Cubs

John Lackey thinking World Series after wild comeback win for Cubs: ‘I came here for jewelry’

John Lackey thinking World Series after wild comeback win for Cubs: ‘I came here for jewelry’

John Lackey screamed and stomped around Wrigley Field on Wednesday afternoon, with Cubs catcher Miguel Montero even having to step in to separate the veteran pitcher from home-plate umpire Marty Foster on his way back to the dugout in the middle of the sixth inning.

This had all the makings of a frustrating loss to the Miami Marlins. A tense, clipped, awkward postgame press conference with Lackey seemed inevitable. Until the Cubs staged a wild comeback that had reporters laughing hysterically and Lackey leaving the interview room on a high note. A 5-4 walk-off win in front of 41,147 fans will do that.

“Fair expectations?” Lackey said, repeating back part of a question. “We’re trying to win the World Series. I didn’t come here for a haircut. You know what I mean? We’re trying to get it on. I came here for jewelry.”

This ended in bizarre fashion, with Ben Zobrist drawing a bases-loaded walk with two outs in the ninth inning, forcing in the game-tying run because Marlins closer A.J. Ramos had intentionally walked Anthony Rizzo. With Willson Contreras at the plate, Ramos fired his next pitch into an advertisement on the backstop, allowing Matt Szczur to sprint home and start the celebration.

“We just never quit,” Zobrist said. “All good teams have to believe that when they’re down late in the game, they can come back and win games. This series was huge for us, to be able to believe it for ourselves.”

[MORE: The value of Jason Hammel as Cubs develop Willson Contreras]

Dexter Fowler had already scored on a wild pitch from arrow-shooting ex-Cub Fernando Rodney in the eighth inning. Montero – who’s still hitting under .200 – started the ninth-inning rally with a leadoff double off Ramos. The Cubs won a one-run game without using top relievers Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon and Aroldis Chapman – while going 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position and watching Lackey (two doubles) do most of the damage against Miami starter Tom Koehler (one run allowed in six innings).

“We got a group that keeps fighting and keeps competing until the last out,” Lackey said. “Those kind of crazy games can roll over into some positive energy.”

Lackey had the negative body language after serving up the go-ahead, two-run homer to a light-hitting backup catcher/ex-teammate (Jeff Mathis) that snapped a 1-1 tie in the seventh inning. And a pitcher the Cubs wanted for his edgy personality wouldn’t get into what he was jawing about with the umpire.

“I was minding my own business walking off the field,” Lackey said. “He said something to me first. I’m not really one to back down if you want to challenge me.”

That’s why the Cubs spent almost $290 million on free agents like Lackey and Zobrist, to buy their World Series experience, and influence a team now playing with a sense of urgency again.

“It’s August,” Rizzo said. “We know that we only have pretty much a sprint left. It’s not a marathon to get to the playoffs."

The Cubs (66-41) have won five series since the All-Star break, splitting their four crosstown games against the White Sox and leaving for their West Coast flight with almost a double-digit lead over the St. Louis Cardinals in the division.

The Cubs will enjoy a day off in the Bay Area and begin a three-game series against the Oakland A’s on Friday night at the Coliseum, knowing that there are no fair or unfair expectations. It’s only World Series or bust.

“I don’t think anybody would be satisfied with anything less,” Zobrist said. “I don’t think the Chicago Cub fans would be satisfied with anything else, either. We know the end goal and we’re a long way from there. We just have to keep playing good baseball and get ourselves in a good position."

Cubs bolster pitching staff with minor trade, foreshadow more moves coming

Cubs bolster pitching staff with minor trade, foreshadow more moves coming

The Cubs didn't wait long to make Joe Maddon's words come true.

Roughly 5 hours after Maddon said the Cubs are definitely in the market for more pitching, the front office went out and acquired Jesse Chavez, a journeyman jack-of-all-trades type.

It's a minor move, not in the realm of Zach Britton or any of the other top relievers on the market.

