Cubs

Cubs: Jon Lester doesn’t have any answers for Tigers

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Cubs: Jon Lester doesn’t have any answers for Tigers

Surrounded by reporters, Jon Lester leaned against the chair in front of his locker and kept shrugging his shoulders.

The Cubs seemed a little dazed and confused after getting knocked around by the Detroit Tigers during this two-game interleague series at Wrigley Field. The Tigers put 25 runs on the board and finished with eight homers and 40 hits against a Cubs staff that’s supposed to be pitching deep into October.

Lester’s even-keel off-the-field personality wouldn’t allow him to hit the panic button after Wednesday night’s 15-8 loss. But the Cubs have real questions about the state of their rotation.

“I’ve been down this road a time or two,” Lester said. “We’re all human. But one thing I’ve always tried to do is when this one’s over, it’s over. I’m back tomorrow and I’ll watch the game again (with) a clear head and see where everything was (and) move on.

“This season’s too long. It’s too much of an up-and-down (ride) to allow one of those abomination starts that stick out to effect your season. Obviously, this is a bad time of the year to have one.

“Tomorrow, we’ll come back and look at it and evaluate it. And make sure that I’m not going crazy (and) flush it down the drain.”

[MORE CUBS: Do Cubs have enough pitching to finish the pennant race?]

The Cubs are 67-51 and three games in front of the San Francisco Giants for the second wild-card spot, trailing the Pittsburgh Pirates by four games for home-field advantage in a one-game playoff.

The Tigers are underachieving this year at 58-61, but they still have high-end talent with Ian Kinsler, Miguel Cabrera and J.D. Martinez anchoring the middle of their lineup.

Lester came into the game with a 5.25 ERA in 10 career starts against Detroit. This time, he couldn’t finish the third inning, walking off the mound with his team down 7-0.

“They’ve obviously been a thorn in my side for a long time,” Lester said. “That’s easy to see and something that stands out. But with that being said, I still got to figure out a way to get deeper in that game.

“Like I’ve said from Day 1, I’ll be honest with you guys as best I can. I’m being honest with you right now. I’m scratching my head.

“I feel like within that game, there were pitches that were made that deserved better results.”

[MORE CUBS: No Chase Utley, but Cubs hope Chris Coghlan could become their Ben Zobrist]

This has been a strong overall season for Lester (8-9, 3.58 ERA) in the first year of that $155 million megadeal. But he couldn’t believe the ball Nick Castellanos hammered into the left-center field bleachers for a grand slam in the third inning.

“I think I can go back two years and that’s the first first-pitch curveball hit (against me) — let alone homer,” Lester said.

There was also the 94-mph fastball in the second inning that Tigers pitcher Daniel Norris blasted out to center field for a two-run homer in his first big-league at-bat.

Norris was a key piece in the David Price blockbuster with the Toronto Blue Jays and had been a pitcher the Cubs liked when they shopped Jeff Samardzija last year. Norris had knocked out a video-board panel the day before during batting practice, but he left this game in the fifth inning with a strained oblique muscle.

Don’t look at Lester for any easy explanations with the Cubs now trying to stop a three-game losing streak.

“I don’t know,” Lester said more than once. “No matter what I say tonight, it really doesn’t justify or sum up anything that happened tonight. You try to step back and come up with answers (and) reasons. I want to say I threw the ball down the middle. But there were some good pitches that were made tonight that got hit.”

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

MESA, Ariz. — The first thing Kyle Schwarber told his new hitting coach?

"His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.'"

The Cubs hired Chili Davis as the team's new hitting coach for myriad reasons. He's got a great track record from years working with the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics, and that .274/.360/.451 slash line during an illustrious 19-year big league career certainly helps.

But Davis' main immediate task in his new gig will be to help several of the Cubs' key hitters prove Schwarber's assessment correct.

Schwarber had a much-publicized tough go of things in 2017. After he set the world on fire with his rookie campaign in 2015 and returned from what was supposed to be a season-ending knee injury in time to be one of the Cubs' World Series heroes in 2016, he hit just .211 last season, getting sent down to Triple-A Iowa for a stint in the middle of the season. Schwarber still hit 30 home runs, but his 2017 campaign was seen as a failure by a lot of people.

Enter Davis, who now counts Schwarber as one of his most important pupils.

"He's a worker," Davis said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. "Schwarbs, he knows he's a good player. His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.' He said last year was just a fluke year. He said, 'I've never failed in my life.' And he said, 'I'm going to get back to the player that I was.'

"I think he may have — and this is my thought, he didn't say this to me — I think it may have been, he had a big World Series, hit some homers, and I think he tried to focus on being more of a home run type guy as opposed to being a good hitter.

"His focus has changed. I had nothing to do with that, he came in here with that focus that he wants to be a good hitter first and let whatever happens happen. And he's worked on that. The main thing with Kyle is going to be is just maintaining focus."

The physically transformed Schwarber mentioned last week that he's established a good relationship with Davis, in no small part because Schwarber can relate to what Davis went through when he was a player. And to hear Davis tell it, it sounds like he's describing Schwarber's first three years as a big leaguer to a T.

"Telling him my story was important because it was similar," Davis said. "I was a catcher, got to big league camp, and I was thrown in the outfield. And I hated the outfield. ... But I took on the challenge. I made the adjustment, I had a nice first year, then my second year I started spiraling. I started spiraling down, and I remember one of my coaches saying, 'I'm going to have to throw you a parachute just so you can land softly.' I got sent down to Triple-A at the All-Star break for 15 days.

"When I got sent down, I was disappointed, but I was also really happy. I needed to get away from the big league pressure and kind of find myself again. I went home and refocused myself and thought to myself, 'I'm going to come back as Chili.' Because I tried to change, something changed about me the second year.

"And when I did that, I came back the next year and someone tried to change me and I said, 'Pump the breaks a little bit, let me fail my way, and then I'll come to you if I'm failing.' And they understood that, and I had a nice year, a big year and my career took off.

"I'm telling him, 'Hey, let last year go. It happened, it's in the past. Keep working hard, maintain your focus, and you'll be fine.'"

Getting Schwarber right isn't Davis' only task, of course. Despite the Cubs being one of the highest-scoring teams in baseball last season, they had plenty of guys go through subpar seasons. Jason Heyward still has yet to find his offensive game since coming to Chicago as a high-priced free agent. Ben Zobrist was bothered by a wrist injury last season and put up the worst numbers of his career. Addison Russell had trouble staying healthy, as well, and saw his numbers dip from what they were during the World Series season in 2016.

So Davis has plenty of charges to work with. But he likes what he's seen so far.

"They work," Davis said. "They come here to work. I had a group of guys in Boston that were the same last year, and it makes my job easier. They want to get better, they come out every day, they show up, they want to work. They're excited, and I'm excited to be around them.

And what have the Cubs found out about Davis? Just about everyone answers that question the same way: He likes to talk.

"I'm not going to stop talking," he said. "If I stop talking, something's wrong."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

Carmen DeFalco (ESPN 1000) and Jordan Bernfield join Kap on the panel. Anthony Rizzo returns to the Cubs after an emotional weekend home while Tom Ricketts expects another World Series parade. Plus Hall of Famer Andre Dawson joins Kap to talk about his Cubs reunion and how the current crop unsigned free agents compares to his experiences with collusion.