Wild Card Woes: Cubs Fall 2-1 in Extras

Joe Maddon

By Richard Kagan

The Chicago Cubs lost a marathon 13 inning Wild Card game at Wrigley Field that lasted fours hours and fifty five minutes. The Final Score 2-1, Rockies.

Chicago didn’t have the offensive punch in these last two games of import, the game vs. Milwaukee to break the tie in the NL Central, which it lost 3-1. And, this Wild Card game, the first game of the post-season, a winner advances, loser goes home affair.

The Cubs lost and now it has, for them, an earlier off-season than anticipated. Chicago won 95 games this past season. They did it on a powerful offense and good pitching, especially in the BP, in the first half of the season. But, as the injuries mounted to the pitchers, notably Yu Darvish’s bum pitching arm, the BP was called on more. Of course, the disappointing season of Tyler Chatwood contributed to the BP issues. Chatwood could not throw a strike if he had a vacant batter-box.  Kris Bryant missed weeks of baseball due to a sore shoulder. He came back with about three weeks left the season was finding his stroke at the plate.

In this 2-1 loss, the Cubs came oh so close to breaking open this game. Catchers interference lead to loading the bases for Jason Heyward who faced the Rockies’ starter Kyle Freeland. Freeland made the Cubs hitters look silly through 6 2/3 innings. Heyward struck out to end the threat and inning.

The Cubs pitching was very good. Jon Lester gave it his all. Cole Hamels pitched in relief and was strong. Kyle Hendricks was effective till the 13th inning. Pedro Strop pitched fine 9th inning. Strop was coming back from a layoff due to a pulled hammy.

Cubs fans were on their feet almost the entire game. The tension was palpable. But the Cubs only had six hits in 13 innings. And against the Brewers they had three hits. In 22 innings of key baseball, the Cubs scored two runs. If you can’t score you can’t win, no matter how good the pitching might be. And, in this case, it was very good. The hitting was the culprit.

Twitterers were calling for the dismissal of Chili Davis, the hitting coach. The Cubs hit 56 less home runs than it did last season.

Anthony Rizzo summed it up when he said, “We lost to better teams.” Javy Baez was more defiant. He thought the Cubs were focused too much on the opposition and not enough on playing the game.  Jon Leter said, “Sometimes it is good to have the (expletive) kicked out of you.”

One thing is pretty clear, the Cubs will have a longer off-season to ponder what went wrong and what went right.  Some say manager Joe Maddon did an excellent job with all the injuries to the club.  He made some questionable moves and he made some brilliant ones.

But the off-season begins and expect some changes to be made in Chicago.

 

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It’s Crunch Time for Cubbies

wrigley field

By Richard Kagan

Cubs fans are used to this scene. The Cubs had what was a seemingly safe lead, over the Milwaukee Brewers with two weeks to play.  Now, that lead is down to a mere half game.

The talk in Chicago was who would be in the rotation for the upcoming playoffs? Would Bryant be ready to play? Could Baez keep up his MVP like performance on the playoff stage?

Now, the questions are more focused on can the Cubs make the playoffs? Losing two games to the Buccos (Pirates) can do that to you.  There are five games left in the season and the Cubs have a magic number of one to make the wild card entry in the post-season and five to clinch the division.

The season seems on the verge of slipping away. The Cubs can still make the playoffs, but they would get in as a wild-card in a one game playoff, a la 2015 when the team beat Pittsburgh to advance to the NLDS.

The Cubs can’t hit the ball right now. They’ve scored one run off Pittsburgh in 18 innings.

The Cubs are better than this. At least when the team hits, you have a feeling they can do something. When they are silent at the plate, one has to shake one’s head in dismay.  In truth, this team looks tired. If they fall out of the race and don’t play well against the Cardinals, the talk will be that 30 day streak where they played a game every day.  The team had no days off.  Just following this team was tiring. Imagine how playing the games were.

Now, we are down to two games against Pittsburgh and three vs. the Cardinals. It would be an utter collapse if the Cubs lost all five. But their chances of winning the division are rapidly diminishing. Everyone is struggling at the plate except Baez, who always seems to come up with the big hit. Even Daniel Murphy has gone silent and he was so hot when he came over from Washington in a deal. Cole Hamels has cooled off from his great start with Chicago. He kept the Cubs in the race. Now, Jon Lester is being talked about as the starter if the Cubs play in the wild-card game.

