Cubs

Can Neil Ramirez be an X-factor for Cubs bullpen down the stretch?

neil-ramirez-x-factor-cubs-bullpen-slide.png

Can Neil Ramirez be an X-factor for Cubs bullpen down the stretch?

The Cubs entered the 2015 season feeling pretty good about their bullpen, thanks in large part to Neil Ramirez's breakout in 2014.

But the 26-year-old right-hander has battled injuries this year and hasn't gotten into a rhythm as Joe Maddon continues to try to fit all the pieces together in the Cubs bullpen.

With only two weeks left in the regular season, Ramirez is back and looks like his 2014 self with back-to-back scoreless appearances against the Cardinals over the weekend, striking out four in two innings.

[RELATED - Questions about Cubs playoff rotation begin with Jason Hammel]

With a Cubs bullpen struggling to find consistency beyond Hector Rondon and Pedro Strop, Ramirez could bring stability and serve as an X-factor for Maddon with the postseason just around the corner.

"That was nice to see," Maddon said after Ramirez's second outing against the Cardinals Sunday. "He really threw the ball well; velocity is up. Hopefully his confidence is going to benefit from that moment.

"You might try to get him in a little bit more often if he's throwing that good."

Maddon said he doesn't yet have a specific role for Ramirez, who was activated from the disabled list earlier this month after missing five weeks with an abdominal strain.

Ramirez has also had lingering shoulder issues all year, but he can still dial it up in the mid 90s with his fastball at times and said he feels a lot more like the pitcher who put up a 1.44 ERA and struck out 53 batters in 43.2 innings for the Cubs last season.

"It took all year to get there, but I'm there now," Ramirez said. "My shoulder feels loose now like it did last year. I feel like I can let it go."

Ramirez credits his throwing program with Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio and bullpen coach Lester Strode for helping him regain his 2014 form.

While he doesn't feel his stuff is consistent yet, Ramirez - a former starter - is drawing on his knowledge of pitching to get by even without his best stuff.

"You really have to learn how to deal with the failure, the ups and downs and stuff like that," he said. "I think not having the ability to just go out there and blow it by guys, you have to pitch.

"So right now, I know that I might not be able to run that fastball by guys as much and I've gotta keep it down in the zone and I gotta work on my breaking stuff off that.

"I was a starter for my whole life, so I know how to pitch. I'm gonna kinda take more of a starter's approach when I'm out there because I don't yet have the ability to blow it by guys [consistently]."

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

He appreciated Maddon showing confidence and giving him the ball in the ninth inning of Friday's 8-3 win over the Cardinals.

It was Ramirez's first outing in almost two months and he was stoked to finally get off the sideline and back out on the field to help his team.

"It just sucks, man," Ramirez said. "Anytime a team has the ability to win like it has this year, you want to be a part of that. It's been tough to watch from the sideline. But I'm back now, so I'm just trying to do my part.

"I'm just real hungry and waiting to get my opportunity."

Kyle Hendricks takes in a Blackhawks game with... Bastian Schweinsteiger?

hendricks-schwein-1018.jpg
NBC Sports Chicago

Kyle Hendricks takes in a Blackhawks game with... Bastian Schweinsteiger?

A Cubs pitcher taking in a Blackhawks game in a suite is nothing special, but doing so with a World Cup winner is... different.

Kyle Hendricks was spotted by the cameras of Thursday's Blackhawks-Coyotes broadcast on NBC Sports Chicago. The guy he was standing next to was none other than Chicago Fire midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger, a World Cup with Germany and Champions League winner with Bayern Munich.

Hendricks is known for being reserved on the mound and in his interviews with the media. Meanwhile, Schweinsteiger was filmed yelling "Bear Down" in the hallway of Toyota Park after a Fire practice earlier in the day.

There's no telling what inspired Schweinsteiger to do this, but he has definitely embraced Chicago sports teams since joining the Fire in March of 2017.

Makes you wonder what Hendricks and Schweinsteiger were talking about. Best places to get brats in Chicago?

