant’s home run in the bottom of the ninth inning, 2 – 1.  Jon Lester and the Indian’s Corey Kluber battled all afternoon in a low-scoring affair, each giving up only one run a piece while scattering six and four hits respectively. These two were at the top of their game today, and Kluber even flirted with a no-hitter into the sixth inning. The difference being that the Cubs were able to chase Kluber a bit sooner than the Tribe could get to Lester as Jon lasted 8 2/3 innings before allowing the game-tying run to Carlos Santana on a single with two outs in the ninth. That set the stage for the red-hot Bryant to play the hero and cap the Cubs homestand with a bang. Anthony Rizzo provided the game’s first run on a RBI-triple in the seventh, which plated Chris Coghlan who had doubled to left.

It would have been disappointing had the Cubs lost today after coming within one out of a shutout, but Kris Bryant stepped into the batters box with two outs  and made everyone forget the drama of the previous half inning by blasting his 20th home run of the season. The Cubs now sit 21 games over .500 in their relentless pursuit of the Pirates and Cardinals in both the Wild Card and division races; races that still remain open despite the torrid pace each of those clubs is on in their own right.

cubbies-bear-logo

The Cubs now head out on the road for the first time in a while but should have little worry as they currently boast the National League’s best road record at 33 – 25. They will still be tested however as they venture west to face, first the Giants and then the Dodgers in a pivotal road trip that could see them open up an even greater lead in the Wild Card chase as they currently have a 6.5 game cushion over San Francisco for the second spot.

It will be Arrieta vs. Matt Cain tomorrow night by the Bay with first pitch coming in at 9:15PM CST.

Let’s Go Cubs!

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Cubs Get Down Early But Storm Back For Second Straight Win

Posted on 22 August 2015 by Bob

The Cubs got back to their streaking ways on Friday, picking up their second win in a row against the visiting Atlanta Braves after dropping three in a row earlier in the week. The offense continues to impress whether it’s getting out to an early lead or battling back later in games with a “never say die” attitude. It was the fourth game in a row in which the Cubs scored five or more runs making it seven of their last eight contests to reach that threshold. They got it done behind Chris Coghlan’s solo home run in the first to tie the game up at one all. In the fifth, Chris Denorfia grounded into a fielder’s choice that allowed Miguel Montero to score on a throwing error by Braves third baseman, Pedro Ciriaco. Still the Cubs were only able to scratch that one across, while stranding two men on base.

KB doubles vs. Braves

The real damage was done in the bottom of the sixth, as an Anthony Rizzo walk set the table for Kris Bryant’s RBI-scoring double. Montero followed with a double of his own, allowing the Cubs to take the lead 4-3. Rizzo added an insurance run in the bottom of the seventh, as he singled to right bringing Addison Russell in to score and provide what would be the game’s final score, 5 – 3.

The starting pitching left much to be desired but it wasn’t as bad as the club’s two games against Detroit this week. Kyle Hendricks lasted five innings while giving up seven hits and allowing three runs. He did strike out seven and lasted much longer than his last start (3.1 innings), so there was progress however minor it may seem.

“It was better,” Hendricks said. “It’s still a little frustrating.”

Skipper Joe Maddon concurred, offering some positive reinforcement:

“The beginning was just a little bit sketchy, but then he did settle into that guy,” Maddon said. “I saw a better down angle, I saw the ball down better, I saw some called strikes that they didn’t like, which only means that the ball is moving back over the plate.

That may be a glass half-full assessment but without a formidable offense and excellent outing from the bullpen, the outlook wouldn’t appear as rosy. Jason Motte, Justin Grimm, Pedro Strop, and Hector Rondon each pitched one inning of scoreless relief with Rondon being the only one to give up a hit. That proved crucial as the game wore on and Cubs missed a few opportunities to put more runs on the board. Motte picked up his eighth ‘W’ while Shelby Miller took the loss for the Braves.

So notch another Cubs comeback win in the books, another climb through adversity to come out on top; an experience that should prove helpful come October. Chicago improved to 69 – 51 on the season, gaining a game on the Pirates and Cardinals who each suffered losses and keeping a four game cushion over San Francisco for the final Wild Card spot.

They go for win #70 today as the try to take their third straight from Atlanta behind Dan Haren on the mound. He is opposed by Williams Perez for the Braves with the game set to start at 3:05PM CST.

 

Let’s Go Cubs!

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