Cardinal Rules Broken
With the series opener in Philadelphia postponed due to inclement weather, God has afforded Cubs’ fandom the world over an extra day to bittersweetly bask in the afterglow of a series win against the Cardinals. The series of the week, so far, has proven – bullpen issues aside – that the Cubs can be legitimate contenders insofar as their offense is willing to cooperate alongside solid pitching performances. Jon Lester, with his gritty seven innings in Wednesday’s game, was granted what must be one of the most difficult no decisions he has ever faced. But, unfortunately, such is the season of Jon Lester thus far this year. He has given himself no excuses, and with the fiery and realistic competitor he is, I have little-to-no doubt of his ability to continue down the path he began to forge Wednesday. What is most important to remember is that the Cubs not only beat the Cardinals two games out of three, in Busch Stadium – where the Cardinals have a Major League-leading 50-24 record – but did so in a dominating fashion. They won 26 of the 27 innings played, out-hit them in each game, and only trailed in the disastrous 8th inning Wednesday that saw three runs come across versus four different Cubs’ relievers. Cub hitters were seeing the ball, the defense was turned key double plays, and the starting pitching was solid. The bullpen that has of late been relatively consistent faltered, but this has not happened to this degree in quite some time. With the roster call-ups, and Carl Edwards, Jr.’s shutout performance in Monday’s contest, it should be solidified these weeks leading up to the playoffs. With a going away, shutout win Monday, a solid win Tuesday, and a Lemony Snicket series of events leading to Wednesday’s loss, the Cubs and the unwavering fandom have reason to hope and for optimism.
The Resurgence of Castro, Starlin
The one player that impressed continually over the weekend – with Javier Baez aside, and meant for further discussion – was Starlin Castro. He has taken so well to the revoking of his starting spot, and has gone out of his way to contribute in any way that he can. After not playing Monday, Starlin went 2 for 4, with 4 RBI’s in Tuesday’s win, with 3 coming on a belted 3-run homerun to the deepest part of Busch Stadium in left-center field. In his one pinch-hit appearance in Wednesday’s game, he reached with a solid single. So, according to the principles of addition/Math, he was a combined 3 for 5 with 4 RBI’s. Though this improvement has been happening over the course of these past few weeks, this series merely continued to highlight his professionalism and eagerness to contribute in whichever capacity is best for the team. His resurgence could not come at a more opportune time, as the Cubs’ – gearing up for the coming playoff run – needs lie in contributors, and not those who are struggling to do so. Joe Maddon’s Hunger Games-like approach to those who make the starting line-up has worked insofar as it is bringing the best out of players. Starling is certainly no exception, and I can only hope that this is but a glimpse of him back into the 3-time All-Star form we are used to.
A Fun Team to Be Around
What is key to assessing the Cubs overall performance this year is a look into the culture cultivated, warmly, by their fearless and cool leader: Joe Maddon. Nate Head wrote a wonderful article yesterday on why he deserves to be manager of the year, and I wholeheartedly agree. What I find so amazing, and is so rare in professional sports, is the sense of camaraderie the team has, and the respect for one another both in the dugout and on the field. Joe Maddon’s quirky personality is exactly what is needed for a group of young, uber-talented players seeking to adapt to playing on a high-level Major League ballclub. It was reported last week that, after a win against the Diamondbacks, the players, facilitated by Joe Maddon, were talking about the win, and what it used to feel like as a kid post-game. The discussion quickly turned to the post-game snacks, and juice boxes, as Anthony Rizzo enthusiastically added: “Orange slices!” With Joe Maddon’s enthusiastic, “Duh!” blessing, Anthony reportedly bought oranges and cut them up for the dugout for the following day’s sweltering home game at Wrigley. This sort of story – one that is genuinely good and fun – is so rare to find amongst a field of professional athletes that is so increasingly competitive that one cannot help but point to Joe Maddon and his unending, unwavering excitement about his players, with matter-of-fact acknowledgment of shortcomings and weaknesses that still manage to inspire confidence in the players. It all translates onto the field, and this young team has a legitimate chance to make history in their very first year of playing alongside one another.
Top 30 Prospect List
The Cubs have revealed what is considered to be their top 30 prospects in the farm system, and it looks promising. The top 5 includes: Gleyber Torres (SS), Billy McKinney (OF), Carl Edwards, Jr. (RHP), Duane Underwood (RHP), and the highly-lauded Albert Almora (OF). With a wealth of position players and pitchers alike, it will be intriguing to see how these men fit, or don’t, into Joe Maddon’s utility vision.
What’s on Tap?
With the postponement, the Cubs face a doubleheader day at Citizen’s Bank Park in Philadelphia, with Jake Arrieta (18-6, 2.03 ERA) looking to extend his quality start streak to 16 against the Phillies’ Adam Morgan (5-5, 4.42 ERA) in the first contest set to begin at 4:05pm CT. The second game – its time still TBD – will see Kyle Hendricks (6-6, 4.08 ERA) aiming for higher against Alec Asher (0-2, 10.61 ERA).
Bonus Thing to Know
Registration is now own to potentially buy post-season tickets. They are going to be in demand so the Cubs are using a lottery system for the right to purchase. Gone are the days of lining up outside the park or at Dominick’s at Ticketmaster. We have the interweb now.
You can enter your name here, but please don’t. It just makes our chances of winning a little less.