Go Cubs Go! NLDS Game 5

Game 5 was a wilder, out of control version of the first four games all rolled into one.  When the dust settled, Wade Davis controlled the game from the Bottom of the 7th to close, in about the best possible way we could expect.

Washington is not a slouch of team, despite their clear lack of offense had suggested through the first four games.  Our side was not nearly as good when it came to the bats, and several costly errors paved our way.  It’s nice to win, it’s a character building exercise.  It’s not awesome building this kind of character in the playoffs.  It’s a bit concerning in fact.

The better team, but not by much, and only because the other team enabled them far too much, and paid for that.

There’s really nothing else to say about it, critiques from the first four games still apply.

Another Loss: NLDS Game 4

This really should not have happened.  It did.  The way the Cubs played they certainly deserved the loss, but it should not have happened.

Most likely you watched if you’re a baseball fan, but to recap, two things happened:

  1.  No offense ever got started for the Cubs
  2. Carl Edwards, Jr. had another meltdown

A third was that Wade Davis pitched into a grand slam by Michael Taylor, something he has never done before, but that was not the issue.

This series has proven a couple of things about the Cubs current roster:  Javier Baez, Carl Edwards, Jr., Ben Zobrist, and Jason Heyward are expendible.

To their credit, Zobrist and Heyward actually produced some hits in this game, but it’s too little and way too late.  Both players cost way too much for the little they provide, and Heyward dropped a catch that would be difficult for most, but seeing as he’s a defensive dynamo it should have been routine.  The ball was in foul territory so it didn’t hurt, but if he’s not going to snag everything he attempts, then his value becomes less and less.

Javier Baez had an at-bat, I can’t remember now if it was in the 7th or 8th, where he faced six pitches, all outside of the strike zone, he managed to reach a 3-2 count, placing the sixth pitch into play for an out……to say he lacks plate discipline is to greatly understate his problem.  He’s suppose to be part of the future of this club, but he needs something we apparently don’t offer him, and I’d rather take my chances with free agent infielders than continue with someone who can’t buckle down and hit when it counts.

While I will concede the three players above could have arguments for their overall play, there can be no doubt that the experiment of Carl Edwards, Jr., a prospect picked up in the Matt Garza trade, is over after this season, preferably now.  It’s one thing to find a steal on the open market, and surely he’s had great moments on the mound.

That said, he’s folding to the Nationals.  They are a competitive team, in a division of non-competitive teams.  If you can’t find a way to defeat their batters, who spend half the season facing lackluster clubs, then you are on the wrong team.

Perhaps it makes me a non-believer in Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer’s team build, but only of a small fraction of it.  And while the four players highlighted have more or less done their jobs up to series, they’ve floundered before, and it appears they are floundering more so than usual.

Later today Game 5 will take place.  Let’s hope for some Harry Caray magic out at the DC Navy Yard.

Cubs Win!: NLDS Game 3

This was another nail biter.  And it’s great to see that the Cubs are still perennial winners in the categories of small ball tactics and tie games.  But the offensive effort needs to improve drastically, especially if there’s any hope of advancing, and winning in the NLCS.

Both Quintana and Scherzer pitched strong games, striking out a boatload.  To put in perspective, there was 56 total at-bats in tonight’s game, and together they struck out 14.  Of the five innings that both pitchers were not part of, there were only three strikeouts.  Neither pitcher reached seven innings, but both were brilliant, as was expected.

The Cubs bullpen was anchored by great showings by Pedro Strop and Wade Davis.  Edwards Jr was back out for an inning plus, and he too got the job down efficiently.

The game came down to what it came down to in Game 1, the difference being that it was an even thinner win margin, Tommy La Stella came in as a pinch hitter in the bottom of the 8th for Edwards Jr, who’s night was done.  La Stella took a walk, at which point Leonys Martin took over as a pinch runner.  In similar fashion to his performance in Games 1 and 2, Rizzo took his stance at the plate, and belted a hit to center field that dropped in, giving Martin the needed time to sprint the bases, scoring the Cubs’ second run of the game, which led into a defensive hold in the top of 9th, securing the win.

