Game 6… An Experience of a Lifetime, Cubs Reach World Series as Fans Rejoice

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Frederick Krauss, Ph.D.

Hope is the most powerful word in sports. It’s the glue that brings fan bases back together year after year in the belief that some time in the future their loyalty and perseverance will pay off in the experience of a championship. These moments are few and far between for most fan bases, but for the Cubs fan base hope was boiling over on Saturday after generations and generations of being absent from the World Series. Everyone wondered what it would be like to see the day that the Cubs capture the National League pennant for the first time since 1945. I can sum it up in one word from first hand experience from walking through Wrigleyville before the game and from the top row of section 514 during and after the victory– Glorious.

We heard that Wrigleyville was sold out by early afternoon. Not Wrigley Field, all of Wrigleyville was sold out–the bars and restaurants were filled to capacity. With so many establishments in the neighborhood it defied logic that they had no room to get a beer within a mile of the stadium six hours before the game. However, given the gravity of what may transpire that night everything about the day was about to defy logic.

Since anywhere near Wrigleyville was a no-go we decided to get off at Belmont and enjoy a pregame meal at Cheesie’s Pub and Grill. The place was packed, but luckily we somehow got a table. After having a quick bite and pint we began our walk towards the Friendly Confines, not knowing exactly what lied ahead for us that night given the two distinct possibilities. One, the Cubs win and sets off a party that would make New Year’s Eve seem quaint or, two, the Cubs lose and panic sets in with a Game 7 lurking the next night.

As we turned the corner on Sheffield the evidence of hope personified permeated throughout the streets. The sidewalks were flooded with Cubs jerseys, sweatshirts, and hats. W flags hung from the balconies of the apartments along the streets. An inkling of how enormous this event was appeared when we were approaching Sheffield’s Wine and Beer Garden where both inside the bar and outside in the garden were filled wall-to-wall with fans who looked like they have been waiting since morning for the game to start. As we passed the bar we saw a line out the door and a block down on School Street of more people just waiting for a chance to get into the place.

The further we walked up Sheffield the more crowded it became and the longer the lines were to get into bars. Most of these people had no chance to get in because they were completely filled. But, still, here they were trying to be as close to their brethren as possible to potentially bask in a religious awakening.

Once we made it to the cross streets of Sheffield, Newport, and Clark, the scene reached new heights. Clark Street was shut down with police barricades and a sea of people as far as we could see occupied the streets. Forget about getting into a bar as there were lines stretched all the way down the side walks. In the middle of the street fans were drinking and dancing with a nervous energy while vendors littered among the people sold Cubs shirts to capitalize on the moment.

We made it to Addison and looked back in amazement of all the people behind us. Here, behind us was a congregation of hopeful believers. All coming to bare witness what some would argue a miracle. When we turned back around we stood in front of Wrigley Field. This despite its charm and nostalgia had only experienced a handful of pennants but never a championship. However, today there was an overwhelming sense that this time it’s different. Yes, there was apprehension in the air, but with the way this team was built and performed all season something new and refreshing was happening. The time was now for the Cubs to advance to the next stage.

With nowhere to go we made our way inside Wrigley almost two hours before the game. Walking up to the upper deck there was excitement from us, the fans passing buy, and the workers all around. As soon as we got out on the upper deck the field and ivy of green came into view against the back drop of a blue sky, a cityscape, and hints of Lake Michigan peaking through. The Dodgers were taking practice and the stadium was mostly empty, which gave off a feel of a typical July game rather than a playoff clinching game. Still, this was different and senses were heightened. The greens of the field and ivy looked more vibrant and the blue of the sky appeared deeper and more soulful. The appearance of just another game dissipated to the overwhelming energy that fans were giving off as one-by-one entered the field, the main stage of a Shakespearean drama to play out.

Admittedly, at first, the seats on the top row of section 514 seemed a little bit tighter and less leg room than the previous seats we have sat in; however, the thought was only fleeting as the view of the entire field was a sight to behold. We had the luxury in the last row to watch the stands gradually fill up throughout the next hour. Moreover, we also got to see through the fence down behind us the slow build of fans gathering along Addison. By thirty minutes before the game the stadium was filled to capacity in an audacious sea of blue and white. The anticipation for the game to start was growing every second. The fans were not only ready to see the game played, but desperate to see how it will play out in the end. They wanted to know will there be another day added to 71 years of heartache or mass jubilation unlike any that the North Side had experienced.

The player introductions were over and an impressive and uplifting National Anthem sung, and all that was left was for the boys to take the field. The crowds could not take it as the seconds seemed like hours for the on-field Fox producers to give the team the go ahead that they were ready to start. The music was pulsing throughout the stadium speakers and there was a slight nervousness going on like as if you are approaching the initial climb of a roller coaster. Everyone was releasing a collective noise somewhere between a cheer and a tribal call–Game 6 of the NLCS one win from the World Series was really going to happen whether anyone was ready or not. Then all of a sudden the stadium cameras caught a glimpse of players in the dugout looking out towards the field and what may come, but in the background the crowd caught an out of focus Javy Baez smiling, smacking on some gum, and mugging for the camera. He raised his arm and starting pulling it up and down like a long haul trucker on the horn. The crowd welcomed the sight of their young star in the making embrace the moment as a gift. One could hear a huge sigh of relief all the way down to Belmont. If Javy is cool, we’re cool. History is history, this is now. The team was ready and the fans were sure ready. At that moment you got an overwhelming sense that they were going to actually pull this off.

