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Take a walk Harper, Nats: Complaints about Cubs off base

Take a walk Nationals. You are way off base.

During this weekend’s four-game set, the Cubs decided to pitch around Bryce Harper and let someone else hurt them. That someone else never showed up, and the Cubs swept.

Harper walked 13 times in the four-game series, setting a record. He reached base seven times without an official at-bat Sunday – another record.

Nationals pitcher Tanner Roark called the Cubs’ strategy “scared baseball.” Dusty Baker said that fans don’t come to the park to see Harper walk.

How about looking in the mirror, Washington. With their clutch hitter taken out of the equation, the Nats went 1-for-19 with runners in scoring position Sunday. Ryan Zimmerman, batting behind Harper, was 0-for-5.

Every time the Cubs walked Harper they took a chance. Walks are usually bad. The Cubs have the best record in baseball in part because they don’t walk anyone. But they flipped the script this time and it worked.

The Cubs didn’t invent this strategy. And why would they stop doing it when the Nats didn’t make them pay?

The Nationals’ arguments are ridiculous. They might as well have been whining that the Cubs tried to steal bases — because “hey meanie, that’s stealing!” Maybe the Cubs shouldn’t be allowed to throw curveballs because that’s trying to fool the hitters. God forbid they shift the infield or the third-base coach conceals his instructions with signs.

Either make the Cubs pay for walking Harper, Nationals, or go back to tee ball.

You can reach me at Patrick@CubsFanTherapy.com

Arrieta’s dominance evokes Sutcliffe, even Jordan

Think of all the players you root for. Now try to remove some of the obvious homerism that goes with being a fan. After you’ve dug that deep, see if you find a player that inspires or inspired absolute confidence. It’s a very rare thing.

My list is very short: 1990s Michael Jordan and 1984 Rick Sutcliffe.

The way I get to those two is this. Every time they played I felt that they would give everything they had, and the combination of their skill and that effort would be enough to lift their teams to a level of excellence that would almost assuredly result in victory.

It’s such a beautiful thing as a fan. Every time Sutcliffe pitched in 1984, you knew the Cubs would win. He was that dominant. The right-hander went 16-1 in 20 starts with Chicago after a trade from Cleveland.

But even that absolute confidence didn’t last. Sutcliffe went 1-1 in the playoffs as the Cubs got bounced by the Padres in the NLCS.

Jordan was a different story because he took it all the way. Flu, minor injuries, whatever, he was always the best player on the floor. It felt so good to root for a team with a guy who was the most talented and competitive player in sports.

It took a few years, but the Bulls finally assembled a team around him that could meet his other-worldly expectations. When it all came together, the championships rolled in.

After Jordan, that feeling has been tougher to find. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane come very very close, but like the 1985 Bears, who is the one that elevates all the rest? Was it Mike Singletary? Walter Payton? Jim McMahon? For the Hawks, Toews sets the tone, but can they do what they’ve done without Kane’s dazzle? Plus, one great player can’t carry a team in hockey the way it happens in other sports.

But I’ve got to say that I’m getting that Jordan feeling again … with Jake Arrieta. How can I not? He has reached the point where a no-hitter is possible every time he steps on the mound.

Arrieta’s 24 straight quality starts are second most since the deadball era. Only Bob Gibson, with 26, has more. Arrieta has thrown two no-hitters in the span of 10 regular-season starts. In the 24 starts, he has allowed four home runs – and hit three.

I have absolute confidence that when Arrieta is on the mound, he is the most talented, prepared and focused person in the stadium. It’s clear that his teammates feel the same way and that if they do their jobs halfway decent, they WILL win.

What a great feeling.

My only question now is whether Arrieta is Sutcliffe, who had a really great run that never translated to a title, or Jordan, who accomplished every individual and team goal that an athlete could desire.

We’ll see … and what a trip it will be.

Are you absolutely confident in Jake Arrieta?

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Poll: How much does beating Cardinals in April mean?

Yes, there are 149 games to go and everything could go South, but beating the Cardinals seems to mean so much. The fans love it, and don’t you think the Cubs players get a jolt too? Damn straight.

We won’t really know how much this game and this series mean until the season is over, but when we do that assessment we will see tone setting wins, lost opportunities, turning points. What do you think?

