Archive | Chicago Cubs

Giants & Dodgers Making Moves; National League Full of Intrigue

Posted on 05 January 2016 by Bob

All has been relatively quiet on the Cubs front since the calendar flipped to 2016 as has been expected given the headline-grabbing moves they made in the waning weeks of December. Out on the left coast, however, the arms race continues as the West’s Dodgers, Giants, and Diamondbacks have amassed impressive arsenals in an attempt to overtake the Mets and Cubs in the battle for N.L. supremacy.

While the Diamondbacks made the largest splash landing Zack Greinke AND Shelby Miller (and are reportedly still making moves), and the Dodgers recently signed Scott Kazmir to a three year deal to add to their ever-ballooning payroll, it is the San Francisco Giants who may have pushed all their chips to the middle this offseason in adding Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto to a rotation that already includes Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain. Now, there are reports that the Giants are talking with free agent Dexter Fowler, who roamed CF for the Cubs in 2015. While signing with the Giants would net the Cubs a draft pick due to having offered him a qualifying offer, it would be somewhat concerning to see him go to a NL rival, especially a team like the Giants who already have a pretty stacked lineup. In fact, some might argue their most glaring weakness would be capable outfielders so adding Fowler would make sense. Either way, it seems like the Giants will be a force to reckon with in 2016 along with the D-Backs and the Dodgers. Winning your division is paramount, as the Cubs and Pirates showed us last year and one can expect the N.L. Wild Card field to be even tougher next year.

Still, for all the hype the West has generated for the incredible talent they boast on paper, the Cubs stack up quite well in that department too given they bring back a young and powerful core bolstered by talented, veteran free agents. The outfield market hasn’t really even opened up yet so it’s possible that before it’s all said and done some of these “paper champions” may be improved even further.

More. Later.

 

 

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Cubs Land Heyward and Amplify Expectations for 2016

Posted on 11 December 2015 by Bob

The Cubs reeled in a very big fish today; one that will definitely rock the boat, and also send a ripple effect throughout the entire pond. Jason Heyward is a Chicago Cub, and the rest of the league may be left wondering if they “need a bigger boat”.

Heyward a Cubs

Make no mistake about it, this acquisition is monumental from both a symbolic and a material perspective. The Cubs have acquired arguably the Cardinals’ best player, bolstering Chicago’s lineup and defense while subtracting from their main rival. His impact will be immediate both in his plate discipline and his superb fielding skills but this is not just about his physical presence but also what his signing symbolizes for the Chicago Cubs and the league at large.

In bright and bold lettering: THE CUBS ARE BACK. Relegated to laughing stock status for the better part of the last decade (and vast swaths of the previous century), these Cubs are officially the team to beat heading into the 2016 season. Sure, that’s just on paper but given the team’s success last year breaking in a mostly young group under a new manager, it’s hard not to dream big with this club’s expectations next year. Theo Epstein and Co., to their great credit, delivered on their promise of building a contender and in a relatively short time frame. It wasn’t always pretty, easily apparent, or popular but this management group laid an incredibly strong foundation and are now reaping the benefits their prowess and discipline have sown.

Committing $184 million over eight years to one player is the type of move that puts other teams on notice. They are a big-time contender who is “All-In” in 2016. The fever pitch will reach crescendo this impending spring and with it will come the expectations that all highly-touted teams are saddled with. They will be heavy and tangible and it will be up to Joe Maddon and his veterans to guide these sophomores through pressures never felt to heights never seen.

It’s hard to articulate just how truly epic signing Jason Heyward is. You cannot truly appreciate what signing a player to this type of deal is like until you crawl through the mud and muck that was the Cubs from 2010-2014. Never making the big splash. Trading off your assets for prospects. Repeatedly finishing last in your division. Entire seasons over by the end of July.  A 100 loss season.  All of that makes this day that much sweeter. The excitement on twitter today is proof of just how important today was to the two primary fan bases affected. For the Cardinals, it was complete dejectedness with some bitterness and embarrassing sour grapes thrown in. For the Cubs, it was unbridled elation; the future foretold of in 2010 has finally arrived.

