Cubs waiting for breakthrough moment with Jon Lester’s throwing issue


Cubs waiting for breakthrough moment with Jon Lester’s throwing issue

Jon Lester admits he has a problem with throwing over to first base. It’s a weird mental block for a three-time All-Star with two World Series rings, one of the best big-game pitchers of his generation.

As long as Lester keeps performing like a frontline guy, the Cubs understand the issue can be minimized over the course of a 162-game season and a six-year contract. The yips didn’t stop Theo Epstein’s front office from giving Lester a $155 million megadeal.

But the stakes will be so high in a wild-card game or a short playoff series that how Lester controls the running game could be critical, something Cubs fans wind up talking about years later.

[MORE CUBS: Cubs still looking to add, but Phillies may not move Chase Utley]

So Lester, who has a no-nonsense personality and an obsession with routine, worked on his pickoff move before batting practice on Tuesday, preparing to face the Detroit Tigers the next night at Wrigley Field.

“That’s something we’ve been doing since spring training,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He does it all the time. It’s just something that we have to continue to do. Eventually, hopefully, at one point it’s going to be more comfortable for him. But in the meantime, just keep working at it.”

Lester apparently looks fine in an empty stadium, but…

“It’s the game – it’s so funny,” Maddon said. “That’s why when you talk about spring training and spring-training performances and people get all excited about it – it could not be any different.

“So, yeah, we have to keep working through it. I want to believe what you just saw out there – he’s going to do exactly the same thing in the game.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Lester went almost two full years in between pickoff moves until his second start for the Cubs on April 13 against the Cincinnati Reds. The lefty threw over twice and airmailed the second one.

Lester tried again last week and threw a ball that sailed wide past first baseman Anthony Rizzo. The Milwaukee Brewers stole five bases off Lester and still lost 9-2.

Again, Lester is having a very good season at 8-8 with a 3.21 ERA and 149 strikeouts in 145-plus innings. There are other ways to slow down the running game with personal catcher David Ross.

The Cubs are still waiting for a breakthrough moment with Lester.

“If he does it just once successfully like that, I think you’re going to see it happen more often,” Maddon said. “In the dugout, we talk about: Rossy, you take care of it until Jon’s comfortable doing that. So to this point, I think we’ve done a really good job with it.”

A series to forget: Facts and figures from Cubs' rough weekend in Cincinnati

A series to forget: Facts and figures from Cubs' rough weekend in Cincinnati

The Cubs and their fans may want to invent and use one of those Men In Black neuralyzers because the four-game series in Cincinnati was one to forget.

The Reds finished off a four-game sweep of the Cubs on Sunday with an 8-6 win. The way the Reds won the finale will be especially painful for the Cubs considering they led 6-1 after six innings. Mike Montgomery appeared to tire in the seventh inning and Pedro Strop got rocked out of the bullpen to lead to a seven-run seventh for the hosts.

The Reds have now won seven in a row and 10 of 12, but still sit 13 games under .500. Bizarrely, the Reds also swept the Dodgers, the Cubs’ next opponent, in a four-game series in May. Duane Underwood will start for the Cubs Monday against the Dodgers and make his major league debut.

Here are some other wild facts and figures from the series:

  • The last time the Reds swept the Cubs in a four-game series was back in 1983. That was the first week of the season and three weeks before the infamous Lee Elia rant.
  • One positive for the Cubs from the game was Montgomery’s start. Through six innings he allowed one run on three hits and two walks. However, he gave up a single, a double and a single in the seventh before Strop relieved him. Montgomery had gone six innings and allowed one run in each of his last four outings.
  • Strop was definitely a negative. On his first pitch, Strop gave up a home run to pinch-hitter Jesse Winker, the second home run for a Reds pinch-hitter in the game. Then Strop allowed a single, a walk, a single and a double before getting an out. Strop’s final line: 2/3 inning pitched, four runs, one strikeout, three walks, four hits.
  • The Cubs led in three of the four games this series, including two leads after five innings.
  • The Cubs were 5-for-23 (.217) with runners in scoring position in the series. On the season the Cubs are hitting .233 with RISP, which is 22nd in the majors and fourth-worst in the National League (but ahead of the division-rival Brewers and Cardinals).
  • The Reds outscored the Cubs 31-13 and scored at least six runs in every game. The Reds are now 6-3 against the Cubs this year after going a combined 17-40 against the Cubs from 2015-2017.

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 32nd homer in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 32nd homer in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

Sosa victimized the Tigers pitching staff again on the next night, taking Brian Moehler deep in the 7th inning for a 400-foot solo blast.

The homer tied the game at 3, but the Cubs blew the lead in the bottom of the 7th when the Terrys (Adams and Mulholland) gave up 3 runs. The Cubs wound up losing 6-4.

The Cubs were putting together a really nice season in 1998 that ended with a trip to October. They entered the series with the Tigers with a 42-34 record, yet lost both games to a Detroit team that entered the series with a 28-45 record. The Tigers finished the season 65-94; the Cubs finished 90-73.

Fun fact: Luis Gonzalez was the Tigers left fielder and No. 5 hitter for both games of the series. He spent part of the 1995 season and all of '96 on Chicago's North Side. 1998 was his only year in Detroit before he moved on to Arizona, where he hit 57 homers in 2001 and helped the Diamondbacks to a World Series championship with that famous broken-bat single in Game 7.

Fun fact  No. 2: Remember Pedro Valdes? He only had a cup of coffee with the Cubs (9 games in 1996 and 14 in '98), but started in left field on June 25, 1998. He walked and went 0-for-1 before being removed from the game for a pinch-hitter (Jose Hernandez).