Cubs

Cubs keeping Jon Lester’s yips in perspective

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Cubs keeping Jon Lester’s yips in perspective

The first four questions/statements during Jon Lester’s postgame media session involved the yips, how the Milwaukee Brewers stole five bases against him.

Even though the Cubs are now 17 games over .500, riding their $155 million ace into legitimate playoff contention and smashing realistic expectations for this year’s team.

Lester still started trending on Twitter during Thursday afternoon’s 9-2 victory over Milwaukee.

“At the end of the day, I gave up less than the other team,” Lester said inside Wrigley Field’s interview room/dungeon. “It is what it is. There are things that I need to improve on. But at the end of the day, we win. That’s all that matters.”

Until Lester’s second start in a Cubs uniform – on April 13 against the Cincinnati Reds – he had gone almost two full years since his last pickoff move.

Lester didn't bother again until this throw over to first base sailed wide right past Anthony Rizzo, allowing Jean Segura to cruise to second base in the third inning. Segura then easily stole third base while Lester stood on the mound holding onto the ball. Ryan Braun and Khris Davis combined to steal three more bases during that inning, though the last-place Brewers could only manufacture one run from that sequence.

“We all know what’s going on here,” Lester said. “Just got to do a better job.”

[MORE: Cubs win seventh straight thanks to 5 HRs]

The Cubs felt very comfortable investing all that money in the second half of Lester’s career. He doesn’t get defensive or pretend like this isn’t an issue. He’s accountable, reliable and a two-time World Series champion with the Boston Red Sox.

Lester – who has a reputation for being a strong finisher and a big-game pitcher – had thrown at least seven innings in each of his last seven starts. This time, the lefty gave up two runs across six innings and finished with 10 strikeouts.

Let’s not completely lose sight of the big picture: Lester is 8-8 with a 3.21 ERA and in position to throw 200 innings for the seventh time in the last eight seasons.

The Cubs believe there are ways to work around this with Lester’s swing-and-miss stuff, strategic pitchouts, varying times to home plate and personal catcher David Ross, an excellent defender with a strong arm who threw Segura out at third base in the fifth inning.

Lester also said he wouldn’t scrap the idea of throwing over to first base again this season.

“You just keep working at it – you don’t make a big deal about it,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He just needs to worry about getting the hitters out and let David take care of all that stuff.

“I’m really not worried about it right now. I thought Milwaukee’s game plan was a good one, but we were still able to keep them down.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up for the stretch run, Cubs fans!]

This is the what-if scenario for the Cubs down the road: The Kansas City Royals highlighted the problem by running wild during last year’s wild-card game. As the hired gun, Lester got a no-decision, the Oakland A’s lost in 12 innings and the Royals wound up going to the World Series.

“To be able to maintain that focus between him and home plate is the most important thing,” Maddon said. “I don’t want to make a big deal out of the other side of it. There are times where it could be an issue or be bothersome.

“Overall, he’s able to (put up good) numbers in spite of not wanting to throw to first base, so I have no qualms about that. But I also believe there’s going to be one moment he’s going to have that epiphany where all of a sudden it makes sense to him and you’re going to see him be able to do it more readily.”

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.”