Ben Zobrist provides a hilarious glimpse into how he's spending a free October

Ben Zobrist provides a hilarious glimpse into how he's spending a free October

Ben Zobrist won't win the Comeback Player of the Year award this winter, but maybe he can take home a Grammy for Best New Artist?

The Cubs veteran infielder/outfielder posted a hilarious video on his Instagram Wednesday night showcasing how he's been spending October after the Cubs were unceremoniously ousted from the playoffs after on the third day of the month.

It's a fantastic music video of Zobrist lip-syncing to Mumford & Sons' "I Will Wait" while he nearly knocks the TV off the wall of his home by swinging the bat indoors pretending to hit off Clayton Kershaw and frolicking around a field that looks shockingly similar to Hershel's farm from the second season of "The Walking Dead":

View this post on Instagram

It always takes me a few weeks to process the season and begin the offseason. Here are my thoughts.....along with a unique way of making light of the postseason that should have been......... (special thanks to @dimtillard for help with Video) Maybe you feel the way I do. It was a very quick and abrupt ending to a good season for us. It leaves a sour taste in my mouth. But let’s not forget all the good that happened. This game and this team gives us something to pass the time, to express our love and passion, to feel the joy of the wins and the pains of the losses, and it calls us to unity when we so easily can be divided about so many other things. Each game is a microcosm of life. The game itself is not Life, but it helps us deal with life in a way. I’m thankful for even the painful losses at the end. The game can be a great teacher. I felt privileged to play with this team and play for our fans all year. We were stretched and we grew in new ways as individuals and as a group and that is always a good thing. We strive to win championships, but more often the process is the goal. We will be stronger because of all that we went through this year. What will I do now? I will travel and watch my wife crush her book tour. I will be in and out of Chi-town. I just got back home to Franklin, TN. I will find joy in raising and watching my kids grow and continue becoming their own person. I will rest and begin preparing for next season. I will work hard in mind, body, and spirit. I will help other players with @patriotforward and @showandgo. I will focus on personal growth and charitable endeavors and become a better man, teammate, friend, and player. To Baseball and Fans: For the next 5 months until I play next year.... I will wait for you....

A post shared by Ben Zobrist (@benzobrist18) on

Zobrist also posted a lengthy caption on his perspective on the Cubs' disappointing end to the season:

It always takes me a few weeks to process the season and begin the offseason. Here are my thoughts.....along with a unique way of making light of the postseason that should have been......... (special thanks to @dimtillard for help with Video) 
Maybe you feel the way I do. It was a very quick and abrupt ending to a good season for us. It leaves a sour taste in my mouth. But let’s not forget all the good that happened. This game and this team gives us something to pass the time, to express our love and passion, to feel the joy of the wins and the pains of the losses, and it calls us to unity when we so easily can be divided about so many other things. Each game is a microcosm of life. The game itself is not
Life, but it helps us deal with life in a way. I’m thankful for even the painful losses at the end. The game can be a great teacher. 
I felt privileged to play with this team and play for our fans all year. We were stretched and we grew in new ways as individuals and as a group and that is always a good thing. We strive to win championships, but more often the process is the goal. We will be stronger because of all that we went through this year. 
What will I do now? I will travel and watch my wife crush her book tour. I will be in and out of Chi-town. I just got back home to Franklin, TN. I will find joy in raising and watching my kids grow and continue becoming their own person. I will rest and begin preparing for next season. I will work hard in mind, body, and spirit. I will help other players with @patriotforward and @showandgo. I will focus on personal growth and charitable endeavors and become a better man, teammate, friend, and player. 
To Baseball and Fans: For the next 5 months until I play next year....
I will wait for you....

Come for the Zobrist lip sync, but stay for the 37-year-old using a bat as a guitar while wearing a sleeveless shirt and rocking an old-timey top hat.

A year ago, Zobrist completely reshaped his offseason workout plan after three straight years of playing deep into October. It appears he's added another new trick to his winter workout — hopping over fences even though there is a clear opening just a foot away.

Hey, whatever works...