Cubs

Jon Lester sees changing of the guard in Cubs rotation, but won’t concede anything else: ‘We should win the World Series’

Jon Lester sees changing of the guard in Cubs rotation, but won’t concede anything else: ‘We should win the World Series’

Jon Lester is already bald and has white whiskers in his beard. He sounds older than 33, maybe because his nine seasons with the Boston Red Sox should be measured in dog years. He toasted his boy John Lackey’s presumed retirement last week as the Cubs celebrated their National League Central title.    

Lester sees the changing of the guard at the front of the rotation and knows he already accomplished exactly what the Cubs wanted when they signed him to a landmark six-year, $155 million contract after a last-place season in 2014.     

Lester sincerely respects Kyle Hendricks and believes he earned the Game 1 assignment against the Washington Nationals. But beyond that, Lester isn’t conceding anything in the best-of-five NL Division Series that begins Friday night at Nationals Park.  

“Last year, we had all these expectations,” Lester said during Wednesday’s workout at Wrigley Field. “We won a bunch of games and we were supposed to win the World Series. That, to me, is harder than defending the World Series. Going forward, we have really nothing to lose. We’re still a really good team and we should win the World Series.

“But Washington was the second-best team in (the NL). The Dodgers, I think, have a lot to lose, just playing so well all year. So now you get into the playoffs with the added pressure on yourself – and you start pressing and not being who you are – and you look up and you’re heading home.

“We’re in a good place. I like this team being underdogs. We got some very prideful guys on this team.”

Like Lester, who started Game 1 in all three playoff rounds last year and earned his third World Series ring in a borderline Hall of Fame career. The Cubs still trust Lester will figure it out in Saturday’s Game 2 against the Nationals. Even manager Joe Maddon admitted Lester closing the regular season at full strength would have changed the calculus for this decision. But Lester watched up close last year as Hendricks grew into an ERA titleholder, a Cy Young Award finalist and the World Series Game 7 starter.

“I’m happy for him,” Lester said. “This is kind of that next step. Hopefully, the next step for him is to go through the whole playoffs like that and then be our Opening Day starter next year. That’s a cool step. I remember back in the day when the torch was kind of passed to me to do that.”

This isn’t an ego thing for Lester, who went 13-8 with a 4.33 ERA this season, the stress from pitching in 14 career playoff series probably catching up to him while Hendricks got into a groove and put up a 2.19 ERA in 13 starts after the All-Star break.

“We’re a unit out there as our starting staff,” Lester said. “I’m not by any means mad. I’m not upset. I wasn’t going to be a Game 1 starter or an Opening Day starter for the rest of my career. At some point, somebody’s got to take it over. I’m really, really happy for him.”

Lester went on the disabled list with left lat tightness/general shoulder fatigue in late August and made it through six up-and-down starts in September. The surface-level numbers were fine (5-1, 4.18 ERA), but opponents generated an .828 OPS while Lester struggled with his command and location (36 hits and 14 walks allowed in 32.1 innings). Even in good times, it can look like Lester is second-guessing himself and unsure about what to do next, which makes his bubbling frustrations stand out against the blank stares from Hendricks.

“Kyle’s the perfect guy for it – you never know what’s going through his head,” Lester said. “You hardly know he’s breathing out there. As an emotional guy out there, to me, that’s the most impressive part, how he doesn’t allow (anything to get to him).

“How he goes about his business out there, you’d never know if he’s up 10, down 10, if it’s Game 7 or if it’s an April 15 start.”

Lester always envisioned the Cubs being good for a long time – and not just a one-and-done champion – as he transitioned into more of a supporting role. You can see the future with Jose Quintana lined up for Game 3 at Wrigley Field and his first playoff experience. There is the worst-case possibility that looming free agent/Game 4 starter (if necessary) Jake Arrieta may have already thrown his final pitch in a Cubs uniform as he continues to try to strengthen a strained right hamstring.

[MORE: Kyle Hendricks gets the Game 1 start for Cubs

Not that the Cubs are thinking in those terms or that Lester would ever sell this team short, even as he makes way for Hendricks and maybe sees the beginning of the end of his reign as the staff’s ace.   

“We’re not anxious,” Lester said. “Basically 95 percent of our team has been through everything, so there’s not going to be anything that surprises us as we go along this journey.”

NBC Sports Chicago to deliver a Chicago baseball Thanksgiving Day marathon

nbc_sports_chicago_slide.jpg

NBC Sports Chicago to deliver a Chicago baseball Thanksgiving Day marathon

15-straight hours of “Classic” Cubs and White Sox full game replays from the 2017 season gets underway at 9:00 AM CT

NBC Sports Chicago live stream available 24/7 on NBCSportsChicago.com/WatchLive  or via the NBC Sports app

Chicago, IL (November 21, 2017) -- NBC Sports Chicago, the multi-platform home for the most games and most comprehensive coverage of the Chicago Blackhawks, Bulls, Cubs and White Sox, will provide its viewers with a special 15-hour Thanksgiving Day marathon featuring four, thrilling “Classic” games from this past Cubs & White Sox season beginning this Thursday, November 23 at 9:00 AM CT. 

