Cubs

Cubs: Jon Lester sees losing streak as part of the rollercoaster

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Cubs: Jon Lester sees losing streak as part of the rollercoaster

LOS ANGELES – The Cubs will have Jake Arrieta starring in “Sunday Night Baseball” at Dodger Stadium, their best hope to end this four-game losing streak and leave the West Coast with some stretch-run momentum.

Jon Lester couldn’t do it on Saturday night, cruising along until the Dodgers ambushed him in the seventh inning of a 5-2 loss that seemed to come out of nowhere.

If Lester (8-10, 3.59 ERA) and Arrieta (16-6, 2.22) starts aren’t must-wins at the end of August, those games are weighted differently with all the questions about the other 60 percent of the rotation, how that stresses the bullpen and what happens to a young lineup that is feeling the growing pains and hasn’t experienced a September like this before.

“The season’s a rollercoaster,” Lester said. “The good seasons are the ones that you’re able to minimize the ups and downs. You don’t want that rollercoaster falling off and going way down and then riding the high back up.

“If you can kind of keep it to where it’s just those little bumps and those little ups and downs – and minimize your losing streaks and maximize your winning streaks – that usually means at the end of the year you’re in a good place.”

[RELATED: Cubs will push Javier Baez in first wave of September call-ups]

Lester can explain the big picture, but he had a harder time dissecting what went wrong in the seventh inning with a 2-1 lead against the bottom of the Los Angeles lineup.

The Dodgers knocked out four consecutive hits, tying the game with Jose Peraza’s first career double and taking the lead with Andre Ethier’s two-run single up the middle.

A crowd of 51,697 got loud. Lester walked off the mound toward the dugout with his head down and Jay-Z blasting from the stadium’s sound system.

“I have no idea,” said Lester, who was charged with five runs. “I don’t know if they changed their approach or what, but it seemed like they were more willing to take the ball the other way that last inning. I guess we did a bad job of recognizing that (fast enough). I usually don’t watch (video) when I’m done pitching, but I went back and watched it. I was making pitches.

“I had really good location on my heater, both sides of the plate. Good cutter. Probably the best changeup I’ve had all year. At the end of the day, it’s a waste.”

[MORE: How close was Chase Utley to becoming a Cub?]

Lester threw to Miguel Montero with personal catcher David Ross on the family medical emergency list, and there are definitely issues with the $155 million lefty trying to control the running game, stuff that matters in October.

But look at the offense: After getting schooled by Madison Bumgarner and Clayton Kershaw, the Cubs needed a Mat Latos balk to score one of their two runs.

For more than $300 million, the Dodgers don’t have much of a pitching staff beyond Kershaw, Zack Greinke and closer Kenley Jansen, but the Cubs couldn’t capitalize.

Los Angeles reliever Jim Johnson loaded the bases in the eighth by hitting Kris Bryant and Montero back-to-back before getting Addison Russell to ground into an inning-ending double play. The Cubs (73-55) finished with 11 strikeouts, going 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position and leaving nine men on base.

“It’s nothing to worry about,” Montero said. “You’re playing good teams. Unfortunately, we haven’t had that big hit to kind of get us (started). We’ve had chances, but we haven’t got that big knock to get a couple runners in.

“It puts a lot of pressure on the pitcher and the catcher. You can’t really make a mistake.”

At least from a second-wild-card point of view, the Cubs didn’t lose any ground against the San Francisco Giants, who are still 4.5 games back with their 6-0 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals.

“If your players don’t care, if your players don’t show up, if your players don’t play hard, then you become disappointed,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Our guys care and they’re good and we’ll be fine.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

Spring training baseball games are up around the bend, but before the boys of summer get into organized action, two of the team’s new coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey sit down with Kelly Crull.

Plus, Vinnie Duber joins Kelly to discuss these baseball conversations including the memorable first words of Kyle Schwarber to Chili Davis, “I don’t suck!"

Listen to the full episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

MESA, Ariz. — We know Willson Contreras doesn’t like baseball’s new pace-of-play rules.

