Jon Lester’s playoff message for Cubs after seeing how fragile Mets are now

Jon Lester’s playoff message for Cubs after seeing how fragile Mets are now

The Jon Lester vs. Matt Harvey matchup from Game 1 of the 2015 National League Championship Series feels like ancient history now that the Cubs and New York Mets have gone in completely different directions.

Where Lester cemented his reputation as a three-time World Series champion and a borderline Hall of Famer, Harvey has dealt with too many surgeries, gossip items and clubhouse issues to be more than a one-year lottery ticket next season.

The Mets are so down and decimated by injuries that it’s impossible to draw many conclusions from Wednesday night’s 17-5 blowout at Wrigley Field. Except for looking at the out-of-town scores and remembering the one big idea about how fragile all this can be.

“This game’s fickle, man,” Lester said after beating Harvey and grinding through his third start since coming off the disabled list. “You got to take advantage while you can, while you have the players. We all see it. We all see guys that get called up that are supposed to be the next coming of whatever and two or three years they’re out of the game.

“With that being said now, you got to take each individual season for what it’s worth. You’re going to have ups and downs. You’re going to have injuries. You’re going to have things not necessarily go your way.

“I think we led the league in walk-off wins last year. We obviously led the league in defense. We led the league in pitching. We won 100-and-however many games. Years like that don’t happen that often.”

From one moment to the next, Lester can go from seemingly brooding and sarcastic to extremely chatty and thoughtful, the way he did in the interview room when a reporter mentioned Anthony Rizzo reminding the media that the Cubs were still in first place after getting swept by the Milwaukee Brewers over the weekend.

“How bout that, right?” Lester said. “You wouldn’t think it. God dang, it’s unbelievable.”

To stay there, the Cubs need Lester, who hasn’t shown the same sharpness since left shoulder fatigue/lat muscle tightness sidelined him from the middle of August until Labor Day weekend. Lester watched Jose Reyes drive an 89-mph pitch into the left-center field bleachers for a leadoff homer to begin the game, needed 78 pitches to make it through three innings and walked four batters for the second straight start.

Instead of David Wright, Yoenis Cespedes and Michael Conforto looming in the middle of their lineup, the Mets featured a guy who got released in late August in the No. 2 spot (Norichika Aoki), Kevin Plawecki and Juan Lagares hitting fourth/fifth, followed by two guys who made their big-league debuts last month (Amed Rosario and Travis Taijeron).

Will Lester be ready in time to match up with Max Scherzer and a loaded Washington Nationals lineup on Oct. 6? The $155 million ace stretched out to 114 pitches, lasted six innings and allowed two runs while the Cubs knocked out Harvey (5-5, 6.14 ERA) early and put up another football score against an overmatched team.

The Brewers winning kept them 2.5 games out of first place while the St. Louis Cardinals losing dropped them back to third place, three games out in the NL Central. The magic number for the Cubs to clinch the division is now 15.

“All you got to do is get in,” Lester said. “It doesn’t matter how the season looks, what everybody’s stats are. Whether you limp in or you sprint in, it doesn’t matter. You get in, anybody has a chance. I’ve always been a big believer in that. And there’s been a lot of teams over the years that have proven that.”

Lester brought up the Los Angeles Dodgers – going from a “Best. Team. Ever?” Sports Illustrated cover to losing 11 games in a row and 16 of 17 – and how everything will be wiped away in October.

“They’ve been the best team all year – from Day 1 – and look at the skid they’re going through right now,” Lester said. “This game will humble you. It will bring you back down. But at the end of the day, all you got to do is get in. And we’ll figure it out from there.”

The craziest stats from Cubs 2017 postseason run


The craziest stats from Cubs 2017 postseason run

The Cubs go home for the winter with a bad taste in their mouths for the 108th time in the last 109 years.

But such is the nature of professional sports, where only one team and its fanbase gets to experience euphoria on the final day of the season.

The Cubs didn't play as well as they would've liked in the 2017 postseason, something they readily admit.

But the numbers behind the October run are pretty astounding.

Here are some of the most eye-popping stats from this fall, courtesy of NBC Sports Chicago stat guru Chris Kamka:

—The Cubs had the second-lowest batting average (.156) of any team in a best-of-7 League Championship Series.

The only team lower is the Houston Astros through five games, hitting .147 entering play Friday night against the New York Yankees.

The next lowest batting averages in a best-of-7 LCS:

.157 - 2012 Yankees
.164 - 2015 Cubs
.168 - 2016 Indians

—The Cubs also had the lowest batting average in a single postseason in baseball history among teams who have played at least eight postseason games.

