Cubs

The Pride & Joy of Illinois?

The Pride & Joy of Illinois?

Wednesday, October 28th

Ouch! Thats going to leave a mark! I cant remember a game featuring a Chicago team that drew the level of disgust among fans that I witnessed, and have heard about many times since, than the Bears game on Sunday. (Obviously bartenders have short memories: we need to!) Not that Im surprised, its the nature of the football fan. Having a week off (usually) between games allows fans to work themselves into a lather, creating higher highs and lower lows among the faithful. The weekly hype machine starts early, and slowly leads up to The Big Game. In the NFL, for us fans, theyre ALL big! You only get 17. We wait all year for the 4 (plus 1 hopefully) month roller coaster that is pro football. Its a roller coaster because none of the other 3 major sports teams can mess with your emotions like your football team. Since the other 3 play so often, after a bad loss, they can say, Well get em tomorrow.

And most times, thats the case. But in football you have to sit on the emotions of a game for a whole week. Thus for me, as one who works with the public everyday, I dont need a scoreboard to know how the Bears are doing. I just have to go to work. From the constant chatter on my sports radio (You know what show Im listening to!), to the conversations when I pick up my papers, to the mood on the street when Im walking to the restaurant from my car, the feeling in the city is palpable. Let alone when I get behind the bar, the emotions of the fans in this city are plain for me to see. The change Im witnessing right now in Bears fans is dramatic and I think increasingly bitter. (And NO, this is not good for SALES!) As we all remember, last season ended with a very bad taste and numerous questions about where the Bears were headed. Then came, J.C.: Jay Cutler: And the enthusiasm and visions of a better tomorrow where everywhere. In spite of repeated media nay-saying in some parts, the vast majority of the city was on Cloud 6. (Im sorry.) Excited to finally have a franchise QB to call their own, Cutler was the toast of the town. Now real fans understood that this was not an over-night fix, but the toughest part of the puzzle to find was here, or so we thought.

There have been many discussions that Ive had at the bar about the identity of the Bears. For years, this was known as a defensive team, a smash-mouth team. Tommie Harris dominating the line of scrimmage (when healthy!), an excellent corps of linebackers and a ball-hawking defensive backfield, the defense made things happen. Add a QB and whats next? The skys the limit! Is it? Really? For a while now, this defense has been living on its rep, or at least the ghosts of 2006. It seems to me, that for at least the last 2 years, theyve become fundamentally lax. They like to strip the ball first, eschewing proper tackling technique, as theyre getting run over for chunks of yardage. Or, they get no consistent pressure against opposing QBs, exposing a defensive backfield that has a definitive lack of playmakers. There comes a time when you need to face the facts. The identity of this team is there for all to see. It is what it is. (to quote that famous philosopher, Brian MacNamee.) When you repeatedly do not show up on the road (2-7 record, outscored 233-149, in the last 9 road games) you have issues. Is it talent or coaching? You tell me. This is not a reaction to one bad game (are you new here??) its acknowledging a trend. This team doesnt always show up on the road.
Where does that leave them? Only they know the answer to that. I do know, that for the first time, that I take seriously anyway, that Im hearing the Lovie must go! venom being spewed. I dont know if I believe that, yet, but the defense has been on a constant downward spiral for 3 years and did not show up in a game that you know that everyone in the organization above the level of player wanted to win. What does that mean? What more do we need to see, to understand that maybe the expectations were a little out of whack here.

Because Im such a positive guy, I will remind of this though: Last year, a certain team from the east coast played these same Bengals in what might have been the most god-awful NFL game I ever watched, and left the Natti with a tie! When they were still the Bungles! (I recall a Chicago-born QB mis-rembering the o.t. rules.)(Two Clemens references in a football blog?!?!) From there, that team looked in the mirror, and then played inspired football all the way to the NFC Title game. Much of the inspiration coming from the firestorm of negativity they had created for themselves, Im sure. Maybe it can happen again. Maybe the team from the Queen City can make another team look in the mirror and cause them to get their act together. For my sake, I hope they do, because I show up for my job everyday, and its a lot easier when people arent looking at the TVs and rolling their eyes in disgust.

Are Cubs feeling drained? The clubhouse is divided

Are Cubs feeling drained? The clubhouse is divided

For the second straight week, Kyle Schwarber halted his postgame media scrum to get something off his chest.

Standing at his locker — the same spot he stood exactly a week prior — the Cubs slugger got about as forceful as he's ever been with the cameras rolling.

Are the Cubs drained right now?

"Never. Nope. Not at all," Schwarber said. "I'll shut you down right there — we're not running out of gas at all."

Really? 

You gotta admire Schwarber's grit. He's got that linebacker/football mentality still locked and loaded in mid-October after a brutal first three games of the NLCS.

But...come on. The Cubs aren't drained? They're not tired or weary or mentally fatigued?

Schwarber says no, but it doesn't look that way on the field. They look like the high point of the season was that epic Game 5 in D.C. It was one of the craziest baseball games ever played, very reminsicent of Game 7 in last year's World Series.

Only one thing: Game 7 was the ultimate last game. They left it all on the field and that was cool because there was no more season left. Last week's wacky contest wasn't the final game of the season. It was just the final game of the FIRST series of the postseason.

So if the Cubs aren't feeling any weariness — emotional, physical, mental or otherwise — they must be superhuman.

Yet Anthony Rizzo — the face of the franchise — backed Schwarber's sentiment.

