Cubs

Cubs vs. White Sox: Jon Lester gets his shot at Chris Sale

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Cubs vs. White Sox: Jon Lester gets his shot at Chris Sale

The Cubs already felt like they’ve run the gauntlet against elite pitchers, and now here comes White Sox ace Chris Sale flying at them with his funky mechanics and left-handed spin. 

After getting shutout by Carlos Rodon and three White Sox relievers in Friday’s 1-0 loss, the Cubs will answer with their $155 million ace on Saturday afternoon at Wrigley Field.  

“Sale will bring a nice buzz to the park,” Jon Lester said. “Obviously, his stuff speaks for itself. He’s fun to watch. He’s wiry and asses and elbows going everywhere.”

[MORE: Could Cubs and White Sox get together on a Samardzija trade?]

Sale is 6-foot-6, 180 pounds and one of the most dominant pitchers on the planet. His run of eight straight starts with at least 10 strikeouts ended earlier this week, though he still threw a complete game and beat Mark Buehrle and the Toronto Blue Jays.

Lester is coming into this high-profile matchup with his own sense of momentum. He finally broke his 0-for-66 streak and notched his first big-league hit on Monday night when a line drive bounced off the leg of St. Louis Cardinals right-hander John Lackey.

Lackey is an old friend from their time together with the Boston Red Sox, so Lester could point to the sky like Sammy Sosa after that infield single. Lester’s .031 average will be up on the video board when he faces Sale.

“If I was a betting man,” Lester said, “I probably wouldn’t bet on getting too many hits tomorrow, but I’m not a betting man. We’ll see. Obviously, Sale makes hitters that hit every day look pretty silly, so I would imagine that it should be interesting.” 

Sale is 7-4 with a 2.80 ERA and a 0.94 WHIP that ranks fifth in the majors. At the age of 26, he’s already earned four consecutive All-Star selections.

Lester (4-7, 3.48 ERA) took a no-hitter into the seventh inning against the Cardinals – in a 6-0 loss that got ugly late. It’s been an up-and-down first half in the first season of that six-year megadeal.

It’s not staring down the New York Yankees at Fenway Park, but Lester vs. Sale will be entertaining.

[NBC SHOP: Get your Cubs gear right here]

“He chucks the hell out of it,” Lester said. “It’s always fun when you go up against the best and you know you can’t let up too many. Or else we’re going to be in trouble.”

The Cubs have now been shutout eight times this season, and scored only one, two or three runs in 34 more games. That’s almost 50 percent of the schedule so far. They’re still 46-39, in third place in the National League Central and in position to win the second wild card.

“I don’t like to look ahead to the playoff picture or anything like that,” Lester said. “That’s putting the cart before the horse. We got a long ways to go, a lot of baseball (left). We got to play a lot of good teams. This division is very tough.

“You can assess right now: We’ve done pretty well. We’re (seven) games above .500. We’re right in the thick of things (while) having a young team that’s never been through anything like this. It’s a good buzz around here, the guys enjoy coming to the field and playing. We’ve been playing good baseball, and hopefully we continue that.” 

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.