Cubs

Cubs Road Ahead: Cubs take on stumbling Marlins

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Cubs Road Ahead: Cubs take on stumbling Marlins

The Cubs head to South Florida this week for a three-game set with the Marlins. CSN's Kelly Crull and JJ Stankevitz look ahead to the North Siders' date with Miami and talk about how the team has played so far in the latest Road Ahead, presented by Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana Honda Dealers.

The Cubs have been through some tough tests at Wrigley Field recently, going up against teams at or near the top of the standings in the Nationals and Royals.

But they'll get a break from the barrage of top-flight teams with a set this week down in Florida. The Marlins are going through plenty of struggles, and it could provide the Cubs with a perfect opportunity to pile up a few wins.

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

"Any team that has Giancarlo Stanton's going to pose a couple of problems when he's liable to hit the ball 465 feet any time he steps up to the plate," CSNChicago.com baseball reporter JJ Stankevitz said. "But beyond him, you look at a guy like Dee Gordon, who's three wins above replacement this year, 20 stolen bases. He's off to a really great start this year in Miami. The problem with the Marlins is that their pitching has really held them back this year. You look at the probables the Cubs are going to face this week, no one really stands out there. Their bullpen has struggled a bit. And then we're talking about a team where as of a month ago their general manager is now their manager, and there have been some rumors of discord in Miami over the hiring of Dan Jennings as their manager. It's a team that really does look like a bottom feeder.

"The Cubs going into Miami and facing a team with kind of a rough pitching staff maybe in a little bit of disarray, may be a bit of a welcome change for them coming off facing the Nationals and Royals at Wrigley Field."

Check out more on the Cubs in the Honda Road Ahead above.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Kyle Schwarber puts on a show in Home Run Derby

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Kyle Schwarber puts on a show in Home Run Derby

Jon Greenberg, Rich Campbell and Kevin Fishbain join Luke on the panel.  Kyle Schwarber puts up the good fight in the Home Run Derby. Meanwhile, which Chicago All-Star will have a breakout performance on the national stage?

Plus Rich Campbell discusses why Roquan Smith’s deal may not get done before the Bears’ first practice in Bourbonnais.

Cubs' starting pitching a reasonable discussion topic, but Jon Lester's no fan of 'nitpicking' this first-place team

Cubs' starting pitching a reasonable discussion topic, but Jon Lester's no fan of 'nitpicking' this first-place team

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Cubs are in first place, they own the best record in the National League at the All-Star break and remain as much a World Series contender as any team out there.

But things are never 100 percent rainbows and lollipops for a team with this high a profile.

No, instead of a simple thumbs up from fans and observers, a pat on the back and a “job well done,” there’s been quite a bit of focus on what’s not going well for the North Siders. Mostly, that’s meant starting pitching, as four of the team’s five Opening Day starters owns an ERA north of 3.90.

If all you’ve heard this season is “What’s wrong with Yu Darvish? What’s wrong with Jose Quintana? What’s wrong with Kyle Hendricks? What’s wrong with Tyler Chatwood?” you might think the Cubs are woefully underachieving. Instead, they’re 55-38, a first-half record not far off from what they owned at the break back in 2016, a season that ended in a curse-smashing World Series championship.

The lone Cubs starting pitcher at the All-Star Game, Jon Lester, isn’t happy with what he calls the “nitpicking” that’s come with the Cubs’ otherwise excellent start to the season.

“We’re kind of pulling at hairs,” he said before the Midsummer Classic on Tuesday night. “We’re splitting hairs right now as far as things that we’re looking for negatively on our team. And that can kind of rub wrong in the clubhouse as far as guys looking around going, ‘Wait a second, we’re doing pretty good and we’re getting nitpicked right now.’

“I don’t like nitpicking. So I feel like we’ve been doing really well and just stay with the positives of everything that we’ve been playing really good baseball.”

Lester’s got a point, though at the same time it’s an understandable discussion topic: If the Cubs aren’t getting consistent results from four of their five starting pitchers, what kind of effect will that have in a playoff series? There’s a long way to go before things get to that point, but Cubs players made their own expectations known back in spring training: It’s World Series or bust for these North Siders.

Lester has been phenomenal, unquestionably worthy of his fifth All-Star selection. He posted a 2.98 ERA in 19 first-half starts. But the rest of the rotation wasn’t nearly as pretty. Hendricks finished his first half with a 3.92 ERA, Quintana with a 3.96 ERA, Chatwood with a 5.04 ERA and Darvish, who made only eight starts before going on a seemingly never-ending DL stint, with a 4.95 ERA. Mike Montgomery, who’s made nine starts, has a 3.91 ERA overall and a 3.20 ERA as a starter.

None of that’s exactly end-of-the-world bad, and there are plenty of pitching staffs across baseball that would probably make a trade for those numbers in a heartbeat. But is it the elite, best-rotation-in-baseball type stuff that so many projected for this team before the season started? Of course not. And Lester knows it. He, like team president Theo Epstein, just looks at that fact a little differently than the fans and observers who are so quick to push the panic button.

“Can we pitch better? Absolutely. As a collective unit, yeah we can. And that’s a positive,” Lester said. “I think guys are ready for runs. You kind of saw Kyle put together a couple starts there where he’s back to being Kyle. Q’s been throwing the ball pretty well for us.

“I think this break will do Chatwood a lot of good. This is a guy, he’s pounding his head against the wall, beginning of the season he wasn’t giving up any runs but everybody’s talking about walks. I look at the runs, I don’t care about the walks.

“We get these guys back to relaxing and being themselves, we’ll be fine. Our bullpen’s been great, our defense has been great. Offense is going to come and go, as we’ve seen in the game. As starters, we’ve got to keep our guys in the game the best we can, at the end of the day our bullpen and our defense is going to pick us up.”

The fretting will likely never end unless the Cubs have five starters throwing at an All-Star level, that's just the way things go. Something’s got to fill all that time on sports radio, after all, and for a team with postseason expectations, it’s perfectly reasonable to talk about how they might fare in the postseason, where those starting-pitching inconsistencies will most definitely come into play.

But Tuesday night, Cubs fans will see three players representing their club. Lester will be a happy observer with one of the best seats in the house, and Javy Baez and Willson Contreras will deservedly start among the best in the game. And they’ll have bragging rights over all their NL teammates because nitpicking or not, they’ve got the best record in the league.