Archive | Jon Lester

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

Posted on 10 May 2016 by Bob

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

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

Javy Baez walk-off

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

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

Let’s Go Cubs!

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Cubs Drop First Series of the Year to Rockies; Look to Rebound vs. Cardinals in St. Louis

Posted on 18 April 2016 by Bob

The Cubs finished up their opening home stand with a loss to the Colorado Rockies on Sunday afternoon, falling 2 – 0 despite a pretty solid outing from Jon Lester. The lefty threw 7.1 innings, giving up four hits and striking out ten. His lone mistake; a solo home run by Rockies third basemen Nolan Arenado provided all the offense Colorado would need as the Cubs were held scoreless for the first time this season. Arenado would add another solo-shot in the ninth inning off of Justin Grimm to provide some insurance. The Cubs offered little of note outside of two plays by Jon Lester that will surely find their way to Sports Center, albeit for different reasons. The first, an awkward throw to first on a bunt attempt that Lester fielded quickly but bounced twice en route to Rizzo’s glove, shockingly recording an out.  The second was a double by the pitcher; his first extra-base hit and one that almost jump-started a Cubs rally before being snuffed out. Some things change, others stay the same.

Lester throws to first

In the other dugout, Rockies pitcher Tyler Chatwood was outstanding allowing only two hits over seven innings and the Colorado bullpen followed suit, giving up just one hit and zero walks the rest of the way. A pretty impressive feat given the potency of this Cubs lineup and the gorgeous weather at Wrigley Field on Sunday. Losing a series for the first time this season, while disappointing to a rabid Cubs fan base, will (believe it or not) happen from time to time throughout this season; even with a lineup as solid as the Cubs.  That’s baseball, and I’m sure Manager Joe Maddon has already turned the page, as two games in which the Cubs didn’t play their best don’t make a trend. Finishing up the home stand at 4 – 2, and 9 – 3 overall, the Cubs can hold their heads up high as they head to St. Louis to face the Rival with-a-capital-R  Cardinals in the clubs’ first meeting since the NLDS last October. Ask any Cubs fan on the street for the result in case you missed it.

Heyward a Cub

This is indeed a big series for a multitude of reasons. First and foremost, the Cardinals have to carry a bit of a chip on their shoulder after winning the division and sporting the best record in baseball last season, only to be chased from the playoffs by an upstart Cubs squad they had suppressed for a long, long time. Adding insult to injury, two of the Cards top contributors; John Lackey and Jason Heyward traded in their Cardinal Red for Cubbie Blue (and less money to boot). They will surely hear it from Cardinals fans tonight as they begin a three game series at Busch. Lastly, these are division games between the two teams picked to contend for the division title this year. They will face each other 19 times and both squads would tell you how important it is to get a leg up on the other, especially for the Cubs being on the road.

Lackey a Cub

Bragging rights abound in what is becoming the juiciest rivalry in baseball. The Cubs hope to stop their series-losing streak at one while I’m sure the Cardinals will look to set the tone that they are still the team to beat in the Central.

Lackey is set to square off against the newly-acquired; Mike Leake for the Red Birds. Game time is 7:00PM CST.

 

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

Posted on 24 September 2015 by Bob

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

KB ROY

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

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

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

Cubs Galore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s Go Cubs!

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

Posted on 16 September 2015 by Bob

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

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

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

Lester Complete Game Gem

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

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

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

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

cubbies-bear-logo

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

Let’s Go Cubs!

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

Posted on 10 September 2015 by Bob

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

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

Cubs beat cards

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

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

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

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

Let’s Go Cubs!

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Cubs 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 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.

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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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