They’ve won 91 games, the Brewers at 91-67 are breathing down their backs. I’d like to see the Cubs get into the playoffs. I’d also like to see them rest players and not have to play the Cardinals like one’s post-season life depended on it. You got to give credit to Milwaukee. They just would not go away. They hung in there. They collectively hit when the team needed it. And, they have an excellent BP.

The Cubs don’t have a closer. They haven’t been able to nail down a Division title. Now, the Cubbies are playing for their post-season lives. This team has been up and down all season. Now, they just need an up.

Will the Real Cubs Show Up?

Cubs logo

By Richard Kagan

This blog is about impressions not statistics. The Cubs won last night and have a two game lead over the Milwaukee Brewers. The Cubs won the game despite getting only three base hits.

This is what disburbs me: the Cubs are a streaky team. Yes, they have one of  the better team BA in the National League. They have a great run differential.  Was leading the League last time I checked, although that might have changed.  The Cubs drive in runs, when the team hits.

Except, one doesn’t know when this team is gonna hit the ball. Some days they are smashing extra bases left and right. Last night, the team got some timely hitting from Victor Caratini, the reserve catcher who had a great a-bat to drive in a run on a liner that went over the second baseman’s glove. It was a ten pitch at-bat. Caratini fouled off pitch after pitch until he got one that he could put into play and Caratini made contact and drove in a run to make it 2-0 over the Brew Crew.

Jose Quintana pitched a terrific game going deep, shutting down the Brew Crew’s dangerous offense.  The Bullpen held up its own and Chicago nailed down the win, to set up today’s game where Kyle Hendricks attempts to carry the pitching forward for the series win and another plus one win. It’s time to start talking about magic numbers and the Cubs magic number is 14, I believe.

Chicago is in the midst of a long consecutive game streak. If their scheduled game vs. Washington on Thursday is rained out, which it likely will be, the Cubs will finally have an off day after playing what seems like a gazillion games in a row. If Chicago is forced to play that game, then it will be playing for what might be 30 games straight. The light is at the end of the tunnel, wherever that is.

But Chicago is looking for a rainout and not a re-scheduling of the game in another city, as has been done in the past.  The Cubs would like the game to be played at the end of the regular season if it affects the standings.

The Cubs have played most of their away games, and the long road trip recently concluded, ate up a lot of road games. They go on the road to Arizona and then cross-town to play the Chicago White Sox.

At this time of the season, the old adage, “one game at time” rings true. A commentator in last night’s game said that the Cubs are fighting to wrap up its division, something that was basically solved the last two years.

This is a different team. One thing you can say about the Cubs, is ” let’s see what happens.”

Up and Down Cubs Are Up Again

rizzo swing

By Richard Kagan

The Chicago Cubs are on a six game win streak. They defeated Noah Syndergaard, the hard throwing right hander of the NY Mets, 7-4. The Cubs are now 24 games above the .500 mark, the highest they’ve been this season. They lead the St. Louis Cards by 4.5 games. They lead the Milwaukee Brewers by 5 games, with six games in the loss column.

Why then is this Cubs fan a little skeptical that they will continue to play well?

This season the Cubs have had their ruts and then they come out of it. Recently, the Cubs scored just one run a game in five straight games. The Cubs went 2-3 in that stretch due to the excellent starts from two pitchers.  I want to see this team play well. It’s just that they are streaky.

The Cubs have been able to withstand the loss of Kris Bryant, due to a sore shoulder muscle for a month, and also the absense of Brandon Morrow, the team’s closer, with arm issues. Bryant is at Iowa, working his way back to the Big Club. Morrow, his return is still undetermined.  It is important that the Cubs get Morrow back. Chicago has been able to close out games with Pedro Strop, filling in for Morrow. But last night, manager Joe Maddon came out and had the quick hook for Strop in probably what was his shortest appearance of the season.  Twitter users were using the expletives freely and then gave Maddon a pat on the back as he pulled Strop from the game. Reliever Jessie Chavez then came on and got the needed outs to end the game.

