Cubs

Jon Lester all-in on being pulled after six innings in Game 5 of World Series

Jon Lester all-in on being pulled after six innings in Game 5 of World Series

In the Cubs’ biggest game of the season, Jon Lester was completely on board with being pulled after only six innings and 90 pitches. In fact, to an extent, it was his own idea. 

Upon returning to the Cubs’ dugout after David Ross caught Cleveland Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor stealing to end the sixth, Lester told pitching coach Chris Bosio that he had been “grinding for the last couple innings.” Lester was told he would pitch batter to batter if he came back out in the seventh, but the 32-year-old left-hander figured it’d be better to hand the game over to the bullpen in a clean inning. So when Maddon informed him he wouldn't return for the seventh inning, he understood the decision. 

“Why let me go out and face a guy — if I give up a hit or a walk or whatever, you're going to pull me anyway, and now you put (the bullpen) in a situation,” Lester said. “So I left it up to Joe, and Joe made a decision, and that was the decision. I'm happy it worked out for us.”

For Lester, it was far more about the stressful nature of having to perfectly execute every pitch he threw facing a 3-1 series deficit rather than the total count he had. 

Lester was effective over those 90 pitches, though, allowing two runs on four hits with no walks and five strikeouts. Jose Ramirez blasted a second inning home run, but came on a well-placed fastball on the low and inside corner (in other words, Lester just got beat on a good pitch). 

Before the 2016 postseason, Lester averaged 105.5 pitches in his previous 14 playoff starts and never threw fewer than 91. He’s only thrown more than 100 pitches once in the 2016 playoffs — in a relatively stress-free evening in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series — and is averaging about 92 pitches per start. So on the surface, it seemed a little curious that Maddon would pull his grizzled ace for rookie C.J. Edwards in the seventh to face Mike Napoli, Carlos Santana and Jose Ramirez, a trio of hitters that combined to blast 79 home runs in the regular season. 

Lester’s grind, though, certainly was apparent in his final two frames. The fifth inning was a stressful one, as Carlos Santana launched a leadoff double and found himself on third base with one out after Jose Ramirez’s groundout. Lester struck out Brandon Guyer before getting Roberto Perez to ground out to end the threat.

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The sixth inning was even more strenuous, as Rajai Davis singled, stole second and scored on Lindor’s line drive single to center. Lester got out of it thanks to what could be the final play of Ross’ career, a 2-4 caught stealing of Lindor. 

Instead of pushing things, Lester was honest with his coaching staff about where he was mentally and physically. That goes as another example of how the Cubs have banded together in their efforts to bring a championship to Clark and Addison for the first time since 1908. 

So instead of a me-first mindset to take care of things himself, Lester was willing to hand the game over to the Cubs’ bullpen, which thanks to Aroldis Chapman’s magnificent 2 1/3 scoreless innings sealed a season-saving victory. 

“You're just grinding from pitch one,” Lester said. “You're trying to make the perfect pitch every time, and at the same time still be aggressive.

“So, yeah, it's a grind. I mean, that's makes (the postseason) fun at the same time. Because I know, hey, I've got to be locked in in order to get through this lineup a couple times. So I'm just fortunate enough to get through that a couple times with just a couple runs and still keep our team in the lead there.”

Javier Báez joins Cubs All-Decade Team at second base, where El Mago was born

Javier Báez joins Cubs All-Decade Team at second base, where El Mago was born

With the 2010s coming to a close, NBC Sports Chicago is unveiling its Cubs All-Decade Team, highlighting the players who made the biggest impacts on the organization from 2010-19.

There may not be a player in baseball more exciting to watch than Javier Báez.

Whether at the plate, in the field or on the bases, Báez is a human highlight real. He’s one of the most powerful hitters in baseball; he has a cannon for an arm, exemplary defensive range and is a tagging maestro. He’s a dynamic baserunner who uses his elite baseball instincts to go station-to-station while magically avoiding tags along the way.

Yeah, there’s a reason Báez is known as “El Mago.” It’s not a matter of if he’ll make an incredible play each game, but a matter of when. Things come easy for the 27-year-old full of flair who makes the most difficult plays seem routine.

Báez is a career .270/.310/.484 hitter who’s hit 110 home runs in parts of six big-league seasons. One of those long balls came in his big-league debut (Aug. 5, 2014), a go-ahead blast against the Rockies in the 12th inning. The legend of El Mago was born.

Báez is the Cubs starting shortstop, though that hasn’t always been the case. Starlin Castro was the starter in 2014; Addison Russell claimed the title from Castro in the second half of 2015, holding it down until late in the 2018 season. Russell hit the injured list that August as the Cubs simultaneously acquired Daniel Murphy in an attempt to jump-start the offense.

By the time Russell returned, Báez was a clear-cut NL MVP candidate. The latter still bounced around the infield from time-to-time, but with Murphy entrenched at second, shortstop became Báez’s primary position. He’s been the starter ever since.

Báez has played 2,646 2/3 career innings at shortstop compared to 1,856 at second base (and 629 1/3 at third). He’s exclusively a shortstop these days, but the El Mago second base days aren’t forgotten.

Báez was the co-recipient of the 2016 NLCS MVP award (along with Jon Lester) and has started back-to-back All-Star Games (2018 at second, 2019 at shortstop). He was the runner-up for the 2018 NL MVP award, posting career highs across the board: .290/.326/.554, 34 homers, 111 RBIs, 129 OPS+.

And yet, it feels like Báez is only getting started. Nevertheless, his career to date has more than earned him a spot on our Cubs All-Decade Team at second base. With that, we'll leave you with this:

Anthony Rizzo joins Cubs All-Decade Team behind efforts on and off field

Anthony Rizzo joins Cubs All-Decade Team behind efforts on and off field

With the 2010s coming to a close, NBC Sports Chicago is unveiling its Cubs All-Decade Team, highlighting the players who made the biggest impacts on the organization from 2010-19.

You saw this one coming, right?

As the Cubs’ longest tenure player, Anthony Rizzo was a shoo-in for this group. He hasn’t relinquished his starting first baseman job since making his Cubs debut in June 2012. The guy’s longevity alone is impressive.

But besides that, Rizzo has been a model of consistency during his time on the North Side. Since 2012, he’s hit 217 home runs (averaging 27 per season) and hit 32 three times from 2014-17. The lone exception? 2015, when he hit 31. So close…

As a Cub, Rizzo is a .277/.376/.496 hitter with a 132 OPS+. He produces at a high clip each season, whether he’s hitting third, cleanup or leadoff, all while simultaneously playing stellar defense. The 30-year-old is a three-time Gold Glove Award winner (2016, 2018-19).

Rizzo is the guy who comes up huge in key moments but will be there to address the media after tough losses. He’s the de facto captain of the Cubs, the guy who suffered a nasty ankle sprain in September that could have ended his regular season. Instead, he returned four days later for a key series against the rival Cardinals, as the Cubs were fighting to keep their October dreams alive.

When he’s not leading his team on the field, Rizzo is giving back to the community off of it. He’s one of the most charitable athletes in the world and recently raised $1.3 million for children’s cancer research at his “8th annual Walk-off for Cancer” in his home state of Florida.

Rizzo was the first building block of the Cubs core which snapped their infamous 108-year championship drought, but he’ll be remembered for more than that. He’s a leader on and off the field, the clear choice for starting first baseman on our Cubs All-Decade Team.

Also considered: Derrek Lee, Bryan LaHair