Cubs lose in Last Gasp 5 run Rally in 8th Inning, 6-3 to even Series 1-1

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By Richard Kagan

Jon Lester gave it his all, and held the Nationals to one run. The Nationals had a handful of hits going into th 8th inning and the energy of the crowd was lifeless.

Bruce Harper’s mighty swing changed all that in a instant. He hit a hanging curve by C.J. Edwards, and the ball jolted to the upper deck and tied the game with a two-run homer.

Now, the score was 3-3 and it was anybody’s game. Two more batters reached and with two on, Ryan Zimmerman connected off of lefty Mike Montgomery as the ball sailed over the left field wall to make the score 6-3 Nationals. Just like that.

Nationals manager Dusty Baker said he thought his team would start to hit after being shut down for almost two games. And hit they did. Now, the series shifts to Wrigley Field and the friendly confines.  If the Cubs win two games there, the series would be over. A split in Chicago, sends the series back to D.C. for the fifth and deciding game.

Willson Contreras hit a home run to tie the game early and Anthony Rizzo hit a two run homer to all but silence the Big Red crowd.  Rizzo now holds franchise records for most HR’s in a playoff (6) and most RBI’s, (16).

The issue in this game is that hardly anyone else did any damage and the Cubs were holding onto a slim 3-1 with a sleeping giant across the way.  Harper who had just 5 hits in 24 at-bats since coming off a knee injury and the all-star missed 42 games before the last days of the season.  He connected off an Edwards mistake to tie up the game.

These Cubs don’t do anything easy.  It would have been stunning to take a 2-0 lead back to Chicago and wrap this up before the home town crowd.  Now, we have a ourselves a series. It wasn’t that left-hander Gio Gonzales pitched great. He didn’t finish the game. The Cubs could not get anything going to plate some runs. They had four hits late in game on three runs. You are just asking for trouble with that linescore. Washington made a few hits and some big ones count and now the series is even.

It will be good to go back to Wrigley with an opportunity to take control of this fairly evenly matched series.


Cubs Beat Nationals behind Hendricks and Rizzo, 3-0, take 1-0 lead in Series

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By Richard Kagan

The Chicago Cubs had silenced the sold-out Washington Nationals crowd of 43,898 when the Cubs scored two runs in the top of the 6th inning.

Javy Baez reached first base on an error by third baseman Anthony Rendon. The pitcher, Kyle Hendricks sacrificed him to second base, giving up the out. Kris Bryant, who earlier had struck out twice against power pitcher Stephen Strasburg, and had a two strike count, hit a single which scored Baez.  Anthony Rizzo, who looked anemic against Strasburg hit another single to score Bryant and now it was 2-0 Cubs.  Suddenly, Strasburg  who had fanned 10 Cubs, was hittable. Now, Hendricks seemed like the difficult pitcher to hit. “We waited him out and took advantage of opportunities,” said Rizzo.

Rizzo came up again in the 8th inning and met every challenge from veteran Ryan Madson, on in relief of Strasburg. He fouled off pitch after pitch, until he made Madson throw a pitch he could hit. A hit that went to left field for a double and that scored another run to make it 3-0. Suddenly, three runs seemed like a lot on this muggy night.

The Cubs closer Wade Davis came in the 9th inning to seal the deal. Washington Nationals had two hits and had been shut-out. The Cubs were being no-hit until the 6th inning but managed to score two runs. Kyle Hendricks matched Strasburg each inning. And, Hendricks got the decision. Now, it leads 1-0 in this best of 5 games series, with another game in D.C.

The Cubs are young, experienced, and dangerous. They look like they aren’t going anywhere —if they weren’t hungry before, they are now.  They went 15-4 to end the season and secure the Central Division title. The Cubs just had 5 hits but it was enough to beat Washington. They only had two. Hendricks kept the power hitters, who had made swiss cheese of league pitching, totally off-balance. Daniel Murphy, the noted Cubs killer, had a silent night.

If you can’t hit it is hard to win. If you can’t pitch, it is hard to win.

Tonight the Cubs had better pitching and timely hitting. And, now it has a 1-0 series lead.