And it's not a particularly close margin:

.168 - 2017 Cubs
.188 - 2012 Yankees
.198 - 1974 A's (won World Series with no LDS)
.204 - 2015 Cubs
.207 - 1973 A's (won World Series with no LDS)

—2017 was an interesting year when it came to home runs for the Cubs.

In the regular season, the Cubs were 77-37 (.675 winning percentage) when hitting at least one homer and just 15-33 (.313 winning percentage) when not homering.

But in the postseason, that script was completely flipped.

The Cubs were only 1-5 (.167) in October when homering and 3-1 when going homerless.

—The offensive issues go far beyond just homers for the Cubs.

They scored nine runs in that epic Game 5 of the NLDS but scored just eight runs as a whole in the NLCS. 

What's even crazier — all nine runs in Game 5 came without benefit of a homer. Every NLCS run the Cubs plated was off a longball as they went 0-for-14 with runners in scoring position.

And then there's this:

—The difference in offensive execution in the NLCS can be summed up just by looking at the strikeout-to-walk ratio of each team.

The Cubs struck out 53 times in the five games compared to only five walks.

The Dodgers, meanwhile, struck out just 41 times with a whopping 28 walks. 

—A huge reason for the Cubs' downfall was the disappearance of Bryzzo in the NLCS.

Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo combined for a .135/.179/.216 slash line with one walk and one hit by pitch. Their only run and RBI combined came on Bryant's homer in Game 5 Thursday when the Cubs were already down 9-0.

—Here's how each spot in the Cubs order fared in the postseason:

1. 4-for-36 (.111 AVG)
2. 7-for-38 (.184)
3. 7-for-38 (.184)
4. 5-for-33 (.152)
5. 10-for-37 (.270)
6. 7-for-33 (.212)
7. 5-for-30 (.167)
8. 0-for-31 (.000)
9. 6-for-28 (.214)

Total: 51-for-304 (.168)

—In the Cubs' defense, they were going up against an elite starting staff led by Clayton Kershaw (whom they faced twice) and a bullpen that ranks among the best in baseball history.

The Dodgers had the second-best bullpen WHIP in an LCS in baseball history, coming in at 0.294 in 17 innings pitched.

The only team better? The 2005 White Sox bullpen, though they only had to get two outs in that ALCS.

The 2016 Blue Jays bullpen came close, posting a 0.553 WHIP in 12.2 innings against the Indians last fall.

Dusty Baker takes the fall for Nationals meltdown against Cubs


Dusty Baker takes the fall for Nationals meltdown against Cubs

The Washington Nationals must have been sitting at home, watching the National League Championship Series and wondering: How did we lose to this team?

The Cubs poured so much physical effort, mental focus and emotional energy into those five playoff games against the Nationals that they didn’t have much left in the tank for the bigger, better Los Angeles Dodgers team that dominated the defending World Series champs in every phase and captured the NL pennant on Thursday night at Wrigley Field.

By midday Friday, the Nationals announced that manager Dusty Baker will not return for the 2018 season, while the contracts for the big-league coaching staff have also expired, leaving a franchise with chain-of-command issues in damage-control mode.

This is a bitter disappointment for Baker, who needs a World Series ring as a manager to put the final bullet point on a Hall of Fame resume and still grumbles about how things ended in 2006 after four up-and-down years managing the Cubs.

Baker, 68, a former Marine, All-Star player and all-around Renaissance man with a great feel for dealing with people and managing the clubhouse, apparently couldn’t overcome last week’s elimination-game meltdown at Nationals Park, where the Cubs hung on for a 9-8 victory and forced Washington into its fourth first-round playoff exit since 2012.

Baker’s in-game decision-making was already under the microscope and his teams have now lost 10 straight postseason close-out games, a major-league record, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

The Nationals also needlessly subjected Stephen Strasburg to withering criticism when Baker said the $175 million pitcher was feeling under the weather — maybe because of Chicago mold and hotel air-conditioning units — and being saved for Game 5. Only to flip-flop and watch Strasburg throw seven scoreless innings in a dominant Game 4 performance at Wrigley Field.

That unforced error and yet another manager search is not a good look for the Nationals, who made the announcement through the Lerner family ownership group after general manager Mike Rizzo repeatedly signaled that he expected to reach a new agreement with Baker after winning 192 games combined in two years and back-to-back division titles.

Since the franchise relocated from Montreal and abandoned the Expos logo in 2005, the Nationals have employed seven different managers and will be starting all over again in 2018, when Bryce Harper will be in his last season before becoming a free agent and probably wondering if Washington can finally get its act together.