"I'm 28 years old right now," Rizzo said. "I could run laps around this place right now. I've got a great job for a living to play baseball.

"We have a beautiful life playing baseball. You gotta keep that in perspective. So if you wanna try to get mentally tired, realize what we're doing."

Rizzo talked that talk, but his performance on the field has hit a wall. After his "Respect Me!" moment in Game 3 of the NLDS, Rizzo went hitless in his next 16 at-bats before a harmless single Tuesday night. He then struck out in his final trip to the plate.

Bryzzo's other half — Kris Bryant — actually took the opposite stance of his teammates.

"Yeah, [that Washington series] was pretty draining, I think," Bryant admitted. "Some good games there that I think were pretty taxing for our bullpen and pitchers, too. 

"Kinda expect that around this time of year. The games mean a lot."

It's not surprising to hear those words from Bryant. In fact, it wouldn't even be mildly shocking to hear every player in the clubhouse share the same point of view.

The Cubs played all the way past Halloween last fall, then hit the town, having epic celebrations, going on TV shows, having streets named after them, etc. 

Then, before you know it, there's Cubs Convention again. And shortly after that, pitchers and catchers report. 

From there, the "title defense" season began, featuring a lackluster first half and a second half that took a tremendous amount of energy just to stave off the Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central and get into the postseason.

Oh yeah, and then that series with the Nationals where the Cubs squeaked out a trio of victories by the slimest of margins.

These Cubs have never really had anything resembling a break. 

However, they're now just one game away from getting that rest they so badly need (and deserve).

Ben Zobrist breaks down how Dodgers pitching has made Cubs offense disappear

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USA TODAY

Ben Zobrist breaks down how Dodgers pitching has made Cubs offense disappear

Ben Zobrist didn’t look for any deeper meaning in Kyle Schwarber’s first-inning homer off Yu Darvish on Tuesday night at Wrigley Field, or hope that one swing could change the entire momentum of this National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Zobrist knows what it takes to win in October, the Cubs identifying him as the missing piece to their lineup after he helped transform the 2015 Kansas City Royals into a championship team, and then getting a World Series MVP return on their $56 million investment.

That “Schwarbomb” turned out to be fool’s gold, the only run the Cubs would score in front of a quiet, low-energy crowd of 41,871, the defending champs one more loss away from golfing/hunting/fishing/signing autographs at memorabilia shows.

“That was great to get a homer, but I’d rather see some hits strung together,” Zobrist said after a sloppy 6-1 loss, standing at his locker for almost 10 minutes, answering questions in the underground clubhouse. “I’d like to see a couple doubles together, a few singles, three or four hits in an inning. We just haven’t done that.

“That’s what makes rallies. They’ve stayed away from those kinds of innings. That’s why they’re ahead right now.”

Darvish – Jake Arrieta’s replacement in the 2018 rotation? – canceled out the two singles he allowed in the first inning by getting two of his seven strikeouts and answering some of the questions about how he would respond to all the pressure in October.

Darvish – a trade-deadline acquisition that had echoes of Theo Epstein’s “If not now, when?” explanation for last year’s Aroldis Chapman trade – walked one of the 25 batters he faced and pitched into the seventh inning before handing the game over to a lights-out bullpen.

“There’s nothing that we didn’t see beforehand on video,” Zobrist said. “It’s just a matter of we need him to make more mistakes, and we got to take advantage of those mistakes when he makes them.

“When he got to 3-2 counts, he wasn’t throwing a heater. He was throwing the cutter, and it’s a tough pitch to hit. You have to sit on it, and even then it’s got good movement to it. He kept us off-balance.”

Forward-thinking manager Dave Roberts is at the controls of a Los Angeles bullpen that can match up against right- and left-handed hitters, target locations, unleash upper-90s velocity, execute the elevated fastball that messes with eye levels and lean on All-Star closer Kenley Jansen for multiple innings.

The Dodger relievers essentially put together a no-hitter that lasted nine-plus innings across Games 1, 2 and 3. Together, they have pitched 10.2 scoreless innings, facing 36 batters and allowing two hits and a walk and hitting Anthony Rizzo with a pitch.

“They kept the ball on the edges and kept us off-balance,” Zobrist said. “They’re not throwing the pitch in the middle of the plate when we need them to. They’re keeping it on the edges and those are hard (to hit). When you got guys with good stuff on the mound, you need them to make some mistakes for you, or at least start walking some guys.

“When they’ve gotten in those situations with a three-ball count, they’re still making the pitch when they need to. They’re not walking many guys – and we are.

“That’s why they’re up 3-nothing.”

Zobrist (4-for-23 this postseason) is now more of a part-time player/defensive replacement, no longer the switch-hitting force who dropped the bunt at Dodger Stadium that helped end the 21-inning scoreless streak during last year’s NLCS.

Zobrist insisted the Cubs are still all there mentally, not checked out after a grueling first round against the Washington Nationals and a brutal walk-off loss in Game 2 at Dodger Stadium. He owns two World Series rings and one has the Cubs logo and this inscription: “We Never Quit.”

“We keep it loose all the time,” Zobrist said. “We know what’s at stake. And we don’t shy away from it. We look forward to the challenge ahead. It would be a great story for us to be able to come back in this series and win this series.

“We make adjustments, we take advantage of mistakes and we come out with a victory tomorrow. That’s what we have to do.”