Cubs

Jon Lester lives up to 'ace' status as Cubs keep on rolling

jon-lester-fired-up-5-16-15.png

Jon Lester lives up to 'ace' status as Cubs keep on rolling

This may start to feel like a dream for Cubs fans.

The Cubs are on a six-game winning streak, Jon Lester suddenly looks like a $155 million ace again, the bleachers are open again and Wrigleyville is rocking as the weather heats up.

What more could Cubs fans ask for?

Lester hurled seven strong innings Saturday as the Cubs took down the Pirates 4-1 in front of 38,883 fans at Wrigley Field, the largest crowd of the season to date.

[MORE: Cubs' Joe Maddon: The world revolves around confidence]

Lester worked around nine hits and one walk in his seven innings, allowing just one run on 110 pitches.

"Jonny was fabulous and that permitted everything to work for us today," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said.

Lester racked up seven strikeouts, including catching Andrew McCutchen looking to end the seventh with two men on base, prompting a loud scream and fist-pump from Lester as he strutted off the field.

"That was a huge turning point in the game right there," Lester said. "They got a little momentum, some infield hits. To get out of there unscathed is huge. Especially in that tight game. We had a lot of baserunners today, but we were able to make pitches when we needed to.

"It's a big win for us to continue this little streak we're on."

Lester got ahead of McCutchen 0-2 immediately, but had to call time during the at-bat as he dealt with a cramp.

Maddon and a Cubs trainer went out to talk to Lester and with sweat dripping off his hat on a hot, humid day, Lester convinced Maddon to keep him in to finish off the Pirates star.

"I went out there and he calmly looked at me and said 'I'm fine.' There was no 'maybe,'" Maddon said. "That's very cool. He wanted it."

This is why the Cubs signed Lester. His ace mentality came through on a day when the Cubs were extremely short-handed in the bullpen, the wind was blowing out and a good divisional opponent was in town, looking to atone for Friday's failed comeback.

"He's done it before and he knows what it takes to be [an ace]," Maddon said. "He made really good pitches and that's what it takes. Everybody's talking about the wind, but if you make good pitches, you could still survive the wind blowing out and that's what he did today."

The Cubs did not record an RBI hit on the day, instead providing productive outs to get runners home.

Starlin Castro drove in the first two runs with a sacrifice fly in the first inning off Pittsburgh ace Gerrit Cole. Castro came through again with an RBI groundout in the third.

Addison Russell walked with one out in the seventh, stole second, advanced to third on an error by catcher Chris Stewart and scored on a wild pitch. Anthony Rizzo drove home the fourth run later in the inning with a sacrifice fly to left field.

[NBC SHOP: Get your Cubs gear right here]

Kris Bryant collected two singles, walked twice and scored a pair of runs to lead the offense.

"We're having a lot of fun with this and hopefully we can keep it going," Bryant said.

After Lester was pulled, the Cubs escaped a jam in the eighth inning when the first two Pirates hitters singled and doubled, putting runners on second and third with nobody out. But Phil Coke and Jason Motte came up big combining to induce a groundout to the pitcher, a strikeout and then a lazy fly ball to right field to end the threat.

Travis Wood pitched the ninth to pick up the first save of his career.

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

2-21_jim_hickey_usat.jpg
USA TODAY

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.”