Cubs: Jon Lester endorses Jake Arrieta for wild-card game


Cubs: Jon Lester endorses Jake Arrieta for wild-card game

ST. LOUIS – At this point, Jake Arrieta or Jon Lester sounds more like a conversation starter for newspapers, talk shows and Twitter than a real debate inside the Cubs organization.

All signs are pointing toward the Cubs starting Jake Arrieta in the National League’s wild-card game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, who have already adjusted their rotation with stud right-hander Gerrit Cole (16-8, 2.54 ERA) and the playoffs in mind.

“I don’t really care,” Lester said after Wednesday’s 4-3 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium. “He’s the best pitcher on this team right now. He’s probably the best pitcher in the league right now.

“Listen, everybody has an ego and everybody wants to be that guy. But when it comes down to it, if he gives us the best chance to win that one-game playoff, I’ll be on the top step cheering my butt off for him to do well.

“There’s no competition in here. The competition is on the field. We’re trying to win a World Series, ultimately.

“I don’t make those decisions. You come tell me when you’re going to give me the ball and I’ll run out there and try my damnedest to give you the best start I can.

“I could give two flying you-know-whats (about) who gets picked.”

[MORE CUBS: Bullpen meltdown leaves bad taste in Cubs mouth]

Unless the Cardinals completely collapse, it looks like two Central teams with 90-plus wins will have a six-month season come down to a one-game playoff on Oct. 7.

That no-hitter at Dodger Stadium on ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball” enhanced his reputation nationally and reinforced what the Cubs already understood: Arrieta (18-6, 2.03 ERA) is an intimidating presence, a student of the game, a physical specimen and one of the most dominating pitchers in the majors. Period.

“Yes, he would be able to pitch in the wild card,” manager Joe Maddon said. “But, again, our goal is not just to play in the wild-card game.”

Arrieta will face the Philadelphia Phillies on Thursday night at Citizens Bank Park before getting into playoff mode. The Cubs have positioned Arrieta for the Pirates (Sept. 15 doubleheader at PNC Park), Cardinals (Sept. 20 at Wrigley Field) and Pirates again (Sept. 25-27 home weekend). 

The Cubs woke up on Wednesday morning with a nine-game lead over the San Francisco Giants for the second wild card. The Washington Nationals had fallen to 9.5 games back. The playoff odds are overwhelming.

The Cubs shouldn’t be in the position where they would have to push Arrieta and Lester hard in late September or early October just to get into the tournament.

[MORE CUBS: Anthony Rizzo - 'Scary' good Cubs could still catch Cardinals]

“We’re very much aware of that, but the goal is still to catch the Cardinals,” Maddon said. “I just don’t want our guys to lose track or thoughts of trying to catch the Cardinals. That’s our best way to play outstanding baseball for the rest of the month leading into the playoffs.

“Try to catch the Pirates. Catch them and then you try to catch the next group. I still want us to approach every day that way.”

Lester has pretty much been what the Cubs expected when they signed him to a six-year, $155 million megadeal: A very good pitcher (9-10, 3.50 ERA) with a professional attitude and the instant credibility that comes from winning two World Series rings with the Boston Red Sox.

Lester has a 2.57 ERA in 84 career postseason innings. But in a win-or-else situation, that playoff experience is somewhat diminished by Lester’s issues with throwing over to first base and controlling the running game.

The Kansas City Royals exposed that during last year’s American League wild-card game, when Lester worked as a hired gun for the Oakland A’s. The Royals ran all the way to Game 7 of the World Series before losing to the Giants.

[MORE CUBS: Cubs GM Jed Hoyer hopes momentum translates into payroll boost]

“That would have to be a consideration under those circumstances,” Maddon said. “Some of that could depend on who you may play and the kind of game they could bring to you.

“Just being honest, I think that would be the primary thing to look at: Who is that team and what kind of game are they capable of playing? (The Pirates) can run a little bit.”

This is a first-world problem for a franchise that has finished in fifth place for five years in a row, a time when 40 percent of the rotation usually signaled a fire sale at the trade deadline.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up for the stretch run, Cubs fans!

