There was a buzz all day around Wrigley, the renovations on display, the excitement of a team favored by many to win a World Series, celebrating an NLCS appearance from last year, there was no possible way the Cubs could match that buzz right? Wrong. For the majority of the night it seemed like the Cubs were destined to fall flat, in fact they were getting no-hit deep into the seventh inning before a David Ross single gave them some life. Brandon Finnegan kept the Cubs off balance all night but ran out of gas after 7 and 2/3 innings of no-hit baseball; it was a brilliant performance, but ultimately a no decision. After the David Ross single in the 7th, Matt Szczur followed with a walk, and two batters later Jayson Heyward had his first big moment in a Cubs uniform. Tony Cingrani left an 0-2 fastball out over the plate and Heyward laced it into right for a two-run single and the once flat Cubs seemed to have grabbed all the momentum heading to the 8th.
Ben Zobrist walked with one out in the 8th, and Jorge Soler was then hit by a pitch to set the stage for the youngest player of the group, Addison Russell. Russell wasted no time as he launched the first pitch he saw deep into the night to give the Cubs a 5-3 lead, and that’s how this one would end. A season that has exceeded even the highest of expectations so far just added another chapter. Lost in the late game heroics was the work of Jon Lester, he clearly didn’t have it last night, but was able to keep the Cubs within three through six innings as he picked up another quality start. No baseball today as we all recover from what was a long day of excitement yesterday; the Cubs are 6-1.
Baseball during the day is so very nice, even if it doesn’t count yet. Pierce Johnson takes the mound for the Cubs today as they open their home portion of the spring schedule. Here is how they will line up, I believe the game is on MLB.tv with a subscription, and Cubs.com has the audio.
- Fowler CF
- Zobrist 2B
- Heyward RF
- Baez 1B
- Victorino DH
- Russell SS
- La Stella 3B
- Ross C
- Perez LF
SP – Pierce Johnson
On a personal note, Pierce Johnson is one of my favorite players, rooting hard for him. Go Cubs!
I’ve been on this Earth for 33 years, and for the better part of my time here I have been a Cubs fan, so disappointment comes with the territory. With that disappointment comes hope that is usually misguided, and a catch phrase of “wait till next year” drives that misguided optimism year after year. The National narrative doesn’t help things with a constant “don’t worry, the Cubs will screw it up because they’re the Cubs” refrain. That repetitive opinion starts to creep into our subconscious; maybe all those experts are right, nothing good ever happens. It was even evident last year during what I can say was honestly the most enjoyable baseball season of my life, there was doubt. A daily rollercoaster of emotions based on whether or not the Cubs won. What did the Giants do? Look out for the Nationals, they’re getting hot. The Diamondbacks are making a run; did you see the schedule down the stretch? Its typical pennant race behavior which I totally get, but something about last year changed my views on hope, it made me realize something important and fun… it’s real.
I got into a number of discussions last year on the inter-webs about this very thing and it was startling how many people, good baseball people, hoped that other teams would take care of the Cubs’ business for them. In the past I would be right there with them, but the leadership group of this organization, the players, and their overall attitude towards winning, and competing made it very clear to me that I no longer had to worry about that. This Cubs team was going to leave everything on the field and for the most part the opponent couldn’t keep up. It was never more obvious than during that four game series against the Giants at home. We all thought that Hector Rondon and a rare bout of wildness was going to derail the game, and the season, it was over. Then it wasn’t, Rondon wiggled off the hook, and the Cubs pounded the Giants right out of the wild card lead into an October without playoff baseball.
A postseason of Cardinals’ devil magic followed. 2016 was full of horrible losses to the Cardinals, it was impossible to ignore those losses heading into the NLDS. The reason for most losses was the dreaded Cardinals’ devil magic because it was more fun to talk about that then talk about how the Cardinals made their own breaks or came up with a clutch hit or two. Things went wrong in Game One for the Cubs as worries of the unbreakable Cardinals, and the “too young to be here” Cubs were coming to fruition. Then Javier Baez massacred a mistake from John Lackey en route to Dingerpalooza 2015 taking place at Wrigley…. Hello NLCS!
I would say that a large number of people converted over to less fatalistic thinking as the season came to a close against the Mets. The Cubs were getting beat by the Mets because the Mets were a good team, and the Cubs couldn’t get out of their own way. I was pretty excited to see a lot of fans recognize what was going on; it wasn’t the Cubs blowing an opportunity as only the Cubs could do. It was the Cubs just losing a game and losing a series in the infancy of their window of opportunity to win a World Series.
So now the Cubs are on the brink of starting the 2016 season with the highest expectations possible. The organization identified needs heading into the off-season and sent a powerful message to this fan base and the rest of baseball that they are not going anywhere by bringing in Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist, and John Lackey. The players have clearly bought into what Joe Maddon, Theo Epstein, and Jed Hoyer are selling. I suppose it’s okay that some fans are still overcome with worry when they see the Cubs as World Series favorites. I’m just glad that the players taking the field are embracing it, and ready to win a World Series, not because of any curse or because of the losing History, but because they expect to.
Matt Garza really can’t figure out this pitching on the road thing. Garza fell to 2-6 on the road as the Braves knocked around the Cubs starter en route to a 7-3 victory to finish the four game series with a split. Things were really over before they started tonight as the Braves made Garza throw 44 pitches in an exhausting first inning. A pair of two-run homers did the trick for Atlanta, one by Jason Heyward, and one by Brian McCann to put the Braves up 4-0 at the end of one. The Cubs got their first hit and their first run of the game in the fifth when Geovany Soto hit his 6th home run of the season to make it 5-1 Atlanta. The Braves got that run right back in the bottom half of the fifth to make it 6-1, but the Cubs weren’t dead yet. A Reed Johnson pinch hit RBI single, and a throwing error by Heyward in the 6th brought the Cubs back within three but that’s as close as they would get. Garza finished the night only making it through four innings, giving up five runs on five hits, three of which were home runs while walking three and striking out six. Mike Minor had his way with the Cubs lineup, as most lefties do, as the Cubs only managed five hits on the night. Anthony Rizzo extended his hitting streak to six games by going 1-for-4 with a single. The Cubs will finish off the first half in New York against the Mets this weekend, full box score and highlights after the jump.
The Cubs look to keep things rolling as they welcome the Atlanta Braves to Wrigley Field for a three game set. This will be the second series in a row where the Cubs will be facing one of the best teams in baseball. The Cubs first test was over the weekend against the Dodgers, and they passed with flying colors taking 2 out of 3. If the Cubs are going to do the same thing in this series they are going to need an outstanding pitching effort. They have been getting that lately, but they will be really tested in this series against the top run scoring team in the National League.
The Braves are led by the usual suspects in Chipper Jones, and Brian McCann, but are also getting solid production from Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward. The Cubs should be able to take advantage of a Braves pitching staff that has been knocked around a bit this season. The Braves come into the series with a 4.41 ERA which ranks 14th in the National League. The Cubs haven’t lost a series since the April 20-22 series to the Reds, let’s keep that going, go Cubs!
Full preview/breakdown after the jump.