How much does it mean to win April series against Cardinals?

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Jackinhelmet

Discourage Kid From Playing Football?

My 4-year-old son currently has toothpick legs, but he’s not wimpy. He mixed it up in a physical soccer game against older kids this weekend and was forcibly introduced to the ground on numerous occasions. He didn’t cry once.

Afterward I said that was a tough game.

“Yeah, too tough,” he said.

I told him I was proud that he kept on getting up and hustling.

That night at a restaurant I told him that he could grow up to be President.

“No dad,” he said. “When I grow up I want to be a football player.”

Hmmm … somehow I don’t see him shedding 280-pound tacklers to break into the secondary. It does. however, make me wonder what games my wife and I would want him to play and what he will want.

Football is in our DNA. My dad played in front of 90,000 people at Soldier Field for Fenwick High School in the Prep Bowl. He went on to play at Wichita State but lasted only a year before a shoulder injury stopped him. My son’s grandfather on his mother’s side was All-State in Connecticut in high school and played at Harvard before a knee injury ended his career.

I played sandlot football from the time I could walk. I loved football. I lived football. On Saturdays, I piled blankets and pillows in the living room and plowed into the ‘”line” as I watched game after game. Though I was undersized, I played one year at Fenwick and then blew out my knee playing in a vacant lot with my friends. That was the end of my football dreams.

So I’m not surprised that my son also has a visceral feeling about football. Not only is it in his genes, there’s something basic about it that appeals to everyone. One side has the ball. The other side is trying to take it from them before they can cross a line. Players use brute strength like boxing. They employ strategy and trickery like military operations. It may be the perfect sport at blending the talents of the body and mind.

And it can also prove deadly. In my job as a sports editor, I have now read hundreds of stories about head injuries and the long-term effects that can ultimately lead to death. My father-in-law says he feels like he has been mentally affected by years of hits to the head and wants us to have his brain examined after he dies.

Used to be that we talked about knee injuries. Now, suicide as a result of repeated head injuries is part of the national discourse on football. So I do have serious misgivings about my son playing the game.

But my son sees his cousin playing defensive line as a freshman for Johns Hopkins and thinks that is so cool. He knows his other cousin is playing Pop Warner and is impressed. I get a kick out of it too, but I worry.

Still, I gave my boy a football before he could walk, and we also dug out the old football helmet I wore as a kid — the one my dad gave me — for him to wear. (As you can see it’s a Cardinals helmet because that was my dad’s favorite team when they were in Chicago — though I and my son are Bears fans).

Anyway, am I sending mixed messages? Absolutely.

Deep down I just hope he gravitates toward baseball. He seems pretty good at it — hitting live pitching in the backyard, though with Whiffle balls. He’s a smart kid, a sensitive kid, and for now, a small kid. Baseball seems made for him.

Baseball is more of a thinking man’s game. It still requires physical skill to excel, but someone with good hand-eye coordination and a willingness to understand how the game should be played can make it a long way even if they aren’t 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds.

As attendance figures and TV ratings show, however, America’s pastime isn’t really America’s pastime anymore. Football speaks to something more basic in humanity. I see that when my son and his friends chase each other around the yard with a pigskin. They run into each other, the ball comes loose. They jump on each other, laugh. Someone gets the ball and takes off again.Some kid invariably walks off crying. But it doesn’t stop them.

Will I stop my son from playing football? I honestly don’t know. I hope as his mind and body develop he’ll decide on his own which sport suits him best and that baseball wins the day. Heck, maybe it will be soccer or lacrosse. I’ll deal with it.

Would you discourage your child from playing football?

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Would you rather your child excel at football or baseball?

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You can reach us at Cubs Fan Therapy.

OK Cubs Got Swept; I Was Getting Nuts

I’m fine with the Cubs getting swept by the Pirates. Really.

I’ve been getting way ahead of myself, treating this September like I would when the Cubs might actually have something to play for in the final month of the season. Baez-mania gave way to an epidemic of Soler-ia. I even drew a little cartoon with a bear eating a Cardinal.

Now, I can go back to my mental vacation from stressing about Cubs wins and losses, feel good about the long-term building project and use my sports angst to wonder how the hell the Bears can lose to the Bills … AT HOME.

