Cubs

Joe Maddon expects Cubs front office will deliver at trade deadline

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Joe Maddon expects Cubs front office will deliver at trade deadline

Theo Epstein saw one recent report that had the Cubs already contacting the other 29 teams in the majors looking for a starting pitcher.

“That one wasn’t really accurate,” Epstein said. “I’m sure we’ll talk to them all eventually, but haven’t gotten there yet. We’re on a limited phone plan, so we have to spread that out.”

Epstein was joking, but the president of baseball operations also didn’t really answer direct questions about whether or not the Cubs will have the wherewithal to land a big-money player this summer.

Until the Cubs start spending like a big-market team again – their rough payroll projection for 2015 is $100 million plus the $20 million earmarked for last year’s Masahiro Tanaka bid – the perception won’t go away.

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Joe Maddon – the relentlessly optimistic manager who did more with less while turning the Tampa Bay Rays into a small-market miracle – believes Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer will deliver before the July 31 trade deadline.

“I am confident that Theo and Jed and the boys – as long as we’re pertinent – (will) do whatever they can to augment what we’re doing,” Maddon said before Tuesday’s game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Wrigley Field. “I totally believe that.

“So if it’s a pitcher, it’s going to be a pitcher. Whatever we need, I believe that they will attempt to make it happen.”

The Cubs already needed more pitching depth, even before Tsuyoshi Wada left Monday night’s game in the top of the third inning because of cramping in his left deltoid muscle.

While Travis Wood stepped in to throw 3.1 scoreless innings during that 4-2 win over the Dodgers – and Wada played catch on Tuesday with minimal soreness – the back of the rotation will have to be addressed at some point.

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The Cubs sounded optimistic it was just cramping and Wada (1-1, 3.73 ERA, 1-for-7 in quality starts) wouldn’t be sidelined with a more serious shoulder issue. But in a next-man-up scenario, Maddon wouldn’t want to remove Wood from the bullpen equation.

“I really like what he’s doing,” Maddon said. “It’s really nice to see his name on that list. When he comes out like that for maybe one time through the batting order, he knows he can just let her go. He’s not trying to save anything for the fifth or the sixth inning.

“I think he’s really good at that. And when he’s that, he matches up against good right-handed hitters also, because of the carry on his fastball. I think he’s very valuable in that role.

“I don’t like the idea of Woody not being in the bullpen. I think Woody’s role in the bullpen is really important to us right now. Really important.”

That would leave Edwin Jackson as a possible emergency starter, with the Cubs feeling lucky if they could get four innings out of him, unless they find a rotation upgrade outside the organization.

[RELATED: Will Theo have flexibility to add at trade deadline?]

“Am I counting on it?” Maddon said. “I never really look at it that way. I’m always prepared to go with what I have, or what we have. I guess I’m kind of used to that. My job is to get the most out of whoever’s here. That’s how I look at it.

“It’s always nice. Obviously, it would be great. Of course, you want to get stronger. (But) if the situation calls for us to get the most out of these guys, that’s what we’re going to do.”

The Cubs began the day with a .559 winning percentage that put them on pace for 91 wins this season. Epstein will be trying to find the right balance between slamming his foot on the accelerator and tearing up the runway his front office has engineered for the next five years.

“You can’t take any opportunity to win for granted,” Epstein said. “You have to seize the moment. At the same time, I think we’re cognizant of the fact that one of the primary reasons why we have the team that’s in contention right now is because a healthy organization has been built.

“You want to maintain that. That’s one of the things that’s made us good this year, and I think it’s going to continue to make us good for years to come if we maintain a really healthy organization.

“We wouldn’t sacrifice those things lightly. We wouldn’t trade prospects we believe in lightly. At the same time, there’s certainly a time and a reason to do it. When the right deal presents itself, we won’t be shy about it.”

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.