When the team finally took the field the roar was unlike anything I have heard before. This was it. The moment of truth. The crowd refused to sit when Kyle Hendricks delivered the first pitch. Everyone’s feet needed to be firmly planted on the ground to take in the moment. Yet, on the first pitch lead-off hitter Andrew Toles delivered a single. A grown quietly traveled throughout the stands. However, just as quickly on the very next pitch Hendricks got Corey Seager to hit a ground ball right to Baez for a quick 4-6-3 double play that sent all of Wrigleyville into a wild celebration. Only two outs in and all of the North Side could feel a momentum swing into the game.

A seismic shift happened two batters into the bottom of the inning after Dexter Fowler doubled and Kris Bryant flipped a pitch to shallow right field for an RBI single. When Fowler’s foot touched home plate it caused a deafening noise that rattled all of Wrigley Field and sustained through Anthony Rizzo’s at-bat. The thunderous noise and the intensity of the moment could explain the reason why Toles was unable to secure Rizzo’s subsequent liner in left-center and watched it glance off his glove for a two-base error. With Bryant standing on third and Rizzo standing on second with no outs and up a run the crowd turned the sound up another decibel. Bryant was able to make it home on a Ben Zobrist sacrifice fly to push the score to 2-0 after one. Although there was no sense of relief despite a two-run cushion the Cubs fans started to get a warm feeling that maybe this time was different.

Every single person who who watched that game expected some modicum of drama. However, Hendricks was having none of that as he picked apart the Dodgers hitters with his off-speed pitches and an occasional fastball. Little did everyone know, but not much of a surprise with the way he was dealing, that the Dodgers would not get another hit until one out in the eighth inning. Batter after batter Hendricks kept the Dodgers off-balance. Sitting them down with a strike out here and a weak fly ball there.

Hendricks kept the game moving and allowed the offense the ability to relax and not feel pressure to get more runs. Still, they got more. Fowler’s RBI single in the second and homers by Willson Contreras and Rizzo in the fourth and fifth inning respectively grew the lead to 5-0. By then it felt like only a matter of time. Yes, 2003 was in the back of everyone’s mind, but this time felt different. This time it felt like it was all under control, from Hendricks on the mound to Bryant and Rizzo in the field to Joe Maddon in the dugout, there was a trust that they were going to finish this thing. The crowd roared and bolstered with every play save for when Hendricks gave up that second hit in the eighth inning and Maddon went out to get him and replace with Aroldis Chapman. The fans actually met Maddon with a boisterous series of boos before giving way to a standing ovation to Hendricks for what he just accomplished– 7.1 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 6 Ks.

Chapman came in and did what he was brought in to do–dominant. Chapman erased the runner on first in the eighth thanks to another brilliant play by Baez to let a soft liner fall and start an inning ending double. Back out for the ninth was an electric moment. It was happening and no one could contain themselves. After allowing a one out walk Chapman got Yusiel Puig to ground into a bang-bang game-winning and series-clinching double play, which finally gave the Cubs, fans, and the entire North Side what they so desperately, so passionately, so patiently waited for 71 years in the making. People everywhere were hugging and slapping hands while singing “Go Cubs Go” at the tops of their lungs.

As we witnessed the celebrations on the field we looked back down through the fence behind and saw masses and masses of people flood Addison. Sounds of joy rang from every which way. It was one of those moments in sports that transcends sports. It was a cultural phenomenon a piece of not just American sports history, but American history. The Cubs were finally going back to the World Series.

We stayed and soaked all the postgame festivities. Although no one had much of a choice since all of Clark and Addison and Waveland and Sheffield were filled shoulder-to-shoulder with fans in sharing one big delirious moment in ecstasy. The Cubs piled on each other on the pitcher’s mound as the crew was building the stage for the trophy presentation. When the stage was finally built and the players were told to circle around they defiantly ran around the outfield greeting fans in the bleachers. Carl Edwards draped himself in a W flag, the size of which swallowed him whole, and used it as if it were a cape on his back. The fans cheered with great excitement and fervor for every player who eventually took the stage. Jon Lester and Baez were introduced as co-MVPs and the fans responded with a loud chant of “Javy, Javy” which brought a broad smile to Baez’s face. Bryant was welcomed with loud chants of “MVP, MVP.” And arguably the loudest cheer was for David Ross who took the stage last. There had never been a celebration quite like that inside Wrigley Field and even when the postgame festivities were over fans stayed in their seats not interested in going home or wanting the night to end.