For the past few years, I have been on a vacation of sorts when it comes to the Cubs. After Theo Epstein was hired and said that this was going to be a multi-year rebuilding process, that they were tearing down before building back up, that the draft and international signings would restock talent, but that we wouldn’t actually see this talent in Wrigley for years, well, I bought it. I lowered expectations accordingly, and it felt great.

Like most of us Cubs fans, I lived and died with each pitch. I yelled at the TV. I saw doom around every corner and booked my tickets to the World Series after a two-game win streak … in April. Basically, I was nuts — when it came to the Cubs (I swear, that’s it). I sounded like I knew what I was talking about because I know a little about the game and I’ve been around long enough to know a thing or two, but I was a transparent homer.

And then it was gone. Theo said that we know we’re going to suck for a while and all the pressure was off. I still celebrated victories but in a subdued “hey, look what I found” kind of way. I got excited about individual achievements from young players like Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro, but I didn’t really expect them to win a division by themselves. I felt like help was on the way, but the cavalry was coming from the moon, so they’d have to take their lumps for a while.

But then Javier Baez was called up and he hit balls harder than I’d seen in a while. Kyle Hendricks kept fooling batters. Jake Arrieta was looking like an ace. Jorge Soler arrived and launched bombs and hit for average. Kris Bryant wrapped up an minor league MVP season. Rizzo had 30 homers. Castro’s average was back up. And, and, and … it all coalesced into an excitement I hadn’t felt in a long time. The Cubs could be good, like, soon. The switch was turned back on.

Even when Rizzo and Castro went down with likely season-ending injuries, the switch remained on. See, that’s what I mean about being a little nuts when it comes to the Cubs. I still expected them to own September, to show the rest of the Central what was coming. And in my defense they were playing damn good. They swept the Brewers after all.

Then the Pirates came to town and gave me a nice slap in the face. “Snap out of it, fool,” they said. “You can’t lose guys like Rizzo and Castro and win every game. Settle down.”

“But what about Soler?” I implored.

But they slapped me again. “Wow, you got it bad,” they said. “I hate to admit it, but you’re time will come. It just ain’t now.”

I took a deep breath for the first time in a month.

“OK, OK,” I said, settling down. “When is the draft?”

You can reach us at Cubs Fan Therapy.

Poll: Who Will Be Cubs’ Best Player?

Who is going to be the Cubs’ best player in two years? Hmmm … The fact that it’s a tough question is simply AWESOME.

If you asked a few years ago, the answer might have been Starlin Castro. Maybe Anthony Rizzo. And then both struggled mightily last season.

The answer last year might have been “Who the hell knows?” Then the kids started making some noise. It soon became a racket, loud enough to reach the ears of depressed Cubs fans in Chicago.

Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Jorge Soler and now Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber. They’ve become household names in most Cubs households. At the same time, Castro and Rizzo bounced back with All-Star seasons this year.

Baez came up and homered in his first MLB game. He followed with six more homers, though he has also struck out more than a high school nerd repeatedly asking out the prom queen.

Bryant has absolutely destroyed the minors — posting perhaps the best line in all of baseball. How about .325/.438/.661 with 43 homers, 110 RBIs and 86 walks against 162 strikeouts? I’ll take it.

And then there’s Soler. Ah Soler. The big issue with him was injuries. He broke his leg last year, battled hamstring injuries the past few years. He looked like he could be something special. He put up great numbers when he played, but he just didn’t play that much. He only had 200 at-bats in the minors this season but definitely made the most of them (.340/.432/.700). Was it enough to judge?

Well, if his debut in the big leagues is any indication, he looks like he could be something really, really, really special. He’s got three homers in five MLB games. C’mon. He had two doubles in his Wrigley debut Monday, the ball hopping off his bat even when he didn’t hit the sweet spot. It’s like he’s playing in a video game while everyone else is mired in reality.

So the question of the Cubs’ best player in two years now becomes a little more interesting. Rizzo or Castro, who have already proven themselves in the big leagues? Baez, whose swing resembles a young Gary Sheffield’s? Bryant, who owned the minors? Soler, who is demanding that he be included in the conversation? Or somebody else, like Schwarber or Albert Almora, or a player that comes over in some crazy trade?

You decide:

Who will be the best Cubs player in two years?

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You can reach us at Cubs Fan Therapy.