Cubs

Cubs: Jon Lester doesn’t have any answers for Tigers

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Cubs: Jon Lester doesn’t have any answers for Tigers

Surrounded by reporters, Jon Lester leaned against the chair in front of his locker and kept shrugging his shoulders.

The Cubs seemed a little dazed and confused after getting knocked around by the Detroit Tigers during this two-game interleague series at Wrigley Field. The Tigers put 25 runs on the board and finished with eight homers and 40 hits against a Cubs staff that’s supposed to be pitching deep into October.

Lester’s even-keel off-the-field personality wouldn’t allow him to hit the panic button after Wednesday night’s 15-8 loss. But the Cubs have real questions about the state of their rotation.

“I’ve been down this road a time or two,” Lester said. “We’re all human. But one thing I’ve always tried to do is when this one’s over, it’s over. I’m back tomorrow and I’ll watch the game again (with) a clear head and see where everything was (and) move on.

“This season’s too long. It’s too much of an up-and-down (ride) to allow one of those abomination starts that stick out to effect your season. Obviously, this is a bad time of the year to have one.

“Tomorrow, we’ll come back and look at it and evaluate it. And make sure that I’m not going crazy (and) flush it down the drain.”

[MORE CUBS: Do Cubs have enough pitching to finish the pennant race?]

The Cubs are 67-51 and three games in front of the San Francisco Giants for the second wild-card spot, trailing the Pittsburgh Pirates by four games for home-field advantage in a one-game playoff.

The Tigers are underachieving this year at 58-61, but they still have high-end talent with Ian Kinsler, Miguel Cabrera and J.D. Martinez anchoring the middle of their lineup.

Lester came into the game with a 5.25 ERA in 10 career starts against Detroit. This time, he couldn’t finish the third inning, walking off the mound with his team down 7-0.

“They’ve obviously been a thorn in my side for a long time,” Lester said. “That’s easy to see and something that stands out. But with that being said, I still got to figure out a way to get deeper in that game.

“Like I’ve said from Day 1, I’ll be honest with you guys as best I can. I’m being honest with you right now. I’m scratching my head.

“I feel like within that game, there were pitches that were made that deserved better results.”

[MORE CUBS: No Chase Utley, but Cubs hope Chris Coghlan could become their Ben Zobrist]

This has been a strong overall season for Lester (8-9, 3.58 ERA) in the first year of that $155 million megadeal. But he couldn’t believe the ball Nick Castellanos hammered into the left-center field bleachers for a grand slam in the third inning.

“I think I can go back two years and that’s the first first-pitch curveball hit (against me) — let alone homer,” Lester said.

There was also the 94-mph fastball in the second inning that Tigers pitcher Daniel Norris blasted out to center field for a two-run homer in his first big-league at-bat.

Norris was a key piece in the David Price blockbuster with the Toronto Blue Jays and had been a pitcher the Cubs liked when they shopped Jeff Samardzija last year. Norris had knocked out a video-board panel the day before during batting practice, but he left this game in the fifth inning with a strained oblique muscle.

Don’t look at Lester for any easy explanations with the Cubs now trying to stop a three-game losing streak.

“I don’t know,” Lester said more than once. “No matter what I say tonight, it really doesn’t justify or sum up anything that happened tonight. You try to step back and come up with answers (and) reasons. I want to say I threw the ball down the middle. But there were some good pitches that were made tonight that got hit.”

Forget 2015, the Brewers are more like 2016 Cubs

Forget 2015, the Brewers are more like 2016 Cubs

With the Milwaukee Brewers about to kick off the NLCS, many Cubs fans and pundits have taken to comparing them to the 2015 Cubs.

At first glance, it's easy to see why — they're in the playoffs for the first time as something of an underdog and "surprise" team — but that's not the recent Cubs squad we should be comparing the 2018 Brewers to.

This Milwaukee team is a lot more like the 2016 Cubs.

Here's why:

1. They're not a surprise.

Nobody expected the 2015 Cubs to win 97 games and wind up in the NLCS. They were expected to compete very soon, but everything went right in a red-hot August, they rode Jake Arrieta's right arm to the NLDS and then toppled the Cardinals to get to the LCS, where they ran into the brick wall that was Matt Harvey and and the Mets pitching staff.

The 2018 Brewers are not — and should not be — a surprise. Anybody who was caught off guard by this team being so good hasn't been paying much attention. The Brewers were leading the NL Central in 2017 for much of the year before a late-season fade that coincided with the Cubs' late-season surge.

