Good news, bad news: Jon Lester picks up where he left off for Cubs

Good news, bad news: Jon Lester picks up where he left off for Cubs

The last time we saw Jon Lester in a Cubs uniform, he was motioning to the third-base dugout at Wrigley Field for the trainer.

Lester walked off the mound on Aug. 17 after only five outs, surrendering nine runs (seven earned) on seven hits and a walk to the Cincinnati Reds. The Cubs ace was put on the disabled list the next day with a strained lat/left shoulder. 

He returned the field Saturday for the first time since that outing and he picked up where he left off, though the end result was a mixed bag.

The good news: Lester threw 92 pitches, his velocity was normal and he reported no discomfort afterwards. He also picked up his ninth win of the season.

The bad news: He gave up eight hits — including three homers — and four runs in five innings, raising his season ERA to 4.46 and WHIP to 1.29.

But of course, the Cubs won the game 14-12 and Lester's health is the most important footnote beyond that, so generally speaking, good news won in a landslide in Cubdom.

All said and done, this is the best case scenario after Lester beckoned to the Cubs trainer two weeks ago.

"Physically, felt good," Lester said. "Felt fine. No restrictions. Told our trainer — he asked about limitations and all that stuff and I was basically like, 'Hey, we're gonna find out in the first inning whether or not I'm gonna blow out or we're gonna keep riding this through.'

"Found out that everything's fine. Felt good, the ball was coming out pretty well. Maybe a couple pitch selections back, but we won the game, so we're all good. Moving in the right direction."

Before anybody freaks out, Lester confirmed he was kidding about the conversation with the trainer. He was never actually worried about his arm blowing out.

"No [question in my mind]. I wouldn't go out there if there was," Lester said. "I was more or less just kidding around with [the trainer]. First and foremost, we're kind of our own teams at times. I'm not gonna jeopardize my shoulder if it's not right.

"We're all hardheaded and badasses, but at the same time, I'm not gonna run out there and jeopardize anythig. I was just trying to make light of the situation with him. Everything felt good. It was good to get back out there."

The Cubs have now won six games in a row and a season-high 15 games over .500. They will wake up Sunday morning at least 3.5 games up on the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central and seven games up on the St. Louis Cardinals, who dropped a heartbreaker in San Francisco Saturday afternoon.

The boost of Lester's return also allows the Cubs to roll with six starters for at least one turn through the rotation as the postseason draws near.

"It was great. Absolutely great," Maddon said of Lester's return. "It wasn't perfect today in any way. The home runs just popped up, but that's just a matter of him locating the ball better, which I think will happen as he gets back in there.

"But stuff-wise, it was really, really good physically. Fastball, cutter break, changeup. He just wasn't locating and then that last inning, everything came together. I talked to him in the dugout after the fourth and he said, "I. Feel. Great.' So I said, "OK, you're going back out there for the fifth.'"

Willson Contreras' bat-flip game is already in midseason form

Willson Contreras' bat-flip game is already in midseason form

The MLB regular season is still 13 days away, but Willson Contreras is ready for the swings to count.

The Cubs catcher hit an absolute bomb of a homer Friday afternoon off White Sox pitcher Reynaldo Lopez, but it wasn't just a homer.

Contreras put an exclamation mark on the dinger (his third of the spring and the second this week) with an A+ bat flip:

I'm not sure what's more majestic: The 450-foot shot or the 45-foot bat-flip.

Either way, Contreras is ready for those 2018 NL MVP votes.

Cubs opposition research: It's an even year, so count on a Giants comeback


Cubs opposition research: It's an even year, so count on a Giants comeback

The expectations couldn't be any higher for the 2018 Chicago Cubs. 

It's 2016 all over again. The goal isn't just a trip to the playoffs or another NL pennant. It's World Series or bust for this group of North Siders.

With that, let's take a look at all of the teams that could stand in the way of the Cubs getting back to the Fall Classic:

San Francisco Giants

2017 record: 64-98, last place in NL West

Offseason additions: Andrew McCutchen, Evan Longoria, Austin Jackson, Gregor Blanco, Tony Watson, Julian Fernandez

Offseason departures: Michael Morse, Matt Cain, Matt Moore, Denard Span, Kyle Crick, Christian Arroyo

X-factor: Brandon Belt

The trades for Longoria and McCutchen are going to get all the attention, but the Giants are sort of acquiring Belt, too. 

Their sweet-swining lefty first baseman only appeared in 104 games in 2017, missing the last few weeks of the season with a bad concussion. When he was on the field, he led the team in both homers (18) and walks (66) despite just 451 plate appearances. 

Belt has turned into one of the most patient hitters in the game and if he is able to stay healthy for a full season, would slot in perfectly in the 2-hole ahead of McCutchen, Longoria and Buster Posey. 

Projected lineup

1. Joe Panik - 2B
2. Brandon Belt - 1B
3. Andrew McCutchen - RF
4. Buster Posey - C
5. Evan Longoria - 3B
6. Hunter Pence - LF
7. Brandon Crawford - SS
8. Austin Jackson - CF

Projected rotation

1. Madison Bumgarner
2. Johnny Cueto
3. Jeff Samardzija
4. Ty Blach
5. Chris Stratton


The Giants tied for the worst record in Major League Baseball in 2017, surprising many around the league. Absolutely nothing went right for the team, from a lack of power on the field (Belt missed a third of the season and still led the team in homers), injuries (Bumgarner only made 17 starts) and general ineffectiveness (Mark Melancon).

But the Giants are a team that excels in even years, though the Cubs may have broken that juju by knocking San Fran out of the NLDS in 2016.

Still, between the return to health of key players and some big moves that improved the lineup, this team is primed for a return to form.

Watson is a nice piece at the back end of the bullpen and bet on a rebound from Melancon, who was one of the best late-inning relievers in the game from 2013-16 (1.80 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 147 saves).

Expect more out of the rotation with Bumgarner and Cueto a dynamic 1-2 punch. Cubs fans are familiar with what Samardzija can do if he gets on a role, too.

It seems crazy to pick the Giants to finish higher than the Diamondbacks, but they still have the same core of players from the championship years and have a much-improved roster.

Prediction: Second place in NL West, wild-card team

Complete opposition research

San Diego Padres
Colorado Rockies
Arizona Diamondbacks
San Franciso Giants