Cubs beat cards

It’s not just Jason Heyward, but man, is he a BIG piece. He boasts a career .268/.353/.431 slash line and will most likely begin his Cubs career in CF, although that could change pending on whether or not Jorge Soler is moved for starting pitching.  Heyward also ranks 5th in WAR (12.7)  by position players over the last two seasons. His defense is excellent, saving 122 runs since the start of the 2010 season, the most in baseball during that time frame. He is also 26 meaning he is just entering his prime. All this adds up to a home run for the Cubs even though Heyward is not known for his long ball. It’s being reported that he turned down more money from the Cards and Nats to play in Chicago, showing that you really can’t put a price on how valuable Theo, Maddon, and Ricketts have been in turning this team around. Free agents want to come here, young players want to stay here, and fans should turn out in droves to cheer this squad on.

Signing a Jason Heyward is a marquee acquisition but add in Ben Zobrist, John Lackey, and Adam Warren and the Cubs are clearly winning this off-season. They also may not be done as many sources say they are still looking to make a deal for another starter with the Padres’ Tyson Ross, the Indian’s Carlos Carrasco, and several Tampa Bay Rays out there as possibilities.

This team will have a huge target on their back as the calendar turns and hopefully they can embrace the challenge and are careful not to let the “pressure exceed the pleasure”. Good times loom ahead on the North Side as winter hasn’t felt this warm in years.

GO CUBS GO!

 

 

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Cubs Land Zobrist; Trade Castro to Yankees for Warren

Posted on 09 December 2015 by Bob

After a long Tuesday filled with rumors of signings and trades, a big one finally came to fruition for the Chicago Cubs who were able to land the highly coveted Ben Zobrist for $56 million over four years.  Zobrist had been courted hard by the Mets who saw him as an important piece to stabilizing their infield but the Cubs, who failed to beat the Mets on the field in the NLCS, were able to best their National League competitors with not only a solid offer but also closer proximity to Zobrist’s off-season home in Nashville, TN and the chance to be reunited with Joe Maddon who managed him in Tampa Bay for the majority of his career.

Ben-Zobrist

This was a huge coup for the Cubs who seemingly came out of nowhere to steal Zobrist from the Mets, Nationals, and Giants who allegedly offered the free agent more money but not enough of the intangibles that the Cubs did.  Zobrist, who has been known in the past as super-utility man and bench weapon, will assume the starting second basemen duties recently vacated by Starlin Castro.  Zobrist has a career .265 batting average and figures to slot somewhere near the top of the Cubs lineup, possibly even lead off. His presence alone should help cut down on the Cubs strikeouts next season and one can only hope his discipline is contagious. There is some concern given his age (34) and the fact that he has a no trade clause through the first 3 years of the contract but the Cubs are betting that his impact these first 2-3 years will far outweigh any drop off he suffers by age 38.

This was an outstanding move by the Cubs and gives them another veteran presence to guide these youngsters through their “sophomore” year. He is also a proven winner having been a major contributor on the World Series Champion Kansas City Royals last year after coming over at the deadline from Oakland.

“Ben is a winning baseball player,” Theo Epstein said. “His offense, his defense, his baserunning. He’s been one of the more valuable players in the game for a long time.”

Maddon has to be overjoyed at the versatility Zobrist brings to this roster being capable of playing multiple positions infield and outfield, as well his ability to lead off and get on base. Combine that with Javy Baez’ flexibility and the Cubs have a plethora of situational substitutions that should prove to be a great advantage day in and day out over the course of the season and the variety of match-ups they will face.

Starlin castro

In acquiring Zobrist it became clear that someone had to be moved given the cluster of infielders on the roster. The math just didn’t add up and Epstein found a suitable trade partner for the longest-tenured Cub on the team, Starlin Castro. Yes, it was sad to see Castro go given his desire to play for the Cubs and his strong finish last year but the math just didn’t add up. Castro may have never fully realized his potential in Chicago and with so many options, his skill set became expendable. His rebound after being benched and moved to second base did allow him to bring some pretty decent talent back in the form of pitcher Adam Warren and second basemen Brendan Ryan from the Yankees. This may seem paltry given what Castro was projected to do in his career but realistically it is just about right. Warren is no slouch going 7 – 7 last year with a 3.29 ERA splitting time as a starter and in the bullpen. He provides great depth for the Cubs as a possible #5 starter or “long” man out of the bullpen. This is precisely what the Cubs need given their shortcomings in the NLCS this past year. With Lackey also in the fold, Hendricks and Hammel get bumped back a spot and possibly into competition with Warren for the #5 starter position. Competition and depth are two great things to have.

