Cubs

This is nice for Cubs, but Jon Lester signed up to win World Series

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This is nice for Cubs, but Jon Lester signed up to win World Series

PITTSBURGH — This is why the Cubs gave Jon Lester $155 million guaranteed — to pitch in big games, give their young players more confidence/attitude and ultimately lead this team into October.

Lester took care of business in Tuesday night’s 2-1 Game 2 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates, salvaging a split of this huge doubleheader at PNC Park. He pumped his fist at the end of this complete-game performance — and then quickly came down from the emotional high by the time reporters surrounded his locker.

Sure, this is nice. The Cubs reduced their playoff magic number to 12 and stayed within four games of the Pirates for home-field advantage in the National League’s wild-card game. But Lester earned two championship rings with the Boston Red Sox, so in terms of expectations for the first season of this six-year deal megadeal ...

“When I signed here, I envisioned winning a World Series,” Lester said. “Not just playing September baseball. Hopefully, we can get to that point and we can talk about that a little more.”

[MORE CUBS: Scott Boras knows what 20 wins could mean for Cubs and Jake Arrieta]

That looks more realistic when the Cubs have Lester or Jake Arrieta on the mound, a 1-2 playoff punch that might be as good as any other combination in the game.

Manager Joe Maddon noticed Lester still throwing 94 mph in the eighth inning, and the lefty got Andrew McCutchen and Aramis Ramirez to swing at first pitches in the ninth for two quick outs. Lester froze Francisco Cervelli with a 94-mph fastball — his 111th pitch — to end the game with his ninth strikeout.

“This is what he does,” Maddon said. “He likes pitching in big games in the latter part of the season. It’s not a surprise.”

In the moment, the Cubs (83-61) needed Lester (10-10, 3.38 ERA) to give the bullpen a break and stop a three-game losing streak. Big picture, the franchise needed someone to anchor the rotation and set an example for being a professional and handling the big stage.

“(I) prepare the same way (for) an April start as I do in September or October,” Lester said. “If there’s a magic formula or whatever, I think everybody would try to share that with all your teammates. I don’t know. I always feel better the second half of the year, both with stuff and physically.”

[MORE CUBS: How Theo Epstein would fix the wild-card format]

Since Lester’s issues with throwing over to first baseman Anthony Rizzo and controlling the running game have been so publicized, it’s only fair to also mention that he initiated a 1-3-4-3 to pick off Starling Marte, ending the third inning.

“He picked himself off,” Lester said. “He tried to sneak one, and the infield did a good job (with) that rundown. He’s such a good athlete. He can turn and move and he’s fast.

“As far as other teams and all that stuff and all the other things that have gone on this year, I’m not too concerned about it. I’ll continue to try to vary my looks and holds.

"And I may surprise you guys one day with just like an Andy Pettitte move over there — and maybe surprise Rizz a little bit, too.”

Lester doesn’t appear to get defensive or too stressed out, and the Cubs also looked much sharper defensively in Game 2, whether it was Kris Bryant crashing into the right-field wall to make a leaping catch or shortstop Addison Russell gliding to his left and flipping the ball to Starlin Castro to start a key double play that limited the Pirates to one run in the seventh inning or Javier Baez seemingly getting to everything over at third base.

That’s what the Cubs will need if they return to this beautiful waterfront stadium on Oct. 7 in a win-or-else situation. Arrieta and Lester can take it from there.

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

News broke to Willson Contreras that the league will be limiting mound visits this upcoming season, and the Cubs catcher —notorious for his frequent visits to the rubber — is not having it.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If you have to go again and pay the price for my team, I will," he said.

The new rules rolled out Tuesday will limit six visits —any time a manager, coach or player visits the mound — per nine innings. But, communication between a player and a pitcher that does not require them moving from their position does not count as a visit.When a team is out of visits, it's the umpire's discretion to allow an extra trip to the mound.

But despite the new rules, Contreras is willing to do what's best for the team.

“There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? They cannot say anything about that. If you’re going to fine me about the [seventh] mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”

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."