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

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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.

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

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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

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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.

 

Carpenter Hits 3 HR’s to Key 18-5 Rout of Cubs

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By Richard Kagan

Matt Carpenter went five for five including 3 HR’s and two doubles, to lead the St. Louis Cardinals over the Chicago Cubs, 18-5, in an afternoon game at Wrigley Field.

Carpenter hit five extra-base hits, a Cardinals record, and drove in seven runs in a terrific day at the plate. Cubs ace Jon Lester did not have it today and was roughed up for eight runs and seven hits in three innings. The Cardinals scored seven runs in the fourth innng to put the game away. At one point St. Louis had a 15-1 lead.

Three positions players pitched the last three innings for the Cubs. Tommy La Stella, Victor Caratini, and Ian Happ filled in for the bull pen. Manager Joe Maddon said he wanted to save the BP because of the upcoming day-night double-header tomorrow.

It didn’t matter if the wind was blowing out. The balls were blowing out. Carpenter had two HR’s by the second inning. Jon Lester, the ace of the Cubs staff with a 12-2 record, hadn’t lost a game since late May. Well, streaks are made to be broken.

No one could hold down the Cardinals today. Brian Duensing came on after Lester was lifted and he didn’t fare well either.  The Cubs climbed into first place in the Central Division by winning 13 of 16 games. Milwaukee went on a recent losing streak and the Cubs took advantage creating a three game entering today’s first pitch. It is too early to check the scoreboard but it is not too early to be concerned that a team can score seven runs in an inning to damper the home crowd’s enthusiasm.  It must have been odd to see La Stella take the mound but he did. He gave up a homer and so did Caratini. Happ did not give up a dinger. Hey, sign him up!

Seriously, the Cubs have been hitting great. They just ran into a game where not too much went right. That happens in baseball.

Trade talks have intensified. The Cubs may be in the market for a reliable starter. The status of Yu Darvish who has yet to come off the disabled list due to an arm injury and the so-so outings of Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana have led many observers to believe the Cubs are talking trade with teams who have a pitcher to sell.  What players are in the trade scenario’s, no one knows. But making a deal seems almost a foregone conclusion.

For now, it’s back to field where the Cubs will attempt to rebound from a lop-sided defeat. Sometimes it is good to have a short memory.

Cubs Hitters Are As Hot as Chicago Temps

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by Richard Kagan

The Chiacgo Cubs are one streaky team. Fresh off a five game losing streak, including a four losses to the last place Reds, The Cubs busted out in Los Angeles with two Javy Baez HR’s. One was a grand slam, that for me, cemented his spot on the All-Star team.

Then the Cubs came back to Wrigley where the temperatures reached sauna like conditions. It got so bad that three Minnesota players got heat related issues and had to be taken from the lineup.

Baez had a comment about the weather saying, “I’m used to it.” He certainly flourished at the plate in recent games, going 14-29, with 2 HR’s and 11 rbi’s and he was great in the field, making all the right moves at second base and on the base paths.

The Cubs swept a three game series with the Twins and the combination of the weather and the Cubs bats seemed to wither the Minny pitching staff. Balls were flying all over the place. The Cubs scored double-digits in four straight games for the first time since 1930.

Addison Russell’s bat woke up and he went 10-25 with some key hits. Jason Heyward has been hot as a July firecracker since coming back to the lineup from a concussion. Batting second in the lineup has done wonders for him. He has batted .324 since his return. He also hit a grand-slam to walk-off a win which was a huge hit. Albert Almora has gone 9 for 22 and has elevated his batting average to .331, 5th highest in MLB.

All Almora does is produce when he is at the plate and I hope Maddon finds a spot for him the daily lineup.

Anthony Rizzo keeps driving in runs, He now has over 50 rbi’s for the third year in row at this time of the season. He has also raised his BA to .250.

It seems like the Cubs like the friendly confines. They are 12 games over .500 and trail Milwaukee by 1/2 game with a game in hand.  Right now the Cubs are hot…and we’ve seen them when they are cold. I like hot better.

The concern is the starting pitching. The Cubs basically have a great Jon Lester who has gone 11-2 for the season.  Mike Montgomery has done an admirable job as spot starter. The other starters are kind of underwhelming. Quintana can’t get out of the 5th inning. Hendricks has gotten hit hard in his last two starts. Chatwood is as wild as an untamed stallion and Yu Darvish is missing in action. The jury is out on Darvish. I wouldn’t expect too much from him unless he makes a miraculous recovery.

I always thought this club could hit and they are doing so without the services of Kris Bryant who will be coming off the disabled list shortly.

It’s a marathon season and the Cubs are half-way through. We know that they can hit. The pitching is a question mark that may well be addressed before the trade deadline.