So while Castro could return to All-Star form in New York, the Cubs essentially got Zobrist and Warren for the price of his salary which is not a bad return at all. It clearly signals that 2016 is an “All-In” year with the Cubs aggressively tackling their deficiencies to reach the next level. Castro’s contributions through the lean years and positive clubhouse presence will truly be missed and he deserves a curtain call for his accomplishments these past six years in Chicago but the future is now on the North Side and the Cubs cannot afford to be sentimental with the stakes raised to staggering heights this year.

So a big day for the Cubs and it sounds like they may not be done. No, this move does not preclude them from signing Jason Heyward but the math on that will have to be incredibly creative. Still, no one really saw Zobrist coming so it’s safe to say that no one really knows what Theo is capable of. This ain’t over by a long shot but Cubs fans have to be happy with the early returns. They are acting like a big market contender for the first time in years and for the fans it has to feel like Christmas cam early. They have also been able to hold on to the majority of their young talent so far while continuing to better their roster. They have done all this without sacrificing the future.

Stay Tuned…

Go Cubs Go!

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Free Agency Musings, Cubs Make Lackey Official, & Where Will Heyward land?

Posted on 08 December 2015 by Bob

The Winter Meetings have commenced and twitter is abuzz with transactions, musings, and flat-out fiction. It’s silly season in Major League Baseball and man, is it fun! There is a palpable sense of excitement from almost every fan base (save a few) as teams tinker with how to build their team for the 2016 season and the internet is flush with the wishes, dreams, and speculations of every kind. Talk of “mystery teams” and “cooling periods”, “untouchables” and “dominoes falling” is enough to make your head spin. Today, we will dig in on the happenings from a Cubs perspective as much as we can. There is a lot of stuff flying around out there and a move could be imminent per several sources close to the team.

First things first, the Cubs made their signing of John Lackey official today at two years and $32 million. Although he comes at the price of a draft pick, this was a shrewd move that adds a quality starter for 2016 without tying up big money long term. If the Cubs do make a big splash on a guy like Jason Heyward in the coming weeks, this was the deal that provided the flexibility  to do it. So all around, a pretty good deal for the Cubs. The fact that he was taken from the Cardinals is just the icing on the cake. Now, your top three starters project as Arrieta, Lester, and Lackey. That’s a pretty great jumping off point.

Jason heyward

So now, Jason Heyward, the big fish that the Cubs would be thrilled to land. Not only would this weaken the Cardinals as well but it would dramatically improve the Cubs with the needs of lead-off man and plus-defender in center field filled. Heyward is young (just 26) and is rumored to be seeking a 10 year deal. As of this moment, there appears to be nothing official but “Cubs” and “Heyward” keep popping up in conjunction with one another causing many talking heads to speculate that Chicago may be the front-runner and making the hardest push to sign the prized free-agent. We’re on the edge of our seats as this would be a colossal move (if the Cubs were able to pull it off) that would have a ripple effect on not only the Cubs’ moves from here on but throughout the league as well.

Another notable target linked to the Cubs has been the Braves’ Shelby Miller. Miller, while not a free agent, is a solid young starting pitcher that would expand the Cubs depth even further but would come at the cost of  a Javy Baez or Jorge Soler, possibly more. Sources say that this potential deal has cooled considerably today as Atlanta’s asking price is said to be too high (Think guys on the Bryant, Schwarber level). We can’t rule anything out at this point but this one looks unlikely at this point.

Trevor Cahill

Trevor Cahill is also reported to be signing a one year deal worth $4.25 million. Cahill had a nice second half with the Cubs and could potentially be stretched into a starter’s role much like Travis Wood if/when needed but will mainly be used to fortify the bullpen as he did these past few months.