“We have a lot of confidence in all our guys,” said David Ross, who caught Lester when the Red Sox surged toward a World Series title in 2013.

“You can’t deny what Jake Arrieta’s been doing this year. He should be in the Cy Young race with some of those guys out in L.A. (Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw). He’s even an MVP candidate for our team.

“Either way, no matter who pitches that game, I think we got a really good chance. We believe in ourselves.”

Podcast: Bold predictions for the Cubs offseason


Podcast: Bold predictions for the Cubs offseason

With the MLB offseason about to kick off, we run down the boldest predictions for the Cubs winter from around the NBC Sports Chicago Cubs content team. Topics include where Bryce Harper and Manny Machado will sign, how much money they’ll get, what the Cardinals will do this winter, Cubs offseason trades and how Theo Epstein’s front office may add to the pitching staff.


One topic we could all agree on was David Ross' potential as Cubs bench coach if the incumbent Brandon Hyde ends up taking a job as manager for another team around the league.


Listen to the entire podcast here and check out all of our bold predictions below:



David Kaplan


—Anthony Rizzo and his new wife, Emily, will adopt Manny Machado, change his last name and see Manny Rizzo playing third base for the 2019 Cubs.

—Because of the Rizzo move, the Cubs will move Kris Bryant to a full-time outfielder.

—The Cubs will trade away Jose Quintana and sign Patrick Corbin.

—The Cubs will sign a pair of former Indians relievers for the back end of the bullpen in Andrew Miller and Cody Allen.

—The Cubs will trade Kyle Schwarber to the Royals for Whit Merrifield, who will start 155 games in the leadoff spot in the order.

—Joe Maddon will be a lot more consistent with the Cubs' lineup and batting order all season.


Kelly Crull


—Anthony and Emily Rizzo will receive more wedding gifts from Cubs fans than Kris and Jessica Bryan received.

—Anthony Rizzo will train this offseason so he will be able to sing — or play the piano — for the National Anthem at Wrigley in 2019.

—The Cubs will have no money left to remodel the media room at Wrigley Field.


Luke Stuckmeyer


—The Captain Morgan Club at Wrigley Field is going to be replaced by Kap's Kryo & Keto Korner.

—The Cubs will finally find a solution to the leadoff hitter issue.


Tony Andracki


—The Cubs sign Bryce Harper for less than $250 million. (He follows 23 people on Twitter)
—Manny Machado does not get a contract for more than $250 million, either.
—The Cardinals will sign Craig Kimbrel and either Machado or Josh Donaldson to play 3B. 


Rationale: St. Louis could really use the bat and closer and they have a sense of urgency in the division this winter we haven't seen from them in at least a decade. The Cubs and Brewers have clearly been better for two seasons now and look to have a better chance at contending than the Cardinals in 2019, as well. That can't be sitting well with the "Best Fans in Baseball." 


Jeff Nelson, producer


—The Cubs will trade 2 of the following players:  Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ, Addison Russell, Albert Almora Jr.

—The Cardinals will sign Manny Machado to play third base.

—Because of construction delays, the visitors’ clubhouse will not be ready for the home opener, forcing the Pirates to dress at their hotel and come to the ballpark in full uniform.

Mike Piff, social media manager

—Cubs sign Nick Markakis.
—Cubs sign Tyson Ross.

Eric Strobel, producer

—The Cubs 2019 saves leader is not currently on the roster.

Rationale: We saw what happened to the bullpen in Brandon Morrow's absence; it got the job done by and large, but was not longer truly feared. Deep 'pens are the norm in October now with lockdown relievers being counted on more and more. The front office knows they can't truly entrust that kind of workload to Morrow with his injury history - Theo admitted as much in his end-of-season press conference. While they probably will not make a big splash, a huge focus of the offseason will be to surround Morrow/Strop/Edwards/etc. with as many talented arms as possible. The Cubs could very well enter next season without a designated closer, but if they do, it will not be Brandon Morrow.

Scott Changnon, multi-platform producer

—The Cubs will sign Bryce Harper.

Rationale: "I dunno, maybe."

