Cubs undecided on NLCS rotation beyond Jon Lester in Game 1

Cubs undecided on NLCS rotation beyond Jon Lester in Game 1

The Cubs don't have the rest of their rotation set for the National League Championship Series, but the choice for Game 1 is easy: Jon Lester.

Joe Maddon confirmed as much Thursday afternoon during the Cubs' workout, but the team still isn't sure of Kyle Hendricks' status after taking a line drive to the right forearm in Game 2 last Saturday.

"I know that Jon Lester is going to pitch the first game," Maddon said. "After that, we're waiting to find out about Kyle and then we'll go from there."

Hendricks declared himself "good to go" before Tuesday's Game 4 in San Francisco.

Maddon said Hendricks was "in good shape" after Tuesday's session and the Cy Young candidate also threw Thursday.

"[We'll] just find out where Kyle is," Maddon said. "Making sure that he is healthy. He threw today; you always wait a little bit to find out if there's any after-effects of that and then you make your determination. That's about it. Just health."

Maddon admitted the Cubs still like the idea of having Lester and Hendricks start the first two games at Wrigley Field, where both have performed at an elite level this season.

So if Hendricks doesn't have a setback, expect the Cubs to announce him as the Game 2 starter Sunday night at Wrigley Field, where he posted a 1.32 ERA and 0.86 WHIP during the regular season (compared to 2.95/1.099 on the road).

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Lester tossed eight shutout innings to beat the Giants in Game 1 of the NLDS, lowering his career postseason ERA to 2.63 in 17 games (15 starts).

Before he was knocked out of Game 2, Hendricks had allowed two runs on four hits while getting 14 outs (seven groundballs, seven fly balls). 

If Hendricks is good to go, Jake Arrieta and John Lackey would then fill out the rest of the rotation, starting Games 3 and 4 on the road in either Los Angeles or Washington D.C.

Arrieta provided a huge lift with a three-run homer off Madison Bumgarner in his start against the Giants in Game 3, but also turned in a quality outing on the mound - two runs on six hits and a walk in six innings.

Lackey, meanwhile, struggled to the tune of three runs on seven hits and two walks in only four innings before the Cubs' miraculous comeback in Game 4.

Maddon sees more in there for the Cubs rotation, especially Lackey, who hadn't pitched in two full weeks before the NLDS start.

"Jon Lester pitched his game, Jake was really good, Kyle never got his opportunity and you could say [Lackey] was off, but I thought John's stuff was good," Maddon said. "I look at the [radar] gun al lthe time, see how the fastball and stuff match up, and the numbers were good.

"The breaking ball numbers were good. My point is he's healthy and he's well and he just didn't execute, probably because he hasn't pitched in a while. But I felt good that the numbers match up - velocity, fastball to breaking ball, all that was there. 

"I have a lot of faith in our guys. They've been doing it all year. They're absolutely rested going into this moment, so I feel very strongly about our starting pitching."

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


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.”