Northside Mailbag

Northside Mailbag

  1. Does Jon Lester’s 2 2/3 inning on Saturday worry you about an injury or lack of self-confidence?

I’m not really worried about Lester being Lester, albeit sluggish at times. Looking back at last season, Lester struggled with ups and downs in the season. He seems a bit frustrated, but a few cold games for the Cubs offense doesn’t help. I think he’ll refocus before his next start I don’t foresee it being a lingering issue. This team needs this stretch to solidify themselves come August.

 

  1. Do you think Jorge Soler finally gets “the message”?

FINALLY, the day we’ve all been waiting for. I would say yes; it seems like Soler Power is at full power as we approach June. Soler looks more confident all around, and it’s the right time. Injury wise, missing Schwarber hasn’t been as evident, but it’s nice having Soler step up more than ever, especially with Jason Heyward struggling with bumps and bruises from doing the incredible on a nightly basis.

 

  1. Are you worried about the struggling offense and would you call it a slump?

I’m not exactly worried, as even Joe himself said this team would have stretches like this. It’s important. Think about teams with recent dominant success in the regular season, the Capitals in the NHL for example. They dominated regular season play, winning the Presidents Trophy, and they’re golfing after a second round exit. The Cubs need these cold stretches to figure out what works best and what doesn’t. It’ll heat up sooner rather than later.

 

  1. Do you think Addison Russell is emerging as one of the best shortstops in baseball?

I really do. God I love Addison Russell. Can we give Theo an extra hundred million? I mean think of that trade, and all the fans that were freaking out about throwing away pitching. Russell has sharpened his game, and during spring training I said he looked more comfortable than ever, and not only defensively but offensively. That was never more evident than in the home opener back in April against Cincinnati. Man, that game winning jack gave him a status he hasn’t experienced yet. He’ll continue to grow; I don’t think he’s anywhere near his full potential yet.

 

  1.  Joe Maddon is so unpredictable that you never know what he might do. We’ve seen him switch around the lineup and sometimes keep it the same. Tell us your most perfect lineup and why it’s perfect in your opinion.

I think Joe being Joe is what makes the Cubs so special. The unpredictability not only keeps things from getting stale, but it makes it harder to pitch against. I don’t think I’ve seen a bad lineup yet. If I had to go with my perfect lineup, I’d go this route: Zobrist, Soler, Rizzo, Bryant, LaStella, Heyward, Montero, Russell and Arrieta. I guess I have to throw a pitcher in there? I’d think #JakeCanRake would make it set. Zobrist is just so phenomenal at the dish of late, and with the surge from Soler it’s nice having Bryzzo behind him. LaStella has been so solid this season, and though I love Baez, I want that consistency more than anything. Heyward’s offense is coming, and having him with the potential of RISP is the best option. Montero and Russell round out that area, with Russell being just as solid as Zobrist, good having them front and back. Is that the perfect lineup? Maybe not, but it’s the one I like most. It’s fun seeing Joe play around a bit though.

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Connor Ulrey @ConnorUlrey

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Why business is business on the Northside

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The Cubs closed out the home stand against Pittsburgh on Sunday with a loss, but it’s business as usual as May starts to wind down. Garret Cole was lights out on Sunday, with the Pirates squeaking out a win after Jon Lester lost his no-hitter, but his comments left me a bit quizzical.

Cole was great, and even at 4-3 is still one of the better pitchers in the Central, but what he said on Sunday doesn’t add up. Cole said that they “take it one game at a time” and that he doesn’t think the Cubs are the “best team in baseball.” I get that he’s a player built on a team in the NL Central that is near the top of the division every year, but even players on other teams have marveled at what the Cubs have been able to do this year.

Sitting at 27-9 the Cubs are still eight full games ahead of the Pirates and have a winning percentage of .750. The Pirates, sitting those eight games back, have just a .528 winning percentage, just above the Cardinals who sit at .526.

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The Cubs have been led the past week by the astonishing bat of Ben Zobrist, who after Sunday is hitting .317 with five home runs, 28 RBI’s and 38 hits in 34 games. Zorilla as he’s known on the Northside, sparked an offense that already had the best run differential in baseball by a mile.

The reason Cole’s claim is so far fetched is just how ahead the Cubs are statistically. Run differential, wins against losses, pitching wise, hitting wise, the Cubs are far ahead of not only their NL Central counterparts but the league in general. Anthony Rizzo is in the top five in home runs, second in RBI’s. Fowler and Zobrist sit at two and four in the OBP standings, and Arrieta is first in earned run average and second in wins.

Overall the Cubs continue to produce, with scattered losses, but show no signs of slowing down. The bats are heating up, as most thought they would, and if the offense continues pace, the Cubs could not only be the best team in baseball this season, but have one of the best seasons in major league history.

 

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Connor Ulrey @ConnorUlrey

Northside Mailbag

Northside Mailbag

  1. Has anyone been fined for not living up to Maddon’s dress code (that you know of) and what do you think about his rules?