It is good that Maddon had Chavez to go to. He has been effective since he came over from Texas. Speaking of effective, how about the job that Cole Hamels has done in his brief time with the Cubs? He has provided length and stability to the starting pitchers. He tossed a complete game in his last start with the Cubs, the first such outing for the Cubs all season. He is 4-0 with an ERA under 1.00 in very effective work. When he was with the Phillies back in 2015 he no-hit the Cubs at Wrigley Field. Now, he wears the Cubs uniform as he attempts to get to the post-season. He was a terrific pick-up for the team and has made the starting pitching much stronger. He is a pitcher now and doesn’t blow batters away. But he can KO a hitter if they aren’t awake in the batters box.

Then there is Anthony Rizzo, who was just named NL player of the week for the week just passed. He hit a round-tripper last night and now has 22 for the season. He is on track to reach 100 rbi’s if he gets the opportunity to drive runners in. And, that he does almost automatically.  Javy Baez has put up the gaudy numbers, almost reach 100 rbi’s with 97 driven up. He is on track to hit over 30 HR’s this campaign.  But Rizzo has quietly put up some strong power numbers and has raised his average to .276, a far cry from the frozen climes of early Spring.  Rizzo has gotten the job done as lead-off batter and from his customary third spot in the lineup.

Chicago is looking better than they did in their last road trip to Pittsburgh. After this homestand ends, they will hit the road for a lengthy road trip.

You never know with this team, you just have to hope for the best. So far, the Cubs are looking darn good.

 

Bote’s Drama-filled Bomb Beats Nats, 4-3

Cubs logo

By Richard Kagan

I am still giddy over David Bote’s dramatic walk-off Grand Slam in the bottom of the 9th inning to beat the Washington Nationals, 4-3 at Wrigley Field.

I’ve seen the replay ten times after watching the hit in real time and was thrilled and yet in disbelief at the same time.  I saw the climax building in the 9th when Ryan Madson hit Wilson Contreras to load the bases with two outs. “Hey, this ball game isn’t over,” I mused. The fleeting thought of hitting a grand slam came and went and was replaced by  “how about a double down the right field line to clear the bases?”

When Bote hit his drive, it was a no-doubter. That ball sailed deep over the wall in center field. One of the hardest hit homers I’d seen all season. I was incredulous. This club is magical. The pitching is questionable. But tonight, Cole Hamels answered a lot of questions going 7 innings in a sparkling night on the mound.  He was dominant as was Max Scherzer of the Nats who looked every bit like a Cy Young Award winner. I had sent out a tweet saying, “Looks like Scherzer is pitching so well, a 1-0 lead can hold up.” He left with a 1-0 lead that went to 3–0 when the Nats scored twice in the top of the 9th innng.

Now, the Cubs needed a major rally. They did it. You know, right now the Cubs have the Nationals number. And, David Bote, a 25 year old rookie, will be playing more in the Bigs. It wasn’t just a walk-off homer. Jason Heyward also hit a grand-slam homer in the 9th inning. But this signaled the arrival of a player too good to leave on the bench. Madson had two strikes on him but Bote connected with a solid swing. That says a lot.

Bote was mobbed at home plate by the team and a few guys ripped off his jersey and doused him with ice to “cool him off.” Let’s hope that it is only temporary. Let’s hope that the Cubs ride this win to more wins and that they are able to solidify their lead in the NL Central.

The Cubs won last night 4-3 in a game that won’t be forgotten for quite some time. Fans in Cub Nation got quite thrill on a late Sunday night.  Just when you least expect it, the baseball Gods can offer some mighty gifts.

Cubs Survive Shaky 9th inning, Beat Padres 5-4

wrigley field

by Richard Kagan

It was a weight-loss inducing 9th inning at Wrigley Field this afternoon. The Padres scored two runs to cut the Cubs lead to 5-4. A runner was cut down at home plate, the second such play in the game.

David Bote playing third base, fielded a grounder and threw a strike to catcher Victor Caratini to nail Cory Spangenburg at home plate in the top of the 9th inning.  Pedro Strop, the reliever, put the Cubs on a high-wire act in that inning. However he escaped and so did the Cubs who are now 63-46 for the season. Javy Baez continues to shine at the plate and in the field. He hit his 23rd home run, tying his season high with a third of the season left. He also throw out a runner at home plate in the top of the 8th inning.

