Cubs Ready with Hot Bats to Avenge Reds’ June Sweep

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“While the Cubbies search for starter and bullpen reliability remains a challenge with an improving outlook, there’s no mixed messages at the plate. Simply put, the bats are swinging, and making all kinds of contact. It’s not hard to win six games in a row when the players collaborate for 56 total runs. As of the time of this writing, the Chicago Cubs have eight regular guys hitting .280 or better. In reverse order, they are Tommy La Stella, Kris Bryant (who should be coming off the DL any minute now), Addison Russell, Willson Contreras, Javy Baez, Jason Heyward (finally looking worth that huge contract), Ben Zobrist and of course, Albert Almora Jr.

Almora, whom Joe Maddon refuses to start everyday, to the great frustration of many fans, is currently hitting .329. That’s good enough for second place in the National League, a mere two points behind Scooter Gennett. This guy should be making a trip to the All-Star Game. But I digress…”

Read the full post at Wrigleyville Nation.

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After a Winning Holiday Weekend, Is Maddon Finally Ready to #FreeAlmora?

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“Nestled within my late-March outfield castigation of Kyle Schwarber was another complaint. One that remains as disappointingly active as it was during Week 1 of the 2018 MLB season. That particular column marked my first public use of the #FreeAlmora hash tag. It appears destined not to be the last. On May 23, Danielle Sauers of Locked on Cubs wrote:

‘There’s no doubt that Albert Almora Jr. is a fan favorite. If he doesn’t start for more than a few days in a row, the #FreeAlmora hash tag is bound to be out in full force. He’s young, charismatic, and has been flashing serious leather in recent games, so it’s easy to see why the fans love him. But can he continue to contribute at a high enough level to justify regular starts?’

The answer, Ms. Sauers, is in the question. Almora has continuously done more than enough to justify his regular place in the starting lineup. He’s hitting a team-leading .324, a solid 34 points ahead of 2016 MVP Kris Bryant. And compared with Ian Happ’s (forgive me) hapless fielding, my guy Almora regularly robs opposing players of extra base hits. Treat yourself to another viewing of his May 27 leap into the right center field gap at Wrigley, cheating Giants’ third-basement Evan Longoria of at least a double. Even if Almora Jr. wasn’t a terrific hitter (he is), I tend to side with the stereotyped middle-aged male crowd. Defense DOES win championships.”

Read the full post at Wrigleyville Nation.

Schwarber’s No Good, Very Bad Day in Left Field

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“The consistently raw deal shown to my man Alberto Almora Jr. is another rant for another time. The 23 year-old outfielder batted a cumulative .298 during the 2017 season and made but one fielding error. And throughout a depressing National League Championship series, Almora was one of only two players who batted above .222. The other, unbelievably, was pitcher Jose Quintana. To those tempted to look at these stats and argue that Almora Jr. didn’t play every day, I say that’s exactly my point. Whose fault is it that a young and exciting player too often rides the bench?

Kyle  Schwarber’s, or more accurately, Joe Maddon, who continues to put the 2016 World Series star on the field – with disastrous results. By any measure, Schwarber had a rough 2017 season. Things were so bad that the Cubs sent the young player to the minor leagues for a stint intended to help him get his act together. The ploy did not work very well. The 24 year-old batted an anemic .211 on the season, and was a constant source of stress in the outfield. Let us pause to briefly reflect on the two errors Schwarbs made during Game 3 of the 2017 NLDS – in the same play. Brutal.

It’s not as though irritated fans like myself don’t have affection for the guy. His personality is immensely likeable. And of course, the one-time Boy Wonder had a lot to do with finally bringing a World Series trophy to Wrigleyville Nation. Schwarber’s comeback from a season-ending knee injury to help his teammates end the sporting world’s longest losing streak is a story that deserves to be told for generations.

But this isn’t 2016 and Schwarber no longer deserves the benefit of the doubt at Albert Almora Jr’s expense. Especially in the field.”

Read the full post at Wrigleyville Nation.

