Cubs

With playoffs looming, is Jon Lester back where he needs to be?

With playoffs looming, is Jon Lester back where he needs to be?

If Jon Lester is going to continue the recent tradition of taking the ball for every Game 1 of a Cubs postseason series, he's in a good spot.

The veteran southpaw tossed five shutout innings Saturday in a 9-0 win over the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field in his final tune-up before the playoffs. 

That now makes just one earned run on nine hits and a pair of walks in 11 innings over the last week for Lester, a far cry from the 14 earned runs he gave up in 21.1 innings in his first four starts since returning from the disabled list on Sept. 2.

Lester struck out seven Reds and walked none, using 75 pitches to get through the five innings, a total Cubs manager Joe Maddon believes is a "theoretically perfect" number.

So is Lester back to where he needs to be?

"I feel good," he said. "The last two have been a lot better as far as being able to repeat and command the baseball and throw those different pitches. Kinda got back to throwing a lot more fastballs. But obviously, the teams and the guys that you face dictate that as well with what you're trying to do.

"It feels good to be crisp. ... Good to have good command. Mixed in all our pitches and threw some pitches in different counts that we normally don't throw. So it was good. Had some weak contact. They hit a couple balls hard, but guys made some good plays on'em, so that was good."

The Cubs are still mulling over who their Game 1 starter is Friday in Washington D.C., but it appears as if Lester and Kyle Hendricks are the two options with Maddon already confirming Jake Arrieta would be pushed back and Jose Quintana joining Arrieta in Wednesday's simulated game.

"I don't make those decisions," Lester said. "I told somebody the other day, if they so choose to make me Game 1, obviously that's a huge honor, a huge responsibility to put on your shoulders and go out there and try to get your team off to the best start.

"But if I'm in any of the other games, go out there and compete, just like I would any other start."

Maddon said there are still a "couple moving parts" to nail down before the Cubs make their final decision.

"I hope it's not complex. I don't like complex; I just like simplex," Maddon said, smirking.

Lester finishes the season with a 4.33 ERA and 1.32 WHIP, his worst yearly totals since 2012 (4.82 ERA, 1.38 WHIP). 2017 also marked only the second time over the last decade Lester has not reached the 200-inning plateau in a season.

But even for a guy who has a career 2.63 ERA in 133.2 postseason innings spanning 22 games, Lester admits he has some anxiety before every start.

Whether he goes Game 1 or Game 2 next weekend in D.C., he'll have Sunday through Thursday to go through his normal between-starts routine.

"I don't really get anxious until the day of," Lester said. "I think I'm so engrossed in my routine and what I'm doing and what I'm trying to prepare for.

"And then when you get to that day, it's kinda 'OK, I don't know what to do.' And then I have to pitch. That's when the anxiety and the nervousness kicks in."

NBC Sports Chicago continues expanded, multi-platform Cubs/NLCS coverage this week

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NBC Sports Chicago continues expanded, multi-platform Cubs/NLCS coverage this week

Game 3 coverage Tuesday, October 17 – LIVE from Wrigley Field

“Cubs Pregame Live: NLCS Game 3” at 7:00 PM CT

“Cubs Postgame Live: NLCS Game 3” at approx. 11:00 PM CT

Game 4 coverage Wednesday, October 18 – LIVE from Wrigley Field

“Cubs Pregame Live: NLCS Game 4” at 7:00 PM CT

“Cubs Postgame Live: NLCS Game 4” at approx. 11:00 PM CT

Game 5 coverage (if nec.) Thursday, October 19 – LIVE from Wrigley Field

“Cubs Pregame Live: NLCS Game 5” at 6:30 PM CT (on NBC Sports Chicago+)

“Cubs Postgame Live: NLCS Game 5” at approx. 10:30 PM CT

“In the Loop: Road to a Repeat” Cubs special to air TONIGHT at 10:30 PM CT

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

Chicago, IL (October 16, 2017) – NBC Sports Chicago, the multi-platform home for the most games and the most comprehensive coverage of defending World Series Champion Chicago Cubs, will continue to provide fans with LIVE expanded, surrounding coverage of the Cubs hosting the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS this week live from Wrigley Field! 

With the Cubs looking to storm back from an 0-2 series deficit, the NLCS shifts to Wrigley Field this week for Game 3 (TOMORROW – Tue, Oct. 17), Game 4 (Wed, Oct. 18), and an if necessary Game 5 on Thu, Oct. 19.  As it provided fans during the NLDS, NBC Sports Chicago will once again deliver expanded editions of Cubs Pregame Live presented by Fields Auto Group and Cubs Postgame Live presented by BlueCross BlueShield of Illinois LIVE from the Brickhouse Tavern overlooking the always-festive Park at Wrigley.

For NLCS surrounding game coverage at Wrigley Field this week, hosts David Kaplan (@thekapman) and David DeJesus (@David_DeJesus3) will be joined by Cubs beat reporter Kelly Crull (@Kelly_Crull) and NBCSportsChicago.com Cubs “Insider” Patrick Mooney (@MooneyNBCS) with up-to-the-minute on-field reports and interviews.

