Cubs

Jon Lester all-in on being pulled after six innings in Game 5 of World Series

Jon Lester all-in on being pulled after six innings in Game 5 of World Series

In the Cubs’ biggest game of the season, Jon Lester was completely on board with being pulled after only six innings and 90 pitches. In fact, to an extent, it was his own idea. 

Upon returning to the Cubs’ dugout after David Ross caught Cleveland Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor stealing to end the sixth, Lester told pitching coach Chris Bosio that he had been “grinding for the last couple innings.” Lester was told he would pitch batter to batter if he came back out in the seventh, but the 32-year-old left-hander figured it’d be better to hand the game over to the bullpen in a clean inning. So when Maddon informed him he wouldn't return for the seventh inning, he understood the decision. 

“Why let me go out and face a guy — if I give up a hit or a walk or whatever, you're going to pull me anyway, and now you put (the bullpen) in a situation,” Lester said. “So I left it up to Joe, and Joe made a decision, and that was the decision. I'm happy it worked out for us.”

For Lester, it was far more about the stressful nature of having to perfectly execute every pitch he threw facing a 3-1 series deficit rather than the total count he had. 

Lester was effective over those 90 pitches, though, allowing two runs on four hits with no walks and five strikeouts. Jose Ramirez blasted a second inning home run, but came on a well-placed fastball on the low and inside corner (in other words, Lester just got beat on a good pitch). 

Before the 2016 postseason, Lester averaged 105.5 pitches in his previous 14 playoff starts and never threw fewer than 91. He’s only thrown more than 100 pitches once in the 2016 playoffs — in a relatively stress-free evening in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series — and is averaging about 92 pitches per start. So on the surface, it seemed a little curious that Maddon would pull his grizzled ace for rookie C.J. Edwards in the seventh to face Mike Napoli, Carlos Santana and Jose Ramirez, a trio of hitters that combined to blast 79 home runs in the regular season. 

Lester’s grind, though, certainly was apparent in his final two frames. The fifth inning was a stressful one, as Carlos Santana launched a leadoff double and found himself on third base with one out after Jose Ramirez’s groundout. Lester struck out Brandon Guyer before getting Roberto Perez to ground out to end the threat.

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The sixth inning was even more strenuous, as Rajai Davis singled, stole second and scored on Lindor’s line drive single to center. Lester got out of it thanks to what could be the final play of Ross’ career, a 2-4 caught stealing of Lindor. 

Instead of pushing things, Lester was honest with his coaching staff about where he was mentally and physically. That goes as another example of how the Cubs have banded together in their efforts to bring a championship to Clark and Addison for the first time since 1908. 

So instead of a me-first mindset to take care of things himself, Lester was willing to hand the game over to the Cubs’ bullpen, which thanks to Aroldis Chapman’s magnificent 2 1/3 scoreless innings sealed a season-saving victory. 

“You're just grinding from pitch one,” Lester said. “You're trying to make the perfect pitch every time, and at the same time still be aggressive.

“So, yeah, it's a grind. I mean, that's makes (the postseason) fun at the same time. Because I know, hey, I've got to be locked in in order to get through this lineup a couple times. So I'm just fortunate enough to get through that a couple times with just a couple runs and still keep our team in the lead there.”

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

News broke to Willson Contreras that the league will be limiting mound visits this upcoming season, and the Cubs catcher —notorious for his frequent visits to the rubber — is not having it.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If you have to go again and pay the price for my team, I will," he said.

The new rules rolled out Tuesday will limit six visits —any time a manager, coach or player visits the mound — per nine innings. But, communication between a player and a pitcher that does not require them moving from their position does not count as a visit.When a team is out of visits, it's the umpire's discretion to allow an extra trip to the mound.

But despite the new rules, Contreras is willing to do what's best for the team.

“There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? They cannot say anything about that. If you’re going to fine me about the [seventh] mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

MESA, Ariz. — The first thing Kyle Schwarber told his new hitting coach?

"His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.'"

The Cubs hired Chili Davis as the team's new hitting coach for myriad reasons. He's got a great track record from years working with the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics, and that .274/.360/.451 slash line during an illustrious 19-year big league career certainly helps.

But Davis' main immediate task in his new gig will be to help several of the Cubs' key hitters prove Schwarber's assessment correct.

Schwarber had a much-publicized tough go of things in 2017. After he set the world on fire with his rookie campaign in 2015 and returned from what was supposed to be a season-ending knee injury in time to be one of the Cubs' World Series heroes in 2016, he hit just .211 last season, getting sent down to Triple-A Iowa for a stint in the middle of the season. Schwarber still hit 30 home runs, but his 2017 campaign was seen as a failure by a lot of people.

Enter Davis, who now counts Schwarber as one of his most important pupils.

"He's a worker," Davis said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. "Schwarbs, he knows he's a good player. His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.' He said last year was just a fluke year. He said, 'I've never failed in my life.' And he said, 'I'm going to get back to the player that I was.'

"I think he may have — and this is my thought, he didn't say this to me — I think it may have been, he had a big World Series, hit some homers, and I think he tried to focus on being more of a home run type guy as opposed to being a good hitter.

"His focus has changed. I had nothing to do with that, he came in here with that focus that he wants to be a good hitter first and let whatever happens happen. And he's worked on that. The main thing with Kyle is going to be is just maintaining focus."

The physically transformed Schwarber mentioned last week that he's established a good relationship with Davis, in no small part because Schwarber can relate to what Davis went through when he was a player. And to hear Davis tell it, it sounds like he's describing Schwarber's first three years as a big leaguer to a T.

"Telling him my story was important because it was similar," Davis said. "I was a catcher, got to big league camp, and I was thrown in the outfield. And I hated the outfield. ... But I took on the challenge. I made the adjustment, I had a nice first year, then my second year I started spiraling. I started spiraling down, and I remember one of my coaches saying, 'I'm going to have to throw you a parachute just so you can land softly.' I got sent down to Triple-A at the All-Star break for 15 days.

"When I got sent down, I was disappointed, but I was also really happy. I needed to get away from the big league pressure and kind of find myself again. I went home and refocused myself and thought to myself, 'I'm going to come back as Chili.' Because I tried to change, something changed about me the second year.

"And when I did that, I came back the next year and someone tried to change me and I said, 'Pump the breaks a little bit, let me fail my way, and then I'll come to you if I'm failing.' And they understood that, and I had a nice year, a big year and my career took off.

"I'm telling him, 'Hey, let last year go. It happened, it's in the past. Keep working hard, maintain your focus, and you'll be fine.'"

Getting Schwarber right isn't Davis' only task, of course. Despite the Cubs being one of the highest-scoring teams in baseball last season, they had plenty of guys go through subpar seasons. Jason Heyward still has yet to find his offensive game since coming to Chicago as a high-priced free agent. Ben Zobrist was bothered by a wrist injury last season and put up the worst numbers of his career. Addison Russell had trouble staying healthy, as well, and saw his numbers dip from what they were during the World Series season in 2016.

So Davis has plenty of charges to work with. But he likes what he's seen so far.

"They work," Davis said. "They come here to work. I had a group of guys in Boston that were the same last year, and it makes my job easier. They want to get better, they come out every day, they show up, they want to work. They're excited, and I'm excited to be around them.

And what have the Cubs found out about Davis? Just about everyone answers that question the same way: He likes to talk.

"I'm not going to stop talking," he said. "If I stop talking, something's wrong."