He isn’t the only one.

“I think it’s a terrible idea. I think it’s all terrible,” Jon Lester said last week at spring training, before the specifics of the new rules were even announced. “The beautiful thing about our sport is there’s no time.”

Big surprise coming from the Cubs’ resident old-schooler.

The new rules limit teams to six mound visits per every nine-inning game, with exceptions for pitching changes, between batters, injuries and after the announcement of a pinch hitter. Teams get an extra mound visit for every extra inning in extra-inning games. Also, commercial breaks between innings have been cut by 20 seconds.

That’s it. But it’s caused a bit of an uproar.

Contreras made headlines Tuesday when he told reporters that he’ll willingly break those rules if he needs to in order to put his team in a better position to win.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If I have to pay the price for my team, I will,” Contreras said. “There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? … You have to go out there. They cannot say anything about that. It’s my team, and we just care about winning. And if they’re going to fine me about the No. 7 mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”

Talking about pace-of-play rule changes last week, Cubs manager Joe Maddon said his team would adapt to any new rules. In Chicago baseball’s other Arizona camp, a similar tune of adaptation was being sung.

“Obviously as players we’ve got to make adjustments to whatever rules they want to implement,” White Sox pitcher James Shields said. “This is a game of adjustments, we’re going to have to make adjustments as we go. We’re going to have to figure out logistics of the thing, and I would imagine in spring training we’re going to be talking about it more and more as we go so we don’t mess it up.”

There was general consensus that mound visits are a valuable thing. So what happens if a pitcher and catcher need to communicate but are forced to do it from 60 feet, six inches away?

“Sign language,” White Sox catching prospect Zack Collins joked. “I guess you have to just get on the same page in the dugout and hope that nothing goes wrong if you’re out of visits.”

In the end, here’s the question that needs answering: Are baseball games really too long?

On one hand, as Lester argued, you know what you’re signing up for when you watch a baseball game, be it in the stands at a ballpark or on TV. No one should be shocked when a game rolls on for more than three hours.

But shock and fans' levels of commitment or just pure apathy are two different things. And sometimes it’s a tough ask for fans to dedicate four hours of their day 162 times a year. So there’s a very good reason baseball is trying to make the game go faster, to keep people from leaving the stands or flipping the TV to another channel.

Unsurprisingly, Lester would rather keep things the way they are.

“To be honest with you, the fans know what they’re getting themselves into when they go to a game,” Lester said. “It’s going to be a three-hour game. You may have a game that’s two hours, two hours and 15 minutes. Great, awesome. You may have a game that’s four hours. That’s the beautiful part of it.

“I get the mound visit thing. But what people that aren’t in the game don’t understand is that there’s so much technology in the game, there’s so many cameras on the field, that every stadium now has a camera on the catcher’s crotch. So they know signs before you even get there. Now we’ve got Apple Watches, now we’ve got people being accused of sitting in a tunnel (stealing signs). So there’s reasons behind the mound visit. He’s not just coming out there asking what time I’m going to dinner or, ‘Hey, how you feeling?’ There’s reasons behind everything, and I think if you take those away, it takes away the beauty of the baseball game.

“Every game has a flow, and I feel like that’s what makes it special. If you want to go to a timed event, go to a timed event. I’m sorry I’m old-school about it, but baseball’s been played the same way for a long time. And now we’re trying to add time to it. We’re missing something somewhere.”

Whether limiting the number of mound visits creates a significant dent in this problem remains to be seen. But excuse the players if they’re skeptical.

“We’ve got instant replay, we’ve got all kinds of different stuff going on. I don’t think (limiting) the mound visits are going to be the key factor to speeding this game up,” Shields said. “Some pitchers take too long, and some hitters take too long. It’s combination of a bunch of stuff.

“I know they’re trying to speed the game up a little bit. I think overall, the game’s going as fast as it possibly could. You’ve got commercials and things like that. TV has a lot to do with it. There’s a bunch of different combinations of things. But as a player, we’ve got to make an adjustment.”