Cubs: Jon Lester buys into Joe Maddon’s magical gimmicks


Cubs: Jon Lester buys into Joe Maddon’s magical gimmicks

NEW YORK – Jon Lester seems like the last guy who would believe in magic tricks or want to play dress-up on road trips.

Lester is a serious person and – at the age of 31 – not exactly a young kid on this particular Cubs team led by ringmaster Joe Maddon.

“Thanks,” Lester said with a laugh late Wednesday night at Citi Field. “Thanks for putting that lightly.”

So Lester doesn’t have his game face on all the time, and image isn’t everything when it comes to his perception of Maddon’s management style, which developed while they were on opposite sides of an American League East rivalry, the Tampa Bay Rays trying to topple the Boston Red Sox.

[SHOP: Buy a Jon Lester jersey shirt]

“You never know how to take it,” Lester said. “You don’t really know: Is it unprofessional?

“But being around him, he’s great. It’s great – especially for these guys that are young that haven’t done this – to keep it light, to keep it entertaining.”

That’s what Maddon had in mind after leaving Busch Stadium, the St. Louis Cardinals giving his team a reality check with that three-game sweep last weekend. Enter Simon the Magician, who did his act in the clubhouse on Tuesday before what would become a three-game sweep of the New York Mets.

“This game is so hard to stay attentive to for the whole season,” Lester said. “When you have things like that, it kind of like rejuvenates guys a little bit. You have something fun and interesting at the field. You just don’t see that.

“It kind of breaks people’s concentrations for a little bit and lets them reboot. And then (you) go back out there and play baseball.”

[MORE: The power dynamic between Epstein and Maddon]

Sweeping the Mets certainly isn’t a cause-and-effect situation, but Maddon’s look-at-me swagger and Steve Miller Band’s “Abracadabra” blasting on the clubhouse sound system gives some insight into the team’s chemistry.     

Lester will still send out all-business vibes, going off into his own little world on the day he pitches and rarely hanging around his locker staring at his phone or goofing off with teammates.

But someone who has pressed while trying to make a good first impression – and felt the weight of that $155 million contract – understands what Maddon is trying to do here as a mad scientist.  

“All this stuff is great,” Lester said. “It’s not tacky. It’s not in your face. It’s nothing that goes overboard with anything. It’s all in good fun. (It’s) enjoying playing baseball and winning baseball games.” 

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Cubs look to even the Crosstown series with a win


Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Cubs look to even the Crosstown series with a win

Ozzie Guillén and Doug Glanville join Leila Rahimi on a special Crosstown edition of Baseball Night in Chicago.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

As Craig Kimbrel takes another step forward, Cubs know he won't be their savior

As Craig Kimbrel takes another step forward, Cubs know he won't be their savior

Before Pedro Strop served up the game-winning homer to former top prospect Eloy Jimenez in the ninth inning of Tuesday night's 3-1 loss at Wrigley Field, the Cubs got some good news on their bullpen as Craig Kimbrel took another step forward.

Kimbrel threw a perfect seventh inning in relief for Triple-A Iowa Tuesday, needing only 8 pitches to get his job done.

As he continues along the path to join the big-league bullpen, the Cubs also know they can't put too much stock in him to be the savior. After all, he can't help the offense and even had he been available Tuesday night, there's no guarantee he would've pitched in the ballgame and affected anything in that regard.

"We want him to come in and join us and help us win," said Cole Hamels, who was once again brilliant for the Cubs Tuesday as he also notched his 2,500th career strikeout. "If we're not winning right now, then it's just one little small piece. I think we all want to be a large piece and have him just fit right in and make it easier on him.

"I don't think we all the sudden want to turn to him hoping that he'll save us at the end of the day. We know who he is, what talent he is and what he's going to provide, but I think we all want to be a part of this team and helping win."

The Cubs have not been winning lately, as they are now 10-15 in their last 25 games. That has dropped them to 39-33 on the season and in second place behind the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central.

Who knows how many save opportunities Kimbrel will have once he arrives in Chicago, but there's no doubt he will give the team a shot in the arm whenever he does walk in the clubhouse. The Cubs aren't saying exactly when that will be, as they haven't set forth an exact plan on what his next steps are, instead deferring to see how he feels after Tuesday's outing.

He will probably throw another outing in Iowa Thursday or Friday.

"He's trending in the right direction," GM Jed Hoyer said Tuesday evening at Wrigley Field. "Obviously he's feeling good, but we're not gonna rush him or make judgment on any one outing. We're just gonna take this process as we planned it out and try to get him ready for the remainder of the season."

This was the first game action of any kind for Kimbrel since Oct. 27 when he appeared in Game 4 of the World Series for the Boston Red Sox. He signed with the Cubs nearly two weeks ago now and threw his first bullpen at Wrigley Field on June 8 before going to Arizona to throw another bullpen and face hitters in live batting practice.

As dominant as Kimbrel was in the one inning — Hoyer joked Kimbrel may have to purposely walk a guy next time out just to get more extended time in the rehab game — don't expect the Cubs to get aggressive and push him now. It's still hard to see any scenario in which he's in the big-league bullpen on this current homestand (that runs through June 27).

The Cubs didn't sign Kimbrel to rush him and risk injury when they want him to lock down the back end of the bullpen down the stretch in September and then in what they hope is a long playoff run in October. The original plan called for Kimbrel to throw in back-to-back outings in the minor leagues, and the Cubs haven't indicated any change to that.

"[I'm just looking for] good health," Joe Maddon said. "He felt good, velocity was there, the break on the breaking ball was good, the velocity on the breaking ball was very good. It's just about health. If the guy's healthy and ready to rock and roll, you put him in the ninth inning. That's pretty much what we're looking forward to."

Elsewhere in Cubs bullpen news, Brandon Morrow is still throwing as he works his way along the comeback trail that is approach the one-year mark.

Morrow — the former Cubs closer — has been out since last July, going on the shelf at that point with what was originally described as biceps tendinitis. It was later revealed to be a bone bruise and he actually had to undergo a minor surgery on his right elbow over the offseason. 

The Cubs knew they'd be without Morrow for at least the first month of 2019, but the veteran then experienced a setback and still hasn't gotten back in a game. But he's been throwing from about 135 feet, Hoyer said, and feeling OK at the moment.

"With Brandon, we've been down this road a few times where he feels good and he has a setback, so I don't want to be overly optimistic," Hoyer said. "I don't want to be pessimistic. This is where he is. Obviously getting him back would be such an incredible bonus for us at this point. 

"We just want him to be healthy. I feel awful for him. No one is more disappointed or more frustrated than he is. Hopefully this time through, it works for him.

"...It's hard — you have to build your way back up. You don't really get a true sense of what it's gonna be like until you throw in games or throw in live bullpens because that's when the real stress pitches come in."