We finally started making our way down from the upper deck while listening to the gospel sound of the Blues Brothers “Sweet Home Chicago.” As we made our way down the ramp we looked out over Addison and saw nothing but people. It was a sight to behold. It took sometime to move through the concourse and through the gates. The joy in the air was palpable. Being in a small place with so many people can cause some anxiety, especially when some of those people are climbing the traffic signs and performing stage dives into the crowd. However, all-in-all everyone was celebrating in a peaceful manner. Once we made it through the intersection of Sheffield and Addison we decided to bypass the long lines of the Red Line and make our way into the Chicago night by foot. Before we did, we stopped one last time and turned around  to soak in what we just experienced. Wrigley Field was glowing under its bright lights against the October as fans in the foreground swayed together. The sounds of horns and loud music were heard from all angles. It was sensory overload at its best. Still, we both stopped at that moment and said how grateful we were to witness such an event–the Cubs are going to the World Series.

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The Moment of Truth: Cubs and Fans Ready for Game 6

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Frederick Krauss, Ph.D.

NLCS Game 6
Despite the hysteria of falling behind the Los Angeles Dodgers two games to one the Cubs righted the wrongs and have come back from their West Coast trip up three games to two and one game away from the World Series. This is what was supposed to happen after a 103-win season. Home field advantage with two shots left. Overall, the Cubs have weathered a few storms this postseason and now face one more in Clayton Kershaw.

By now everyone knows what’s at stake for tonight’s game. So there is not much left to be said. Every fan, analyst, and baseball purist is trying to read the tea leaves to find a winner of this game. Some can argue that the Cubs cannot beat Kershaw on five days rest and the weight of history on their shoulders. On the other hand, others can look towards the recharged offense clicking once again as a sign of things to come.

What this game is going to come down is if Kyle Hendricks can hold the Dodgers in check while the Cubs find some way to manufacture enough runs to make the difference. The Cubs and Joe Maddon will have to give it all they got to scratch out a win. Do they have what it takes to finish the Dodgers off in six? We’ll have to wait and see. Go Cubs!

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Cubs Win Thrilling Game 1 But Head to LA Split with Dodgers After Kershaw’s Dominating Game 2 Performance

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Frederick Krauss, Ph.D.

The Cubs are heading to Los Angeles for Games 3-5 in the National League Championship Series tied 1-1. The Dodgers have played the Cubs tough all season, so it should not be a surprise that the series is tied. However, the cause for concern is that a major portion of the Cubs offense has gone cold and they need to get the bats going in Game 3 if they ever want to entertain the hopes of making it to the World Series. It is most likely that Joe Maddon will need to work some of his magic to put together a lineup that will produce. Still, if anything is like the first two games of the series then Game 3 is going to be memorable.

NLCS Game 1
The Cubs keep giving their fans so unforgettable moments in this postseason and the end of Game 1 was added to that list. After an astonishing four-run ninth inning to comeback and beat the San Francisco Giants to move on to the NLCS, the Cubs produced an even more thrilling victory in Game 1 against the Dodgers at Wrigley Field. Miguel Montero delivered the biggest hit in the playoffs by hitting a two-out two-strike pinch hit grand slam to break a tie at three and send the Cubs to a 8-4 victory.

Jon Lester was cruising in the game thanks to amazing defensive plays. The only blemish was giving up a pinch hit solo wind-aided home run to Andre Either, which cut the Cubs lead to 3-1. Although, Lester largely kept the Dodgers off the board for most of the game it took a couple of amazing defensive plays, including an incredible catch by Dexter Fowler in center to maintain the lead. Joe Maddon felt that Lester gave everything he had by the end of the sixth inning and decided to turn the game over to the bullpen. Lester finished the game with six innings pitched, one earned run, and only three strikeouts.

The pitching change eventually set up a wild eighth inning. The Dodgers loaded the bases with no outs down 3-1. In response, Maddon went to Aroldis Chapman early to hold the lead. Chapman got the first two outs, but gave up a single to Adrian Gonzalez, which tied the game at three. The Cubs came back and loaded the bases with two outs against Joe Blanton. Maddon sent Montero to pinch hit and with two strikes on him he hit a hanging slider into the right field bleachers, which sent shockwaves throughout the North Side. Dexter Fowler stepped up while the fans demanded a curtain call for Montero and hit home run to put the Cubs up 8-3.

The victory put the Cubs on the right track as they got great performances by Lester, Montero, and, once again, Javier Baez. The electrifying Baez showed how special he is by stealing home to become the first Cubs player to steal home in the post season since 1907. Baez hit a double in the top of the second, took third on a wild pitch, then made a break for home on Kenta Maeda, which caught Carlos Ruiz off-guard. Sensing the Ruiz was going to throw to third, Baez to home and beat the throw to the plate. This was yet another play to add to Baez’s 2016 highlight reel.

NLCS Game 2
Clayton Kershaw came to the Dodgers rescue once again as the Cubs could only gather two hits off of the ace pitcher. The Dodgers beat the Cubs 1-0, which was the team’s third shutout loss of the season to Los Angeles. Kyle Hendricks pitched well, but his one mistake to Adrian Gonzalez in the second inning was the difference in the game as he was able to lift a ball that barely cleared the basket in centerfield for a home run. Still, there is a concern that the Cubs offense has largely been ineffective all postseason besides a few big innings.

Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell have struggled significantly this postseason. Rizzo is now 1-for 23 and Russell is 1-for-22. However, the real question mark of this game, though, was Maddon’s handling of Jason Heyward. The right fielder continues to provide zero offensive support for the lineup as he is 2-for-18 in the playoffs. Moreover, he has not been able to hit left-handed pitching. This brings up the question of why Maddon would start Heyward against Kershaw, the most dominate left-gander of this era? Maddon dropped Heyward to eighth in the lineup, which showed the little confidence he had in him and is troubling that a player making $21 million a year is batting that low in the playoffs, but that’s beside the point.

Maddon had two right-handed bats in Jorge Soler and Albert Almora, Jr. who could’ve given the lineup the extra punch it needed. However, Maddon opted for Heyward and it went as expected as he did nothing against Kershaw. Maddon compounded the issue when Heyward came up in the bottom of the fifth inning with two on and two outs and he once again opted to stay with him instead of bringing in a pinch hitter. Heyward meekly fouled out to third and allowed the Dodgers to escape with the one-run lead intact. That was pretty much the ballgame as they would never get s better chance to score off of Kershaw.

Managers get themselves into trouble when they give deference to a veteran or player with a big contract over common sense. It made little sense to have Heyward starting the game and made even less sense to not pinch hit for him. However, Maddon stuck to blind loyalty by playing Heyward and the result was the Cubs coming up empty and head to Los Angeles with the series tied 1-1

NLCS Game 3
Jake Arrieta will be making the biggest start of his career in Game 3. He will need to summon his best stuff as there will be little room for error. Arrieta faced the Dodgers once this season and pitched seven scoreless innings of two-hit ball in a 5-0 Cubs loss. The Dodgers had the second-best home record this season behind the Cubs. So Arrieta will need to set the tone early by hitting his spots and keeping Dodgers off of the bases. Walks have got Arrieta into trouble this season, so he will have to make sure he does not give up any free bases. Arrieta has to be careful as a few Dodgers have hit him pretty well throughout their careers. Adrian Gonzalez is 6-for-21 with a home run and two RBI, Josh Reddick is 4-for-9 with a home run, and Yasiel Puig is 2-for-3 with a double. He’ll need to keep those guys from beating him.

The Cubs will be facing former Cub Rich Hill. The Cubs have struggled against left-handers this postseason from Madison Bumgarner, Kershaw, and Matt Moore, but there will be no reprieve as Julio Urias will be pitching in Game 4 and most likely will see Kershaw in game 5. As a result, the Cubs will need to solve their issues with lefties on the fly. Hill had a great year split in between Oakland and Los Angeles. Overall, he went 12-5 with 2.12 ERA. Being the Hill was a former Cub the players have had limited experience hitting against Hill. David Ross is 1-for13, Ben Zobrist is 1-for-2, and Chris Coghlan is 1-for-3. The unfamiliarity of hitting against Hill might work as a detriment to the Cubs hitters, but it is something that they will need to overcome quickly.

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Cubs Remarkable Comeback Earns Them a Return Trip to NLCS to Face Dodgers

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Frederick Krauss, Ph.D.

NLDS Game 4
By the eighth inning of Game 4 of the NLDS Matt Moore had single-handily deflated the best team in baseball. The Cubs looked like a shell of a team, only garnering two hits and two RBI thanks to David Ross off of the Giants lefty. They were down to their final three outs staring down a barrel of an elimination game back at Wrigley against Johnny Cueto and with the possibility of Madison Bumgarner coming out of the bullpen. However, despite their backs being against the wall, Joe Maddon always instilled in this team to play the game through all 27 outs. Then, like a miracle from above, Giants manager Bruce Bochy did them a huge favor and took Moore and his 120 pitches and 10 strike outs out of the game and decided to go to his bullpen up 5-2–a misplaced faith in the worst playoff reliving corps since 1969.

Instead of being sullen and packing their bags to head home, the Cubs licked their chops and jumped on the Giants relief pitching like a pack of ravenous dogs on a ribeye. Derek Law was the first victim as Kris Bryant led off the inning with a single. Next, lefty Javier Lopez was brought in by Bochy to pitch to Anthony Rizzo. It did not turn out as expected as Rizzo forced a walk. Bochy came back out and brought in embattled part-time closer Sergio Romo who promptly gave a up double to Ben Zobrist, which brought in Bryant to make it 5-3 and left two runners in scoring position with no outs.

At this very point is where Maddon outsmarted Bochy. Maddon did not want the righty Romo to face the right-handed hitting Addison Russell. Maddon decided to replace him with left-handed hitting Chris Coghlan, which Bochy responded by summoning the lefty Will Smith. Maddon burned Coghlan and went with rookie right-hander Willson Contreras. The series of moves worked out to perfection as Contreras singled up the middle to score both Rizzo and Zobrist to tie the game at five.

