Cubs

Jon Lester hits disabled list as back-to-back Octobers start catching up to Cubs

Jon Lester hits disabled list as back-to-back Octobers start catching up to Cubs

Typically, you wouldn’t expect there to be anything wrong with playing deep into the month of October in back-to-back seasons.

Indeed only the back-to-back world-championship campaigns in 1907 and 1908 have produced a better two-season stretch of Cubs baseball than what the team has done the past couple of years. A run to the National League Championship Series in 2015 was followed up by last season’s curse-smashing World Series win, which still has much of Lakeview in a pretty euphoric state.

But not every effect is a positive one, as the 2017 edition of the Cubs are finding out.

The debate over a so-called “World Series hangover” aside, the Cubs were hit with a more tangible detriment from playing so many postseason games Friday, when Jon Lester was placed on the disabled list with what was described as left lat tightness and general shoulder fatigue.

The news on Lester, of course, could’ve been far worse. In fact, many were expecting far worse, making Friday’s news qualify as a sigh of relief for a team that will need every one of its weapons to battle through an extremely tight division race. Lester, according to the Cubs, has no structural damage and is getting put on the shelf mostly to rest up after back-to-back seasons of deep playoff runs.

“His arm is tired, which is understandable,” team president Theo Epstein said. “If you look at the load that he’s carried, pitching seven months the last couple years, taking the ball every fifth day. There comes a time where all pitchers need a breather, and this is his time.

“He’s actually told us he’s been dealing with it for a good bit now, so this was probably inevitable. He’s getting the break before anything serious happens. He’ll be down for a little while, but he’ll come back to finish the year really solid note, pitch a lot of important games the rest of the way.

“It’s a grind. Especially when you pitch through October a couple years in a row, things tend to add up. This hasn’t been a year where we’ve been able to open up any kind of lead (in the division) and proactively give guys as much rest as we would like. Now Jon’s going to get that blow, which in the long run will serve him well.”

After back-to-back seasons of sensational starting pitching up and down the Cubs’ rotation — Jake Arrieta won the Cy Young Award in 2015, while Lester and Kyle Hendricks were finalists last year — this season has seen consistency among those same pitchers be a big issue. It was the team’s No. 1 issue, per Joe Maddon, during that sub-.500 first half.

And while things have picked up dramatically since the All-Star break, Lester’s disastrous outing Thursday wasn’t the first such performance of his season. Four times since late May, Lester has thrown four innings or fewer. Thursday’s nasty 1.2-inning, eight-run shellacking was like a replay of his final start prior to the All-Star break, when he was tagged for 10 runs and recorded just two outs against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

In a season when breaking away from a mediocre pack of teams in the NL Central has yet to happen, fatigue is becoming a recurring theme.

“Jon has just pitched a lot,” Maddon said. “He’s pitched a lot over the last several years. And that’s what I keep talking about with a lot of our guys, when you take them out after 85, 90, 95 pitches, sometimes they don’t like it. But it’s a cumulative kind of effect that it’s going to have where all of a sudden it piles up and guys become tired or fatigued or they start doing something differently and all of a sudden they get some tightness.

“He probably was a little bit tired before the break. I think the break helped him a lot, he came out of the break well. Recently he’s felt a little bit of that tightness and just a general malaise. The fatigue is taking over. So we’re a little bit concerned about all of that. Give him a couple days off. I anticipate when he comes back you’re going to see a lot of what you saw post All-Star break.”

Lester’s trip to the disabled list coincides with a pair of other key performers spending time on the shelf. There seems to be no return in sight for injured shortstop Addison Russell, and the only update Maddon had on Willson Contreras was that the injured catcher “feels good.”

The good news for the Cubs is that they don’t expect to be without their ace long. Maybe just one or two missed starts. They’re mighty confident in their stopgap replacement plan, Mike Montgomery. So Lester’s injury doesn’t seem like it could have the same earth-shattering effect as losing the team’s hottest hitter, like they did when they lost Contreras.

Maddon, though, does see one of the team’s major injuries as an issue.

“The thing I’m concerned about is Javy (Baez)’s playing so much at shortstop right now. Among all the injuries, Addison impacts down the road more just because of what it’s doing,” Maddon said. “But Javy’s been playing with a lot of energy.

“I’ve been really watching him more than anybody because the outfielders are all getting breaks. (Kris Bryant) has not, (Anthony) Rizzo has not, but I get them out in a bad game or a good game, giving them some innings that way. So it’s been primarily Javy that I’m most concerned about, only because I’m worried about the latter part of the season. This guy’s played a lot. If and when we can get Addy back in there and get Javy on a more civil method regarding playing, I think that would be the one area that I’m most concerned about.”

Call it a World Series hangover. Call it just being tired. The Cubs’ rise over the past two seasons is having some ill effects as they look to repeat as World Series champs. They’re just hoping this banged-up month of August won’t prevent them from playing in three straight Octobers.

Why did Kris Bryant get a first-place vote in this year's National League MVP balloting?

1117_kris_bryant.jpg
USA TODAY

Why did Kris Bryant get a first-place vote in this year's National League MVP balloting?

Kris Bryant was the 2016 National League MVP. And despite having what could be considered an even better campaign this past season, he finished seventh in voting for the 2017 edition of the award.

The NL MVP was awarded to Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton on Thursday night, a fine choice, though it was nearly impossible to make a poor choice, that's how many fantastic players there were hitting the baseball in the NL this season.

