Cubs

John Lackey and Willson Contreras go absolutely bonkers on home plate umpire after insane call in Cubs-Cardinals

John Lackey and Willson Contreras go absolutely bonkers on home plate umpire after insane call in Cubs-Cardinals

John Lackey sprinted toward home plate, absolutely screaming at home plate umpire Jordan Baker.

Willson Contreras did a complete circle around Baker, needing both Joe Maddon and Javy Baez to hold him back.

Those will become the lasting images from an absolutely wild occurrence at Wrigley Field Friday afternoon.

Lackey was on the mound in the fifth inning against Cardinals pitcher Carlos Martinez, locked in a 1-1 ballgame with runners on first and second and two outs.

On the fifth pitch of the at-bat, Lackey floated a breaking ball right down the middle of the plate. Martinez put his head down and started walking toward the dugout, conceding to the strikeout.

But Baker did not call the pitch a strike. Instead, it was Ball 3 and Martinez had new life.

Lackey wasted no time laying into Baker, screaming and pointing at Martinez, who was several steps toward the first-base dugout. 

"He almost walked to the grass," Lackey said. "He knew he was out."

For reference, here is where the pitch was located:

Contreras and Maddon both said the second-year catcher got crossed up on the pitch and wasn't expecting a breaking ball, but Lackey said there was no cross-up.

Lackey continued screaming at Baker and Maddon came from out of the dugout in an effort to calm things down.

"He missed the pitch," Lackey said. "It's a big spot in a huge game and he missed the pitch."

Lackey remained in the game, but on his next pitch, Martinez singled to right-center, plating Kolten Wong with the go-ahead run. Lackey sprinted in to backup the play at home, yelling at Baker the whole way. 

When the play was over and time called, Contreras also apparently said something to Baker and was subsequently tossed, resulting in this immediate reaction:

Maddon was already on his way out of the dugout and tried to hold Contreras back before Baez intervened and kept his teammate back.

Contreras' mask bounced and hit Baker in the foot, but the Cubs catcher apologized afterwards and said he clearly wasn't trying to hit or hurt anybody, just was frustrated in the moment and threw his mask on the ground, never intending for it to hit the umpire.

The end result was both pitcher and catcher ejected in the fifth inning of a crucial game in the pennant race. But the Cubs rebounded with seven runs in the sixth inning, cruising to an 8-2 victory. While the Cubs didn't place too much emphasis on the ejections working as a spark, Kris Bryant felt otherwise:

"It was a nice little spark for us and some energy that we all needed," Bryant said. "Yeah, the crowd got into it. I mean, we're always in the game, but anytime you see your teammates or brothers going out like that, getting a little fired up, it's not a terrible thing. I think it ultimately helped us."

Lackey is 38 years old and in his 14th big-league season, but he's always been a fierce competitor and Maddon knows he should never expect any other reaction to an umpire's call.

"Impossible," Maddon said. "I could say I'd like to see that, but why would I even think that? That's the definition of insanity. Why would I think he's gonna change in that particular moment? So God bless him.

"It's who Johnny is. I never want him to change. He's not gonna change, so why even expect that? It happened, we reacted and the rest of the group came together."

Does Lackey regret his actions?

"Not really, no," he said. "It's a pretty big spot right there. It cost me a big-league win; those don't grow on trees."

MLB.com's Cubs' 2018 Top Prospects list full of potential impact pitchers

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USA TODAY

MLB.com's Cubs' 2018 Top Prospects list full of potential impact pitchers

Could 2018 be the year that the Cubs finally see a top pitching prospect debut with the team? 

Thursday, MLB.com released its list of the Cubs' 2018 Top 30 Prospects, a group that includes six pitchers in the Top 10. The list ranks right-hander Adbert Alzolay as the Cubs' No 1. prospect, projecting him to debut with the team this season. 

Alzolay, 22, went 7-4 with a 2.99 ERA in 22 starts between Single-A Myrtle Beach and Double-A Tennessee last season. He also struck out 108 batters in 114 1/3 innings, using a repertoire that includes a fastball that tops out around 98 MPH (according to MLB.com).

Following Alzolay as the Cubs' No. 2 overall prospect is 19-year-old shortstop Aramis Ademan. Ademan hit .267 in just 68 games between Single-A Eugene and Single-A South Bend, though it should be noted that he has soared from No. 11 in MLB.com's 2017 ranks to his current No. 2 ranking. He is not projected to make his MLB debut until 2020, however.

Following Alzolay and Ademan on the list are five consecutive pitchers ranked 3-7, respectively. Oscar De La Cruz, No. 3 on the list, slides down from his 2017 ranking in which MLB.com listed him as the Cubs' top overall prospect. De La Cruz, 22, finished 2017 with a 3.34 ERA in 13 games (12 starts) between the Arizona League and Single-A Myrtle Beach.

De La Cruz is projected to make his MLB debut in 2019, while Jose Albertos (No. 4), Alex Lange (No. 5), Brendon Little (No. 6) and Thomas Hatch (No. 7) are projected to make their big league debuts in 2019 or 2020. All are right-handed (with the exception of Little) and starting pitchers.

Hatch (third round, 2016) and Lange (30th overall, 2017) and Little (27th overall, 2017) were all top draft picks by the Cubs in recent seasons.

