Cubs

Adam Warren emerging as essential piece on Cubs pitching staff

Adam Warren emerging as essential piece on Cubs pitching staff

Adam Warren was the lowest-profile addition of the Cubs' offseason, but he's already emerged as a vital part of the team out to the hottest start in baseball.

Jason Heyward, John Lackey and Ben Zobrist (plus the re-arrival of Dexter Fowler in spring training) got all the headlines as new acquisitons over the winter.

In fact, Warren wasn't even the main focus in the deal that made him a Cub as the return from the New York Yankees for Starlin Castro, the former face of the franchise who tallied 991 hits in six seasons in Chicago.

Yet where would the Cubs be right now without Warren?

The 28-year-old right-hander has pitched the most innings in the National League without giving up an earned run this season (8) and has allowed just two hits and three walks for a sparkling 0.625 WHIP.

"Just as I thought: outstanding," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "I try not to abuse him, pretty much. ... I"m very comfortable pitching him in the latter part of the game, whether it's the seventh, eighth, ninth — it doesn't matter to me. 

"I think this guy could finish games. He's got that kinda ability; he's got that makeup. You got that kinda weapon in your toolbox — he's good against righties and lefties, he's durable, he's got all this variety of different pitches, fits our culture beautifully. I just don't want to abuse the guy."

Warren has worked as a starter in the past and said the Cubs initially told him they wanted him to work in the rotation at some point down the road. 

But for right now, Warren is set as a jack of all trades in the bullpen pitching with confidence.

"I like being versatile," Warren said. "I like being able to do a lot of different things. So if I can continue to do that, that's where I like to be in the bullpen, just because I feel like that helps our team out the most."

Warren — like the rest of the Cubs — doesn't like to think too far ahead. He doesn't worry about what his "title" is in the bullpen, which is a necessary attitude to have with a manager that loves to play the matchups and is constantly tinkering with his relievers.

But Warren has emerged as a high-leverage arm Maddon can combine with Pedro Strop (2.89 ERA, 0.64 WHIP, 4 holds) and Hector Rondon (0.00 ERA, 0.29 WHIP, 4 saves) at the back end of the bullpen.

As the new guy on the pitching staff, Warren made it a point to get out to a good start.

"With a new team, you really want to prove yourself," he said. "So I think you have that chip on your shoulder a little bit to want to go out there and start off hot. But really, I think it's just going out there, having a gameplan with our scouting report and just executing."

Warren feels comfortable with his new team and in the bullpen, crediting his teammates and the Cubs coaching staff for welcoming him in.

Coming from the Yankees — a historic franchise with 27 World Series championships and a penchant for doing things a certain way (such as their no facial hair policy) — it was a little bit of a culture shock for Warren to come to a Cubs team that hasn't won the World Series in more than a century and essentially has no rules in a clubhouse designed to let everybody be themselves.

But the transition has gone as smoothly as possible, Warren said.

"It's completely different," he said. "Here, they've created the atmosphere of just be yourself, be laid back. I like that. I like being able to grow facial hair if you want.

"You start focusing completely on baseball. The atmosphere that fans create out there has been unreal to me. Even when it's been cold, they've been up for every pitch. It's really refreshing to see the excitement around the team."

Jon Lester saw a start like this coming

Jon Lester saw a start like this coming

Jon Lester had easily his worst outing of the year, allowing the Cardinals to score eight runs on seven hits, the veteran All-Star only managed three innings before Joe Maddon turned to his bullpen. 

The Cardinals would take game two of the series by the score of 18 to 5, and while none of the Cubs pitchers could silence the Cardinal bats, Lester didn't shy away from his poor outing. 

"You know, I don't want to chalk this up as bad days happen," said Lester. "I think mechanically this has kinda been coming." 

Lester knew he was struggling to hit his spots, and while his ERA was a sparkling 2.58 coming into this start, his peripheral stats had him pegged as a potential regression candidate in the second half of the season.

His 4.35 FIP and 3.30 walks per nine innings show a pitcher who is relying heavily on his defense to get outs, which isn't surprising for a 33-year-old veteran but the walks are a concern. 