With the go ahead run at first, Maddon had Jason Heyward lay down a sacrifice bunt. However, Heyward’s poor execution almost led to a double-play. Instead, his bunt right back to Smith induced a force out at second and then a throwing error by sure-handed shortstop Brandon Crawford. This allowed Heyward to take second base with one out and set the stage once again for Javier Baez to win the game. Bochy went back to his bullpen to get Hunter Strickland. Still, Bochy’s attempt to slow down the now red-hot Cubs offense went for naught as Baez calmly singled to score Heyward and send the Cubs dugout and collective fan base into pandemonium. The Cubs once down 5-2 20 minutes earlier was now up 6-5 and three outs away to return to the National League Championship Series.

The top-half of the ninth ended with a Ross double-play groundout, which gave way to Aroldis Chapman who was more than ready to fix the wrongs from the previous night’s performance. Chapman came in and quickly dispatched the Giants in 13 pitches of pure heat. After he struck out Brandon Belt, his third of the inning, the Cubs rushed to him to celebrate.

In four games over just five days the Cubs were not only able to re-establish that they are the best team in baseball, but they were able to be put through the fire that all championship teams need to go through. The Cubs and Giants played seven games in the regular season and five were decided by one run, so it was no surprise that three out of four of their postseason games ended were also decided by one. These tests of hard fought victories can only benefit the Cubs going forward as it reminds them that they are the team to beat in these playoffs regardless of past histories. Moreover, it is evident that teams are going to have to play to the Cubs level every inning of every game if they have a chance to upset them.

NLCS Game 1
And now on to the Los Angeles Dodgers who came out of their five-game battle with the Washington Nationals with not much left in the tank. They are an exhausted team, so to speak, but a dangerous one nonetheless. To the Cubs benefit, Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw pitched in three of the games. He started Game 4 on Tuesday, giving the team seven-plus innings and 110 pitches, and then was summoned by manager Dave Roberts in Game 5 to close out the series with the final two outs. Kershaw’s appearance in the clincher makes him unavailable to start Game 1 of the National League Championship Series. Although Game 2 on short rest is a strong possibility. These teams matched up evenly during the regular season as the Cubs won four out of the seven games they played. However, both teams struggled offensively against each team’s superior pitching. The Dodgers shutout the Cubs twice, which is certainly a concern.

The Cubs will have Jon Lester going again to start the series. Lester was superb in Game 1 of the NLDS having pitched 8 shutout innings with no walks. Lester went 1-0 with a no-decision this season against the Dodgers, but in both games he pitched exceptionally well. In his win on June 1 he pitched a complete game leading the Cubs to a 2-1 victory. Moreover, he struck out 10 while not walking a batter. In the no-decision on August 28 he pitched six shutout innings while striking out six and walking two. Lester has had overall success against the current Dodgers roster. They have had a total 115 at-bats against him and Lester has only given up 20 hits with no homeruns. Only five players have had more than ten career at-bats against him and the Dodger with the highest batting average is Howie Kendrick with a .226 average.

The Dodgers will be sending out rookie Kenta Maeda for Game 1. The Cubs have not faced Maeda yet. Overall, he had a good season going 16-11 with a 3.48 ERA. Maeda got one start in the National League Championship Series against the Washington Nationals. He struggled in his first playoff game, only making it through three innings after giving up four earned runs off of five hits. Maeda ended up taking the loss. If the pressure of pitching in the playoffs got to him then he will have an even more difficult time pitching in the hostile environment of Wrigley Field.

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Cubs Take Giants to the Brink with 5-2 Win, Bumgarner Looms in Way of Sweep

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Frederick Krauss, Ph.D. 

The Cubs showed all season that they could overcome any type of adversity, whether it was a major injury, a losing streak, or immense pressure of being a World Series favorite. So when Kyle Hendricks got hit with a liner in the 4th inning instead of folding like most teams or previous Cubs teams would they came together and finished out the 5-2 victory over the Giants. The Cubs got a huge life from Travis Wood who relieved Hendricks and set another Wrigley Field crowd into hysteria with a home run—the first playoff home run by a relief since 1924.

In Game 2, the Cubs came out on fire against former Cub Jeff Samardzija, scoring four runs by the second inning, which ended up chasing him from the game. Ben Zobrist opened the scoring in the first with an RBI single. The Cubs offense, in the second inning, broke the game open with four hits and three runs. The big hit came off the bat of Hendricks who knocked in two with a bases-loaded single. The Giants came back with two runs in the third before Hendricks was hit on his forearm by a liner off the bat of Angel Pagan.

At that point the Cubs faithful could have thought the worst as Connor Gillaspie came to the plate as the tying run. However, Wood came to the mound with all the confidence in the world and calmed everyone’s fears by immediately striking him out. The pitcher’s spot came up in the bottom of the fourth and Maddon decided to stick with Wood who is known to swing the bat well. Wood responded with a blast to the left field bleachers off of George Kontos that sent everyone throughout Wrigleyville into a frenzy.

