Cubs

Cubs: Can Jon Lester slow down Billy Hamilton?

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Cubs: Can Jon Lester slow down Billy Hamilton?

DENVER — Welcome to Chicago, Jon Lester.

It only took one game into a six-year, $155 million contract before the storyline became the new Cubs ace having “the yips.” This after a spring training that had the All-Star lefty working through a “dead arm.”

While Lester is probably right when he says that the issue has been blown out of proportion, it’s also not going away. Not with Billy Hamilton and the Cincinnati Reds coming into Wrigley Field. Whether or not Lester throws over to first base on Monday night will be a big question mark.

“It makes for great reading,” manager Joe Maddon said Sunday at Coors Field. “For what you guys and ladies do, it’s perfect. You get to write stuff, and people are going to read it.

“Listen, I grew up in barrooms, and I know what it’s like. You need some good stuff in a barroom to carry on a conversation.

“So chew on it. In the meantime, it’s up to us to rectify everything and make it better. (But) I’m onboard with all that stuff. I love it.”

[SHOP CUBS: Get a Jon Lester shirsey right here]

Think Hamilton would like a shot at running against Lester? Cincinnati’s leadoff guy has stolen seven bases through his first five games this season. He stole 56 bases last year (and got caught 23 times). He put up 395 stolen bases in the minors (155 in 2012).

“Game-planning-wise, what do you do? You keep the guy off base, obviously,” Maddon said. “And then if you can’t, you have to minimize damage after that.”

ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball” crew magnified Lester’s issues during a 3-0 loss on Opening Night, when the St. Louis Cardinals went 3-for-4 in stealing bases against him (though that included a double steal).

Whatever this is, it didn’t stop Lester from winning two World Series rings at Fenway Park — and it didn’t stop the Boston Red Sox from offering him $135 million guaranteed.

We’ll see if Hamilton can get in Lester’s head.

“Don’t let one guy take you out of your whole gig,” Maddon said. “It’s one run possibly, potentially. But I think sometimes pitchers will get enamored with that. And then all of a sudden, they stop focusing. You got to maintain your focus on getting the hitter out while you’re attempting to slow down the running game.”

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Jason Kipnis' concerns about the quality of baseball upon return

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USA Today

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Jason Kipnis' concerns about the quality of baseball upon return

David Haugh, Charlie Roumeliotis and Adam Hoge join Kap on the panel.

0:45 - Nick Foles is officially a Chicago Bear. Over/under 10.5 starts for him next season.

3:36 - The Cubs' Jason Kipnis takes to Instagram to talk about the quality of baseball if it returns this season. Do fans care what the game looks like or do they just want to watch sports no matter what?

6:37 - ESPN's fan vote crowned Michael Jordan as the greatest college basketball player of all-time. He beat Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Kap says MJ is the GOAT but he may not be college hoops' all-time top 5.

8:20 - The guys debate which dunk on Patrick Ewing was the best in Bulls history: Scottie's or Michael's. And they preview the next installment of Bulls Classics- Game 1 of the 1996 East Finals against Shaq and the Magic.

12:08- NBC Sports' national NBA insider Tom Haberstroh joins Kap. Could the NBA resume with teams playing neutral-site games? Tom also explains how the league's social significance will affect its decision when to return and he discusses his favorite era in history.

Listen here or in the embedded player below. 

Sports Talk Live Podcast

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Fast or furious? Rush to play in 2020 not worth the risk for Cubs, MLB

Fast or furious? Rush to play in 2020 not worth the risk for Cubs, MLB

Dammit, we want answers. Now.

That might be one of the toughest and ugliest truths in our notoriously impatient country during the coronavirus pandemic, at least for many of us with the luxury of good health as we shelter in place.

Especially for those keeping an eye on any signal or clue from the sports world.

Even before this attention-devoid age of iPhones and binge-viewing on demand, nobody was built more for impatience than sports fans who always have demanded the gratification — if not always quite immediate — of the thrills and agonies of definitive outcomes.

Dammit, we want a final score. Now.

Or at least a schedule. 

The uncertainty and moving timelines are enough to make you throw the Kapman’s MyPillow at the TV.

It’s also what makes this moment so precarious, and the natural rush for answers and a return to live sports so potentially costly.

Even within the initial confusion and hand-wringing Tuesday over whether Toronto’s ban on public events through June specifically included professional sports events (it does not), the news that three players for Japan’s Hanshin Tigers tested positive for COVID-19 seemed almost a footnote.

But, of course, that should be the screaming headline on this whole thing. 

The pro leagues in Japan were pointing toward a delayed start to their season later this month and were back to training for it after “flattening the curve” on the coronavirus cases in that country.

Now it’s all in flux again, and nobody knows when they’ll start that season.

We’re far behind Japan in containing the spread of the virus in this country.

And we’re still talking about starting the baseball season in May or June? Or maybe July at the latest and try to play into October, and push the postseason well into November (maybe at warm-weather, neutral sites)? Into the teeth of the next flu season?

And 40,000 fans at the games? Come on. Playing without fans already is being discussed and is a near certainty for any restart that involves the 2020 calendar. 

By Wednesday nobody was surprised when the Cubs’ London series against the Cardinals in June was officially canceled by MLB. 

Should we be surprised if the entire season meets the same end?

Dammit.

Cubs second baseman Jason Kipnis, in an Instagram post Tuesday night, expressed respect for the depth and real-life seriousness of the crisis while also suggesting a far less serious concern about injury risk if baseball rushes players back to the field after a long layoff.

“Not to mention if we start back up and someone (asymptomatic or not) tests positive,” he wrote. “Shut it down again? I don’t know how we’re supposed to have that many tests provided! I really do hope things get better for everyone and there’s baseball this year, but these are just some of the worries creeping into my head that make me think otherwise.”

Ask the Hanshin Tigers and the rest of the Central League in Japan what they think about that right now.

And then consider the risk again.

Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo is a cancer survivor who underwent chemotherapy to recover early in his professional career. Does he bear a greater risk than other players if he contracts the virus?

“I don’t think so. I’m at full strength,” Rizzo said. “All my blood work — it’s not like I’m low on any levels. All my lungs and liver and everything functions like it should be functioning, as it should be functioning as a 30-year-old athlete. So I’m not worried about it.”

Maybe he’s right

On the other hand, healthy people in the teens and 20s with no underlying high-risk conditions reportedly have died because of this virus.

And what about players who do have underlying higher risks, such as asthma, diabetes or blood-pressure issues?

Cubs reliever Brandon Morrow has Type 1 diabetes, as does former Cub Sam Fuld, a Phillies analyst and strategist based in the clubhouse.

Managers Joe Maddon (66) of the Angels and Dusty Baker (70) of the Astros are in the high-risk age range, as are many team support and medical staff who work in and around clubhouses in the majors.

“It’s scary,” Cubs right fielder Jason Heyward said during an interview on WMVP 1000 radio the week after MLB shut down spring training camps. “You don’t prepare for stuff like this.”

Players handle flu bugs, nagging injuries, off-the-field pressures, and often play through those, Heyward said. 

“You can’t really fight this one,” he said. “The best thing to do and the best way to fight is be smart and distance yourself from people and be ready to resume when it is time to resume. It goes without saying we hope it happens sooner than later, but more than anything you just want to hope they get it right and careful.”

But we want answers. Now.

Dammit.

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