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.
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.
By Richard Kagan
The Chicago Cubs are an up and down baseball team. They win five than lose five then win five —and so it goes. And, they are still in the Division race and trail the Brewers by three games. The Cubs are 25-20 and it feels like they are close to putting it all together, and then, another losing streak appears.
Manager Joe Maddon has been preaching patience with both the pitchers and certain hitters. Then we come to Tyler Chatwood’s latest outing, where he gave up six walks in less than three innings pitched. Chatwood leads the majors in walks given up. He is the so-called fifth starter and he pitches like it. One time he pitches pretty good, giving the team a solid six innings. The next start you scratch your head and wonder why the Cubs signed him for $36 million dollars.
Kyle Hendricks has been hit hard lately. And, one hopes that the “mini-Maddux” can still hit the corners with his deceptive array of pitches. If not, he has a tendency to look like he is about to get shelled out there.
Maddon thinks his team will start to fire as the weather gets warmer. He thinks the hitters will start to produce and the pitchers will make their pitches. The Cubs hitting has been tantalizing at times. The Cubs had a +72 run differential a few days ago. That has changed with the 10-1 beatdown by the Cleveland Indians. The Cubs have hit well at Wrigley Field and not hit as well on the road. Well, they are now home for some games. Maybe they can strike it up and score some runs.
One doesn’t know with these Cubbies. They are an inconsistent bunch so far. Cubs fans know the twists and turns of a baseball season. We watched in great joy as the 2016 Cubs won games they weren’t supposed to win. Comeback in the regular season and in the playoffs, and finally, that roller-coaster ride of Game 7.
Last season they had the magic in Game 5 of the NDLS against the Nationals when they scored off of ace Matt Scherzer to take the lead. They did it then. And, then they ran into a better team in the LA Dodgers.
I’d like to see them flex their stuff and go on a winning streak. Take eight out of nine games and make a statement. They have the talent. They just need to find their inner motor.
One wishes they’d find it sooner rather than later.
By Richard Kagan
The Chicago Cubs have been on quite a ride. In 2016 it won a coveted World Series Title that eluded this franchise for 108 years.
In the process, the Cubs manager, Joe Maddon has etched his name in baseball history and Chicago sports immortality.
Maddon, 64, and the oldest skipper in the big Leagues, does it his way. He manages by instinct and by tendencies. He manages by the seat of his pants and with a nod to baseball percentages. He recently put Javier Baez, the Cubs runs batted in leader in the lead-off spot. He did it despite Baez’s tendency to swing at pitches outside the strike zone. Maddon said that Baez has an intensity and energy that he felt could spark the team.
He got on base and Baez stole a base with a spectacular slide. Javy is Javy and he brings a sense of the unexpected to the field. Maddon knows this and penciled him in at the top of the lineup.
Maddon is in his 4th year with the Cubs after a lengthy stint with the Tampa Bay Rays, with teams often short on talent, but they always found a way to be relevant. He is 313-209 in his tenure in Chicago for a sporty .601 winning percentage. His teams have played terrific in the second half of the season in each of Maddon’s years. Last year they emerged from a first-half slump to win the NL Central Division and a berth in the playoffs with a late season charge to overtake the Milwaukee Brewers.
Maddon tries to keep things loose in the clubhouse. During a summer road-trip, the Cubs flew to the west coast in ‘Onesies.’ Last year, the team dressed in what can be called a knock-off of “Five Easy Pieces”, the movie about a motorcycle road trip that catapulted Jack Nicholson to stardom. It’s a long season and Maddon tries to lighten the load.
He has a day or a series of games where the players just go to the ballpark, change into uniforms and play, without taking batting practice.
The Cubs front office has given him a lot of talented players to work with. It is up to him to use the roster as he sees fit and he does get creative.
Managing the bull pen is enough to keep a skipper up at nights. Theo Epstein and company have given him new arms and some pitchers from last years squad to close out games. So far the bull pen has responded. Maddon has to know when he can use a pitcher and for how long in the inning. Every pitch counts and as the season progresses, the games will get pressure packed.
Before he came to the Cubs Maddon was considered one of the games best and being in the Windy City has cemented his name in baseball lore.
By Richard Kagan
The Chicago Cubs bats are coming alive. Just in time.
The Cubs were mired in a five game losing streak and went for almost two weeks without scoring more than three runs in a game. Then the Cubs played Miami at Wrigley and came out of the slump. They scored runs in bunches and the offense woke up. They swept the Marlins and beat the Chisox 11-2 on Friday as Willson Contreras knocked in 7 runs with two home runs and two doubles. One of the homers was a grand slam that landed in the basket in left-center field.
Kris Bryant also hit a home run and now has seven in this relatively young season. He looks much more comfortable at the plate since being hit in the head with a fastball in a recent game.
