Cubs: Can Jon Lester slow down Billy Hamilton?


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.”

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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.”

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.