Cubs

Hector Rondon says Cubs had to take the chance and close Aroldis Chapman deal

Hector Rondon says Cubs had to take the chance and close Aroldis Chapman deal

Hector Rondon saw this coming and understood why the Cubs would target Aroldis Chapman, not letting the trade rumors dent his confidence, even if it would mean losing his job in the ninth inning.

Rondon had a big smile on his face when reporters swarmed his locker inside U.S. Cellular Field’s visiting clubhouse on Monday afternoon, wanting to get his immediate reaction after the Cubs finalized a blockbuster trade with the New York Yankees.

“Everything’s about the team,” Rondon said before a 5-4 walk-off loss to the White Sox. “I know the front office did a really good job to get Chapman. I think if you do have a chance to get that guy, you better take it."

[RELATED: How Joe Maddon plans to unleash Aroldis Chapman]

President of baseball operations Theo Epstein felt exactly the same way, weighing Chapman’s all-world talent and character concerns and giving up the organization’s best prospect (Class-A shortstop Gleyber Torres), a major-league-caliber pitcher (Adam Warren) and two minor-league outfielders (Billy McKinney and Rashad Crawford) for a better chance to win the World Series this year.

“Hector’s done a phenomenal job for us and will continue to do so,” Epstein said. “The one thing I wanted to communicate to Hector was that at no point did we say we were worried about Hector Rondon (or) we need to go out and get a new closer.

“Instead, the question we asked ourselves was: How can we get even better so that we can put ourselves in a position to get to the playoffs and try to win three postseason series?

“We feel like this trade made us better because of the importance of having three or four shutdown relievers in the postseason.”

Success stories during the rebuilding years like Rondon – who gradually developed from a Rule 5 pick into a strong closer – allowed the Cubs to confidently make a game-changing trade like this. Rondon converted 18 of 22 save chances before Chapman’s arrival, posting a 1.95 ERA with 48 strikeouts and only five walks in 37 innings.

“I know I did a really good job with my role,” Rondon said. “I don’t care if we’re in the eighth or seventh (inning) – what only matters to me is to come into the game and do my job. It’s only about the win.”

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Jon Lester struggles against the division-rival Cardinals

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Jon Lester struggles against the division-rival Cardinals

It was a tough day for the North Siders.

The Cubs got obliterated by the Cardinals as Matt Carpenter had a three-homer, two-double day. Ben Finfer, Seth Gruen and Maggie Hendricks join David Kaplan on the latest SportsTalk Live Podcast to talk about the blowout.

Was Jon Lester due for this kind of terrible outing? And do the Cubs have enough to swing a big trade before the deadline?

Plus, the panel discusses Matt Nagy’s first training camp practice in the rain and Roquan Smith’s absence in Bourbonnais.

You can listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Jon Lester saw a start like this coming

Jon Lester saw a start like this coming

Jon Lester had easily his worst outing of the year, allowing the Cardinals to score eight runs on seven hits, the veteran All-Star only managed three innings before Joe Maddon turned to his bullpen. 

The Cardinals would take game two of the series by the score of 18 to 5, and while none of the Cubs pitchers could silence the Cardinal bats, Lester didn't shy away from his poor outing. 

"You know, I don't want to chalk this up as bad days happen," said Lester. "I think mechanically this has kinda been coming." 

Lester knew he was struggling to hit his spots, and while his ERA was a sparkling 2.58 coming into this start, his peripheral stats had him pegged as a potential regression candidate in the second half of the season.

His 4.35 FIP and 3.30 walks per nine innings show a pitcher who is relying heavily on his defense to get outs, which isn't surprising for a 33-year-old veteran but the walks are a concern. 

Cubs manager Joe Maddon was aware Lester had been working on his mechanics, but even he was surprised that Lester's start went downhill so quickly. 

"I thought he had good stuff to start the game, hitting [92-93 mph] and I'm thinking this might be a good day," said Maddon. "But you could just see from the beginning he was off just a little bit." 

Over Lester's last four starts his ERA has been an uncharacteristic 4.57, issuing 10 walks over those four starts, and only making it past the 6th inning once. At this point of Lester's career, he knows the best way for him to get outs isn't through strikeouts but by inducing soft contact and avoiding walks. 

And while both his hard contact rate and walks have increased this season, Lester's experience and high baseball I.Q. has allowed him to navigate his way through sticky situations. 

"I've been getting outs," Lester said candidly. "I just feel like when I've had that strikeout or I have a guy set up for that pitch I haven't been able to execute it." 

And while this outing was one to forget, it's at least a positive sign that Lester is aware of his issues on the mound. The veteran knows how to get outs and he knows what he needs to do to be successful in the latter part of his career. He just needs to get back to executing those pitches. 

Just don't expect Lester to dive head first into the analytics on how to fix his issues, he'll stick to hard work and baseball common sense. 

"I'm not too concerned with the analytic B.S., I'm worried about my mechanical fix for my next start."