The Cubs Care: More Than Great Pitching at Spring Training 2018

“Those lucky enough to get to Mesa, Arizona for Cubs Spring Training action can expect to see lots of A-list talent on the mound. I’m hard pressed to think of a more exciting starting rotation in any Cubs era. Bruce Levine of CBS 2 Chicago wrote last week:

‘The Cubs added the best pitcher available in free agency in right-hander Yu Darvish over the weekend after signing right-hander Tyler Chatwood back in December. They’ll join left-hander Jon Lester, left-hander Jose Quintana and right-hander Kyle Hendricks as starters who could all produce 180 to 200 innings. Beyond them, left-hander Mike Montgomery is a valuable swingman plenty capable of filling in the rotation.’

And Jake Arrieta still hasn’t found a new home. A girl can dream…

Speaking of dreams come true, the Chicago Cubs demonstrated this week that Spring Training 2018 has much game – and heart. The local Fox affiliate in Mesa reported that four children, patients from Advocate’s Children’s Hospital here in Chicago, were treated to a special up close and personal experience.”

Read the full post at Wrigleyville Nation.

With 2018 Cubs Convention in Swing, Theo Tells Fans “We’re Not Done” at Pitching

“Even if we didn’t have a 2016 World Series World Series trophy safely tucked away to remind us that times have changed, the words and post-season actions of Cubs’ President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein would do the trick. The 2018 Cubs Convention kicked off this week, and attendees of the annual event were abuzz with the team’s latest moves to shore up a struggling 2017 pitching staff…

With free agent hurlers Yu Darvish and Alex Cobb still swirling in the Cubs orbit, it’s clear that Epstein’s assurance is more than bluster. The trapped and panicked offseason mistakes of years past have been completely displaced by methodical, considered logic.”

Read the full post at Wrigleyville Nation.

Cubs October Coaching Liquidation Leaves Mark on Joe Maddon’s Image

“The Chicago Cubs 2017 season may have ended on October 19 with an 11-1 loss against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 5 of the NLCS, but for many of us, disappointment in the team’s performance during that run lingers. The bullpen struggles, the anemic hitting, 2016 National League MVP Kris Bryant’s admission that the team was “tired” after a no more than usually grueling season. Writer Steve Greenberg of The Chicago Sun-Times wrote on October 18, “Sadly, the whole world can tell…It’s almost like this team is out of gas, wheezing to the finish line, already half in bed and going to sleep.”

Cub fans of all philosophies agreed that changes need to be made in advance of the 2018 season. However we didn’t get much time to consider what those changes could and should look like before the organization embarked on its own version of “Black Monday,” the “Savage Last Full Week of October.”

Perhaps the purge was unavoidable. But what’s especially jarring – and has become the central storyline as opposed to a narrative about the team refining and retuning – is Joe Maddon’s long-running and very recent insistence that all was well in the clubhouse.”

Read the full post at Wrigleyville Nation.

Cubs Post All-Star Hot Streak: Welcome, but Weird

“How about 9-2 since July 11? Sounds a lot better, doesn’t it? Looks and feels different too. Our cross-town rivals, The White Sox, were kind enough to part with starting pitcher Jose Quintana on July 13, and Q has quickly proven a valuable addition to the Cubbies’ bruised staff of hurlers. His July 16 debut at Camden Yards was verifiably historic, with Quintana fanning 12 batters over seven innings – without allowing a run. Holy Cow! A commanding announcement that the Epstein administration’s eye for the right talent at the right time remains unclouded.

The batting averages clearly have room for growth but Kris Bryant is leading the pack at a respectable .278 (at the time of publication). Wilson Contreras is the best catcher in baseball and in the middle of a red-hot hitting streak. Fan favorite Kyle Schwarber is back from a stint in the minors and crawling from the bottom. And the outfield is much better with a healthy Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward.

Yes indeed Wrigleyville Nation. Things are looking up. The Cubs remain a half-game behind the first place Milwaukee Brewers, but have widened the gap considerably between themselves and the rest of the NL Central. Can we all just take a moment to savor a fourth-place Cardinals club (with all-due love to Dexter Fowler)?

As I mentioned in a Facebook post yesterday, I’m always elated to #FlyTheW. I’m certainly not looking for trouble. That said, and despite all the winning, there’s a few…curious variables at play. Some strange things are afoot with some of our key players that could impact current momentum. As wizened, sober residents of Wrigleyville Nation, we need to keep our eyes on the following…”

Read the full post at Wrigleyville Nation.