Cubs believe John Lackey and Jon Lester can bring out the best in each other


Cubs believe John Lackey and Jon Lester can bring out the best in each other

MESA, Ariz. - Jon Lester and John Lackey are out to win the 2016 World Series with the Cubs.

You don't have to be their teammate or manager to know that. You don't even have to talk to them to know that.

Championship aspirations are a given with two of the most competitive pitchers in the game who have combined for four World Series rings and more than 225 postseason innings.

Lackey was the big free-agent pitching addition this offseason after Lester filled that bill the year prior.

Now, the two good friends have joined forces again -with veteran catcher and former Boston Red Sox teammate David Ross in tow - and Joe Maddon believes that could be a great thing.

[SHOP: Gear up for the 2016 season, Cubs fans!]

"Jon Lester likes to have people around him that he's familiar with," Maddon said. "I think Lackey's the perfect foil, in a sense. Lack's gonna tell Jon Lester exactly what he thinks all the time and that's good.

"I think together, the combination of Lackey and David have the opportunity to bring out the best in Jon Lester. That's not to say that Jon Lester cannot do this on his own.

"I'm just saying this combination among those three guys, it's fun to watch. It's almost like a symbiotic relationship among the three of them.

"It's interesting. They've played together in the past, they connect very well on a lot of different levels. And because of that, I think they are obviously good for one another."

Maddon even said Lackey and Lester are "vibrating on the same level right now" and again mentioned how excited he was to have Lackey on the Cubs.

"We're lucky," Maddon said. "We're fortunate that John Lackey chose to come here. We're very fortunate that Jon Lester chose to come here last year.

"When we signed Lackey in the offseason, I thought he was one of the top free agent signs of the whole winter by anybody and specifically with us, how he fits in with everything we're doing.

"I think his attitude and the way he goes about his business will be felt by the other guys in a positive way."

[MORE: Cubs playing the long game with reliever Aaron Crow]

Lester has admitted he felt some discomfort when he first came to the Cubs, which may have helped lead - along with that "dead arm" period in spring training - to a slow start in 2015 (6.23 ERA in April).

Now, with a year under his belt, Lester is more at ease with everything.

Having his best friend here doesn't hurt, either, of course.

"When you know people as well as we know each other, you can definitely talk to each other a little bit differently than you talk to anybody else," Lester said. "There's no sugarcoating anything around us. You probably don't want to be in on a lot of conversations around us.

"It's good having him. It's always good when you have friends on the team. It's nice having guys that don't sugarcoat things and you know exactly what they're gonna bring and what exactly they're gonna do for you and what you can do for them to make you better."

Lester is also helping to make sure Lackey feels comfortable in his first go-round with the Cubs, helping the 37-year-old right-hander get acclimated to the clubhouse in Mesa, the personnel, etc.

The two have already started placing bets on their performance as hitters this season, too, joking back and forth in their joint press conference Sunday about how Lester picked up his first career hit off Lackey last season.

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Lackey is known for his competitive fire on the field, but Maddon - who was the bench coach of the Anaheim Angels when Lackey first broke into the big leagues - feels the new Cubs starter has mellowed a touch as he's grown older.

When a reporter posed that question to Lackey, Lester laughed and shook his head to indicate "no way."

"I get after it," Lackey said. "I know how that can be perceived sometimes. I think people find out that I'm a lot different than they think I am, which is fine.

"In between the lines, I really don't care what anybody thinks about me. I'm there to win."

Javy Baez should be the frontrunner for NL MVP heading into the All-Star Break

Javy Baez should be the frontrunner for NL MVP heading into the All-Star Break

If the season ended today, Javy Baez may be your National League MVP.

Of course, the season isn't ending today, only the first half of the 2018 campaign is.

He flashed his skills again over the weekend — scoring the game-winning run Friday, posting a 5-RBI game Saturday and then drove in the Cubs' first run in their 7-4 victory Sunday to close out a sweep of the Padres.

Entering the All-Star Break, Baez should be the frontrunner for Most Valuable Player.

For starters, he's the best player on the best team in the league.

Thanks to a recent hot surge by the Cubs and an ugly weekend for the Brewers (who have lost 6 straight), Baez and Co. will go into the break with the best record in the NL. 

Baez, meanwhile, leads the Cubs in WAR and nearly every offensive category — OPS, slugging percentage, homers, RBI, runs scored, doubles, triples, total bases, stolen bases and hits.

And that's not even saying anything about his glovework at any position on the infield or dynamic baserunning.

He's on pace to become the first Cubs player to drive in 125 runs since Sammy Sosa in 2001.

Baez also is on track for a 30-30 season — something only Sosa accomplished in a Cubs uniform in 1993 and 1995. 

El Mago will enjoy his week in the Home Run Derby and as the NL's starting second baseman in the All-Star Game, but those shouldn't be the end of his accolades this year if he can find a way to keep this pace up in the second half.

What other NL candidate would be a better choice for the MVP right now?

Baez is tied for the league lead in RBI. Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar is just behind Baez with 70 RBI, but he also has 70 fewer at-bats than the Cubs star due to a platoon to begin the year. 

Eugenio Suarez and Scooter Gennett are also having great years, but the Reds are nowhere close to a playoff spot. 

Nolan Arenado, Freddie Freeman and Paul Goldschmidt are also having very good seasons on teams that are currently in the playoff hunt, but how do you deny the best player on the league's best team?

After all, where would the Cubs be without Baez this season? 

Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo have battled through injuries and bouts of ineffectiveness, the pitching staff has had all kinds of consistency/health woes and Willson Contreras has yet to find his power stroke at the plate.

At the very least, "El Mago" has been the most important player on the North Side of Chicago during the first 3.5 months of 2018.

Nico Hoerner makes great catch in first game with South Bend

Nico Hoerner makes great catch in first game with South Bend

Cubs first-round pick Nico Hoerner made his debut with the Class-A South Bend Cubs, and he did not disappoint.

The 23-year old shortstop showed off impressive hops during an acrobatic grab in the topf of the second inning in his first game with the South Bend Cubs. Hoerner will surely be an exciting defensive prospect with ability like this.

As far as offense goes, through four at-bats at South Bend, Hoerner is batting .500, and this comes after he hit .318 with a home run and two RBI through seven games with the Eugene Emeralds, the Cubs Class A short-season affiliate.

Here is to hoping we continue to see big-time plays from Hoerner.