Tommy Pham

Jon Lester picked Ryan Braun off in hilarious fashion

Jon Lester picked Ryan Braun off in hilarious fashion

MILWAUKEE — Moreso than any other team in baseball the last few years, the Brewers know how to exploit Jon Lester's Achilles' heel.

Lester's yips at throwing the ball over to keep runners close on the basepaths is something that has caused him some issues against Ryan Braun and the Brew Crew in recent seasons.

And due to the way the schedule played out, Lester wasn't initially supposed to even face the Brewers in this series. He was supposed to go in the final game in Cincinnati, but since that was rained out, Lester got the ball for Game 1 in Milwaukee Thursday night.

When asked before the game how the Cubs plan to combat the Brewers' extreme aggressiveness on the basepaths against Lester, Joe Maddon shrugged and admitted, "there's not much you can do. Just try to keep them off base."

Well, Braun reached base with two outs in the first inning of the Cubs' 8-0 win Thurdsay and he proceeded to steal second before Lester even wound up and fired a pitch to cleanup hitter Travis Shaw.

Braun got greedy and tried to swipe third, too, but Lester was ready with the bounce-pass he's been working on since spring training:

So was all that according to plan from the bounce-pass ("Pippen to Jordan") Lester worked on in spring training?

"We got an out. So yes," he said.

It wasn't a surprise for Lester or the Cubs that they would try to test him early. This is part of the reason why Lester has always been a bad matchup with the Brewers and why he hasn't faced them since 2016. But you can't steal first, and Lester permitted just three hits on top of that Braun walk in six innings.

"They're an athletic team," Lester said. "I think they led the league last year in stolen bases, so you know they're going to bring that to the table. If you don't allow baserunners, then it's OK."

After Braun was thrown out, Javy Baez ran by him in getting off the field and said, "I told him only once, not twice."

Lester caught the St. Louis Cardinals by surprise last year when he picked Tommy Pham off first base and now he's done the same thing to the Cubs' other division rival.

And this is only Lester's second start of the season. He's gonna set a new career high for pickoffs in 2018. You better believe the rest of the league is taking notice.

"It's big. It's very big," Maddon said. "It's all written down. Now that he's done it. Picking Pham off last year. ... I like what he's doing. I think he's really going to get comfortable with that and that's all he needs to do to fulfill what we need to get done."

The low-key move that may pay dividends for Cubs in 2018 and beyond

The low-key move that may pay dividends for Cubs in 2018 and beyond

The Cubs-Cardinals rivalry is alive and well and this offseason has been further proof of that.

The St. Louis Cardinals haven't made a rivalry-altering move like inking Jake Arrieta to a megadeal, but they have proven that they are absolutely coming after the Cubs and the top of the division.

However, a move the St. Louis brass made Friday afternoon may actually be one that makes Cubs fans cheer.

The Cardinals traded outfielder Randal Grichuk to the Toronto Blue Jays Friday in exhange for a pair of right-handed pitchers: Dominic Leone and Conner Greene. Leone is the main draw here as a 26-year-old reliever who posted a 2.56 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 10.4 K/9 in 70.1 innings last year in Toronto.

But this is the second young position player the Cardinals have traded to Toronto this offseason and Grichuk is a notorious Cub Killer.

Grichuk struggled overall in 2017, posting a second straight year of empty power and not much else. But he once again hammered the Cubs to the tune of a .356 batting average and 1.240 OPS. 

He hit six homers and drove in 12 runs in just 14 games (11 starts) against Joe Maddon's squad. That's 27 percent of his 2017 homers and 20 percent of his season RBI numbers coming against just one team.

And it wasn't just one year that was an aberration. In his career, Grichuk has a .296/.335/.638 slash line against the Cubs, good for a .974 OPS. He's hit 11 homers and driven in 33 runs in 37 games, the highest ouput in either category against any opponent.

Even if Leone builds off his solid 2017 and pitches some big innings against the Cubs over the next couple seasons, it will be a sigh of relief for the Chicago pitching staff knowing they won't have to face the threat of Grichuk 18+ times a year.

Plus, getting a reliever and a low-level starting pitching prospect back for a guy (Grichuk) who was borderline untouchable a couple winters ago isn't exactly great value. The same can be said for the Cardinals' trade of Aledmys Diaz to Toronto on Dec. 1 for essentially nothing.

A year ago, St. Louis was heading into the season feeling confident about Diaz, who finished fifth in the NL Rookie of the Year race in 2016 after hitting .300 with an .879 OPS as a 25-year-old rookie. He wound up finishing 2017 in the minors after struggling badly to start the season and the Cardinals clearly didn't want to wait out his growing pains.

The two trades with Toronto limits the Cardinals' depth (as of right now) and leaves very few proven options behind shortstop Paul DeJong and outfielder Tommy Pham, who both enjoyed breakout seasons in 2017.

Willson Contreras' profanity-laden advice to Jon Lester was easily the best moment at Cubs Convention

Willson Contreras' profanity-laden advice to Jon Lester was easily the best moment at Cubs Convention

First there was Manny being Manny.

Then there was Javy being Javy.

Now there needs to be a special section for Willy being Willy.

Willson Contreras is one of the most passionate and unique individuals in professional sports today and he proved it once again at the 2018 Cubs Convention.

In a panel hosted by NBC Sports Chicago's Kelly Crull, Jason Heyward said one of his favorite moments from the 2017 season was Jon Lester — who notoriously does not throw to first base due to a case of the yips — picking off St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Tommy Pham in June.

Contreras chipped in and said he had a mound visit with Lester right before it happened.

"I went out there and I said, 'Hey mutherf--ker, throw the f--king ball to first.'"

[Warning: graphic language]

In a panel full of kids, it was absolutely hilarious and prompted Heyward to do the "Old School" earmuffs thing.

Anthony Rizzo can't even handle it in the aftermath of Contreras' surprising advice, but Kyle Schwarber's reaction to the candid moment was even better when NBC Sports Chicago showed him the clip.

Contreras is also apparently willing to sign the phrase on a bat (again, NSFW):