Maddon then proceeded to put the Cubs bullpen on full display as he marched after Wood, Carl Edwards, Jr. Mike Montgomery, Hector Rondon, and Aroldis Chapman. The Cubs bullpen proceeded to pitch five-plus innings of shutout ball while striking out six and only surrendering two hits. The performance showed that even when things take a possible turn for the worse that this Cubs team has the resiliency and desire to rewrite the organization’s failed playoff history.

NLDS Game 3
The two wins not only puts the Cubs in the position to finish the series, but also prevents the new Mr. October, Madison Bumgarner, from swinging the momentum of this series with a superb performance. Bumgarner showed in the Wild Card game that he is still as dominant as he was in the 2014 postseason. Moreover, no Cubs hitter has had any relevant success against him. Dexter Fowler is 8-for-38 with a triple and an RBI and Miguel Montero is 6-for-32 with a double and two RBI. Other than that, no other Cub has more than 16 at-bats against him. Out of 161 total at-bats against Cubs hitters, Bumgarner has only given up one home run (Jason Heyward). As a result, the Cubs face an uphill battle with Bumgarner.

Luckily for the Cubs, the Giants hitters have had just as much a difficult time with Arrieta as the Cubs have had with Bumgarner. Buster Posey is a mere 1-for-15 against Arrieta. Pagan has had the most success versus him going 5-for-11with a double. On the season against San Francisco Arrieta went 1-1. In the 13 total innings he pitched Arrieta limited the Giants to three runs while striking out 15 batters. The Cubs will need Arrieta to go inning-for-inning against Bumgarner until the bullpens can get into the game.

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Cubs Strike First Behind Lester and Baez to Take Game 1 of NLDS, Hendricks and Samardzija Set for Game 2

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Frederick Krauss, Ph.D. 

In the regular season, the Cubs and Giants played seven games and five out of those seven were one-run games, so it was not a surprise that Game 1 of the National League Division Series ended up being a 1-0 game. As mentioned in the previous article, the pitching staffs are basically neck-and-neck in terms of talent and, as a result, the difference in this series will be intangibles and bullpen. Both came into play as the Cubs beat the Giants in an exciting game before an electric Wrigley Field crowd.

Starting pitchers Jon Lester and Johnny Cueto put on dazzling performances, matching zeros across the board until the eighth inning. Lester gave a masterful performance of eight innings of shutout ball. He struck out five while walking none and retired the last 13 batters he faced. Cueto was just as impressive as he also threw eight innings and struck out ten with no walks as well. The difference of the game was a mistake to Javier Baez whose blast was blown back by the wind coming in. Luckily, he gave it enough of a ride that it fell into the leftfield basket just over the reach of left fielder Angel Pagan, which set the Cubs fans into pandemonium. The run allowed Joe Maddon to bring in hired gun Aroldis Chapman to come into the ninth inning to preserve the shutout and win despite surrendering a two-out double to Buster Posey.

Besides Baez’s home run breaking the 0-0 tie and giving the Cubs the win, the run was the first against the Giants in postseason play in 23 innings. As stated previously, the intangibles are what allowed the Cubs to win. First, it was the defense of David Ross who threw out a runner in the first inning and picked off another in the third to prevent the Giants from getting runners in scoring position. Second, the versatility of Baez allowed Maddon to start him at second base and move Ben Zobrist to left field. Baez’s home run was the second of his career in the post season and both gave the Cubs a lead.

NLDS Game 2
Game 2 is now the all important game. If the Cubs can go up 2-0 heading to the Bay Area then they set themselves up nicely. According to ESPN’s Jayson Stark, out of the 18 series in which a 100-win team went up 2-0 in a best of five series only one team has lost the series—the 2001 Oakland A’s to the New York Yankees.

The game will feature ERA title winner Kyle Hendricks against former Cub Jeff Samardzija. The Cubs faced Samardzija back on September 1 where he only made it through four innings in a 5-4 loss. Much of the talk today will be about how Samardzija turned down an $80 million extension with the Cubs in 2014, which set in motion his trade to the Oakland A’s that brought over Addison Russell. However, the present team today is almost wholly different than the team from 2014. Thus, it would be unfair to suggest that Samardzija passed up an opportunity to play for the Cubs in the postseason when they were nothing close to the team they are today.

Overall, a number of Cubs players have found success against Samardzija. Against him, Kris Bryant is 3-for-6 with a double and RBI, Dexter Fowler is 7-for-24 with two triples and home run, and Miguel Montero is 3-for-11 with a triple. The player with arguably the most success against Samardzija has been Chris Coghlan who is 4-for11 with a double and two home runs and 5 RBI. That won’t necessarily mean Coghlan gets the start today, but he could once again become the first guy off the bench if Maddon needs a hit off of Samardzija.

On the other side, Hendricks has largely kept the Giants hitters in check throughout his career. The Giants batters have had a total of 44 at-bats against him and Hendricks has only given up one home run and five RBI. The lone player that has had success against him is first baseman Brandon Belt who is 3-for-7 with a triple, a home run, and two RBI. In a small sample size, Hunter Pence is 2-for-2 against Hendricks. Most importantly, Buster Posey is only 2-for-8 against Hendricks with only a double and one RBI. Hendricks will need to continue to be at the top of his game today as the Giants always seem to play better with their back against the wall.