Today started with a great deal of buzz but it’s almost 5:00PM CST and no major deals to report for right now. Who knows what tomorrow will bring? Hopefully it’s Heyward with a bow on top as an early Christmas present!

Let’s Go Cubs!

 

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With Price and Zimmermann Off the Table, Where Do Cubs Go From Here?

Posted on 03 December 2015 by Bob

Well the off-season is officially under way as Jordan Zimmermann and David Price both locked up long-term, high-dollar contracts with the Tigers and Red Sox, respectively. While many had Chicago pegged as Price’s destination, the Red Sox made sure they got their man by blowing all other clubs away with their offer of $217 million over seven years and most likely overpaying in the process. But, that is what you do when your club lacks a clear #1 starter and ended last year in the basement of a highly competitive division; two problems which the Cubs do not have.

Their fall back, Zimmermann, was essentially the first of the tier-1 free agents off the board with his deal becoming of a pitcher with a 3.32 ERA over the last seven seasons and who has been a top-ten pitcher in N.L. over that time. So the Cubs missed out, or rather chose not to throw gobs of money at these two free agents who would certainly have been welcome additions to an already promising club. That’s OK. The Cubs didn’t need to over pay and tie up money that could be used elsewhere; cash that can be applied a bit more thoughtfully to help flesh out next year’s team. There is more than one way to go about acquiring starting pitching and a new center fielder. There will still be free agent acquisitions but now trades have also become a possibility as well. The Padres’ Tyson Ross and Atlanta’s Shelby Miller come to mind as two young pitchers who would be worth exploring as options.

question-marks-11

So where do the Cubs go from here?

A lot of signs point to the Cubs going hard after Cardinals free agent right fielder, Jason Heyward. He’s only 26 and while he would command a hefty price tag, wouldn’t you rather spend big on an excellent, YOUNG, defensive outfielder with a pretty good bat than a pitcher on the wrong side of 30? I am all for this, someone to get on base ahead of the nuclear power behind him in Bryant, Rizzo, Schwarber etc. Spending on Heyward may mean picking up a few cheaper options as back end starters but isn’t that what the Cubs need anyways? We have our top two in Arrieta and Lester, it’s the depth that needs help. Acquiring a guy like John lackey makes a ton of sense on a good deal, and the same goes for Jeff Samardzija, although from the sound of things, he thinks he won’t be all that cheap.

Jason heyward

There is still a lot action left; moves to be made, dominoes to fall, but my estimation is that losing out on Price and Zimmerman may be a blessing in disguise. They didn’t go to division rivals or even stay in the same league and the Cubs didn’t break the bank and hamstring themselves. Money will be at a premium in coming years as our young talent grows and it is imperative to continue making the smart moves, rather than the flashy ones. Now, the Cubs can spend some of that money on pieces that make more sense and hopefully enable us to keep some of the depth and redundancy we have in our infield.

Samardzija

Stay Tuned…The trickle of moves could become a stream in the next few weeks.

Let’s Go Cubs!

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

Posted on 18 November 2015 by Bob

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

CY YOUNG

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

Kris Bryant ROY

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

Joe Maddon MOTY

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

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

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

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

Let’s Go Cubs!

Cubs beat cards

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Cubs Season Ends; Hot Stove Begins

Posted on 12 November 2015 by Bob

Greetings again, Cubs Fans! It’s been close to two months since our last post on the blog as we were swept up in playoff-fever and abruptly fell back to earth in the last few weeks of October. Our apologies for the lengthy absence but as you all know, the Cubs’ magical season ended in heartbreak as they ran into a buzzsaw in the form of a flame-throwing, young Mets pitching staff and an other-worldly Daniel Murphy in the National League Championship Series. The Mets would go on to the Fall Classic, where they would fall victim to an even hotter Royals club, four games to one, to close out an exciting 2015 MLB season.

It was an incredible season and most will agree, quite unexpected to for this young Cubs team to make it this far, this soon. Rather than hash over the events these past two months right now (we will break down the positives and negatives in due time), the blog will turn our attention to the proverbial “hot stove” that is baseball’s off-season, devoted to rumor, speculation (Hello David Price!), and all the drama a fan could want as the focus shifts from the field to the front office where the suits will do battle and hope to bring in the missing piece (or pieces) that leads to that elusive World Championship.

david-price

While this past Cubs season was a great time to be a Cubs fan, it is about to get even better as the Cubs are no longer in rebuild mode but now in full-fledged, championship contender mode. Oh, the difference a year makes! So sit back and take a deep breath, it’s about to get wild and we will break it all down for you right here. Stay Tuned!

