Cubs need Jon Lester, the perfectionist, operating at full strength


Cubs need Jon Lester, the perfectionist, operating at full strength

Jon Lester laughed postgame when asked where he is now relative to his own expectations.

“I stink,” Lester said late Monday night inside Wrigley Field’s interview room/dungeon.

This obviously couldn’t top Carlos Zambrano’s “we stinks” indictment of the 2011 Cubs. The alarm bells rang when manager Joe Maddon sat in the same chair after that 4-3 victory over the New York Mets and answered a similar question about Lester.

“He was injured in spring training,” Maddon said.

[MORE CUBS: Why haven’t Cubs made a deal with Mets yet?]

Wait, what? The Cubs had described Lester’s timeout in spring training as a “dead arm.” Maddon clarified that throwaway line on Tuesday: “By injured, I meant his spring training was interrupted by stiffness, soreness, dead arm, whatever you want to call it.”

Both Maddon and Lester confirmed the $155 million lefty didn’t need to get any precautionary tests in Arizona. But any ache or pain will be magnified for someone in the first season of what’s supposed to be a franchise-changing six-year megadeal.

“I don’t get sore,” Lester explained. “It’s just like you throw a ball and there’s just nothing there. You feel almost weak, like you have no leverage, nothing behind it.”

Lester is meticulous about his routine, and that interruption helps explain why he endured such a disappointing April (0-2, 6.23 ERA). He’s getting into a groove now in May (3-0, 1.80 ERA), and that should take pressure off a young lineup and give a battered bullpen a much-needed break.

[MORE CUBS: Cubs vs. Mets: Big bats, power pitchers and how to build a contender]

“My expectations are more than anybody could put on me,” Lester said. “The biggest thing is: We won. So you look at that, everything’s fine. We obviously didn’t play very well on this road trip, and coming home, the bleachers open for the first time, and everybody’s excited, and you want to get off on the right foot.

“But as far as expectations, that’s a whole ‘nother day with a whole ‘nother sit-down and a whole ‘nother hour of time that not a lot of us have.

“I’m a perfectionist. I want to be perfect all the time. And obviously that’s not going to happen.”

Forget perfection. The Cubs will settle for the Lester who’s made 30-plus starts for seven consecutive years, putting up at least 200 innings in six of those seven seasons.

[SHOP CUBS: Get a Jon Lester jersey right here]

“I felt fine after the break (in spring training),” Lester said. “Looking back on it now — to where I’m at now — it kind of puts you behind the eight ball, especially when you miss a start that late in spring.

“Now, I’m back to how I feel (normally). I feel strong. I feel like I’m caught up on everything.”

Lester — a big-game pitcher who helped the Boston Red Sox win two World Series titles — will ultimately be judged when/if the Cubs get deep into October. If this is going to be anything more than a .500 team, the sense of momentum will begin with the No. 1 starter.

“Jon’s just fine,” Maddon said. “You always like to have people peak at the appropriate moment. So every time out, I’ve seen him a little bit better. Just give him a little bit more time as he builds into this thing. I like what I’m seeing.”

Anthony Rizzo is ready to be the leading man 


Anthony Rizzo is ready to be the leading man 

When discussing his unconventional lineup choices, Joe Maddon had this to say, "It's almost a backwards way of doing this right now that I'm finding fascinating.....So I'm just gonna let it play for just a little bit and see where it takes us."

And it is hard to blame Maddon for letting his experiment ride out longer.

Via our Chris Kamka, Rizzo has hit in the leadoff spot seven times this season. In those seven plate appearances he has a single, double, triple (July 21), home run, walk, hit by pitch and a groundout. Rizzo’s numbers as a leadoff hitter are staggering:

And it appears the Cubs agree.

After their 7-2 win over the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday, Ben Zobrist joked that Rizzo is the “self proclaimed greatest leadoff hitter...”. And while on paper, having Zobrist bat fourth in the order and Rizzo lead off seems contradictory, the move has definitely energized the offense. Immediately following all the lineup shuffling, the Cubs reeled off four straight wins before the Cardinals 18-run, 18-hit explosion, but even in that game Rizzo did draw a base by HBP.

And sure enough, in Saturday’s game, there was Rizzo, dominating to the tune of three walks and a triple. There is no telling if Maddon will continue to keep him in the leadoff spot. The move was originally made to help Rizzo get his groove back, which if Saturday’s win was any indication, he has.

But with Jason Heyward having a great offensive season, Jesse Chavez looking good in his Cubs debut (two clean innings with one strikeout) and Baez continuing his MVP-like play, Cubs fans should be as optimistic as one certain fan at Wrigley Field.

Cubs infielder Ryan Court had a special night in Iowa


Cubs infielder Ryan Court had a special night in Iowa

The farm system doesn't have the big names it once did, as the majority of the top prospects have graduated to the Major League roster, but that doesn't mean the minor league clubs aren't having fun. 

Take 29-year-old Ryan Court, a minor league infielder who has bounced around from Arizona and Boston's systems and found a home this year with the Cubs triple-A affiliate in Des Moines, IA. Court has had a solid season in Iowa, slashing .272/.347/.410 in 74 games, but might have had his finest game as I-Cub Friday night against the New Orleans Baby Cakes. 

Court came up in the 8th inning last night needing just a triple to hit for the cycle, but his club was on the verge of taking the lead in the after scoring three runs prior to his at-bat.

With Bote on 1st, the game tied at 8 runs apiece, Court placed a ball in front of the right fielder who overplayed the ball and allowed Bote to score from first and Court to scamper to third to complete the cycle. 

The I-Cubs would tack on another run to polish off a 5-run 8th inning and take home the win in a 10-8 victory over the Baby Cakes, and according to Des Moines Register's Tommy Birch, it was the first time in two decades an Iowa player has hit for the cycle. 

It's unlikely Ryan Court will make his way to the big leagues with the Cubs already carrying plenty of infielders, but for one night he played the hero and got his team the win, finishing the night 4-5 with 2 RBI, 4 runs scored and one massive smile on his face.