But the Cubs only had to part with pitcher Class-A pitcher Tyler Thomas, their 7th-round draft pick from last summer who was pitching out of the South Bend rotation as a 22-year-old.

Chavez — who turns 35 in a month — brings over a vast array of big-league experience, with 799 innings under his belt. He's made 70 starts, 313 appearances as a reliever and even has 3 saves, including one this season for the Texas Rangers.

Chavez is currently 3-1 with a 3.51 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 50 strikeouts in 56.1 innings. He has a career 4.61 ERA and 1.38 WHIP while pitching for the Pirates, Braves, Royals, Blue Jays, A's, Dodgers, Angels and Rangers before coming to Chicago.

Of his 30 appearances this season, Chavez has worked multiple innings 18 times and can serve as a perfect right-handed swingman in the Cubs bullpen, filling the role previously occupied by Luke Farrell and Eddie Butler earlier in the season.

Chavez had a pretty solid run as a swingman in Oakland from 2013-15, making 47 starts and 50 appearances as a reliever, pitching to a 3.85 ERA, 1.31 WHIP and 8.2 K/9 across 360.1 innings.

"Good arm, versatile, could start and relieve," Joe Maddon said Thursday after the trade. "I've watched him. I know he had some great runs with different teams. 

"The word that comes to mind is verstaility. You could either start him or put him in the bullpen and he's very good in both arenas."

It's not a flasy move, but a valuable piece to give the Cubs depth down the stretch.

There's no way the Cubs are done after this one trade with nearly two weeks left until the deadline. There are more moves coming from this front office, right?

"Oh yeah," Maddon said. "I don't think that's gonna be the end of it. They enjoy it too much."

Jason Heyward has become an offensive catalyst

Jason Heyward has become an offensive catalyst

Expecting Jason Heyward to carry a team offensively would be thought as foolish just a few short months ago. But here in the middle of July, Heyward has turned into the offensive firestarter the Cubs have been seemingly missing since Dexter Fowler left. 

Heyward walked away from Thursday night's 9-6 win over the Cardinals tallying three hits, two RBI, two runs scored and his first stolen base of the year, as the 28-year-old outfielder continued to poke holes in the Cardinals defense. 

Twice Heyward was able to slip a ball between the 1st and 2nd basemen that off the bat looked like neither had a chance to make it through the right field side. Later, Heyward would battle through a lengthy at-bat, finally being rewarded with an opposite-field hit that drove in the game-tying run. 

"It just happened," Heyward explained. " [Carlos Martinez] is not going to give you a whole lot to do damage on throughout the game. I was able to get one pitch there and get a guy home." 

Cubs manager Joe Maddon mentioned Heyward and his ability to move the ball around the field and how it's helped him become an effective piece to this Cubs offense. So effective Heyward's batting average crept up to .290 after today's three-hit performance. 

Heyward credits his quick hands as the major tool he's utilized to create so many successful at-bats lately, which has allowed him to take advantage of certain pitches and punch them through for hits.

He's certainly not driving the ball for consistent power, but the approach has put Heyward on pace to match the 160 hit total he amassed with the Cardinals in 2015. 

"I feel like Joe's mindset on moving the ball is putting the ball in play when you got guys on base," said Heyward. "It keeps the line moving, regardless of the result." 

It might be crazy to think that Heyward's incredible turnaround this season might simply be attributed to putting the ball in play. But even just taking a look at Heyward's contact rates shows he's increased his contact on pitches outside the zone by roughly three percent.

Not a massive difference, but if Heyward's hands are truly giving him an edge at the plate, making contact with pitches that may not be a strike but are hittable pitches could explain the increased offense we are seeing now. 

"That's kinda the biggest thing," said Heyward. "The more good swings you take, the more hits you have a chance to get." 

Shooters shoot, and Heyward continues to shoot his shot and keep the Cubs offense chugging along.