Let’s Go Cubs!

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Cubs Magic Number Down to 2; Head into Showdown with Bucs

Posted on 24 September 2015 by Bob

After 152 games over the course of five and a half months, the big picture is starting to come into focus as the Cubs magic number to clinch a postseason berth for the first time since 2008 is down to two. Any combination of Cubs wins and Giants losses that adds up to two will do the trick meaning the Cubs could clinch a spot by Friday at the earliest. It’s pretty incredible to see how far this team has come in just a years time and now that the payoff is on our doorstep, well it feels pretty damn good.

KB ROY

This team is playing very good baseball of late and despite being in third place in our division behind two teams that have already clinched postseason berths, there seems to be a consensus forming that this Cubs ball club is the one opposing teams would least like to face. Just this month alone, Chicago has taken 4 of 6 from the Cardinals and their best record in baseball, while also collecting 3 of 4 from Pittsburgh with a pivotal series looming this weekend at Wrigley.

The Cubs currently sit three games back of Pittsburgh for the top Wild Card spot and seven back of the Cardinals for the division lead. With ten to play, the division dream is slowing fading as the Cardinals would basically have to suffer a complete meltdown and the Cubs would probably need to win almost every game from here on out. Stranger things have happened but this is still far-fetched. What is not out of the question though is Pittsburgh catching the Cardinals to overtake the division lead. They remain just four games back and do face St. Louis head-to-head in the three game series early next week. So while it’s almost 99.9% certain that the Cubs will lock down the final, at-large playoff spot, the seeding is still very much wide open. The only thing that’s certain is that the NL Central currently has the three best teams in all of baseball record-wise and that it’s a damn shame they will have to beat up on each other in the first two rounds of the playoffs when anyone of them could go the distance this year.

But let’s not worry about that just yet, as the Cubs are still very much in control of their destiny. After their last off-day of the season today, the Cubs open up a three game series with the Bucs at the Confines that could go a long ways towards determining who will host the National League Wild Card game. A Cubs sweep would draw the clubs even with seven to play, while even a series win would narrow the gap enough to make this a race to the finish. Yes, it’s an exciting time to be a Cubs fan and I hope that most fans take the time to appreciate just how special a year this has been to date and we haven’t even reached the postseason yet.

Cubs Galore

Look at the multitude of successes this Cubs club has achieved so far:

*They have the de facto Rookie of the Year in Kris Bryant, who has hit 26 homers (A Cubs rookie record), 98 RBI’s (and counting), and a .276 BA.

*They have an MVP candidate in Anthony Rizzo, who in just his fifth season is the leader of the Cubs resurgence. He boasts 30 home-runs  to go with 95 RBI’s of his own. He’s batting .282 and he has been the consistent and guiding presence on a team full of youth and inexperience.

*They have a Manager of the year candidate in Joe Maddon, who has taken a club that lost almost 90 games a year ago and brought them to the brink of the postseason. He has done this with patience; he has done it with fun. He has put players in a position to succeed and used mistakes as “teachable moments” rather than public beratements. He’s used psychological tricks and magicians, philosophical quotes and zoo animals. As Cubs GM Jed Hoyer put it:

“Joe was the perfect manager for this team. He’s just got a great blend of the player-development side of managing and the ability to really use the analytics. He knows the right time to step on the gas and the right time to give guys a hug. Players love playing for him. That’s the bottom line.”

There’s no way to know how anyone else would have manged this team, or how far they could have gone under different leadership which is why we should be thankful for what we do know and what we have; a manager who is about take his team to the playoffs.

*They have done this with an influx of youth, at one point starting four rookies and at critical positions. From Kris Bryant at 3B, Jorge Soler in RF, Addison Russell at SS, and Kyle Schwarber as jack of all trades, platoon man. Each had big moments to propel this team to the heights they’ve crested today and each figures to play a large role in the future of this Cubs team. They have exceeded expectations and then some, and there are more on the way as players like Javier Baez have shown signs of improvement in their brief time since being called up.

