Cubs Road Ahead: Potent lineups headed to Wrigley


Cubs Road Ahead: Potent lineups headed to Wrigley

A season full of intrigue finally began for the 2015 Cubs, and David Kaplan and Todd Hollandsworth are getting you ready for what's next with this week's Cubs Road Ahead, presented by Chicagoland and NW Indiana Honda Dealers.

After the Cubs finish up their three-game series in Colorado they'll return home for a six-game home stand against two teams expected to contend for the National League crown this season. After facing the always difficult Cardinals and the red-hot Rockies, the Cubs begin a three-game set with the division rival Reds on Monday, followed by three more games with the winners of the offseason in the San Diego Padres.

And against both groups, as Todd Hollandsworth notes, the Cubs pitching will need to be ready for a pair of potent lineups. The Reds, touting Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and Todd Frazier, sit atop the National League Central standings as of Saturday night.

"They've got experience and they've got veterans. They've got a lineup to die for, they added Marlon Byrd, Billy Hamilton's off and running," Hollandsworth said. "My goodness gracious, he's on pace to break the all-time stolen bases record in a season. They've got a lot of things going right now."

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

The bats won't stop coming when Cincinnati leaves town, as a completely re-tooled Padres lineup will be waiting to produce some runs at the Friendly Confines. This offseason alone the Padres added Matt Kemp, Melvin Upton, Justin Upton, as well as pitchers James Shields and Craig Kimbrel, making them a difficult task later this week.

"This is a team that's looking to contend. If there's one team in all of baseball, outside of our Chicago teams, that was building for 2015 like, 'it's got to happen, playoffs or bust,' it's the San Diego Padres, no doubt about it," Hollandsworth said. "They expect to contend, they're ready to contend, they want to be up there with the Dodgers, they want to be viewed that way. This team is ready."

See what else they had to say in the video above.

Willson Contreras, Jon Lester carry Cubs to eventful win in the first game of the series with Atlanta

Willson Contreras, Jon Lester carry Cubs to eventful win in the first game of the series with Atlanta

The Cubs and Braves got through roughly one inning of Stranger Things Night at Wrigley Field before Willson Contreras made the evening his own. 

The catcher went 2-4 with three RBI, and provided the most notable moment from the game: a 2nd inning solo homer that caused both benches to clear. Contreras had taken issue with a few of the called strikes earlier in the at-bat, and said something to home plate umpire John Tumpane about it. Contreras continued to make his feelings known as he left the box, drawing the ire of Braves catcher Tyler Flowers.

“To be honest, those pitches weren’t even close to the strike zone,” he said. “[Flowers] got mad because I was talking to the umpire about that, and he jumped into the conversation. 

Contreras then proceeded to shout in the direction of Atlanta’s dugout while rounding first base, and the two catchers exchanged more words as he crossed home plate. The benches quickly emptied, and after a few moments of posturing, returned to their dugouts. 

“It was a lot of emotions together,” he said after the game. “I was having a conversation with the umpire, and it ended up with [Flowers], so that’s all I can say. I just basically told him to do his job and I’ll do mine. I don’t know why he got pissed off because that’s all I said - you do your job and i’ll do mine.”

“I was kind of amused by the whole thing,” Joe Maddon added. “I don’t really know Mr. Flowers - we had a nice conversation, walked away, and it was over. It really wasn’t worth more than what happened.

The confrontation was just one of a few testy moments between these two teams. In the top of the 2nd inning, Braves third baseman Josh Donaldson was caught on cameras shushing the Cubs dugout: 

Two innings later, it was Javy Baez who returned serve by blowing the Braves a kiss after stealing second on Flowers: 

“It’s fun because they’re good,” Maddon said. “And we’re good - that’s the fun part. Monday night, at 7:05, to have that kind of attitude and atmosphere is outstanding. That’s what baseball needs.” 

On the mound, Jon Lester bounced back from a run of three straight underwhelming performances. June hasn’t been kind to Lester, as the lefty had allowed 14 runs over the last 23 IPs prior to Monday’s start, good for a 5.93 FIP. He threw 94 pitches against the Braves, lasting six innings while allowing two runs -- both unearned, though -- and striking out seven. He only threw 94 pitches, but his control (0 BB) was excellent. Lester spotted his strikeout pitch well all night, getting four of his six right-handed K’s on the low outside corner:

“I just tried to stay down there, and had the backdoor cutter to those guys,” Lester said. “We were able to kind of exploit that, and then when we felt that guys were reaching out there a little bit, I ran the cutter in on some guys too. I was just able to command both sides of the plate tonight, which is huge against an offense like that.” 

“Great job by Jon,” Maddon added, “Jon had great stuff. Coming off of [throwing 114 pitches], he’s been throwing a lot of pitches on regular rest, so I wanted to limit that tonight. He was lobbying to go back out, but I didn’t feel good about it based on the longevity of the season and we had a rested Kintzler.

“But Jon was really good, and really good against a tough lineup.”

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Live from Wrigley it's Cubs Authentic Fan Night


Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Live from Wrigley it's Cubs Authentic Fan Night

Ozzie Guillen and Doug Glanville join Leila Rahimi to talk all things Chicago baseball as the Cubs take on the Braves and the White Sox look to get a win in Boston.

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below: