Cubs

How Joe Maddon plans to unleash Aroldis Chapman in Cubs bullpen

How Joe Maddon plans to unleash Aroldis Chapman in Cubs bullpen

When the Cubs traded for Aroldis Chapman, the dream end result would be the left-hander closing out the final game of the 2016 World Series.

While that is the most likely solution (if the Cubs get that far, of course), Joe Maddon wouldn't lock anything in right now.

The Cubs manager doesn't live by etching relief roles in stone, preferring to employ his best pitchers at the most opportune spots, whether that is in the ninth inning or not.

So with the most dominant closer in the game now in the fold, Maddon wasn't ready to just move the rest of the Cubs pitchers down an inning and leave it at that.

"I do things with leverage moments. It really opens up the sixth, seventh and the eighth [innings]," Maddon said while rattling off the options at his disposal including former Cubs closer Hector Rondon and top setup man Pedro Strop. "It's incredible. It's like a lineup. 

"You throw one more guy in the lineup and what it does with the rest of the group. Same thing happens with the bullpen. You put the anchor at the back side and then it really permits you to do other stuff."

Maddon is one of the top bullpen managers in the game and now has plenty of relief options to work with. 

Beyond Chapman, Rondon and Strop, there's also the emergency of young Carl Edwards Jr., Joe Nathan's comeback tour, new left-hander Mike Montgomery and then bullpen stalwarts Travis Wood and Justin Grimm.

Maddon admitted he stresses more about the Cubs bullpen each day than anything else, but that was prior to acquiring a guy who has saved 165 games over the last five seasons while posting a 1.91 ERA and ridiculous 15.7 strikeout per nine ratio.

[RELATED: Aroldis Chapman trade gives Cubs intimidating closer]

Plus, the emergence of another trustworthy option out of the bullpen alleviates the stress placed upon the rest of the relievers, keeping them fresh down the stretch.

"He's the kind of guy that permits you not to run other people down and then possibly the trickle down effect," Maddon said. "It's not a problem. It's a great situation to be in. 

"My perspective as the manager, being the steward of this group, I have to try to figure this out the best I can."

The Cubs have struggled to find consistency from their group of left-handed relievers all season, but the arrival of Chapman helps ensure there's an option Maddon feels comfortable with in October in case lefties like Bryce Harper come up in a big moment late in the game.

The Cubs also don't have to worry about facing Chapman in the postseason now, flipping the momentum to their side.

"Just think about it: You never want to see him coming into the game when the other team has the lead," Maddon said. "Now, all of a sudden, we have the edge on our side. It's kind of fun to have.

"What we're talking about here right now is theory. It all looks good on paper and I believe it's gonna work out. But you also have to go out there and perform on a daily basis.

"He's good. We're gonna put him in there in the right moments and hopefully it's gonna make everybody else running better. You never want to face him in the ninth inning."

A stellar Jon Lester outing gives the Cubs more than just a win

A stellar Jon Lester outing gives the Cubs more than just a win

It's been a tale of two halves for the Cubs veteran Jon Lester, who after a sparkling first half of baseball that saw him win 12 games with a 2.58 ERA, has looked nothing like a 2018 All-Star. Prior to Thursday's start, Lester had posted a 10.32 ERA, allowed 4 or more runs in 4 of his 5 most recent starts, and had yet to win a game in the second of the season. 

The 34-year-old veteran flipped the script Thursday night, throwing 6-shutout innings while striking out 8 Pirate batters in the Cubs 1-0 win in Pittsburgh. Lester surrendered only 5 hits and baffled the Pirates all-night, finally busting out of his slump and giving the Cubs his 2nd quality start since the All-Star break. 

Lester attacked the bottom portion of the strike zone all night with his fastball, which topped out at 93 mph, generating 4 whiffs with his heater. Over the last month, Lester has said he's felt he can't quite execute his "out" pitches, explaining that when he has a hitter set up for a strikeout he hasn't been able to throw the ball effectively in those moments. 

And while Lester walked off the mound after the 6th inning amassing 8 punch outs, the veteran starter never looked like he was trying to strike out batters. He just continued to dot the corners, occasionally raise the eye-level of the batter with an elevated heater, and threw his secondary pitches just enough to keep the Pittsburgh batters uncomfortable at the plate. 

The Cubs offense once again struggled, facing Ivan Nova who has won four his last five starts against the Cubs, but Ian Happ's solo shot in the 4th inning was enough run support for Lester to push the Cubs to 20 games over .500. But the biggest takeaway from Thursday night's win isn't that the Cubs came out on top, it's that Jon Lester returning to form gives this Chicago rotation something they've lacked seemingly this entire season. 

Stability at the front of the rotation. 

With Cole Hamels impressive three starts in a Cub uniform and Kyle Hendricks finally figuring out his issues on the mound, if Jon Lester can replicate Thursday's performance throughout the rest of the season, the Cubs rotation may finally turn into the strength many thought it could be before the season started. At the very least, Lester showed that whatever he's been working through over the last month of baseball is fixable. 

It's only one start in a string of poor outings for Lester, and while The Athletic's Sahadev Sharma did find some positives in his starts prior to Thursday's big win, Lester will have to show he can maintain this level of pitching through the remainder of this season. But I think our own Tony Andracki put it best tonight on Twitter. 

With the Cubs pitchers finally starting to perform to their expected level, and the return of Yu Darvish looking closer each day, it could be the Cubs starting pitching that carries through the rest of the season. 

Joe Maddon speaks out on Wednesday night's Marlins-Braves brawl

Joe Maddon speaks out on Wednesday night's Marlins-Braves brawl

Much has been made about Wednesday night's brawl between the Marlins and Braves, which started when Braves young star Ronald Acuna was nailed in the elbow with a 99 mph fastball from Jose Urena. The strangest part of the whole situation was that it seemed like Urena was unprovoked by Acuna or any of the Braves players prior to plunking the former No. 1 prospect in all of baseball.  

The ever wise Cubs skipper Joe Maddon was asked about the incident prior to Thursday's game, making it clear he felt plays like these needed to leave the game entirely. 

It was announced Thursday afternoon that Urena would be suspended just 6 games for intentionally throwing Acuna, which means the Marlins starter will likely only miss one game for trying to hurt Acuna. The good news is that Acuna did not sustain any serious injuries, but Joe Maddon is right there is no reason for people to be hurling nearly triple-digit fastballs at players. Whether provoked or not, intentionally throwing at players is something that needs to be phased out of the game, and its safe to assume Maddon would agree.