Similarly, in the bottom of the 7th, Zobrist punched a single, and when he was aboard, Albert Almora Jr pinch hit for Kyle Schwarber, and he too singled to center, leading to Zobrist crossing the plate.  I’m telling this action backwards of course, but the point is that pinch hitters made the difference for the Cubs.  It’s nice to have these options, but it would be better to see some offensive production within the starting lineup.  Rizzo has been a difference maker in the series.  But he can’t do this alone, even if he has done most of it thus far.  Bryant needs to get cracking, though he has a .273 batting average through Game 3.  Zobrist did get a hit tonight, but to my count has two hits in 11 at-bats.  Addison Russell has two hits in 10 at-bats.  Javier Baez has zero.  Jason Heyward, who’s turned into offensive albatross since being signed has one hit.  These four need to get going if the Cubs are going to sustain any momentum in the playoffs.  Almora Jr and Jon Jay also have low batting averages, but since much of their action comes in pinch hitting situations, it’s to be expected that they are not hitting for average from appearance to appearance.

Speaking of Jon Jay, when he’s been in the field, his defense has been brilliant.  I’m starting to wonder what the value in Jason Heyward is defensively too, since that is the other thing he’s evaluated on in terms of why he’s on the roster.  If Jay keeps making snags in the field, I’ll put up with his offensive, because at least he has a chance of being productive on both sides of the ball.

That said, Game 4 is going to be interesting.  The Nationals are down to an under-performing Tanner Roark, facing the sharp Jake Arrieta, who’s just coming back for the first time after recovering from a hamstring injury.  If Arrieta can dial in 70 percent of his typical effort, I do believe we may have this series wrapped.

EAMUS CATULI!

Cubs Implode: NLDS Game 2

The game was clinched by the 8th.  There was no reason to worry.

Except that Lester’s performance was lackluster, the hitting that did come was just enough to be better than the Nats, and up to this point the bullpen was having it’s way with the Nats.

And then Carl Edwards Jr unraveled.  Edwards is one of the many pitching projects the Cubs have invested in over the last few years.  And by all accounts, he’s the future of the bullpen.  That might be, but you can’t hang your pitches in the zone like they are drywall.  That’s exactly what he did though, with Bryce Harper, with one on board.

Maddon did the thing that we all would do quickly, and that’s put Mike Montgomery in.  That worked out just as bad.  Montgomery walked into the Nats high on momentum, and then handed them a three run watermelon to clinch Game 2.

Much of the Cubs bullpen is projects of the current management, and while it’s nice to develop relief pitchers in a league that is thin on relief talent, and both Montgomery and Edwards have been great additions.  But this is a problem.

One night off is not a big deal, but it’s well known that the projects of the northside have more than their fair share of bad nights.  It just so happens that Wade Davis, our closer, bails them out of problems.  But when multiple guys are failing, there’s only so much he can do.

Davis pitched last night in the Game 1 win, and my guess is that Maddon wanted him to rest.  These projects have to start taking it on the chin and accept their results of their failures.  Hopefully a two-game stand in Chicago rejuvenates the bullpen.  I don’t want the Nats finally cutting their playoff teeth on us.

And big picture, this bullpen needs to be re-evaluated.  We can’t have guys that every seven or eight games can locate their pitches.

CUBS WIN! CUBS WIN! NLDS GAME 1

In true Harry fashion, I shout it loud and proud, but know that it takes a couple more to make it count.

Tonight’s 3-0 game in our Nation’s Capital makes it clear that the Nats are going to have to play tight defense if they intend to stop the Cubs.

Strasburg was completely dominant all night.  He did allow three hits and had two unearned runs over seven, but he also struck out ten, he was definitely hitting all the corners.

However, like most playoff baseball, winning comes down to three moments in the game where momentum plays a major factor.

When Rendon missed a play to first in the sixth inning, it setup a minor rally that notched two runs.  This was the inning that clearly blew out the game plan for Nationals Manager Dusty Baker.

He yanked Strasburg out after this inning, despite the fact that these runs were not on his stats, and the hits were mostly standard fare from both Rizzo and Bryant, two all-stars that hit in the .300’s in October.  Strasburg threw 81 pitches over his seven innings, 60 being strikes.  He was near perfect.  True, he has a sorted injury past, and all things being equal it would make sense to pull him before he risked his arm, if there was a lead.

However, the Nats needed his arm to keep the Cubs at bay.  The way Baker took him out was equally embarrassing, from a managerial standpoint. He put veteran infielder, and clutch contact hitter, Howie Kendrick in as a pinch hitter to try and stretch Michael Taylor from first base, and drive him in.  Taylor didn’t steal second, he didn’t advance on a bad pitch, nor did Kendrick hit in the clutch, and thus Strasburg’s night was over, and the Nats continued to be shut out.