Please note the following details for NBC Sports Chicago’s surrounding Cubs-Dodgers NLCS coverage this week from Wrigley Field…NOTE: NBC Sports Chicago live stream also available on www.NBCSportsChicago.com/WatchLive or via the NBC Sports app to authenticated NBC Sports Chicago Chicago subscribers:

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 17

7:00 PM – Cubs Pregame Live: NLCS Game 3 presented by Fields Auto Group – Hosted by NBC Sports Chicago’s David Kaplan and David DeJesus, this special ONE-HOUR edition of Cubs Pregame Live will break down and preview Game 3 of the NLCS featuring numerous interviews, pitching match-up and player analyses, a recap of Games 1 & 2, along with the latest on-field pre-game reports from Kelly Crull and Patrick Mooney.

11:00 PM (time approx.) Cubs Postgame Live: NLCS Game 3 presented by BlueCross BlueShield of Illinois – An expanded post-game edition of Cubs Postgame Live, hosted by Kaplan and DeJesus, will feature Cubs manager Joe Maddon’s post-game press conference, live locker room player interviews, a complete breakdown of Game 3, plus, additional live on-field, post-game reports from Crull, a preview of Game 4, and much more. This edition of Cubs Postgame Live can also be viewed on Facebook Live (www.Facebook.com/NBCSChicago).

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 18

7:00 PM – Cubs Pregame Live: NLCS Game 4 presented by Fields Auto Group – Hosted by NBC Sports Chicago’s David Kaplan and David DeJesus, this special ONE-HOUR edition of Cubs Pregame Live will break down and preview Game 4 of the NLCS featuring numerous interviews, pitching match-up and player analyses, a recap of Games 1-3, along with the latest on-field pre-game reports from Kelly Crull and Patrick Mooney.

11:00 PM (time approx.) Cubs Postgame Live: NLCS Game 4 presented by BlueCross BlueShield of Illinois – An expanded post-game edition of Cubs Postgame Live, hosted by Kaplan and DeJesus, will feature Cubs manager Joe Maddon’s post-game press conference, live locker room player interviews, a complete breakdown of Game 4, plus, additional live on-field, post-game reports from Crull, a preview of Game 5 (if nec.), and much more. This edition of Cubs Postgame Live can also be viewed on Facebook Live (www.Facebook.com/NBCSChicago).

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 19

6:30 PM (on NBC Sports Chicago+)Cubs Pregame Live: NLCS Game 5 presented by Fields Auto Group (if nec.) – Hosted by NBC Sports Chicago’s David Kaplan and David DeJesus, this special edition of Cubs Pregame Live will break down and preview Game 5 of the NLCS featuring numerous interviews, pitching match-up and player analyses, a recap of Games 1-4, along with the latest on-field pre-game reports from Kelly Crull and Patrick Mooney.

10:30 PM (time approx.) Cubs Postgame Live: NLCS Game 5 presented by BlueCross BlueShield of Illinois (if nec.) – An expanded post-game edition of Cubs Postgame Live, hosted by Kaplan and DeJesus, will feature Cubs manager Joe Maddon’s post-game press conference, live locker room player interviews, a complete breakdown of Game 5, plus, additional live on-field, post-game reports from Crull, a preview of Games 6-7 (if nec.) in Los Angeles, and much more. This edition of Cubs Postgame Live can also be viewed on Facebook Live (www.Facebook.com/NBCSChicago).

TONIGHT at 10:30 PM CT (and airing at 10:30 PM on weeknights throughout the Cubs playoff run), NBC Sports Chicago will provide viewers with expanded Cubs playoff coverage on In the Loop: Road to a Repeat presented by State Farm.  This half-hour show, featuring a rotation of Cubs experts including Kaplan, DeJesus, Crull, Mooney, and additional special guests, will provide fans with up-to-the-minute Cubs-Dodgers NLCS news and updates, player/manager interviews, workout day feature reports, comprehensive game previews/recaps, an overview of the ALCS, and much more.

In addition, NBCSportsChicago.com, will provide even more exclusive Cubs/NLCS content including the following highlights:

  • Live stream of Cubs manager Joe Maddon’s post-game press conferences (sponsored by Xfinity) following every NLCS game.
  • NBCSportsChicago.com Cubs “Insider” Patrick Mooney will provide extensive team/player news, special feature stories, and much more throughout the NLCS. Follow him on Twitter @MooneyNBCS for 24/7 inside access.  In addition, Cubs digital reporter and producer Tony Andracki (@TonyAndracki23) will also provide Cubs reports/features on the beat with Mooney for every NLCS game. Plus – David Kaplan (@thekapman), David DeJesus (David_DeJesus3), and Kelly Crull (@Kelly_Crull) will also provide additional updates and reports from their perspective throughout the NLCS.
  • Complete coverage of the Cubs/NLCS can be found at NBCSportsChicago.com’s “CubsTalk” section presented by Wintrust (http://www.nbcsports.com/chicago/cubs ) featuring the very latest game day reports, detailed series analysis, video features, and much more. For complete 24/7 Cubs coverage, fans are urged to followed @NBCSCubs on Twitter.
  • IPowWow – On every edition of “Cubs Pregame Live,” Cubs fans can vote in real-time on a specific topical question that will offer up five choices…fans just need to log onto NBCSportsChicago.com/vote to cast their vote as many times as they choose with the immediate percentages of each choice appearing on their desktop, laptop, or mobile device.
  • “Cubs Talk PODCAST” presented by Wintrust – Featuring Kaplan, DeJesus, Mooney, Andracki, and an array of special guests, NBC Sports Chicago’s “Cubs Talk” podcast features in-depth Cubs/NLCS discussion on the hottest topics surrounding the series and much more. Fans can download all of NBC Sports Chicago’s podcasts at NBCSportsChicago.com/podcasts and simply subscribe to them via Apple Podcasts, Google Play or Stitcher.  The podcasts can be played on any mobile device, laptop, or desktop computer.
  • Push Alerts: NBC Sports Chicago will deliver Cubs push notifications for breaking team and player news, “Insider” reports, plus game reminder alerts via NBC Sports Chicago’s SportsTalk app for iOS and Android devices.

In addition to its expanded coverage on Facebook Live, NBC Sports Chicago will offer up even more special coverage on its social media platforms including a multitude of NLCS “Sights & Sounds” moments from Wrigley Field will be provided from ‘NBCSChicago’ via Instagram, Instagram Live and Snapchat, along with live updates, replays, gifs & more on Twitter via @NBCSCubs.

NOTE: NBC Sports Chicago’s surrounding coverage details for NLCS Games 6 & 7 (if nec.) in Los Angeles this weekend, will be announced on Friday, October 20.

Wade Davis won't second-guess the decision that kept him on the sideline 

Wade Davis won't second-guess the decision that kept him on the sideline 

LOS ANGELES – The Cubs talked a good game on Sunday night, manager Joe Maddon explaining his ninth-inning strategy during a Dodger Stadium press conference and the defending World Series champs standing at their lockers answering positive-slant questions about how they’ve been through this before and already done the impossible.

But there was no avoiding it in the visiting clubhouse, how much better this Dodger team is now and how much this 4-1 walk-off loss stung, because the Cubs are now down 0-2 in the National League Championship Series without All-Star closer Wade Davis throwing a single pitch.

The year after Maddon took so much heat for how hard he pushed All-Star closer Aroldis Chapman – and three days removed from Davis getting the seven-out save that eliminated the Washington Nationals – all the focus shifted to how John Lackey wound up allowing the three-run homer Justin Turner launched over the center-field wall.

“We got confidence in everybody that goes out there, so there’s no disappointment in any of that,” Davis said. “Lackey’s track record in the playoffs has been amazing. I don’t think that’s something anybody should be second-guessing.”    

Davis is a professional who wouldn’t subtly criticize a teammate or passive-aggressively criticize his manager. That’s what Twitter is for while the Cubs fly home overnight, two losses away from vacation, and talk radio on Monday morning, more than 24 hours to fill before Game 3 at Wrigley Field.     

“You have to understand when you have a guy like that coming off the performance that he had, to warm him up and not use him is equally as bad,” Maddon said. “Warm him up, not put him in the game, and then ask him to pitch maybe two innings later, that's really not good for him.

“I really was waiting for that opportunity to grab a lead and then throw him out there. That's what it was all about. There was no way he was pitching more than one, and that was pretty much it.”

Here’s how Davis – who unleashed 44 pitches to finish off the epic Thursday night/Friday morning clincher at Nationals Park – understood his pregame availability: “Help win the game whatever way we can.”

“I knew it was only going to be like a one-inning-type stint.”

Maddon sent Brian Duensing back out to begin a second inning against the Dodgers and watched the lefty reliever walk Yasiel Puig to lead off the ninth. After a sacrifice bunt and a Duensing strikeout, Maddon bet on Lackey’s Big-Boy-Game experience.

Lackey threw 27 pitches the day before and is 38 years old and has made only two regular-season relief appearances in a big-league career that began in 2002. Lackey walked Chris Taylor and watched his second pitch to Turner – a 92-mph fastball – soar out to center field and into the glove of a Dodger fan.  

“You want to be in these games,” Lackey  said. “It’s not typical the way I’m usually in ‘em, but still got to try to get the job done.”

Look, the Cubs bullpen is already in disorder and has no margin for error when the offense scores only one run and the Dodger relievers throw an eight-inning combined no-hitter in Games 1 and 2. But everything is magnified in October, when relievers become stars and all the decisions are dissected in real time on social media.

Davis never makes excuses and wouldn’t say that he’s still feeling the aftereffects from Washington.   

“Everything’s pretty taxing in the playoffs,” Davis said. “It’s just part of it. You take the ball whenever they ask you to take the ball.”

Davis – who so rarely shows emotion – laughed when a reporter asked if he could go longer than three outs again.

“You guys love that question,” Davis said. “Like I said, we’re just trying to win games.”

After talking for 90-plus seconds about a game he didn’t play in, Davis nodded and said: “We’re good.”