After Stanton, Cinicinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto finished second, earning the same amount of first-place votes and losing out to Stanton by just one point. Then came Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado, Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon and Washington Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon ahead of Bryant.

But there was someone who thought Bryant deserved to repeat as the NL MVP. Yes, Bryant earned a first-place vote — as did everyone else mentioned besides Rendon, for that matter — causing a bit of a social-media stir considering the Cubs third baseman, despite his great season, perhaps wasn't as standout a candidate as some of the other guys who finished higher in the voting.

So the person who cast that first-place vote for Bryant, MLB.com's Mark Bowman, wrote up why he felt Bryant deserved to hoist the Kenesaw Mountain Landis Memorial Baseball Award for the second straight year.

"In the end, I chose Bryant because I believe he made the greatest impact, as his second-half production fueled the successful turnaround the Cubs experienced after the All-Star break," Bowman wrote.

"Though I don't believe the MVP must come from a playoff contender, in an attempt to differentiate the value provided by each of these three players (Bryant, Votto and Stanton), I chose to reward the impact made by Bryant, who produced the NL's fourth-best OPS (.968) after the All-Star break, when the Cubs distanced themselves from a sub-.500 record and produced an NL-best 49 wins."

It's easy for Cubs fans and observers to follow that logic, as the Cubs took off after the All-Star break following a disappointing first half. As good as Bryant was all season long, his second-half numbers, as Bowman pointed out, were especially great. He hit .325 with a .421 on-base percentage and a .548 slugging percentage over his final 69 games of the regular season, hitting 11 home runs, knocking out 21 doubles and driving in 35 runs during that span.

Perhaps the craziest thing about this year's MVP race and Bryant's place in it is that Bryant was just as good if not better than he was in 2016, when he was almost unanimously named the NL MVP. After slashing .292/.385/.554 with 39 homers, 102 RBIs, 35 doubles, 75 walks and 154 strikeouts in 2016, Bryant slashed .295/.409/.537 with 29 homers, 73 RBIs, 38 doubles, 95 walks and 128 strikeouts in 2017.

Of course, the competition was much steeper this time around. But Bryant was given the MVP award in 2016 playing for a 103-win Cubs team that was bursting with offensive firepower, getting great seasons from Anthony Rizzo (who finished third in 2016 NL MVP voting), as well as Dexter Fowler and Ben Zobrist. While the Cubs actually scored more runs this season and undoubtedly turned it on after the All-Star break on a team-wide basis, Bryant was far and away the best hitter on the team in 2017, with many other guys throughout the lineup having notably down years and/or experiencing down stretches throughout the season. Hence, making Bryant more, say it with me, valuable.

So Bowman's argument about Bryant's impact on the Cubs — a team that still scored 822 runs, won 92 games and advanced to the National League Championship Series — is a decently convincing one.

Check out Bowman's full explanation, which dives into some of Bryant's advanced stats.

Game on as Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis and Alex Cobb turn down qualifying offers

jakearrieta.png
AP

Game on as Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis and Alex Cobb turn down qualifying offers

During the middle of Jake Arrieta’s 2015 Cy Young Award campaign, super-agent Scott Boras compared the emerging Cubs pitcher to another client – Max Scherzer – in the first season of a seven-year, $210 million megadeal with the Washington Nationals.

Now don’t focus as much on the money – though that obviously matters – as when Scherzer arrived for that Washington press conference to put on his new Nationals jersey: Jan. 21, 2015.

It might take Boras a while to find a new home for his “big squirrel with a lot of nuts in his trees.” Teams have been gearing up for next winter’s monster Bryce Harper/Manny Machado free-agent class for years. Mystery surrounds Shohei Ohtani, Japan’s Babe Ruth, and the posting system with Nippon Professional Baseball. Major League Baseball’s competitive balance tax may also have a chilling effect this offseason.

As expected, Arrieta, All-Star closer Wade Davis and pitcher Alex Cobb were among the group of free agents who went 9-for-9 in declining the one-year, $17.4 million qualifying offer before Thursday’s deadline.

With that formality out of the way, if Arrieta and Davis sign elsewhere, the Cubs will receive two third-round picks in the 2018 draft.

By staying under the $195 million luxury-tax threshold this year, the Cubs would have to give up a second-round draft pick and $500,000 from their international bonus pool to sign Cobb, an obvious target given their connections to the Tampa Bay Rays, or Lance Lynn, another starter on their radar who turned down a qualifying offer from the St. Louis Cardinals.

That collectively bargained luxury-tax system became a central part of the Boras media show on Wednesday outside the Waldorf Astoria Orlando, where he introduced “Playoffville” as his new go-to analogy at the end of the general manager meetings.

“The team cutting payroll is treating their family where they’re staying in a neighborhood that has less protection for winning,” Boras said. “They’re not living in the gated community of Playoffville. Certainly, they’re saving a de minimis property tax, but the reality of it is there’s less firemen in the bullpen. There’s less financial analysts sitting in the press boxes.

“The rooms in the house are less, so obviously you’re going to have less franchise players. When you move to that 12-room home in Playoffville, they generally are filled with the people that allow you to really achieve what your family – your regional family – wants to achieve. And that is winning.”

Boras also represents four other players who rejected qualifying offers – J.D Martinez, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Greg Holland – another reason why this could be a long winter of Arrieta rumors, slow-playing negotiations and LOL metaphors.