Javy is having a MVP type season for Chicago. He now leads the National League with 84 rbi’s for the season. Soon, he will be flirting with Kris Byrant numbers.

Speaking of Bryant. He is still on the DL and his return is not far down the line, but the Cubs don’t want to push it. This is his second stint on the DL. The Cubs need him playing well down the stretch. Brandon Morrow, the closer for the Cubs is also the DL and his return is still a question mark. Thus, it being closer by committee. Today, Strop drew the straw and he barely made it through.

It was good to see Anthony Rizzo continue his torrid hitting at the lead off spot. He drove his 16th HR to the basket in right field near the foul line but the ball stayed fair.

Joe Maddon, manager of the Cubs thought the game was nailed down by the sparkling plays on defense late in the game. “We won that game on defense,” Maddon told the AP.

The Cubs have two more home games against the Padres and then fly to KC for a series there. Kansas City is having  a tough year in the American League Central. It is time for the Cubs to pick it up and put together a streak.

The Cubs are 8-8 since the All-Star game break. They aren’t lighting up the League. But there is still time. Chicago made moves to bolster the pitching getting starter Cole Hamels for practically a steal. Hamels went out and struck out nine in his first game as a Cub for the victory against the Pirates.

Maybe Hamels can do what Jose Quintana did last year for the Cubs, put some life in the pitching staff.

 

 

 

Tough Sledding in Schedule, Cubs First in Central

rizzo pic

By Richard Kagan

The Cubs just took three games out of five vs. their rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals, and put some breathing room between them. The Cubs find themselves in first place in the NL Central (58-40) and lead the Milwaukee Brewers by three and a half games.

The Cubs now face the Arizona Diamondbacks for a four game set at Wrigley to conclude this current homestand.  Luke Farrell takes the mound for the Cubs. Farrell (3-3) has seen mostly relief work as he finds his comfort level.

What we learned in the just ended series vs. St. Louis. One, Jesse Chavez can pitch. He appeared in two games since being picked up in a minor deal with Texas an threw impressively. Chavez worked three blank innings of late inning relief to bolster a tired and depleted BP. Brandon Morrow landed in the 10 day DL a few days ago. The injury doesn’t appear to be serious but management thought he needed the rest.  That set up a closer by committee with Steve Chisek carrying some of the load. Pedro Strop also made a late inning appearence and saved a game.

Anthony Rizzo has really responded since being put in the lead off spot. He has batted well over .500 in recent games and upped his BA to .262, inching toward Rizzo’s zone.  He was mired in one of his slumps but he found his stroke and has gotten on base a lot. In the game where the Cubs won 7-2 vs. St. Louis,  Rizzo was hit by a pitch, got a base hit, and walked in the same game. That’s getting on base, what lead-off hitters are supposed to do.

The Cubs batting order has produced nice runs in getting singles, moving the runners along, and scoring runs. That was the case in the bottom of the 8th inning when Chicago scored three runs to pad its 4-2 lead. Against the Cards, one needs all the runs you can get.

Jose Quintana pitched seven quality innings, throwing 121 pitches, the most in his career to pick up his 9th win of the season. Jon Maddon, manager of the Cubs said, he needed Q to give the Cubs some innings and he certainly did. It was a very good outing and that bodes well on the pitching side of things.

The big question is how will the pitching hold up as Chicago is playing in a stretch that will see them play 53 games in 56 days. The Cubs will only have four days off in that time.  Rumors are that the Cubs are seeking BP help in the form of Zach Britton, a lefty reliever from the Orioles. Britton is coming off a Achilles tendon injury. He has only thrown recently in a few games. The Cubs are aware of Britton’s status. It is hoped that they don’t give up the farm for him if they make a deal. It is likely the Cubs will make a deal. The question is who will be trade bait?

In baseball , it is one game at a time. The All-Star break is over. Now, the games take on added importance.  Anthony Rizzo has talked about the season being a marathon race. Right now, the Cubs are one of the leaders.