Having numerous starting pitchers on the cusp of the big leagues represents a significant change of pace for the Cubs. 

Since Theo Epstein took over as team president in Oct. 2011, a plethora of top prospects have debuted and enjoyed success with the Cubs. Majority have been position players, though.

The likes of Albert Almora, Javier Báez, Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell all contributed to the Cubs winning the World Series in 2016. Similarly, Ian Happ enjoyed a fair amount of success after making his MLB debut last season, hitting 24 home runs in just 115 games.

Ultimately, Alzolay would be the Cubs' first true top pitching prospect to make it to the big leagues in the Theo Epstein era. While him making it to the big leagues in 2018 is no guarantee, one would think a need for pitching will arise for the Cubs at some point, whether it be due to injury or simply for September roster expansion.

The Cubs have enjoyed tremendous success in recent years in terms of their top prospects succeeding in the MLB. If the trend continues, Alzolay should be a force to reckon with on the North Side for years to come.

Even with an entire spring schedule to go, guessing the Cubs' 25-man roster is pretty easy

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USA TODAY

Even with an entire spring schedule to go, guessing the Cubs' 25-man roster is pretty easy

MESA, Ariz. — The frequent mission of spring training is to iron out a 25-man roster.

But at Cubs camp, that mission seems to already be completed.

With an entire Cactus League schedule still to play, the Cubs’ 25-man group that will leave Arizona for the season-opener in Miami seems pretty well set.

The starting rotation: Jon Lester, Yu Darvish, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana and Tyler Chatwood.

The position-player group: Willson Contreras, Victor Caratini, Anthony Rizzo, Javy Baez, Addison Russell, Kris Bryant, Tommy La Stella, Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora Jr., Ian Happ, Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist.

The bullpen: Brandon Morrow, Steve Cishek, Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards Jr., Mike Montgomery, Brian Duensing, Justin Wilson and Justin Grimm.

Boom. There’s your 25.

Joe Maddon, do you agree?

“You guys and ladies could probably write down what you’re seeing and be pretty accurate,” Maddon said Thursday. “I can’t deny that, it’s true. Oftentimes, when you’re a pretty good ball club, that is the case. When you’re not so good, you always get auditions during spring training.

“I think what the boys have done is they’ve built up a nice cache in case things were to happen. The depth is outstanding. So you could probably narrow it down, who you think’s going to be the 25, and I won’t argue that.”

It’s the latest example in a camp that to this point has been full of them that the Cubs are one of baseball’s best teams and that only a World Series championship will fulfill expectations. Had the front office stuck with a starting rotation of Lester, Hendricks, Quintana, Chatwood and Montgomery, then there would’ve been a spot open in the bullpen. But the statement-making signing of Darvish jolted the Cubs into “best rotation in the game” status, sent Montgomery back to the bullpen and further locked the roster into place.

Guys like Grimm and La Stella have been forced off the 25-man roster at points in recent seasons, though even their spots seem safe. Maddon even said that a huge spring from someone else wouldn’t mean as much at what guys have done at the major league level in recent memory.

“Spring training performance, for me, it’s not very defining,” Maddon said. “You’re going to be playing against a lot of guys that aren’t going to be here, more Triple-A guys, even some Double-A guys. Some guys come in better shape, they normally look better early. The vibe’s different. You play a couple innings, you don’t get many at-bats, the pitcher doesn’t see hitters three times and vice versa. So I don’t worry about that as much.

“It’s more about, guys that might be fighting for a moment, what do they look like, does it look right, does it look good, how do they fit in? Is there somebody there that you scouted? Because what matters a lot is last year and what you did last year and the last couple months of last year.

“So of course guys that have been here probably have a bit of an upper hand, but we’re very open-minded about stuff. And I think when you look at the guys, you’re right, it’s probably pretty close to being set. But stuff happens.”

Could the recently signed Shae Simmons give Grimm an unexpected challenge for the final relief spot? Maddon said guys who have been with the Cubs in the recent past have a leg up. Could Chris Gimenez turn his experience with Darvish into a win over Caratini for the backup catcher spot? Maddon threw cold water on the "personal catcher" narrative last week.

Of course, Maddon left the door open the possibility of an injury that could open up a roster spot and even shake up the depth chart. But barring the unforeseen, this 25-man group looks locked into place.

That gives the Cubs an edge, perhaps, in that they can specifically find ways to tune up those guys rather than focus on getting enough at-bats for players who are fighting for roster spots. But most of that edge came during the winter, and in winters and summers past, when the front office built this team into a championship contender.

There have been plenty of years when the fans coming to Mesa to watch the Cubs play in spring training saw the blossoming of a big league player thanks to a monster spring or a surprise tear during March. That’s going to be unlikely this spring, a reflection of just how far this team has come.

“It’s easy for me to reflect on this because when I started out with the Rays, wow,” Maddon said. “That was a casting call trying to figure it out. You had very few settled positions when you walked in the door. And then as we got better, it became what we’re talking about. As we moved further along, you were pretty much set by the time (you got to spring training) except for one or two spots.

“So I think the better teams are like that.”

The Cubs are most definitely one of those better teams.