NBC Sports Chicago will also live stream this Classic games marathon to authenticated NBC Sports Chicago subscribers on NBCSportsChicago.com/WatchLive or via the NBC Sports app.  NOTE: MLB game replays will only be made available to those viewers within NBC Sports Chicago’s regular MLB viewing territory.

Note NBC Sports Chicago’s Thanksgiving Day Cubs & White Sox “Classics” game marathon line-up below (all times Central Time):

THANKSGIVING DAY - THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 23

9:00 AM“White Sox Classics: White Sox vs. Houston (from August 10) – The future most certainly looked bright on the southside in this match-up as the White Sox defeated the eventual World Series champs, thanks in part to some 9th/extra-inning heroics from team’s highly-touted future cornerstone, Yoan Moncada.

12:30 PM“Cubs Classics: Cubs at Milwaukee (from September 21) – In one of their most exciting victories of the season, the Cubs were down 3-2 in the top of the ninth (not to mention being down to their last strike), but second baseman Javy Baez came through with a clutch RBI single to force extra innings, which was then followed by reigning NL MVP Kris Bryant crushing the Brew Crew’s hopes for division contention with a two-run blast in the 10th.

4:30 PM“White Sox Classics: White Sox at Detroit (from September 14) – The bats were indeed alive as the White Sox belted out 25 hits (a White Sox personal best total since 1981) featuring some impressive firepower courtesy of its top three stars: Avisail Garcia (5-5, HR, 7 RBI), Yoan Moncada (4-5, HR), and Jose Abreu (4-5, 2 RBI).

8:00 PM“Cubs Classics: Cubs at St. Louis (from September 27) – The Cubs clinched their second-straight NL Central Division title with all five of their runs coming in the 7th inning, which included shortstop Addison Russell’s GW three-run shot.  NOTE: Immediately following this “Cubs Classics” game (approx. 10:55 PM), fans can look forward to a replay of “Cubs Postgame Live” that featured the team’s NL Central Division-clinching locker room celebration.

REMINDER: NBC Sports Chicago/NBCSportsChicago.com/NBC Sports app will carry live coverage of all eight Illinois High School Association (IHSA) Football State Championship games this weekend (all in HD) beginning with the Class 1A title game Friday morning (Nov. 24) at 10:00 AM and all the way through to the Class 8A battle between area preps powerhouses Lincoln-Way East (13-0) vs. Loyola Academy (12-1) on Saturday night (Nov. 25) at 7:00 PM on NBC Sports Chicago+.  Fans are urged to visit NBCSportsChicago.com/preps for full coverage and precise channel location/live streaming details.    

Cubs officially hire Jim Hickey as pitching coach, fill other coaching vacancies

Cubs officially hire Jim Hickey as pitching coach, fill other coaching vacancies

Joe Maddon's 2018 coaching staff came into focus Tuesday, with the Cubs officially announcing three moves.

The Cubs made Jim Hickey the team's pitching coach, making official what has been assumed for a while, that Maddon's former pitching coach with the Tampa Bay Rays would take over for Chris Bosio on the North Side.

Additionally, Brandon Hyde was moved from his role as the team's first base coach to become Maddon's bench coach, taking over for Dave Martinez, who is the new manager of the Washington Nationals.

And the Cubs announced that Will Venable will be the new first base coach after he was recently named a special assistant to president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer.

Hickey, a Chicago native, spent the past 11 seasons as the Rays' pitching coach, presiding over a litany of young arms during and after Maddon's tenure as the manager there, including James Shields, Matt Garza, David Price, Chris Archer and Alex Cobb. Hickey was the pitching coach for a pair of World Series teams: the 2005 Houston Astros and the 2008 Rays.

Hickey's relationship with Cobb could be of particular interest this offseason, as the free-agent pitcher could be a target for the Cubs' front office.

Hyde has served as the Cubs' bench coach before, filling the role on Rick Renteria's staff in 2014. He spent the past three seasons as Maddon's first base coach, part of a staff that appeared in three straight National League Championship Series and won the 2016 World Series.

Venable spent nine seasons in the major leagues, wrapping up his playing career in 2016 after playing for the San Diego Padres, Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Dodgers.

In addition to these moves to lock in Maddon's coaching staff, the Cubs also announced the addition of Jim Benedict as a special assistant. Benedict was most recently the vice president of pitching development for the Miami Marlins and has also worked for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Cleveland Indians and New York Yankees.