Jon Jay pinch hit in the 8th, bringing Kyle Hendricks’ night to an end, he too pitched well.  Jay’s lone at-bat was a double, and it was big.  It setup Rizzo to knock him in, bringing the Cubs to a 3-0 lead, which was inevitably the final tally.  Carl Edwards, Jr and Wade Davis took the 8th and the 9th to shutdown the Nats for the rest of the game, and it was history.

This was supposed to be the ‘Do or Die’ Nats.  The team they have now is in it’s swan song, because much of their core is in final contract years, and it’s going to be difficult to keep everyone, with their undoubtedly higher price tags.

I have to say, they’re already falling apart.  In the 8th, Ryan Zimmerman was a put-out, and half the reason was because he ran the inside base path, which led to him being beaned, rather than tagged for the out.  It’s a rule violation, though rarely called, and unfortunately for him, the first base umpire had a clear view of it, and called.  Jayson Werth, a notorious under-performer that the Nats employ, and has also called this year his own swan song lost his mind with the umpire.  For a guy who said he was humbled by weekend jail terms he had to serve for driving like banshee in Fairfax County, he sure displayed it in that moment.

Hendricks pitched a solid outing, but he’s supposedly the weak pitcher in the Cubs rotation now.  That was Game 1.  Game 2 the Nats are facing Jon Lester, and Game 3 they are facing Jake Arrieta, who’s recovering from that end of season hamstring injury, but is also dying to throw some heat now in October.

The Nats aren’t going to have any easier day at the plate than what they just had.  And their defensive play squandered it, but more importantly, their weak batting played an even bigger, more silent role.

For me, it’s full sails, and we’re cruising to the NLCS, go Cubs!

For the Nats, it may be time to forget this team, and to continue finding a way to actually win in the playoffs.

EAMUS CATULI!

Cubs Sunday: 1st Place in the Division

So a lot has changed yet again on the Northside.

The Cubs are a game above in the division, and have hit a few win streaks that are causing them to separate from the rest of the pack.

Their last ten has them losing more than winning, but don’t mind that.  Manager Joe has a theory that we need to be playing more night games, and get away from the typical day time shuffle that has been a signature of Cubs baseball since before most of us were born.

Wilson Contreras was on a serious tear.  And then he seriously strained his hamstring.  The Cubs had been riding his stellar plate defense, and his incredible bat for awhile.

Rizzo is batting .262, and band-wagoners are swaying back to whatever rocks they came from.

People are saying this is as good as they’ll get, and they’re going to start descending again.

Have no fear.  I have none.  These guys are real terror, and while they look a bit toppled, they’ve only just begun.  They have less than 50 games left, and they’ve picked a great time to band together.

Some things that have stuck out to me:

Addison Russell isn’t getting better offensively.  He’s not merely in a slump, he’s competing in every at bat, for his skill level, but he seems to be tailing off, making less quality contact with each day.  It’s not improving in any situation.  It’s not improving when facing any count.  It’s not improving when dealing with a certain pitch.  It’s simply not improving.  It may be time to deal him while he still has value.

Ben Zobrist is in hang-over city.  That’s it, nothing else to say about it.

Jason Heyward is settling into what the rest of his career is going to be:  Defensive dynamo, who can hit .250 plus.  I’ll take it!

We need more Albert Almora Jr.  We need more Jon Jay.  With experience these two are going to be clutch contact hitters, with spark plug influence on the line-up.  Put ’em in coach!

John Lackey is going to retire.  There’s no way he’s going to keep pitching at this rate.  It’s sad to think about.

Jose Quintana has become more effective pitch to pitch with the Cubs defense behind him.  It’s amazing what the confidence of routine catches will do for a young hurler.

Hector Rondon is done.  That’s even more gut wrenching than Lackey.  Rondon is a young pitcher who had so much promise, ripped from him through two major injuries, and now he battles minor setbacks in the wake of recovery, along with limitations his body now places on his natural form.  He’ll finish his career as a Cub this year, and that will be it for him.

Eddie Butler has presented himself as an interesting puzzle piece.  We’ll need a bit more tape to sort it all out, but optimism says he’ll find a spot at the tail end of the rotation.

There’s far more in Wrigleyville than my synopsis, but let’s watch the rest play out.  I know I will be!  Eamus Catuli!

