Cubs

As Arrieta garners all the fanfare, Jon Lester keeps cruising along in Cubs win

As Arrieta garners all the fanfare, Jon Lester keeps cruising along in Cubs win

Jake Arrieta is getting all the attention on the Cubs pitching staff, but don't sleep on Jon Lester.

As Arrieta defends his supernatural stat lines, Lester has looked every bit the $155 million starter this season.

The veteran left-hander turned in another gem Friday in the Cubs' 6-1 victory over the Atlanta Braves in front of 34,007 fans at a frigid Wrigley Field.

Lester allowed only one run in seven innings, punching out 10 for his 26th career double-digit strikeout game.

He got himself into a major jam in the seventh when he gave up a single and a walk and then couldn't get a handle on a bunt (or didn't want to risk a throw to first), loading the bases with nobody out and adding another episode to the "yips" discussion.

"No matter what I say about the bunt in that inning, nobody's really gonna believe what I say," Lester said. "I never had a handle on it. I fielded it, the ball kinda rattled around in my glove. I reached for it twice and didn't have a handle on it, so I ate it. 

"You can believe me or not on that. There's no point in rushing the throw when I didn't have a handle on the baseball."

After a well-timed mound visit from manager Joe Maddon designed to calm Lester down and reset, the veteran southpaw struck out the next two batters and got Nick Markakis to ground out to Anthony Rizzo at first base to end the threat and strand the bases loaded.

For the first time in his career, Lester has notched five straight quality starts to begin a season and now has a 1.83 ERA and 0.93 WHIP in 2016.

Lester has gone at least seven innings and given up exactly one earned run in four of his five starts this season.

So has he lived up to his own expectations?

"Never," Lester said before allowing that he "feels good right now. My mechanics are good. I'm in a good place, executing pitches. 

"... I've always said, even when I was younger, no matter what expectations somebody else puts on me, it will never be as high as what I expect from myself. Every time I go out there, I want to be perfect and I want to win every game I pitch. That's where I'm at.

"Tomorrow, I'll show up and get back to work. It's neverending until the last pitch from me in my career is thrown and move on to something else."

The Cubs couldn't get Lester a win, however, putting up just one run through seven innings against the Braves pitching staff just hours after talking about how this lineup is built to generate offense even in cold, miserable conditions.

That run is the only tally of support the Cubs offense has given him in 20.1 innings of work at Wrigley Field so far this season.

But the bats came alive late when Rizzo broke the tie with an RBI single in the eighth and then Matt Szczur followed with his first career grand slam.

"In a game like today, you really believe you're going to win it somehow," Maddon said. "That's what that kind of a record does. You have a strong belief system you're going to win the game.

"You're getting no hits, but you still have the strong feeling that you're gonna win the game."

The Cubs' 17 victories are tied for the most in franchise history in April with 2008's squad and the 17-5 start is the best mark since the 1907 Cubs began 18-4.

Report: Giants interested in Cubs first base coach Will Venable for manager opening

Report: Giants interested in Cubs first base coach Will Venable for manager opening

The Giants' search for a successor to now-retired manager Bruce Bochy has led them to the North Side.

According to NBC Sports Bay Area's Alex Pavlovic, the Giants are interested in Cubs first base coach Will Venable for their own managerial opening. San Francisco's interest is intriguing, as Venable went to high school just outside San Francisco in nearby San Rafael. His father — Max Venable — played for the Giants from 1979-83. 

Venable also interviewed for the Cubs' manager job earlier this month, telling the Chicago Sun-Times that his interest is in the "organization in general." He is one of several internal candidates for the Cubs' job, along with bench coach Mark Loretta and front office assistant David Ross.

The Cubs also interviewed Joe Girardi and are set to meet with Astros bench coach Joe Espada and former Phillies manager Gabe Kapler.

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Former Cub Mark Prior likely to take over as Dodgers pitching coach in 2020

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USA TODAY

Former Cub Mark Prior likely to take over as Dodgers pitching coach in 2020

Mark Prior's big-league playing career unfortunately fizzled out due to recurring injury woes, but he's making a name for himself in the coaching realm.

With Dodgers current pitching coach Rick Honeycutt transitioning into a new role, Prior is expected to takeover the position starting next season.

Cubs fans know the story of Prior's playing career all too well. The Cubs drafted him second overall in the 2001, with Prior making his MLB debut just a season later. He went on to dominate in 2003, posting an 18-6 record, 2.43 ERA and 245 strikeouts in 30 starts, a season in which he made the All-Star Game and finished third in the NL Cy Young Award voting.

However, Prior's season ended on a sour note, as he was on the mound during the Steve Bartman incident in Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS. Prior exited the game with a 3-1 lead, but the Cubs surrendered seven more runs that inning, eventually falling to the Marlins 8-3 before losing Game 7 the next day. 

Prior struggled to stay healthy after 2003, eventually retiring in 2013 after multiple comeback attempts. While many blame his injury-riddled career on former Cubs manager Dusty Baker, Prior does not. 

While we can only wonder what could've been with Prior to the pitcher, it's good to see him still making an impact in baseball in some fashion.

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