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NLDS Preview: How Cubs and Giants Match-Up

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Frederick Krauss, Ph.D.

The Cubs begin their World Series push with the difficult task of facing the San Francisco Giants. As many are fully aware, the Giants have won the World Series in every even year of this decade–2010, 2012, and 2014. To the casual fan it might not seem like a big deal given that 2016 is just another year. To the baseball fan it is an obstacle the team must contend with as superstition, history, and tradition surrounds and permeates baseball unlike any other sport. Manager Joe Maddon referenced the great John Wooden in saying that he is just focused on his team playing the right way and not focused on the opponent. If his team plays the right way the whatever happens he can live with. As the Cubs have shown all season, if they play fundamentally sound baseball they are a difficult team to beat.

The Cubs and Giants played seven times this season with the Cubs winning the season series 4-3. Most recently, the teams faced each other four times at Wrigley at the beginning of September with the Cubs taking three out of four. However, each game was a one-run game and the last of which went into extra innings. It goes to show just how close these teams are to each other.

A further statistical comparison explains that there is not too much distance between the two. The Cubs starting pitching ERA was by far the best in baseball with a 2.96 average. However, the Giants starters were not too far behind with a 3.71 ERA, which ranked them fifth overall in MLB. The bullpens will certainly come into play this series and despite the differences in ranking the bullpens are not far a part either in terms of team ERA. The Cubs bullpen ranked eighth in ERA with a 3.56 average while although the Giants ranked 15th they still had an ERA of 3.65. The main difference between the two is that the Cubs acquired flamethrower Aroldis Chapman at the trade deadline; whereas, the Giants bullpen consistently faltered in the second half to the point where they almost did not make the playoffs.

The offensive-side is quite similar as well. The Giants team batting average was .258, which was good for 11th in MLB. The Cubs were not too far behind with a .256 average, good for 14th overall. The biggest discrepancy between the two teams is probably in runs scored. The Cubs finished the season ranked third overall with 808 runs, while the Giants were ranked 19th with just 715 total runs. This could be explained in the difference of team home runs as the Cubs finished the 2016 season with 199 home runs. The Giants, on the other hand, only had 130 home runs. The 69 home run difference is a big reason for the gap in runs and could be a difference-maker.

The Cubs overall have a formidable playoff starting rotation of Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jake Arrieta, and John Lackey. However, the Giants new starting rotation with the addition of Matt Moore before the trade deadline is almost as strong. They boast October legend in the making Madison Bumgarner, last season’s World Series hero in Johnny Cueto, and former Cub Jeff Samardzija to go along with Moore. Luckily the Cubs don’t have to face Bumgarner until Game 3 and not Game 1 having pitched a complete game shutout in the Wild Card Game against the New York Mets.

The Giants also have catcher Buster Posey, shortstop Brandon Crawford, and first baseman Brandon Belt. The Cubs, though, have the top two front runners for National League MVP in Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo. Moreover, for the Cubs they have arguably the most versatile team as Bryant has played six positions this season, while Javier Baez can play outfield and any infield position. Ben Zobrist can play outfield as well as his usual second base. Finally, starting catcher Willson Contreras can also play outfield and has the athletic ability to play infield if the circumstances dictated as such.

With the team’s so evenly matched the series is going to come down to the intangibles and the bullpen. It is going to come down to the ability of Managers Joe Maddon and Bruce Bochy’s to manufacture runs when given the opportunity. The difference in this series will be which team is able to get runners over, to take the extra base, or to make the defensive play when needed.

Many believed that the Cubs would breeze through the NLDS, but this certainly will not be the case. The Cubs and Giants series will be an all out war and whoever can do the little things best will come out on top. The Cubs set themselves up for home field advantage, so it’s important for them to go to the Bay Area up 2-0 against Bumgarner. There is no doubt that Maddon has his team prepared for this series, now the anticipation rests on seeing if everything will pay off.

NLDS Game 1
The first game of the series will see Jon Lester against Johnny Cueto. This is a tough pitching matchup for both offenses. Each lineup has had limited success against the other. The current Cubs roster, in total, has 141 at-bats against Cueto and only has surrendered two home runs–one to Anthony Rizzo and one to Chris Coghlan. Kris Bryant has had moderate success against Cueto going three for five.

The two players that Lester has struggled with in tonight’s lineup is Posey and Denard Span. Posey is 5 for 16 with a home run and two RBI while Span is 8 for 28 with 3 RBI. What Lester had going for him is that he has pitched quality starts in all 21 of his home games this year. If he is able to duplicate that and pitch deep into the game then the Cubs should be in good hands with Hector Rondon and Chapman.

NOTE
I recommend Cubs fans to read this remarkable story on si.com from Senior Writer Michael Rosenberg about the life of Steve Goodman, the songwriter to “Go, Cubs, Go.”