*They have had veterans and castoffs step up and shine throughout the season. Guys like Chris Coghlan, Dexter Fowler, Miguel Montero, David Ross,  and Starlin Castro all helped contribute, sometimes out of position and in nontraditional ways.

*Most of all, they have had Jake Arrieta, arguably the best pitcher in baseball. He is currently Major League Baseball’s only 20 game winner and owner of a sparkling 1.88 ERA. His second half has been historic and he finds himself in the thick of a Cy Young Race. This team would be nowhere near where they are now without him.  He has helped anchor a staff that has shown signs of promise throughout the year, getting better production from Jon Lester in the second half and provided rest to a bullpen that has at times been shaky except for closer Hector Rondon. He is the unquestioned Ace of this team and the Cubs will no doubt pin their Wild Card hopes to his arm.

Take a good look at that list of accomplishments and tell me how no matter what happens the next two to six weeks that this season cannot be considered a success. It has been special, it’s been fun, and it’s not over yet. Ask any Cubs fun what kind of season they want and I believe the answer would be a season just like this. So take the time to stop and smell the roses as we all know moments like these are never guaranteed. Enjoy it and appreciate that it is a year ahead of schedule. The next few weeks are just icing on the cake.

Tomorrow the quest enters it’s final stretch as Jon Lester takes the mound against the Pirates ace Gerit Cole with first pitch coming at 1:20PM CST. A win could put them in and a step closer to hosting playoff baseball on the Northside for the first time in seven years.

Let’s Go Cubs!

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Cubs Split DH with Bucs; Remain 4 Back of Top Wild Card Spot

Posted on 16 September 2015 by Bob

The Cubs split a day/night double header with the Pirates in Pittsburgh yesterday dropping the opener 5 -4 before taking the night cap 2 – 1. Both contests featured lots of drama from the two N.L. Wild card front-runners but ultimately the day ended as it began, with the Cubs 4 games out from the top Wild Card spot.

Game 1 saw Cubs starter Jason Hammel struggle early allowing three runs in a disastrous first inning where he gave up a walk, HBP, an RBI-single, another walk, and a 2 run, RBI single all while recording just one out. Thankfully he got out of the inning after that but giving up those early runs, especially after your team strikes first, is no blueprint for success.  Hammel would give up an RBI-double in the fourth inning to Neil Walker before being pulled to start the fifth frame. Trevor Cahill came on in relief and pitched a couple of steady innings, allowing just one hit while punching out four. That would be enough to get them to the seventh where the Cubs were finally able to break through and chase Bucs starter Gerrit Cole from the game on Tommy La Stella’s RBI double making it a 4 – 2 game. Joakim Soria came on and got Addison Russell to line out to short before hurling two wild pitches, that each allowed a run to score and knotted the game up four all before getting Kyle Schwarber to strike out and end the inning.

Both sides went 1-2-3 over the next inning before the Cubs were undone by a throwing error from Miguel Montero that allowed pinch runner Pedro Florimon to reach third base with only one out. Starling Marte then hit a sac fly to left which would plate Florimon and provide the winning margin as the Cubs side went down 1-2-3 yet again in the ninth. It was a disappointing finish as the Cubs had their chances to steal this one despite the calamitous first inning, but a couple of mistakes doomed them. Still, the Cubs had a chance to get even in the nightcap with Jon Lester on the bump and boy, did they take advantage.

Lester Complete Game Gem

Lester was outstanding; hurling a five-hit, one-run, nine strike-out, complete game on 111 pitches in Game 2. He was just what the doctor ordered for a pitching staff (outside of Arrieta) and bullpen that had been scuffling of late.  He gave manager Joe Maddon no reason to turn to his pen, pitching with confidence and working out of the few jams he got into, the most notable being the seventh inning when after allowing two straight singles to lead off the inning, he got Michael Morse to ground into a double play. Although a run would score on the play, major damage was averted and Lester was able to get through the rest of the game unscathed.