 

Hey-Hey: Heyward Hits Walk-off Slam To Beats Phils, 7-5

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By Richard Kagan

The Chicago Cubs still have the flair for the dramatic.

In this case, Jason Heyward came to the plate with two outs in the bottom of the 9th inning, with the bases loaded. The Cubs were trailing Philadelphia 5-3 in a game where manager Joe Maddon made some questionable pitching moves.

That was erased with one swing of the bat off a pitch by Adam Morgan. Morgan threw Heyward a 97 mph fastball that Heyward struck and the ball went deep into the bleachers in right-center field, setting off a delirious reaction of the remaining fans at Wrigley Field.

Heywood was mobbed as he reached home plate and the Cubs had a great feel good victory that almost got away from them. Jose Quintana was sailing along in the 6th inning and had one out to go but Maddon took him out after 91 pitches and ten strikeouts to two walks. There were two men on base and the reliever Steve Chisuk promptly gave up a three run bomb to dead center on his first pitch.  Not a good sign.

Now the game was tied at 3-all. The bull pen faltered again when Dylan Cozens hit a two run home run, his first of the season off of closer Brandon Morrow to give Philadelphia a 5-3 lead heading to the bottom of the 9th inning.

The Cubs loaded the bases and Adam Morgan was brought in to get the final out.  Heyward has been hitting better since he came off the DL a month ago. But he hadn’t had an extra base hit versus a lefty until last night. On a 2-2 count, Heyward swung and sent the ball deep into the nlght.

The part of the 40,000+ crowd that stayed saw an ending that hadn’t happened since 1968 when Ron Santo hit a grand slam with the Cubs trailing to win a ballgame.

From the jaws of defeat to the joy of victory.  You’d think it was the intro of  the famed Wide World of Sports show on ABC.  No, this was just the Cubs in a major gut check and they passed with flying colors.

It’s a long season, but this game has to be a highlight. The people who left will say they were there to see it. Those who were there, will probably remember this ending forever.

I’ll say this, the Phillies are not your weak sister. They are a determined bunch ready to make a mark in the National League East. The Cubs are in the process of finding themselves.

This game had to help.

Cubs Fan 24 Times But Beat Mets in Extras, 7-1

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By Richard Kagan

I have been a Cubs follower for many years. Back to when Sundays were double-headers at Wrigley. And, when the wind collected the hot dog wrappers up in the air near home plate.

So it with some satisfaction that the Cubs beat the Mets at Citifield Saturday nite despite fanning 24 times in a 14 inning game.  The Cubs stranded some 17 runners, and had the bases loaded three times but did not score. Until the 14th innng, when Chicago pounced on the beleaguered Mets bullpen for 6 big ones, two coming on a Javy Baez pinch-hit homer. Albert Almora, Jr. drove in two runs with a double.

I still remember 1969 when the Mets overtook the Cubs late in the summer on their way to the World Series. Those were the Miracle Mets back then.  In 2016, The Cubs produced their own version of a miracle by finally winning a World Series title.

A few posts ago I alluded to the Cubs being a freight train slowly picking up speed. The train is going clackity-clack on the track. And, then gradually, the train picks up speed. You don’t want to mess with a freight train going at full speed.

I hope the Cubs are gaining that speed. They know have a 32-23 record and trail the Brewers by three games. A few weeks ago, one could say, “The season is still early.” Well, we’ve played a third of the season and the Cubs are a work in progress.

Anthony Rizzo, the first base slugger, has had a slow start of the season. But he is warming up. His back woes seem to be a thing of the past. He has raised his batting average to .245. It was in the high teens before. He has driven in 28 runs in the month of May, the second most in the majors. He now has 38 for the year.  For the Cubs to make some noise, one has to have Anthony Rizzo going on full cylinders and that looks like it is happening.

Nine games over .500 and one still can’t figure out the Cubbies. Maybe they like it that way. It seems like they play to the beat of their own drum. They have a new hitting coach in Chili Davis, and still the KO’s are alarming. It’s great to see the two-base hit and the home run, but can’t they manufacture runs?  Joe Maddon’s teams in Tampa Bay did that. They had no choice. The Cubs need to broaden their offensive attack. Hit for the dinger, but play smart small ball as the situation arises. They have players who can carry that philosophy out. Spend more time practicing bunting in the cages before the game and bring it into the game plan.

Jon Lester had an at-bat in a recent game. The situation called for him to move a runner. He did by getting an infield ground out. Maddon later said he thought Lester was one of the better bunters on the team. He is a starting pitcher. Some other players need  to improve their bunting too. It can only help during a long season.

After Sunday’s game, the Cubs come home for another home stand. Now we move to a part of the season where the weather can’t be an excuse.