Nate Poppen, producer

—Cubs sign Andrew McCutchen, plug him into CF and make Almora a 4th OF (or expendable)
—Bryce Harper signs with Yankees.
—Manny Machado signs with Angels.

Matt Buckman, producer

Non-roster prediction: The Cubs will welcome Sammy Sosa back to Wrigley Field. Sammy turns 50 this winter, and fueled by our wonderful documentary on 1998, the Cubs will finally mend their broken bond with Sammy and bring him back to Wrigley.

Roster prediction: The Cubs will trade Kyle Schwarber for a leadoff hitter. Joe has had to get very creative with the top of his order since Dexter Fowler left. Though the front office has downplayed the importance of a lead-off hitter the last two off-seasons, they will look to add one for 2019 so that Joe doesn’t have to be so creative. They won’t have a place to play Schwarber after they sign Harper so they will swap his power for a new “you go, we go” guy. Look at KC or TB as AL teams that need to add power and also have guys who could potentially lead off for the Cubs. Mallex Smith (TB) or Whit Merrifield (KC) would be interesting options.

Cubs Talk Podcast


No-brainer: The Cubs should absolutely bring back Jesse Chavez in 2019 bullpen

No-brainer: The Cubs should absolutely bring back Jesse Chavez in 2019 bullpen

Should the Cubs bring Jesse Chavez back for the 2019 bullpen?

This question shouldn't have anywhere near the polarizing effect the Daniel Murphy query had earlier this week, and for good reason.

It's hard to find any real downside for the Cubs working Chavez back into the fold next season. 

Sure, he's 35 and he'll turn 36 in August, but Chavez just had far and away the best season of his 11-year career and all signs point to it being legit.

He won't have a 1.15 ERA forever, of course, but he clearly found something with his mechanics that helped lead to the remarkable consistency he showed in a Cubs uniform (4 saves, 4 holds, 1.15 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, 42 Ks in 39 IP). 

The Cubs will be looking to add some reinforcements to their bullpen this winter and Chavez fits the bill in many areas.

When asked about how to address the bullpen this winter, Theo Epstein said his front office will be "looking for guys who can throw strikes and execute a gameplan and take the ball and pitch in big spots."

The Cubs have publicly placed an emphasis on "strike-throwers" out of the bullpen over the last two winters now and that is right up Chavez's alley.

He threw 68.5 percent first-pitch strikes while with the Cubs, which would've ranked near the top of the league in 2018, right up there with aces like Miles Mikolas, Clayton Kershaw, Aaron Nola and Justin Verlander. Among all relievers, Chavez ranked 5th in baseball in first-pitch strike percentage in the second half.

Expanding further (since the first pitch isn't the only one that matters): Chavez threw the fourth-most strikes in baseball among all MLB relievers after the All-Star Break. Since the day Chavez put on a Cubs uniform, Philadelphia's Tommy Hunter (70.5 percent) was the only reliever in baseball (minimum 30 innings) to throw a higher percentage of pitches for strikes than Chavez (69.8 percent).

If you want strikes, there's no better reliever on the market right now than Chavez.

He also shouldn't be all that expensive at age 35, even despite the breakout and high level of importance placed upon relievers these days. A similar deal to the one Brian Duensing got last winter - $7 million over 2 years - seems appropriate and would be a steal if Chavez can continue to find even a modicum of the success he had since putting on a Cubs uniform.

Speaking of the Cubs uniform, Chavez reportedly doesn't want to wear another logo in 2019, saying this after the NL Wild-Card Game:

That was an emotional time, but Chavez repeatedly raved about the Cubs clubhouse and culture throughout his time in Chicago and really appreciated the way his teammates made him feel comfortable from Day 1.

When the Cubs first acquired Chavez in that under-the-radar trade, they touted his versatility which has become a valuable asset, especially in today's game where relievers are often asked to pitch multiple innings. If necessary, he could also represent depth for the starting rotation, having made 70 starts over his MLB career. 

Unless there's a surprising market that develops for Chavez, bringing him back to the North Side of Chicago on a 1- or 2-year deal is a no-brainer.