Lack of offense overshadows another strong start from Lester in Cubs loss

Lack of offense overshadows another strong start from Lester in Cubs loss

In a meeting of two of the hottest offenses in baseball on an unseasonably warm April weekend at Wrigley, it would be easy to predict a high-scoring game.

But baseball rarely plays out how it's supposed to.

The Cubs (9-3) and Rockies (7-5) entered Sunday's series finale at Wrigley Field as the second and fourth-best offenses in baseball, respectively, but the Cubs found themselves on the losing end of a 2-0 game in front of 41,678 fans.

The Cubs spoiled Jon Lester's stellar outing by tallying just five baserunners against Rockies starter Tyler Chatwood and a pair of relievers.

"I don't think we played a bad game," Cubs catcher David Ross said. "Their guy was just better than us today."

Lester's only mistake was a solo home run into the left-field basket off the bat of Rockies slugger Nolan Arenado in the fourth inning. Beyond that blemish, the veteran southpaw allowed just three other hits and two walks while striking out 10 in 7.1 innings.

But Chatwood was even better, taking a perfect game into the fifth inning before Jorge Soler walked and Javy Baez singled. The only other Cubs hitter to reach base against Chatwood was Lester with a leadoff double in the sixth and he was subsequently stranded on second base.

"I closed my eyes and hit it pretty good," Lester said. "It is what it is. Trying to get something going. You gotta tip your hat sometimes. Sometimes, the other guy makes better pitches throughout the game than you do."

The Cubs mounted a rally in the ninth inning when Jason Heyward doubled and Anthony Rizzo was hit with a pitch, but Kris Bryant struck out to end the game.

"We had some good at-bats, it seemed, as the game went on," Lester said. "We just weren't able to capitalize on it. That happens sometimes."

Lester picked up his first loss of the year, but continued to exhibit the improved comfort level he talked about in spring training.

Now in his second year with the Cubs - and without that "dead arm" period that slowed him down in spring training last season - Lester is off to a hot start to 2016. 

Over his first three starts, the veteran lefty sports a 2.21 ERA and 0.84 WHIP. That's a far cry from the 6.89 ERA he had through his first three starts of 2015.

"[My comfort level] hasn't changed from spring training," Lester said. "I think anytime you spend eight months with these guys, you just feel that much more comfortable around guys. 

"It makes things easier. It makes you relax. It makes you go out there and enjoy playing baseball with these guys against last year, just trying to show them what you've done in your career as opposed to just going out and playing."

At the end of the day, it was the offense that spoiled Lester's third straight quality start of the season.

The Cubs entered the series averaging seven runs per contest, but managed just seven runs total over three games against a Colorado pitching staff that ranked last in Major League Baseball in ERA, even after Sunday's shutout.

Still, Cubs manager Joe Maddon isn't concerned.

"Some guys have not hit their stride, but they will," Maddon said. "We lose the series, which is not good, but we still won the homestand."

The Cubs head to St. Louis Monday to begin a big three-game series with the division rival Cardinals.

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."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion


SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

Carmen DeFalco (ESPN 1000) and Jordan Bernfield join Kap on the panel. Anthony Rizzo returns to the Cubs after an emotional weekend home while Tom Ricketts expects another World Series parade. Plus Hall of Famer Andre Dawson joins Kap to talk about his Cubs reunion and how the current crop unsigned free agents compares to his experiences with collusion.