Thinking back on these one-plus years with Joe on the Northside I can’t recall any players being fined for dress code. The difference between Joe’s rules and other rules is that it seems like the players have universally accepted it as more of a way of life than a stipulation. It’s all fun in the Cubs clubhouse and I think that Maddon’s dress code brings the whole team mentality up a level.

 

  1. Why do the Cubs not take batting practice before the games?

Maddon gave a good reason why the Cubs don’t take BP before games anymore and it seems to be the right move as the season progresses. They hit in the cages from time to time, but as Maddon put it, it’s becoming excessive. “I think it’s the most overrated thing we do on a daily basis,” Maddon said to MLB.com. “We swing the bat way too often.” There’s nothing wrong with that mentality, it’s like overwarming up, you just don’t want to do it. Some guys really love batting practice, some don’t. “Batting practice became a longer exercise, and extra batting practice and hitting off tees and hitting in cages and swinging and swinging and swinging, I think it can be counterproductive,” he said.

 

  1. What are your takeaways from the month of April?

April was a fun month all around for Chicago, not just on the Northside. The Cubs were strong to close out April, winning series against the Cardinals, Reds, Brewers and Braves before heading into May. The main takeaways are actually on the mound, with the rotation looking stronger and stronger as the season progresses. Arrieta’s no-hitter against the Reds was just the icing on the cake on a month of solid pitching. Batting wise the bats heated up late April, with the Cubs scoring six-plus runs in five games over the last three series of the month. Moving forward, May seems like an even better month looming on the Northside.

 

  1. With it being about a full calendar month of baseball, do you see the Cubs slowing down at some point or will they continue to keep their bats hot like this into October?

I want to be optimistic and say no, but you have to expect little bumps every now and then. But looking back on these past two stands against the Pirates and Nationals, seven straight wins, and sitting at 24-6, the Cubs look sharper than ever. If they were beating up on low-caliber teams the hype on the Northside wouldn’t be as real, but a four-game sweep of the second place Nationals puts it into perspective just how good this team is. Even with Arrieta not putting up Arrieta numbers Sunday, the Cubs found a way to win still. Pitching is going to have its hiccups, players are going to slump. I think it’ll catch up to them a bit, but as the season moves forward the team looks insanely good, and I look for that to continue.

 

  1. What are your thoughts on Jason Heyward and his slow start?

I’m not worried about Heyward, and here’s why. Yes, Heyward can swing a bat, but looking at his numbers, he’s never been a dominant power hitter in this league. I was most looking forward to the addition of his defensive ability and we’ve seen that more often than not through the first month of play. Battling a wrist injury, Heyward is showing signs of progress not only in his game, but in his cohesion with the organization as a whole. He loves being in Chicago, that’s evident. The bat is going to come back, and it’ll be key for the Cubs, but it’s definitely not something to worry about right now. Depth has shown how huge a card it is for the Cubs through the first month, with Heyward still trying to find his groove, the other guys will back him up, that’s been proven.

 

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Connor Ulrey @ConnorUlrey

How crazy is baseball in Chicago right now?

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With so much going on in our country that’s got everyone and their mom worried about the future, sports seem to be the one thing that keeps people sane heading deeper into 2016.

All the talk has been placed squarely on the Northside, and for good reason, with the Cubs having their best start to a season since 1907, and look like the team everyone thought they were (insert Dennis Green joke).

But as a whole, how insane is baseball in Chicago? It’s not just the Cubs winning ballgames and turning heads. The White Sox sit at 18-8 on the Southside, and have turned all eyes onto the entire city of Chicago.

A ridiculous combined 35-14 (heading into the Cubs road series against Pittsburgh on Monday) baseball is alive and well in the Windy City, and fans are filling seats. Well, for the first part at least on the Northside.

It’s no secret that Wrigley is packed for Cubs home games, and that faithful travel across the country to see them play. Sitting at sixth on the attendance chart, the Cubs average well over 30,000 fans per game. People seemed to write off the White Sox however, and are just now coming around to the notion that the team there is pretty good too.

Before today the White Sox sat at 28th out of 30 teams in attendance, but according to Dan Hayes, things are starting to “heat up” if you will. “White Sox hot start apparently is catching on at the box office,” Hayes said on Twitter Monday. “Team has sold over 100,000 tickets in the last week.”

Cubs fans love their team, and love to hate their cross-town rivals, but with all the excitement, the focus should be on how great baseball is as a whole in a city with two clubs. Riding high in both the NL and the AL, fans of both the Cubs and the White Sox dream of an all Chicago World Series.

Oh boy what a sight that would be. Whether that’s a realistic possibility or not, it seems like the trend is spreading, and baseball is thriving in the Windy City again. Whether you’re a Cubs fan or a White Sox fan, there’s some good ball being played right in your backyard.

Both teams enter big series this week, with the Cubs playing the Pirates in Pittsburgh and the White Sox taking on the Red Sox in Chicago. What seems to be evident is that tickets are at an all-time high selling point in 2016, everyone wants to see what these clubs bring to the table.

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Connor Ulrey @ConnorUlrey