Cubs In The Playoffs; To play Nationals on Friday Night

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By Richard Kagan

The Chicago Cubs are headed to the playoffs for the third straight year.

I believe this is what Cubs President Theo Epstein had in mind when he wanted to change the culture of the team. To stockpile the Cubs with talent up and down the lineup and transform them from lovable losers to lovable winners.  Cubs fans of new generations are getting used to seeing this team in October. Young kids are seeing their favorite players play in the biggest games. That is what helps solidify the fan base and it expands it.  The Cubs had a terrific year in attendance in Wrigley Field, drawing well over 3,000,000 people.  When you get down to it, that’s a lot of hot dogs and Cubs hats.

Instead of Ernie Banks and Ron Santo, the Cubs have Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, two of the best young Cubs players to come along in many years. Rizzo put up slugger numbers once again, hitting over 30 home runs and driving in well over 100 rbi’s. Bryant did not hit 30 HR’s but came close it.  He did lead the team in runs scored, doubles, and had a high on base percentage in the second half of the season. His home run against Milwaukee was a huge hit, only to be topped by Addison Russell’s 3-run homer against the Cardinals in the clinching game.

There was a stretch when the Cubs had won 14 of 17 games to create some distance between the contenders in the division. They finished the year at 92-70, 6 games ahead of the Brewers. And, this was a team that was 5 ½ behind Milwaukee before the All-Star break. The Cubs were one of the hottest teams in the National League, perhaps behind the Dodgers who went into a prolonged losing streak that prompted doubts among its followers. The Dodgers eventually pulled out of it, and have home field advantage in the playoffs.

The Cubs go on the road to face the Washington Nationals on Friday with a strong pitching staff and Bryce Harper, one of the best players in baseball.  The Nats are managed by Dusty Baker.  He also managed the Cubs to the playoffs. Lately, the Nats have had trouble getting out of the first round. They make the playoffs and haven’t gotten beyond the NLDS. They will face a rested and battle-tested opponent in the Chicago Cubs.

Kyle Hendricks or Jon Lester are the two pitchers likely to get the nod for starting in game one. The series will go by quickly. It is best of five. The first two games are in D.C, and the next two are in Chicago. Game five will be played back in D.C.

A lot of words will be written prior to Friday about this series. But no one really knows what is going to happen. It’s best to start game one and see who is the better team.  In a week or so, we will know.


Cubs In Playoffs with 5-1 Win Over Cards

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By Richard Kagan

The Chicago Cubs are headed to the playoffs after its 5-1 win over the St. Louis Cardinals in Busch Stadium  last night.

The Cubs (89-69) rallied for five runs in the seventh inning and sent 10 batters to the plate.  Shortstop Addison Russell had the big blow, a three run homer that nearly hugged the third base line. The ball stayed fair and sent the many Cubs fans in attendance to a Wrigley-like celebration.  Jason Heyward and Tommy La Stella had rbi doubles to give the bullpen a cushion.

John Lackey (12-11) pitched one of the best games of his season in perhaps the biggest game, going six innings, just allowing two hits and one run.

Chicago will now be in the post-season three straight years. The last time a Cubs team did that was in 1906-1908. Like the song says, “The times they are a changin.”

The Cubs are back in the post-season and one who has followed the team this season had to endure a roller-coaster ride. Up and down, two wins, and one loss, a three game losing streak, and winning two games, the Cubs played frustrating baseball until the All-star break. At the break, they were 2 games below .500 and trailed the Brewers by 5 ½ games and they lacked energy and mental focus. After acquiring White Sox pitcher Jose Quintana, the team seemed to take the mid-season trade like a shot in the arm, and started winning games.

Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant caught fire and catcher Willson Contreras had a breakout season at the plate. Then he injured his hamstring and his replacement Alex Avila, just acquired from the Detroit Tigers, filled in admirably.  Avila had a big hit in the Cubs’ win vs. the Blue Jays in August which scored the winning run.

Javy Baez played superbly at shortstop when Addison Russell was sidelined with a foot injury. When Russell returned, he hit a home run in his first at-bat. By then, the Cubs had its mojo back. But the Cubs had played 20 games in a row, were tired and were swept in a three game series vs. the Brewers. The Cubs now led Milwaukee by two games. Chicago swept the New York Mets and the St. Louis Cards at Wrigley to conclude the home-stand and things were on the upswing.