A Letter to Harry Caray

Dear Harry,

It’s been over 19 years since you passed away.  I miss you, like every other Cub fan.  You should have seen them last year.  They won Harry, they really won.  It was incredible to see.  It was as close to a crosstown classic as I think we’ll ever see, they face the Cleveland Indians.  The Indians as you’re well aware were as Series-starved as the Cubs, and both teams rose to the occasion, going to game seven.  I know what you’re thinking.  Did the Cubs have some struggles winning that Game Seven?  Yes, they did.  Did they seem to lose it at one point?  Yes, they did.  But the main thing is that they hung in the game, finally took advantage of the opportunities that tended to allude us for 108 years, and pulled it off!

It was such a great moment Harry.  I can safely speak for the Cubs’ Faithful when I say we wonder who you would have called it.  The breaking balls being fouled off, in desperation to keep the At-Bat alive.  The way the balls hung in the air on-line drives and pop-ups, in that late October air.  How both towns on the Great Lakes seemed to be inviting chaos into games, every time mist was seen in the air.  The sprinting catches, the stolen bases, the towering home runs – always timed well I might add.

It was so great to watch.  It wasn’t as great with you calling it though.  That was a letdown.  I tried imaging in my mind, listening to you call every game.  It was tough to do.  The world is lot different in 2017 than it was in the late 90’s.  There’s much more distraction now than at any other time in our existence, and trying to envision a Harry-called World Series was tough for me.  I could hear you shouting, “Holy Cow!” and many of your trademark phrases, but the whole game was too much to construct.

A lot has changed at Wrigleyville too.  Someone else may have written to you that the Ricketts Family purchased the Cubs, and they have a vision of modernizing the club and its footprint, to be more in line with other MLB clubs.  They’ve been buying the rooftops across the streets of Waveland and Sheffield.  They seem poised to take over all the businesses for a block around the stadium, and turn Wrigleyville into a small faux town.  It’s crazy to think about.  On one hand, it’s the way of business.  On the other, it’s like being in the heart of Cubs nation is going to lose some of its identity and character.

Maybe it’s the pessimist in me, but I think we lost a lot of that identity when you left.  You spoke for us Harry.  That was what made the games so good.  You weren’t bashful to say exactly what was going on, in the game, with the team, even with the organization.  That was helpful.  That was therapeutic.

Now we’re in the midst of a sub-.500 season.  We’ve seen these before, we’ll see them again.  We’re sitting in second place right now Harry.  We’re four and half back of Milwaukee.  Can you imagine, Milwaukee??  Yes, a lot has changed since you were here Harry.

On sports radio around the country there’s talk of disappointment with Cubs fans from the rest of the sports fan community.  Apparently, we’re not as supportive in the World Series “hang over” as other fan bases have been.  We’re not staying the length of the games at Wrigley (which I think is made up), and according to the “experts” when they talk with us, we’re antsy.  We want to repeat as World Series champions, and because we’re less than optimistic, that means we’ve lost our “Cubs edge” and are now imploding.

So much for experts.  How soon they forget that we waited 108 years for this.  They’re comparing us to fan bases that won a Series, and then had to wait 20.  Or teams that won that haven’t been around as long as the DH rule argument.  They’re making us out to be impatient, sour, and most of all, ungrateful.

I haven’t lost my faith Harry, and the Cubs fan I talk to haven’t either.  Sure, there’s the usual mistrust of baseball happenings that all Cub fans have had for as long as I can remember.  One-hundred and eight years of waiting teaches you a lot of patience, but it also causes you to dial into your cause tightly.  I’d argue any day that Cubs fans are more knowledgeable about the pace and chance of any given game compared to other fans.  Sure, other fans may know about types of plays, and left vs. right match ups, and all those technical aspects.  But I don’t believe other baseball fans have had to sit idly by as a sure thing melts for no other reason than just the “Baseball Gods” interpretation of the laws of averages.

But away from all that,  I think without you Harry, the baseball media doesn’t understand us, or how we think, or how we see baseball, overall or day-to-day.  Harry, they’re lost on us without you.  And the World Series win polarized it.

I wish you were here to quiet the supposed storm.  I wish that voice of reason, that seemed too blunt for other teams, was here to explain us to everyone else.  We have no less love for our team today than we ever have.  You know that, but somehow all these other media types don’t get it.

I wish you’d been here for the parade Harry.  You would have been ecstatic.  You would have been a king in his den.  You would have been as excited, and curious, about the future of the Cubs.

This turned out a lot longer than I wanted it to be.  I have a lot more to say, but I know you’re busy.  I hear Lou is starting, and Babe is swinging, but up there they’ve got nothing on Ernie, Ron, and Hack.  But the one thing that is for sure, no one up there sings like you.

I miss you Harry.  I wish you were still here.