Will Cubs push Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta on short rest in NLCS?


Will Cubs push Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta on short rest in NLCS?

Maybe this becomes an even more desperate situation and the Cubs call an audible.

But from manager Joe Maddon to president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, the Cubs don’t sound eager to rush Jon Lester or Jake Arrieta back into the National League Championship Series. That means their two best pitchers might have fired their last bullets in 2015.

The New York Mets beat Lester and Arrieta over the weekend at Citi Field, forcing the Cubs to win four of the next five games in order to advance to the World Series for the first time since 1945.

Kyle Hendricks vs. Jacob deGrom isn’t a great matchup for the Cubs in Game 3 on Tuesday at Wrigley Field, and they won’t publicly commit to their pitching plans for the rest of this series, though it’s probably Jason Hammel on a short leash in Game 4 with Wednesday turning into a bullpen night.

“I don’t think we have to answer that right now,” Epstein said after Monday’s workout. “Unless it’s extraordinary circumstances, we don’t really love the track record of pitchers pitching on short rest. Sometimes there are extraordinary circumstances where it makes sense. But as a rule, it’s not something that we like to do.”

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Lester is a creature of habit who hasn’t quite looked like a two-time World Series champion during this postseason run (0-2, 4.50 ERA), not winning the games the Cubs had in mind when they gave him a six-year, $155 million megadeal.

Arrieta is a leading contender for the Cy Young Award after a brilliant regular season (22-6, 1.77 ERA), and Cubs fans will always remember that complete-game shutout of the Pittsburgh Pirates in an emotional wild-card victory.

But Arrieta hasn’t finished the sixth inning in either of his last two playoff starts, giving up eight runs combined and readjusting expectations that had become unrealistic. He has now accounted for almost 249 innings during this breakthrough season.

“Obviously, we’re aware of how much he’s thrown this year, what he’s done for us and how much has gone into it,” Epstein said. “But as he said, he doesn’t know and he feels fine, so I wouldn’t put it past him to show up next time and dominate.

“He missed April last year (with a shoulder issue). Now he’s getting an additional month on top of the month he missed last year, so there’s a significant tick-up in innings, and that’s something that you monitor and factor in. But we trust Jake as a pitcher and as a person.

“I wouldn’t say that this year I’ve ever used the word ‘concerned’ and ‘Jake Arrieta’ in the same sentence.”

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.