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Cubs Complete 2016 Regular Season with Wins 102 and 103 Against Reds, Lackey Falls Short of 20 Wins… Now on to the Playoffs!

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Frederick Krauss, Ph.D.

Game 160
The Cubs beat the Cincinnati Reds in the opener of their final series 7-3 thanks in large part to Ben Zobrist. The veteran led the way with two home runs and three RBI to move the Cubs to 102 wins on the season. Manager Joe Maddon has given Zobrist significant rest since the Cubs have clinched the best record in the National League and it has certainly helped. He now has 11 hits in his last 22 at-bats including 2 home runs and 8 RBI. Anthony Rizzo also contributed to the victory with 2 RBI. Jake Buchanan got his first MLB start since 2014 and showed he is more than capable of being a major league pitcher. He threw five innings of shutout two-hit ball. The win moved the Cubs record against the Reds this season to 14-3.

Game 161
The Reds finally got a little revenge by beating the Cubs 7-4 in their second-to-last game of the season. This game was set-up for Jon Lester to earn his 20th win of the season, which would be a career first. Unfortunately, he let the opportunity slip by and labored through five innings in which he gave up five runs for the first time since July 9. The loss was his first in the second half and prevented him from slamming the door on a Cy Young season. Joe Maddon used a lineup that he admitted might be the one he uses to open the National League Division Series on Friday night. Notably, the lineup featured Kris Bryant playing in left field and Javier Baez playing third base. Maddon also had Jason Heyward in the lineup at right field.

Game 162
The Cubs finished the regular season on a high-note winning their 103rd game of the season after beating the Reds 7-4 in a wild comeback win. The Cubs were headed towards their second loss in a row down 4-3 and down to their final strike when Matt Szczur doubled in two runs to make it 5-4 and Miguel Montero followed with a two-run shot to put the game out of reach. Kyle Hendricks had a chance to end the season with a below 2.00 ERA, but unfortunately he couldn’t become the third Cubs pitcher in nearly 100 years to accomplish the feat. Instead, he finished his season ERA with a 2.13 average, which is still good for the ERA title.

In the end, the Cubs showed that the magic that was there at the beginning of the year was still there at till the end of the regular season. Now, they and all the fans on the North Side and around the globe hope that the magic will continue for one more month.

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Cubs Take Series Against Pirates, Go Over the Century Mark in Wins Despite Arrieta’s Struggles

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Frederick Krauss, Ph.D.

Game 156
The Cubs (100-56) used a familiar formula to get their 100th win of the season–strong pitching, big hits, and great defense. This time the pitching was from Cy Young candidate Kyle Hendricks and utility superstar Javier Baez.

Hendricks pitched six innings of shutout ball, which helped move his record to 16-8. Even more so, Hendricks dropped his ERA to an MLB-leading 1.99 average. He is the only ERA qualifier to have a sub-2.00 average this season.

Javier Baez had his best offensive game of the season going 2-5 with a grand slam and knocking in a career-high six runners. Kris Bryant also got into the act by hitting a two-run shot in the sixth inning to give him 39 home runs and 100 RBIs on the season. The win gave the Cubs their first 100-win season since 1935.

Game 157
John Lackey looked like he wrapped up the fourth spot in the playoff rotation in the Cubs 6-4 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates. Lackey held the Pirates to just one run on five hits over five innings of work. The veteran has been in a battle with Jason Hammel for the final spot in the playoff rotation; however, Lackey has created a significant separation between the two over the last month that it would be a surprise if he doesn’t earn the final spot.

Chris Coghlan had the big hit of the game hitting a shot of the wall with the bases loaded, which drove in three runs. Dexter Fowler also had a big hit with a two-run double. Felix Pena got the final two outs in the ninth inning to earn his first MLB save. The win pushed the Cubs win total to 101, which is their highest since 1910.

Game 158
The Cubs (101-57) dropped the third game of the series to the Pittsburgh Pirates 8-4. Jake Arrieta struggled in his last outing of the regular season as he only went five innings giving up seven runs on 10 hits, both season highs. It was certainly not a performance that would bring confidence into the playoffs.

The game was the John Jaso show as the Pirate first baseman became the first player to hit for the cycle at the 16-year old PNC Park. Jaso did the majority of his damage off of Arrieta. He hit a single in the second inning, a three-run home run in the fourth, and a double in the fifth. Jaso completed the cycle by tripling in the seventh off of Pedro Strop. In total, Jason went 4-4 with 5 RBI and two runs scored.

Game 159
In the final game of the series the Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates fought to a 1-1 tie… A tie? In baseball? Yes, the teams played to the first tie since 2005. The game went into a rain delay in sixth inning and since the outcome did not affect the playoff race the game was called. Willson Contreras collected two hits and scored the Cubs only run. Reliever Rob Zastryzny made his first major league start. He gave a solid performance pitching three plus innings while only giving up one earned run.

The Cubs move on to Cincinnati to take on the Reds in the season finale series before they wait for their opponent in the National League Division Series.

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