When Chicago won three out of four competitive games versus the Brewers in Milwaukee it seized control of the Central and it was just a matter of time before taking the Division.  The games in Milwaukee were of playoff-caliber and the Cubs played well. Every at-bat was fraught with tension. The Cubs had beaten back the upstart Brewers and then it was onto St. Louis with clinching at Busch Stadium, the foremost goal.

The Cubs got it done last night.  Players made plays. The Cubs rose to the moment, and seized it. Russell’s home run broke up a pitcher’s duel with the Cards leading 1-0.

Chicago will likely rest some players in the final remaining games and tinker with the starting rotation to prepare for the Washington Senators, one of the dominant teams in the National League. In this series the Cubs will be the underdogs, which is probably just where the Cubs like it.

As Jason Heyward said, “You gotta be in it to win it.”  Now, the Cubs are in it.

Cubs, Davis Lose To Shaw’s 2-Run HR in 10th


By Richard Kagan

The Chicago Cubs appeared to have this game almost wrapped up. But Wade Davis, the reliever who has been spot-on the the save department, gave up a HR in the 9th to Orlando Arcia to tie the game at 3 all. In the tenth, the Cubs scored a run to go up 4-3 in an attempt to all but wrap up the NL Central.

In comes Davis again, in the 10th, his second inning of relief.  Kyle Hendricks had pitched so well, going 7 innings in a 1-1 ball game, Then it feel to the BP. And, in the two first games of this nerve-wracking series, the Cubs Bullpen had been excellent. Pitching well in high pressure situations.  Each game went to extra innings. The Cubs had won the first two to put Milwaukee almost on the brink of shrugging off the division to go for the second wild-card berth in a race with the Rockies.

The Brewers have played the Cubs tough all series. In this game, Travis Shaw hit a two-run walk-off blast off of Wade Davis to end it suddenly for the Brewers, 4-3. Davis had been the All-Star representative for the Cubs. He has been at times, unhittable. But we saw cracks. He was on a bases loaded jam earlier in this series and managed to get out of it. He came back and struck out the side in the first game. These games have been competitive, The Cubs winning 5-3 on a dramatic Kris Bryant home run, and yesterday, pinch-hitter Tommy La Stella coaxed a bases loaded walk off the ace reliever, Corey Knebel to take a 5-4 lead. The Cubs held on and put the Brew Crew 5.5 games back with 9 games to play. The Cubs could practically taste the division title. If they make it, it would be the first time the Cubs had been in the post-season three years in a row since 1908 Cubs of Frank Chance.

But the celebrating has been put on hold. There is baseball yet to be played. And, while the Cubs have control of their destiny, they aren’t quite yet there. The Brewers are 4.5 games back with eight to play.   The Cubs play the St. Louis Cardinals in a four-game series in St. Louis where the post-season fortunes will likely be decided.

In this game, the Brewers made the plays in the critical 9th and 10th innings and came away with the win. The Cubs (86-68) will try again on Sunday.  Jose Quintana gets the ball and again, it will probably come down to the BP. Whoever has the rested arms, may come up with the win. These games with Milwaukee have all been nail-biters.

Sunday’s game shouldn’t be anything different.







Cubs Sweep Cards, Go 6 Games Up


By Richard Kagan

Cubs fans can breathe an exhale of relief after watching their team defeat St. Louis 4-3 to sweep the Cards in the series at Wrigley Field. The win gives the Cubs a season high 17 game above .500 record (83-66).

Chicago took the last six home games after being swept by the Brewers.  Chicago had played 20 straight games before the series with Milwaukee ended and it showed. Then the team had a day off and came back re-charged and pounded the poor Mets pitching for 39 runs in their three game series. It was the most runs the Cubs had scored since the 80’s in a series with Houston.

Short-stop Addison Russell is back. In his first at-bat he blasted a homer to the left-center bleachers.  Russell got on base in his five trips to the plate against the Cards. Javy Baez is now at second base and the Cubs have a great defense up the middle. Baez was a gem at shortstop and he has demonstrated his defensive skills at second base too. Willson Contreras did not play in the third game vs. St. Louis, he was on the bench due to a reduced suspension ( one game) for throwing his facemask, that hit the home plate umpire’s leg after bouncing to the ground.

