Cubs still believe after not living up to Wrigley/World Series hype: ‘We’re going back to Cleveland’

Cubs still believe after not living up to Wrigley/World Series hype: ‘We’re going back to Cleveland’

The sound of silence took over Wrigley Field for a moment late Friday night as Javier Baez swung through Cody Allen’s 94.3-mph chest-high fastball. The Cleveland Indians closer struck out Baez, who has delivered so many times for Cubs fans this October that the crowd of 41,703 anticipated another highlight-reel moment.

The organ music began once this ancient ballpark’s first World Series game in 71 years ended, Baez leaving two runners stranded as the Indians lined up to shake hands after a 1-0 win. The Cubs now have to figure out how to get out of this 2-1 hole in a best-of-seven series, starting with trying to solve Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber on Saturday night.

“We (or) I – cause I was one of ‘em – tried to speed up things today too much,” Baez said afterward at his locker. “We were kind of trying to do things before we did it. And we got to stop doing that and play our game.”

That’s how the Cubs spun the Indians ruining the Wrigleyville block party and changing the narrative for an event that saw Major League Baseball issue 2,100 credentials to media covering the biggest story in sports.

“I have a biased opinion, but we’re the best team in baseball,” reliever Justin Grimm said. “We’re going to bounce back tomorrow. Obviously, we’re going back to Cleveland, for sure. We’re going to be all right. And we’re going to get it done.”

[MORE: Cubs offense gets back on the roller coaster again in World Series]

Grimm stood in the clubhouse shirtless after inducing his first double play this year in the fifth inning, getting a groundball from Francisco Lindor and bailing the Cubs out of the bases-loaded jam Kyle Hendricks created with an uncharacteristic walk and hit-by-pitch. 

It’s too simple to say the Cubs were distracted – and too insulting to a Cleveland team that features its own pitching/scouting infrastructure, a well-rounded core of position players, Andrew Miller creating all these possibilities for the bullpen and future Hall of Fame manager Terry Francona pushing all the buttons.

It’s also impossible to ignore the helicopters buzzing above the North Side for hours, the mounted police lined up outside the iconic marquee, the mobile command centers near the old McDonald’s lot and all these people spilling out of the Wrigleyville bars.

“It’s like Times Square on New Year’s Eve out there,” team president Theo Epstein said.

“Driving down Clark today was quite an adventure,” manager Joe Maddon said. “You could make a video game out of that.”

Five years ago this week, Epstein took over baseball operations, promising October nights like this before systematically tearing it down to build up the best team in the game. Cubs fans sat through a 101-loss season in 2012 and two more fifth-place finishes before last year’s surprise breakthrough into the National League Championship Series.

Walking a few blocks from his Lakeview home to work on Friday, Epstein stopped for about 150 selfies.

“It’s just unbelievable,” Epstein said. “Everyone was in a great mood. You see them with their dads and granddads, extended family. Everyone’s sharing it. It just seems like well-earned joy for people.”

Before the game, the Cubs paraded about 170 scouts and player-development staffers around the field, recognizing their efforts in shaping a team stocked with homegrown players like Baez, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Willson Contreras and young building blocks like Hendricks and Addison Russell.

Hall of Famer Billy Williams threw out the first pitch to bench coach Dave Martinez. The place filled up with former Cubs (Ryne Sandberg, Derrek Lee, Kerry Wood, Mark Prior), rock stars (Billy Corgan, Jack White), a “Mad Man” (Jon Hamm trolled Cubs fans by wearing a St. Louis Cardinals hat) and the A-list celebrity for the seventh-inning stretch (Bill Murray).

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

Even Schwarber walking up to the plate as an eighth-inning pinch-hitter with Bone Thugs-N-Harmony’s “Thuggish Ruggish Bone” blasting from the sound system couldn’t stop the Cubs from getting shut out for the fourth time in their last eight playoff games. Instead of driving another ball onto the video board, Schwarber’s broken-bat pop-up against Indians reliever Bryan Shaw landed safely in Lindor’s glove.

“We were so anxious to win this game,” Contreras said. “We were trying to do too much.”

That could be part of the explanation, but the Indians clearly aren’t just happy to be here. If it hasn’t already, all this euphoria will wear off as soon as Cleveland hands Kluber a lead on Saturday night and Miller starts warming up in the bullpen.

“This seems like a holiday,” Epstein said, “but we have three hard-fought wins ahead of us.”

Javy Baez should be the frontrunner for NL MVP heading into the All-Star Break

Javy Baez should be the frontrunner for NL MVP heading into the All-Star Break

If the season ended today, Javy Baez may be your National League MVP.

Of course, the season isn't ending today, only the first half of the 2018 campaign is.

He flashed his skills again over the weekend — scoring the game-winning run Friday, posting a 5-RBI game Saturday and then drove in the Cubs' first run in their 7-4 victory Sunday to close out a sweep of the Padres.

Entering the All-Star Break, Baez should be the frontrunner for Most Valuable Player.

For starters, he's the best player on the best team in the league.

Thanks to a recent hot surge by the Cubs and an ugly weekend for the Brewers (who have lost 6 straight), Baez and Co. will go into the break with the best record in the NL. 

Baez, meanwhile, leads the Cubs in WAR and nearly every offensive category — OPS, slugging percentage, homers, RBI, runs scored, doubles, triples, total bases, stolen bases and hits.

And that's not even saying anything about his glovework at any position on the infield or dynamic baserunning.

He's on pace to become the first Cubs player to drive in 125 runs since Sammy Sosa in 2001.

Baez also is on track for a 30-30 season — something only Sosa accomplished in a Cubs uniform in 1993 and 1995. 

El Mago will enjoy his week in the Home Run Derby and as the NL's starting second baseman in the All-Star Game, but those shouldn't be the end of his accolades this year if he can find a way to keep this pace up in the second half.

What other NL candidate would be a better choice for the MVP right now?

Baez is tied for the league lead in RBI. Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar is just behind Baez with 70 RBI, but he also has 70 fewer at-bats than the Cubs star due to a platoon to begin the year. 

Eugenio Suarez and Scooter Gennett are also having great years, but the Reds are nowhere close to a playoff spot. 

Nolan Arenado, Freddie Freeman and Paul Goldschmidt are also having very good seasons on teams that are currently in the playoff hunt, but how do you deny the best player on the league's best team?

After all, where would the Cubs be without Baez this season? 

Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo have battled through injuries and bouts of ineffectiveness, the pitching staff has had all kinds of consistency/health woes and Willson Contreras has yet to find his power stroke at the plate.

At the very least, "El Mago" has been the most important player on the North Side of Chicago during the first 3.5 months of 2018.

Nico Hoerner makes great catch in first game with South Bend

Nico Hoerner makes great catch in first game with South Bend

Cubs first-round pick Nico Hoerner made his debut with the Class-A South Bend Cubs, and he did not disappoint.

The 23-year old shortstop showed off impressive hops during an acrobatic grab in the topf of the second inning in his first game with the South Bend Cubs. Hoerner will surely be an exciting defensive prospect with ability like this.

As far as offense goes, through four at-bats at South Bend, Hoerner is batting .500, and this comes after he hit .318 with a home run and two RBI through seven games with the Eugene Emeralds, the Cubs Class A short-season affiliate.

Here is to hoping we continue to see big-time plays from Hoerner.