Cubs

Cubs' John Lackey: ‘It’s not like we’ve been scoring a ton’

Cubs' John Lackey: ‘It’s not like we’ve been scoring a ton’

John Lackey didn’t add the qualifier “except for tonight” when asked about the differences he’s seen in the Cubs team that returned to Wrigley Field after an 0-for-6 West Coast trip.

“We’ve pitched a lot better,” Lackey said after Wednesday’s 6-5 loss to the Miami Marlins snapped a five-game winning streak where the Cubs started to look more like the defending World Series champs. “It’s not like we’ve been scoring a ton.”

Lackey Being Lackey can mean a lot of different things. His Coors Field masterpiece last month looks more like the mile-high outlier. Putting up seven scoreless innings and 10 strikeouts against a strong Colorado Rockies team – Montreal Expos-era Pedro Martinez is the only other visiting pitcher to do that – became a talking point for Cubs officials when asked about an up-and-down rotation and a guy who’s 38 years old with almost 3,000 innings on his odometer.

But it’s also hard to think of a more accomplished No. 4 starter or another available pitcher with the same insanely competitive streak and playoff experience. The Cleveland Indians already showed how you could get to the 10th inning of a World Series Game 7 with a thin rotation and a powerful, dynamic bullpen.

That will become part of the backdrop after the amateur draft, when the Cubs begin to sharpen their focus on the July 31 trade deadline. Until then, there will be nights like this for Lackey, who gave up five runs in six innings and now has a 5.12 ERA.

“John knows what he’s doing out there,” manager Joe Maddon said. “John’s not afraid to challenge hitters. Sometimes it works for him. Sometimes it works against him.” 

Lackey watched J.T. Realmuto and Marcell Ozuna crush a hanging changeup and a 91-mph fastball into the left- and center-field bleachers in the fourth and fifth innings. Bronson Arroyo – a comeback story with the Cincinnati Reds – is the only National League pitcher who has given up more homers than Lackey (16) this season.

Opponents are hitting .270 against Lackey with an .833 OPS that ranks 72nd out of 85 qualified big-league pitchers. Last week’s no-decision in a 3-2 win over the St. Louis Cardinals is the only other time this year that Lackey has lasted more than six innings.   

Lackey – a pitcher who gets by with guts, command and game plans – mostly regretted the two-run, first-pitch, fourth-inning single he gave up to J.T. Riddle, Miami’s No. 8 hitter.     

“With the pitcher coming up, I wasn’t even really trying to throw a strike there,” Lackey said. “I was trying to throw a chase slider in and hung that pitch a little bit. That’s definitely probably the difference in the game there. If I manage the game a little bit better in that one inning, it probably shouldn’t have killed us.”

ESPN to broadcast two of Cubs first four games in 2020

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AP

ESPN to broadcast two of Cubs first four games in 2020

It won't be long before baseball fans get their first look at the Cubs under new manager David Ross.

ESPN announced Thursday they will broadcast two of the Cubs' first four games in 2020: March 29 against the Brewers in Milwaukee (Sunday Night Baseball) and March 30 against the Pirates (3 p.m. first pitch). The latter game is the Cubs' 2020 home opener.

Ross worked as a color analyst for ESPN from 2017-19 before the Cubs hired him as manager in October. So, not only will his club be in the national spotlight early in the season, but his former co-workers will be the ones analyzing him as his managerial career kicks off.

The Cubs open the season on March 26 against the Brewers.

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Willson Contreras’ trade value just spiked, thanks to White Sox signing Yasmani Grandal

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USA TODAY

Willson Contreras’ trade value just spiked, thanks to White Sox signing Yasmani Grandal

This is the best thing the White Sox have done for the Cubs in years.

The White Sox made a big splash in free agency Thursday, signing catcher Yasmani Grandal to a four-year, $73 million contract. Grandal joins the South Siders from the Brewers, where he played an integral role in Milwaukee making a second-straight postseason appearance in 2019.

Grandal led qualified catchers in on-base percentage (.380) last season, also posting career highs in home runs (28) and RBIs (77). He’s also an excellent pitch framer, tying for fourth in RszC (runs saved by catcher framing) among all catchers with 9.

Milwaukee’s payroll reached a franchise-high $122.5 million in 2019 and their farm system (No. 29 in MLB, per Baseball America) is lacking. How they replace Grandal’s production is a major question mark, which in turn is a win for the Cubs this offseason.

But besides plucking him from the NL Central, the White Sox signing Grandal early in the offseason helps the Cubs, who have important decisions of their own to make.

Although Cubs president Theo Epstein said to take any trade rumors with a “mouthful of salt,” multiple teams believe catcher Willson Contreras is available for trade. The Cubs need to retool their roster and replenish a farm system that has been depleted in recent seasons from numerous “win now” trades.

The Cubs and White Sox made the notorious José Quintana trade in July 2017, but it’s unlikely the two would have matched up for a Contreras trade. The Cubs need young assets; trading away young assets is the last thing the White Sox want to do as their championship window opens.

So, Grandal landed with a team that was unlikely to be involved in any potential Contreras trade talks. Grandal was the best free agent catcher; Contreras is the best catcher that can be had in a trade.

Other teams interested in Grandal — such as the Reds — can no longer turn to him in free agency. The Rays have made addressing the catcher spot this winter a priority, but they have one of MLB’s lowest payrolls each season. Signing Grandal wasn’t going to happen, but Tampa Bay has the farm system (No. 2 in baseball, per MLB.com) to make a big trade.

Contreras is the best catcher available — for the right price, obviously — so the ball is in the Cubs' court. They don’t get better by dealing their two-time All-Star backstop, but Contreras’ trade value is high. With Grandal off the market, it just got even higher.

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