The calender keeps coming and there are games to be played, bad weather or not. Friday’s game was played in cold and cloudy conditions. Fans seemed to huddle in their seats to brace themselves from the elements. Not exactly a way to see a baseball game but that’s Chicago weather. One day it might be chilly and the next day, summer.
The Cubs bats have come alive. Or rather, Contreras who had four hits on the day. In his last ten at-bats, he has hit for extra bases in seven of them. He is now hitting .268 for the season. Anthony Rizzo is warming up too. His batting average jumped from the .140’s to .213 in a matter of days. He is primed to swing back to his top-notch form at the plate.
Javier Baez has ten home runs and has driven in 34 runs. He leads the league in RBI’s. He has cut down on the strike-outs and is hitting for power with a .617 slugging percentage.
Chicago is third in the League with 189 runs scored, 2nd in the League in On Base Percentage, and third in the League in team batting average (.258). The numbers are good in light of the miserable weather the team faced in the early weeks of the season, with the slew of postponed games.
The Cubs have feasted on mediocre pitching. They managed to eke out wins versus the Brewers, a team with some good arms. In baseball you play against who you face. It really is one game at a time. The Cubs are in the middle of a three game series with city rival, the lowly Chicago White Sox. Then they face the Atlanta Braves in a makeup game on Monday. Then its back on the road.
It is a long season with many twists and turns but things are trending up for the Cubs.
By Richard Kagan
The Chicago Cubs have likely found the team’s lead-off hitter, in the up and coming Albert Almora, Jr.
Almora has been the lead-off hitter for most of the early season and recently had a ten game hitting streak halted. Almora has been able to get on base and set the table for the rest of the lineup. He is now bating .292 and has been one of the steadiest hitters in this stop and go start of the 2018 season.
He has also flashed some serious leather patroling center-field and on April 22nd, made three circus like catches against the Colorado Rockies in Denver.
He robbed Nolan Arenado of extra-bases in deep left-center with a lunging grab to take away at least a run-scoring double. He also took runs off the board when he made another great catch off of Noel Cuevas. In the last of the 9th inning, he hauled in a long drive and crashed into the wall and literally bounced back onto the field. He was slightly shaken up but otherwise he was ok.
Bud Black, manager of the Rockies praised Almora for his performance. “Their centerfielder probably made two of the greatest plays I’ve seen in my career,” Black noted.
Almora, 24, is making it hard for Joe Maddon, the Cubs manager, to keep him on the bench. Ian Happ, the promising outfielder was in the lead-off spot earlier in the season and hit the first pitch of the season deep for a home run. But Happ has fanned in almost half of his at-bats thus opening the way for Almora to see some playing time.
He’s been on the Cubs roster for two years and he figures to be in the Cubs plans for a long time. It’s probable that other teams have inquired about him. But the front office has not made any deals. Almora is a talented player and fans should get used to seeing him in the lead-off position this year.
By Richard Kagan
It’s cold and kind of dreary where I live, and I wish for warmer weather and sunny skies. The Cubs have had a few nice days to play the game of baseball. Chicago has had a lot of postponements due to inclement weather and tonight the Yankees are playing at home and it’s a wonder they got that game in.
Yesterday, the Cubs hit four home runs and had 15 hits and Tyler Chatwood pitched decently and Chicago won 10-3 in Cleveland, where we all remember the rain late in Game 7 of the World Series. Kyle Schwarber hit two blasts to right field, one a booming home run that was hit high and far into the stands.
When the Cubs start hitting, and lately they have been, the team looks formidable. Yeah, pitching gets you far into the post-season. But you have to hit the ball too. Hopefully, the starters will warm up as the temps increase. One can only hope with Yu Darvish.
The Cubs have one of the better run differentials in the National League, a plus 31 heading into tonight’s action. That is the number arrived when you subtract runs allowed from runs scored. The Cubs’ batting averages are rising. if they continue to hit, it will be “rockets red glare.” Cubs fans look forward to a collective team hitting spree.
Anthony Rizzo is hitting the ball now that he’s back in the lineup. Javier Baez has had a great month of April, hitting with men on base and his slugging percentage is tops on the team. Kris Bryant is recovering from taking a 96 mph fastball to his face that turned his batting helmet around, knocked off his sun-glasses and caused a cut above his left eye.
He did not take the field in Cleveland. I looked at the box score and wondered if the Cleveland pitcher had hit a batter and sure enough, Anthony Rizzo got plunked. Perhaps it is better that Bryant took the night off. There’s always Wrigley Field.
The Cubs are now 11-9 for the young season. They are trending up, having won four of its last five games. They’ve played a lot of road games to start the season and will head back to the Friendly Confines for a welcomed home-stand.
Hopefully, some good weather awaits them.