Cubs

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Is Milwaukee the biggest NL Central threat to the Cubs?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Is Milwaukee the biggest NL Central threat to the Cubs?

Phil Rogers, Jim Litke and Harry Teinowitz join Kap on the panel. Joe Maddon tweaks the lineup and the Cubs offense explodes to beat the Brewers. Is Milwaukee still the Cubs’ biggest threat in the Central? And is Javy Baez still the Cubs’ MVP?

Plus Roquan Smith puts on the pads to practice but will he have them on in Week 1 at Lambeau?  

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Cubs broadcasters pay tribute to Hawk Harrelson on Kyle Schwarber home run call

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AP

Cubs broadcasters pay tribute to Hawk Harrelson on Kyle Schwarber home run call

Sunday marks the final game for Hawk Harrelson in the White Sox TV booth, as the legendary broadcaster is set to ride off into the sunset on retirement.

So when Kyle Schwarber began the second inning by absolutely hammering Carlos Rodon's first offering into the bleachers in right center, Cubs announcers Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies paid tribute to Harrelson:

"There's a drive and you can put it on the boardddd YES," Kasper belted out. "That's for you, Hawk! Kyle Schwarber with his first homer off a lefty."

"How 'bout that?" Deshaies said. "We didn't even have time to say 'STRETCH!'"

Before Cubs fans take it the wrong way, note there was no intent from Kasper or Deshaies to troll Harrelson, only to pay tribute with "Hawk-isms", as Kasper teased Sunday morning:

It was Schwarber's first dinger since Sept. 5 and the 26th of the season. He's dealt with a back injury throughout the month and has faced some questions about his inconsistent power this season.

But he looks to be finding his stride ahead of the final week of the season. 

After striking out twice and going 0-for-4 while serving as the DH Friday, Schwarber doubled, singled and drew a walk Saturday and then began his Sunday with a long home run. He followed up his second-inning homer Sunday with a third-inning RBI double.

The Cubs could really use Schwarber's bat to get hot in a lineup that has faded quite a bit since the All-Star Break.

Cubs shrugging off the pressure as October baseball looms

Cubs shrugging off the pressure as October baseball looms

Don't start making plans for Oct. 2, assuming the Cubs are a lock to avoid that NL Wild-Card game and have a trio of days off between the final regular season contest (next Sunday) and Game 1 of the NLDS on Oct. 4.

Baseball is a crazy sport and a lot can change in the next eight days, but FanGraphs lists the Cubs' chance of winning the NL Central at 91.3 percent.

Just, you know, don't tell them that.

"Whoa, let's not get that far ahead of ourselves," Jon Lester said Saturday night in the visiting dugout at Guaranteed Rate Field after picking up his 17th win of the season. "We got, what, [8] more games? We're 2.5 ahead. We got a long ways to go. I don't ever wanna jump too far ahead on that one.

"If we had a little bit of a different lead or whatnot, I could probably comment on that. But those are two good teams chasing us. We just gotta keep playing good baseball. We get to go home (even though really these last three days are kinda home), but we get to go home for the remaining week of the season and enjoy that. 

"I think once we start having some champagne and doing that, then you can ask me that question and we'll talk about it then."

Which means we need to wait a bit longer before we get to see Mr. Lester like this again:

But then again, Saturday's game was probably the most important of the season in terms of seeing how the Cubs responded to back-to-back toughlosses where they looked listless and punchless.

Javy Baez led the way, doing his MVP El Mago thing, but White Sox outfielder Ryan LaMarre misjudging Daniel Murphy's line drive in the fifth inning was the break the Cubs needed to wake up fully, eventually coasting to an 8-3 victory.

With the Brewers' loss in Pittsburgh, the Cubs' magic number is now 6 and they were feeling themselves after the game, looking like the team that is on their way to their third straight division title.

"Yeah, we know what we got," Baez said. "We just gotta stay away from every other team. They gotta pay attention to us, not us to them. If we do that, we should be good."

The Cubs have had to endure so much adversity this season to even get to the point Saturday where they were bumping their victory music and quite literally bouncing around a cramped clubhouse with a slew of Chicago media and almost an entire 40-man roster crammed into one small room.

Joe Maddon had to go back to his "A" bullpen for the first time in over a week, piecing it together with Carl Edwards Jr., Jesse Chavez, Justin Wilson and Steve Cishek after Lester. With over a week left, the Cubs' skipper still doesn't have Pedro Strop back and there is now no hope of Brandon Morrow making a miraculous comeback to provide assistance to this bullpen.

Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood were signed over the winter to supplement this Cubs rotation yet ineffectiveness and/or injury has made both right-handers a non-factor on this team for the last two months.

Kris Bryant still isn't back to his 2016 MVP form.

Kyle Schwarber just returned from a back injury and got his timing back Saturday with a pair of hits, as he promised after Friday's game.

Willson Contreras had thought he had made some offensive strides recently to rediscover his lost power stroke, yet wound up grounding out four times Saturday night.

Addison Russell is on administrative leave.

Ian Happ has started one game in the last week. 

Albert Almora Jr. is hitting .219 with a .528 OPS in the second half, enduring a slump that has lasted over two months and counting.

Jason Heyward was in the midst of a resurgent season at the plate, yet has played in only 118 games this season due to a concussion in May and then a hamstring issue three weeks ago that is still keeping him from playing at 100 percent.

Yet, here the Cubs are, ready to enter the final week of the season in the driver's seat of the entire National League.

"I mean, I don't care what place we're in. The most important thing is that you have a chance," Heyward said. "To not have a chance, it's kind of a shitty time to be playing baseball last week of the season if you don't have a chance. It's great to have a chance.

"I've been fortunate enough to not have too many games where I'm playing throughout my career that don't mean anything. We're playing meaningful baseball right now and everything else will speak for itself as far as what place we finish in, all that stuff. But we got an opportunity to get where we want to be. We gotta find different ways to do it and I feel like it's a testament to our team — we've found different ways to get it done."

Sure, the Cubs will take where they're at right now, even if it means they have to wait until the last possible moment to clinch the division.

But make no mistake, they have no thoughts of the wild card. They haven't gone through everything they've had to endure this season — and especially the last five weeks with the 30-day stretch — just to leave the entire season on the chance of a one-game crapshoot.

They know how important it is to clinch as early as they can and try to rest up and get ready for the rest of the postseason, treating the last few games of the season more like spring training where the starters only play half the time and Maddon doesn't have to press the pitchers.

The earliest the Cubs could clinch would be Tuesday night. Last year, they clinched on the Wednesday of the final week of the regular season.

"Of course you'd rather be clinched then just going through another spring training," Maddon said. "Of course you would. But who knows. Sometimes when you get pressed a little bit like this, it can make you even better. 

"The big thing when you get pressed sometimes, I just don't want us to get fatigued while you're going through this. I've been in that situation also. There's not a manager or a team alive that's gonna tell you that they would not prefer clinching well in advance to set it up. 

"That's what we did in '16 and when we did, I talked about running a spring training method for the rest of the season and I thought it played out pretty well. But in the mean time, we do show up, we've been on a tough stretch. I'm really proud of our players."