The Cubs now have a four game lead over Milwaukee and a six game lead over St. Louis with key series remaining in Milwaukee and St. Louis over the next two weeks as the baseball season winds down.  The Cubs have eight games left against the Brew Crew and the Cardinals.  It is safe to say that playing on the road is going to be more difficult than playing in the “friendly confines.” But the schedule is winding down and there aren’t many games left and St. Louis has a lot of ground to make up.  The Cubs played well against the Cards and in yesterday’s win, Jason Heyward’s 7th inning single drove in the go-ahead run as Chicago won 4-3.   Kyle Schwarber hit a solo-blast to notch his 27th homer of the season.

Dexter Fowler hit a three run home run off left-hander Jose Quintana in the sixth inning to tie the game up at 3-3. And, he hit a long drive that stayed in the park to end the game.  Wade Davis got his 31st straight save with the Cubs.  Yesterday after Fowler hit one deep in the 9th, Davis cradled his head to his knees and didn’t want to see the ball –but it was caught in deep center field.

One thing that stood out is the Cubs’ depth in their roster. They have skilled players at every position and on the bench. When Contreras returns Tuesday against Tampa Bay, the Cubs will be almost at 100%.  Jake Arrieta has yet to return to the starting rotation but signs are good that he will start before the season ends.

The Cubs are almost at 20 games over .500. When you reach that plateau, you know you’re a good team, and the Cubs are just about there. But, it is again, one game at a time, and now, the games have extra meaning.







After 8-2 Pasting of Cards, the Cubs are Up Again.

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By Richard Kagan

The Cubs have been up and down. Now, after beating St Louis, 8-2, they are up again.

Having swept the series vs. the Mets and, after taking the first game in a contentious Cardinals game, featuring two ejections of Cubs’ players —  Jon Lackey was tossed after arguing a called pitch by the home plate umpire. He thought it was a strike. It looked like a strike. But it was called a ball, prompting Lackey to leave the pitching mound in anger and he walked down to home plate and let his feelings known. He was immediately tossed. Willson Contreras got into the action moments later, perhaps to back up his pitcher, and he argued vehemently, and in the process took off his catching mask and threw it to the ground where it bounced up and touched the leg of the umpire. Contreras got the wave goodbye before he threw his mask.

Major League rules say if a catcher throws his mask at an umpire with intent, that is an automatic fine and ejection.

The Cubs survived this drama and scored 7 runs in the 6th inning to take a 8-2 lead in the game. The bullpen came in and held down St. Louis. Wade Davis came in with two out in the 8th and the bases loaded to get the last out. In the top of the 9th, Davis was effective and retired the side.

The Cubs (81-66) have a 3.5 game lead over the Brewers and a 4 game lead over St. Louis. The Cubs play both Milwaukee and St. Louis in ten of the next 15 final games of the year. Most of these games will be on the road. So, while the Cubs have been feasting at home, scoring 47 runs in four games, including a 17-5 rout of the Mets, it remains to be seen how they will fare on the road.

The Cubs are in a pennant race and they have the lead. Others have to play catch-up ball with the Cubbies.  This team has been so up and down, no one knows what to expect.

Kris Bryant tagged a home run in the fourth inning for his 27th of the season. In the 6th inning, the Cubs did a great job of moving runners along. The Cubs put a 7 spot on the board, and that was just reward for a Cubs-Card baseball game.

Javy Baez seemed to injure his thumb late in the game, and he grimaced as he held the bat. He struck out in his at-bat. Earlier, Baez made a spectacular play as a ball caromed off the wall into left field. But  the ball caromed back onto the field of play and Baez raced to retrieve the ball and threw a strike to 2nd base to nail the runner. El Mago came up with another great play. Rarely do you see a play made in that way, but with Baez, anything is possible.

Chicago faces St. Louis again on Saturday. Feelings at Wrigley are much more positive than they were after a tired Cubs team managed just three runs in three games vs. the upstart Brewers.

But with this Cubs team, you just never know. It is after all, just one game at a time.