How Jon Lester fits into wild-card picture for Cubs


How Jon Lester fits into wild-card picture for Cubs

CINCINNATI – The best-case scenario for the Cubs is Jake Arrieta throwing nine innings and shutting down the Pittsburgh Pirates in a one-game playoff.

Arrieta has emerged as a leading candidate for the National League Cy Young Award, going 15-1 with a 0.89 ERA while putting together 19 consecutive quality starts. The Pirates have scored three earned runs against Arrieta in 36 innings this year. 

But the Cubs have to prepare for a worst-case scenario on Oct. 7, which means Jon Lester could be on the wild-card roster for a next-man-up situation.

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“Of course,” manager Joe Maddon said before Tuesday’s 4-1 win over the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park. “We haven’t decided (anything yet). It depends on when this thing happens. Like say if – God forbid – a line drive or even warming up something happens, then you would want somebody like (Jon). 

“If something happened like in the fourth or the fifth inning, then you had talked about Travis (Wood), you had talked about (Trevor) Cahill, guys like that (who) have actually already done that.

“They may be more comfortable with that than a starter that’s going to need more time. You probably have to fill in a slot there with a regular relief pitcher while this starter got hot.”

The Cubs had preliminary discussions about their wild-card roster during a meeting on Monday in Chicago, outlining general ideas for the coaching staff to consider, weighing the breakdown of position players/pitchers – 16/9 or 15/10 – and what special skills will be needed (presumably pinch-runner Quintin Berry).

Maddon wants to use the final week of the season to audition relievers and see if anyone else – Neil Ramirez? Carl Edwards Jr.? – shows they can be trusted in October.

[NBC SHOP: Get your Cubs postseason gear right here]

Arrieta’s unreal hot streak – his 0.80 ERA since the All-Star break would be the lowest in major-league history – made it an even easier decision. But the Cubs had reservations about Lester in a one-game playoff because of his well-documented issues with throwing over to first base and controlling the running game.

Still, Lester won two World Series rings with the Boston Red Sox and has a 2.57 ERA in 84 postseason innings. The Cubs would love to see their $155 million lefty starting Game 1 of a division series against the St. Louis Cardinals two days later. But you can’t assume Arrieta will pitch like Superman again.

“There’s all those different things to consider,” Maddon said. “But a guy like Jon would be really important if something happened really early.”

Cubs executive Jason McLeod reportedly linked to Giants' GM opening


Cubs executive Jason McLeod reportedly linked to Giants' GM opening

Is this the offseason that Cubs executive Jason McLeod finally becomes an MLB general manager?

According to Bruce Levine, the Giants are reportedly interested in McLeod, the Cubs senior vice president of scouting and player development, for their vacant general manager position.

McLeod joined the Cubs' front office in 2011 alongside Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. Before the Cubs, he spent six years in the Red Sox front office and two in the Padres' (with Hoyer, who was San Diego's general manager from 2010-2011). 

Of course, the Giants' reported interest in McLeod doesn't necessarily mean that he will interview for the job. However, it's worth noting that McLeod interviewed for the Twins' general manager job in 2016; he also withdrew his name from consideration for the Padres' general manager job in 2014. 

In addition to the Giants, McLeod's name has been linked to the Mets' general manager vacancy. This is more speculation, but the point is that it seems to be only a matter of time before McLeod is hired as general manager elsewhere.

For what it's worth, though, McLeod is under contract through 2021 and has previously said that he is grateful to be with the Cubs. 

“I’m exceptionally grateful,” McLeod said. “All of us are. Look at where we are at this moment in time with this team," McLeod said in 2016. "I can’t imagine a better environment, a better culture to work at in baseball.

"We’ve been together a long time. We’re friends. We’re good. We embrace the fact that we are good. And we challenge ourselves to be even better.”

Cubs have new hitting coach in Anthony Iapoce

Cubs have new hitting coach in Anthony Iapoce

The Cubs are heading into a new season with a different hitting coach for the second straight winter, but the most recent choice is a familiar face.

Anthony Iapoce is set to join Joe Maddon's coaching staff this week after serving in the same capacity with the Texas Rangers for the last three seasons. The Cubs confirmed the move Monday afternoon shortly after the news broke out of the Rangers camp.

The Cubs fired Chili Davis last week after just one season as the team's hitting coach.

Entering the final week of the season, the Rangers fired manager Jeff Banister, leaving Iapoce and the rest of the Texas coaching staff in limbo.

As such, Iapoce is rejoining the Cubs, where he served as a special assistant to the General Manager from 2013-15 focusing on player development, particularly in the hitting department throughout the minor leagues.

Iapoce has familiarity with a bunch of the current star offensive players on the Cubs, from Willson Contreras to Kris Bryant. 

Both Bryant and Contreras endured tough 2018 seasons at the plate, which was a huge reason for the Cubs' underperforming lineup. Bryant's issue was more related to a left shoulder injured suffered in mid-May while Contreras' offensive woes remain a major question mark after the young catcher looked to be emerging as a legitimate superstar entering the campaign.

Getting Contreras back to the hitter that put up 21 homers and 74 RBI in only 117 games in 2017 will be one of the main goals for Iapoce, so the history between the two could be a key.

With the Rangers, Iapoce oversaw an offense that ranked 7th, 9th and 14th in MLB in runs scored over the last three seasons. The decline in offensive production is obviously not a great sign, but the Rangers as a team have fallen off greatly since notching the top seed in the AL playoffs in 2016 with 95 wins only to lose 95 games in 2018, resulting in the change at manager.

Iapoce has worked with an offense backed by Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, Shin-Soo Choo, Nomar Mazara and Joey Gallo the last few seasons.

Under Iapoce's tutelage, former top prospect Jurickson Profar shed any notion of a "bust" label and emerged as a budding star at age 25, collecting 61 extra-base hits with a .793 OPS in 2018.

When the Cubs let Davis go last week, they provided no update on assistant hitting coach Andy Haines, who just finished his first season in that role and is expected to remain with the team for 2019. The same offseason Iapoce left for the Rangers, Haines took over as the Cubs' minor league hitting instructor.