Chris Coghlan embraces intermittent role with Cubs

Chris Coghlan embraces intermittent role with Cubs

Chris Coghlan had, by WAR, the best year of his career in 2015. By the same measure, 2016 has been among his worst seasons since he broke into the majors and won the 2009 National League Rookie of the Year. 

But the 31-year-old still has an important role as part of a deep, flexible Cubs bench that should be an asset as Joe Maddon looks to keep his team fresh for the final weeks of a season that should result in a second consecutive playoff appearance. 

Coghlan started and batted sixth for the Cubs in Sunday night’s series finale against the St. Louis Cardinals, three nights after he pulled off a season highlight: With the Cubs down 2-0 in the sixth inning Thursday, Coghlan tried calling for time and stepped out of the box — but his request wasn’t granted, and Cardinals right-hander Carlos Martinez quick pitched him. Coghlan quickly got both feet into the batter’s box and roped a game-tying two-run single to right. 

“Fortunately it worked,” Coghlan said. “… Hopefully I don’t have to do that again.”

The Cubs re-acquired Coghlan June 9 from the Oakland Athletics, and he’s been more productive since returning to Clark and Addison. Coghlan entered Sunday hitting .208/.387/.292 in 25 games with the Cubs — as opposed to his .146/.215/.272 line with the A’s — and has more walks (12) than hits (10). Those consistently-competitive at-bats have been helpful in pinch-hitting spots and when manager Joe Maddon calls on Coghlan for a spot start. 

What’s impressed Maddon is how Coghlan hasn’t tried to do too much in those intermittent at-bats, which could be the case for a guy who’s pressing to earn a starting role back, either this year or next. Coghlan played in 148 games for the Cubs last year but is on pace to barely play over half a season in 2016.

“His attitude’s been fabulous, he’s been a great team guy when he’s not playing, he’s ready to pinch hit when it’s possible,” Maddon said. “He’s undergone a lot of changes over the last couple years but I know how much he likes being here. We love having him here.”

Still, Coghlan isn’t the first, second or even third choice to come off the Cubs’ bench in a neutral setting. Matt Szczur has been one of baseball’s most prolific pinch-hitters this season and homered twice in his start Friday, and all that positional flexibility means some combination of Coghlan, Szczur, Jorge Soler, Javier Baez, Willson Contreras, Miguel Montero and David Ross will be available off the Cubs’ bench on a given day (all but Coghlan and Montero are right-handed hitters. 

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Maddon prefers to rely on matchup planning to determine when to deploy those guys. Coghlan got the start Sunday due to his success against Cardinals right-hander Mike Leake (10/16 with two home runs and no strikeouts in his career), and who starts or gets used in high-leverage pinch-hitting spots will be partly dependent on that matchup factor. 

That means Coghlan’s playing time will remain sporadic as the Cubs churn toward clinching the National League Central. But Coghlan, at least for this season, is accepting of that role. 

“It’s easier to do, to put your ego aside, when you’re chasing history,” Coghlan said. “And as close as we are, and we feel like we’re pulling for each other, and as good as we are — you’re chasing to win a World Series. So it’s easier to put your ego aside and do whatever you can and think of it as this year, this is your role, and the role’s not going to define me for my career but this is what I need to do for this year to be the best for this team.” 

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Jon Lester struggles against the division-rival Cardinals


SportsTalk Live Podcast: Jon Lester struggles against the division-rival Cardinals

It was a tough day for the North Siders.

The Cubs got obliterated by the Cardinals as Matt Carpenter had a three-homer, two-double day. Ben Finfer, Seth Gruen and Maggie Hendricks join David Kaplan on the latest SportsTalk Live Podcast to talk about the blowout.

Was Jon Lester due for this kind of terrible outing? And do the Cubs have enough to swing a big trade before the deadline?

Plus, the panel discusses Matt Nagy’s first training camp practice in the rain and Roquan Smith’s absence in Bourbonnais.

You can listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

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."