Run support was minimal at two, but that would be all Lester would need as he made his 2-1 advantage hold up over nine frames. Anthony Rizzo provided the game’s initial run on an RBI single in the first. Dexter Fowler contributed the game’s difference maker, an RBI-double in the fifth. This one was more about pitching anyways and tonight was all Jon Lester. He showed why the Cubs signed him this off-season and while no one will confuse him with Jake Arrieta (A sentence that would seem very strange 12 months ago), he is rounding into form as  the #2 in the Cubs 1 – 2 punch. Hell, he even picked a man on first as Starling Marte tried to do what so many have done this year; run rampant on the base paths. Lester calmly stepped off the mound and threw to Rizzo who was able to eventually catch Marte in a rundown.

“This is what he does,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He likes pitching in big games in the latter part of the season. It’s not a surprise.”

Not a surprise but just in time as the Cubs enter a critical stretch that features eight more contests vs. the Pirates and Cards combined. They will need every win along the way to catch those teams which makes these head to head match-ups so important as the results are two-fold. Chicago currently sits four back of the Bucs and seven off of the division-leading Cardinals. The Giants are the Cubs last true threat to a playoff spot as they sit 7.5 back with 18 games to play.

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We are in for a dramatic finish and what better way to kick off the home stretch of the season than throwing Jake Arrieta on the mound with a chance to make a big dent in the Pirates lead. He will face A.J. Burnett with first pitch at 6:00PM CST in Pittsburgh.

Let’s Go Cubs!

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Cubs Falter in Finale vs. Cards; Still Take series 2-1

Posted on 10 September 2015 by Bob

After an offensive explosion that saw Chicago score 17 runs in the first two games of the series, pitching and defense had their day in the finale; a tough 4 – 3 defeat that the Cubs probably should have won, but are now left to lament what might have been falling back to 7.5 games out for the division lead.

Things started out promising yet again for the Cubs on Wednesday as they opened the scoring early on an RBI-double from Anthony Rizzo and and ground rule double RBI from Tommy La Stella in the top of the first inning. Jason Heyward answered for the Cards with a single to left which plated Matt Carpenter. Dexter Fowler singled in another run in the top of the second to open up the Cubs lead 3 – 1, where it would remain until the eighth inning, when the Cubs bullpen sunk to it’s nadir after Jon Lester exited the game pitching seven innings and allowing only two hits and one run while striking out seven.

Cubs beat cards

Pedro Strop started the tumble recording the first out before giving up a walk and a hit. He was pulled for Clayton Richard who gave up an RBI-single to Carpenter, the only batter he would face. Fernando Rodney came on after that, serving up a two-run double to Stephen Piscotty and handing St. Louis a one run lead before recording the final two outs. Jon Lester deserved better but had to settle for a no decision as the bullpen cost the team a chance to sweep the Cardinals IN St. Louis and climb to just 5.5 games back for the DIVISION lead. They would instead have to take comfort in the fact that they outplayed the red birds for 26 out of 27 innings and won a series on the road against the team with the best record in baseball. Not so much moral victories or silver linings as valuable experience gained for a team ready to make a postseason run.

Still, the bullpen issues are beginning to linger at a time when they need to be fortified. I’m not sure there are any silver bullets but it’s disconcerting to drop a two run lead when you’re two innings from  victory. They need to shut them down and of late, they haven’t been, outside of Hector Rondon. While 5.5 was still a ways out, it was much more workable than the 7.5 games back they find themselves at now. Stranger things have happened but it appears as if the Cubs are most likely headed to a Wild Card berth. They are only 3 games back of the Bucs for the top WC spot and will face them seven more times. October is just 20 days away and the Cubs hold a 9 game lead for the final spot with 24 games left.

It’s tough to take the sting out of a tough loss but it’s clear that this Cubs team is light-years different from the club that came here in May and June and took some beatings. This September Cubs team showed it has pop and pitching and if not for one, incredibly poor inning, might have swept those always-pesky birds, putting them on notice that this thing ain’t over.

Chicago is back it at tonight in Philly as Jake Arrieta is on the bump vs. the Phillies Adam Morgan. First pitch is 6:05PM CST.

Let’s Go Cubs!

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