Cubs manager Joe Maddon was aware Lester had been working on his mechanics, but even he was surprised that Lester's start went downhill so quickly. 

"I thought he had good stuff to start the game, hitting [92-93 mph] and I'm thinking this might be a good day," said Maddon. "But you could just see from the beginning he was off just a little bit." 

Over Lester's last four starts his ERA has been an uncharacteristic 4.57, issuing 10 walks over those four starts, and only making it past the 6th inning once. At this point of Lester's career, he knows the best way for him to get outs isn't through strikeouts but by inducing soft contact and avoiding walks. 

And while both his hard contact rate and walks have increased this season, Lester's experience and high baseball I.Q. has allowed him to navigate his way through sticky situations. 

"I've been getting outs," Lester said candidly. "I just feel like when I've had that strikeout or I have a guy set up for that pitch I haven't been able to execute it." 

And while this outing was one to forget, it's at least a positive sign that Lester is aware of his issues on the mound. The veteran knows how to get outs and he knows what he needs to do to be successful in the latter part of his career. He just needs to get back to executing those pitches. 

Just don't expect Lester to dive head first into the analytics on how to fix his issues, he'll stick to hard work and baseball common sense. 

"I'm not too concerned with the analytic B.S., I'm worried about my mechanical fix for my next start." 

Cubs set the wrong kind of history in blowout

Cubs set the wrong kind of history in blowout

Cubs fans had plenty to cheer about late in Friday's game against the Cardinals, but not in the way they expected.

With St. Louis absolutely wearing out the Cubs pitching staff in an 18-5 blowout, Joe Maddon turned to a trio of position players to pitch.

In front of 41,077 people at Wrigley Field for the second game of the official second half of the season, Tommy La Stella came on to pitch for the Cubs with 2 outs in the top of the sixth inning. After La Stella got 4 outs, it was Victor Caratini's turn for the eighth inning.

The Cubs have actually used multiple position players as a pitcher before, but it was back on June 16, 1884 in a 20-9 loss, according to historian Ed Hartig. Obviously, the game of baseball was quite different back then.

But just using two position players on the mound wasn't enough for this wacky day at the ballpark.

Ian Happ got the nod for the ninth inning on the mound, serving as the third different position player on the mound. He joked he was using his sinker effectively and that he's now the Cubs clubhouse leader in ERA after not giving up a run in his inning of work.

Was there a friendly competition between Happ, Caratini and La Stella?

"Yes," Happ said. "I won." 

How did Maddon determine who would get the opportunity to make history?

Well, for starters, the process began with getting a certain player OUT of the lineup.

"I had to take Rizzo out of the game because he would've been badgering me the whole time," Maddon laughed. "So it started by getting Rizzo out, and that made my decision-making process a lot easier. Otherwise just imagine him harping in your ear constantly that he wants to pitch and every time I go out to the mound and the game may be lopsided as I'm maybe bringing somebody else in, he reminds me.

"At some point, hopefully in a good situation where we're leading [he can get in and pitch]."

Seeing a position player pitch has actually been a pretty common occurence under Maddon as he's done everything he can to limit the stress on the bullpen:

"I think the fans kinda started to enjoy it, too, which is always fun when you're getting blown out," said Kris Bryant, who connected on his 11th homer of the season in the blowout loss. "Those guys stepped up for us to save the bullpen. So there ya go. We're making history."

Meanwhile, on the other side, Matt Carpenter had a record-setting game.

Before being removed from the game in the sixth inning, Carpenter smashed 3 homers and 2 doubles and drove in 7 runs. It tied a Cardinals record for total bases (16) while tying the MLB record for most extra-base hits in a game (5):

It also was only the second recorded game in MLB history where a player had 3 doubles and 2 homers. The other? Bryant, of course — in Cincinnati in 2016.

Of course, the fact he did it all before the game reached the seventh inning is remarkable:

Offensively, the Cubs left 12 men on base, which would normally be the focal point of ire for the fanbase if not for the rest of the day's events...