Cubs

Cubs see World Series window opening now: ‘Why not us?’

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Cubs see World Series window opening now: ‘Why not us?’

It felt like no one wanted to leave Wrigley Field on Tuesday night, “Go Cubs Go” and “Sweet Home Chicago” playing on a loop after this rising team planted a “W” flag in October.

Fans could look up at the huge video board in left field and watch the players in goggles spray each other with champagne — Hey, was that Eddie Vedder? — a cool look behind the curtain at the clubhouse dance party/light show after eliminating the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Friendly Confines are under construction and will get tricked out with more and more modern amenities. But when the Cubs posed for team pictures on the mound, they got the old-school center-field scoreboard as the iconic backdrop.

This could become Major League Baseball’s biggest playoff stage for years to come. Or at least this franchise shouldn’t have to wait another century for the next playoff-series-clinching-win on home turf.

[MORE: Knock on wood: Trevor Cahill has resurrected his career with Cubs]

The Cubs have all these young power hitters, big arms at the front of their rotation, the star manager people want to play for and stability in the front office and the owners’ suite.

Wrigley Field is guaranteed only two more games in the National League championship series next week, but understand the Cubs aren’t just happy to be here, knowing they are eight wins away from a parade down Michigan Avenue.  

“I feel like we’re the team this year,” chairman Tom Ricketts said. “We’re young. We’re playing well. Everybody’s loose. Joe (Maddon) has got everyone believing. That’s all you need. Every year, there’s that one team that has the momentum.

“This year, why not us?”

The Cubs know two wild-card teams made it to last year’s World Series, with the San Francisco Giants beating the Kansas City Royals in a dramatic Game 7, earning their third title in five seasons.

The Cubs are getting hot at the right time, winning 12 of their last 13 games and taking out the Pittsburgh Pirates and rival Cardinals, the two teams with the best regular-season records in baseball (198 wins combined).

That’s why Jake Arrieta said no one wants to play this team right now. The Cubs won’t be intimidated by the idea of going on the road to face either the Los Angeles Dodgers or New York Mets, whoever wins Thursday’s Game 5 at Chavez Ravine.

“It’s just getting started,” said Arrieta, who might have won a Cy Young Award with his breakthrough season. “We’ve come a long way. We weren’t expected to get this far. So to be where we are right now, it’s such a rewarding thing for everybody involved — the city of Chicago, the fans, the players.

“It’s hard to completely put into words how far we’ve come. But we’ve got a couple stages to go. And we’re ready for it.”

Jon Lester grew up on the arms race between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees and wanted to be a transitional figure for baseball’s next potential superpower.

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The $155 million lefty signed that six-year megadeal last winter knowing the Cubs would have Anthony Rizzo (26), Kris Bryant (23), Jorge Soler (23), Kyle Schwarber (22) and Addison Russell (21) in place as building blocks.

“That’s the big thing,” Lester said. “You look at a lot of the great teams that were good for a long time — the Yankees (recently) and the Red Sox for a little while. They had a core group of guys that came up through the system and believed in what the system believes in.

“You see the Cardinals have done it for (so) long with their guys. It’s a big building point. You have a group of guys (who) figure out how to win together, then that just trickles down to the next guys that come up. They want to do the same thing. And then when the free agents come in, they don’t want to let those guys down.”

Talking World Series in 2015 would have sounded crazy while the Cubs were losing 286 games and writing off three major-league seasons. But any sense of dread has been overwhelmed by the feeling that anything seems possible. 

“Obviously, times weren’t easy the last few years,” Rizzo said. “But with all the talent we had – and all the talent we were building – everyone knew that the Cubs were coming.

“We’re here. And hopefully we can keep this thing going.”

A series to forget: Facts and figures from Cubs' rough weekend in Cincinnati

A series to forget: Facts and figures from Cubs' rough weekend in Cincinnati

The Cubs and their fans may want to invent and use one of those Men In Black neuralyzers because the four-game series in Cincinnati was one to forget.

The Reds finished off a four-game sweep of the Cubs on Sunday with an 8-6 win. The way the Reds won the finale will be especially painful for the Cubs considering they led 6-1 after six innings. Mike Montgomery appeared to tire in the seventh inning and Pedro Strop got rocked out of the bullpen to lead to a seven-run seventh for the hosts.

The Reds have now won seven in a row and 10 of 12, but still sit 13 games under .500. Bizarrely, the Reds also swept the Dodgers, the Cubs’ next opponent, in a four-game series in May. Duane Underwood will start for the Cubs Monday against the Dodgers and make his major league debut.

Here are some other wild facts and figures from the series:

  • The last time the Reds swept the Cubs in a four-game series was back in 1983. That was the first week of the season and three weeks before the infamous Lee Elia rant.
  • One positive for the Cubs from the game was Montgomery’s start. Through six innings he allowed one run on three hits and two walks. However, he gave up a single, a double and a single in the seventh before Strop relieved him. Montgomery had gone six innings and allowed one run in each of his last four outings.
  • Strop was definitely a negative. On his first pitch, Strop gave up a home run to pinch-hitter Jesse Winker, the second home run for a Reds pinch-hitter in the game. Then Strop allowed a single, a walk, a single and a double before getting an out. Strop’s final line: 2/3 inning pitched, four runs, one strikeout, three walks, four hits.
  • The Cubs led in three of the four games this series, including two leads after five innings.
  • The Cubs were 5-for-23 (.217) with runners in scoring position in the series. On the season the Cubs are hitting .233 with RISP, which is 22nd in the majors and fourth-worst in the National League (but ahead of the division-rival Brewers and Cardinals).
  • The Reds outscored the Cubs 31-13 and scored at least six runs in every game. The Reds are now 6-3 against the Cubs this year after going a combined 17-40 against the Cubs from 2015-2017.

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 32nd homer in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 32nd homer in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

Sosa victimized the Tigers pitching staff again on the next night, taking Brian Moehler deep in the 7th inning for a 400-foot solo blast.

The homer tied the game at 3, but the Cubs blew the lead in the bottom of the 7th when the Terrys (Adams and Mulholland) gave up 3 runs. The Cubs wound up losing 6-4.

The Cubs were putting together a really nice season in 1998 that ended with a trip to October. They entered the series with the Tigers with a 42-34 record, yet lost both games to a Detroit team that entered the series with a 28-45 record. The Tigers finished the season 65-94; the Cubs finished 90-73.

Fun fact: Luis Gonzalez was the Tigers left fielder and No. 5 hitter for both games of the series. He spent part of the 1995 season and all of '96 on Chicago's North Side. 1998 was his only year in Detroit before he moved on to Arizona, where he hit 57 homers in 2001 and helped the Diamondbacks to a World Series championship with that famous broken-bat single in Game 7.

Fun fact  No. 2: Remember Pedro Valdes? He only had a cup of coffee with the Cubs (9 games in 1996 and 14 in '98), but started in left field on June 25, 1998. He walked and went 0-for-1 before being removed from the game for a pinch-hitter (Jose Hernandez).