This Milwaukee squad was always supposed to be one of the top teams in the NL in 2018 and they really hit their groove in September to chase down the Cubs. Still, it took a Game 163 to force a changing of the guard atop the division.

2. They greatly improved expectations with a big free-agent OF signing over the winter.

The Cubs had Jason Heyward in between 2015 and '16. The Brewers had Lorenzo Cain.

Cain has provided quite a bit more offense in the first season of his 5-year, $80 million contract but both Cain and Heyward provided leadership in the clubhouse and elite defense in the outfield in the first years with their new teams.

3. The Brewers have the NL MVP.

This one's an easy comparison to make, though Cubs fans will hate it.

Christian Yelich is this season's NL MVP. Sorry, Javy Baez fans. "El Mago" had a great season, but it's impossible to give the award to anybody but Yelich.

Yelich winning the league's most coveted accolade would be another perfect tie-in to the 2016 Cubs, who had Kris Bryant take home NL MVP.

4. They have a dominant LHP out of the bullpen.

Josh Hader has been doing his best Aroldis Chapman impression in 2018 as an absolutely dominant southpaw out of the bullpen. Unlike Chapman, Hader's spent all season with the Brewers, but like Chapman in '16, Hader will be leaned on heavily for multiple innings throughout the rest of the playoffs.

5. They picked up some valuable in-season assets.

The 2016 Cubs dealt for Chapman, but they also traded for reliever Joe Smith and called up Willson Contreras in the middle of the year, who provided a spark for the offense.

The 2018 Brewers have acquired plenty of valuable assets along the way this season from Mike Moustakas to Jonathan Schoop to Erik Kratz (more on him later) to Gio Gonzalez. But one of their most important additions (especially in October) was the promotion of top prospect Corbin Burnes, a flame-throwing right-hander who posted a 2.61 ERA in 30 regular-season games and allowed only 1 hit in 4 shutout innings in the DS.

6. They're on a mission with a chip on their shoulder.

The 2015 Cubs had a little bit of a chip on their shoulder as they attempted to take down the divisional powerhouse that was the St. Louis Cardinals. But again, they were a surprise contender - even within that clubhouse (especially early in 2015). But after falling short in the NLCS, the Cubs retooled over the winter and came back with one goal in mind - to win the World Series.

It was a goal they accomplished. We'll see if the Brewers will be able to do the same, but they certainly came to play in 2018 with a chip on their shoulder and the ultimate goal of winning the final MLB game of the year.

The Brewers didn't lead the division from Day 1 and weren't able to coast into October, but they still wound up with homefield advantage throughout the NL playoffs.

7. They have journeyman catcher who is winning over fans' hearts.

This is a fun one.

The 2016 Cubs had David "Grandpa" Rossy who still elicts deafening cheers whenever he's shown on the giant video board at Wrigley Field. The 2018 Brewers have Kratz, who has become a fan favorite recently and was mic'd up for the final out of the NLDS.

Ross was 39 when he helped lead the Cubs to the 2016 World Series and Chicago was his eighth stop (seventh different team) along his MLB journey. Kratz is 38 and on his ninth stop (seventh different team) along his MLB journey.

In fact, Ross and Kratz are so intertwined, they've already been compared to each other by MLB.com.

But the major difference is Kratz has zero postseason playing experience until a week ago. Will he be able to ride off into the sunset with a championship ring on his finger the way Ross did?

We'll have an answer to that over the next few weeks in the final chapter of the Brewers' 2018 season, though Cubs fans surely wouldn't be too happy to see their division rivals celebrating with a World Series parade just 90 minutes north of Wrigley Field.

Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde interviewed for Rangers' manager opening

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USA TODAY

Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde interviewed for Rangers' manager opening

The Cubs just lost one coach with hitting coach Chili Davis getting fired. Another opening on Joe Maddon's coaching staff could also open up.

According to report from MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan, bench coach Brandon Hyde interviewed with the Rangers on Thursday.

Rangers farm director Jayce Tingler was the first candidate the club interviewed, but Hyde and Astros bench coach Joe Espada were also interviewed.

The 45-year-old Hyde has been with the Cubs since 2014. He was a bench coach in 2014 under Rick Renteria before moving to first base coach from 2015-17. This past season he moved back to his original role as bench coach.

He played four seasons in the minors for the White Sox.

The Rangers job opened up when Jeff Banister was fired on Sept. 21. Banister won AL Manager of the Year in 2015 and guided the Rangers to back-to-back playoff appearances in 2015 and 2016, but couldn't get out of the ALDS either year. A 78-84 season in 2017 was followed by an even worse 2018, which led to his firing late this season.