Cubs: Joe Maddon sees Carl Edwards Jr. as a future closer

Cubs: Joe Maddon sees Carl Edwards Jr. as a future closer

The Cubs have shown a willingness to trade from their surplus of hitters to fix the ninth inning, shipping out their best prospect (Gleyber Torres) last summer to have Aroldis Chapman in the playoffs and flipping Jorge Soler to the Kansas City Royals at the winter meetings for one season of Wade Davis.

But generally speaking, Theo Epstein’s front office is philosophically against the idea of handing out a big-money, long-term contract to a guy who works one inning at a time, the way the New York Yankees did a record-setting, five-year, $86 million megadeal to bring back Chapman. Ideally, the Cubs would like to find more organic solutions, growing pitchers from within and not buying at the top of the market.

Davis could cash in after a winter that also saw the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers spend $142 million on Mark Melancon and Kenley Jansen in their arms race. While the Cubs acquired Davis with the idea of him getting the last out of the World Series again, they could also be grooming his replacement while watching Carl Edwards Jr. develop into a lights-out reliever.

“He’ll be a closer someday, there’s no doubt,” manager Joe Maddon said before Monday night’s ugly, rain-soaked 10-2 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies at Wrigley Field. “The biggest thing with him is to not abuse him as he’s getting bigger and stronger. His stuff plays against righties and lefties and he knows how to pitch. Having been a starter a little bit (in the minors), it’s not unlike Wade.

“Wade knows how to pitch. Rafael Soriano – he knows how to pitch. C.J. knows how to pitch. So it’s nice to get those guys at the end of the game that aren’t just throwing that one weapon.”

At the moment, the Cubs are a 13-12 team with inconsistent starting pitching, an offense not quite clicking on all cylinders yet and a defense playing below last year’s historic level. But this bullpen looks far more ready for October than the one put together on Opening Day last year.

Davis hasn’t allowed a run during his first 11 appearances in a Cubs uniform, winning two games and going 6-for-6 in save chances. Edwards finished April with 10 scoreless innings, stranding all five inherited runners while limiting opponents to two hits through 30 at-bats.

“I don’t want to rush anything,” Maddon said. “This guy can do several different things. But more than anything, I’m just liking his ability to breathe and be right here. It’s really outstanding to watch."

With a 95-mph fastball and that feel for pitching, Edwards lived by a simple code as a rookie: Go right at them. After striking out Mike Trout and forcing Albert Pujols to ground out in a one-run game last August – the same inning where Pedro Strop tore the meniscus in his left knee – Edwards put it this way: “I just pull my hat down more, so I don’t see their faces.”

By November, Maddon trusted Edwards to get two outs in the 10th inning of a World Series Game 7. If Edwards can handle that pressure, the ninth inning at Wrigley Field shouldn’t be a problem.

A stellar Jon Lester outing gives the Cubs more than just a win

A stellar Jon Lester outing gives the Cubs more than just a win

It's been a tale of two halves for the Cubs veteran Jon Lester, who after a sparkling first half of baseball that saw him win 12 games with a 2.58 ERA, has looked nothing like a 2018 All-Star. Prior to Thursday's start, Lester had posted a 10.32 ERA, allowed 4 or more runs in 4 of his 5 most recent starts, and had yet to win a game in the second of the season. 

The 34-year-old veteran flipped the script Thursday night, throwing 6-shutout innings while striking out 8 Pirate batters in the Cubs 1-0 win in Pittsburgh. Lester surrendered only 5 hits and baffled the Pirates all-night, finally busting out of his slump and giving the Cubs his 2nd quality start since the All-Star break. 

Lester attacked the bottom portion of the strike zone all night with his fastball, which topped out at 93 mph, generating 4 whiffs with his heater. Over the last month, Lester has said he's felt he can't quite execute his "out" pitches, explaining that when he has a hitter set up for a strikeout he hasn't been able to throw the ball effectively in those moments. 

And while Lester walked off the mound after the 6th inning amassing 8 punch outs, the veteran starter never looked like he was trying to strike out batters. He just continued to dot the corners, occasionally raise the eye-level of the batter with an elevated heater, and threw his secondary pitches just enough to keep the Pittsburgh batters uncomfortable at the plate. 

The Cubs offense once again struggled, facing Ivan Nova who has won four his last five starts against the Cubs, but Ian Happ's solo shot in the 4th inning was enough run support for Lester to push the Cubs to 20 games over .500. But the biggest takeaway from Thursday night's win isn't that the Cubs came out on top, it's that Jon Lester returning to form gives this Chicago rotation something they've lacked seemingly this entire season. 

Stability at the front of the rotation. 

With Cole Hamels impressive three starts in a Cub uniform and Kyle Hendricks finally figuring out his issues on the mound, if Jon Lester can replicate Thursday's performance throughout the rest of the season, the Cubs rotation may finally turn into the strength many thought it could be before the season started. At the very least, Lester showed that whatever he's been working through over the last month of baseball is fixable. 

It's only one start in a string of poor outings for Lester, and while The Athletic's Sahadev Sharma did find some positives in his starts prior to Thursday's big win, Lester will have to show he can maintain this level of pitching through the remainder of this season. But I think our own Tony Andracki put it best tonight on Twitter. 

With the Cubs pitchers finally starting to perform to their expected level, and the return of Yu Darvish looking closer each day, it could be the Cubs starting pitching that carries through the rest of the season. 

Joe Maddon speaks out on Wednesday night's Marlins-Braves brawl

Joe Maddon speaks out on Wednesday night's Marlins-Braves brawl

Much has been made about Wednesday night's brawl between the Marlins and Braves, which started when Braves young star Ronald Acuna was nailed in the elbow with a 99 mph fastball from Jose Urena. The strangest part of the whole situation was that it seemed like Urena was unprovoked by Acuna or any of the Braves players prior to plunking the former No. 1 prospect in all of baseball.  

The ever wise Cubs skipper Joe Maddon was asked about the incident prior to Thursday's game, making it clear he felt plays like these needed to leave the game entirely. 

It was announced Thursday afternoon that Urena would be suspended just 6 games for intentionally throwing Acuna, which means the Marlins starter will likely only miss one game for trying to hurt Acuna. The good news is that Acuna did not sustain any serious injuries, but Joe Maddon is right there is no reason for people to be hurling nearly triple-digit fastballs at players. Whether provoked or not, intentionally throwing at players is something that needs to be phased out of the game, and its safe to assume Maddon would agree.