Cubs

Jon Lester feels like he's 'ahead of the game' this spring with Cubs

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Jon Lester feels like he's 'ahead of the game' this spring with Cubs

MESA, Ariz. - Jon Lester feels a lot more at ease this spring with the Cubs.

He's not trying to prove he's worth a $155 million contract, he's familiar with his surroundings and he knows his teammates and coaches.

Life is simpler this time around for the 32-year-old Lester.

"You're not the new guy trying to find your way around Arizona, the clubhouse and all that stuff," Lester said. "Now, you're just a teammate and trying to get ready for spring.

"This year is just different. I'm just in a different place - mentally, physically, all this."

[RELATED - No surprise: Cubs giving Jake Arrieta the Opening Day start]

Lester said at this time last year, there was plenty of unfamiliarity with the Cubs coaching staff, so pitching coach Chris Bosio and catching/gameplanning coach Mike Borzello were still trying to figure the veteran left-hander out.

"I'm trying to kinda fit in and go about my way," Lester said. "They're not gonna say anything early because they don't know me. They don't know what makes me tick.

"Now, you come in and everybody knows you. You've been through the grind and all that stuff. So it's a little bit easier to make adjustments and really just feel more comfortable."

Lester said he feels even David Ross - the outgoing backup catcher and clubhouse leader - is also more comfortable this spring than in his first season with the Cubs in 2015.

"I already feel more ahead of the game," Lester said. "More into my normal routine as far as spring training as opposed to trying to really go out and fit in and press and make sure that you're good enough to earn what you were given.

"I'm just in a different place mentally and physically. It's a good feeling and hopefully I continue to carry that over."

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Lester is hoping to avoid the dead arm period that plagued him last spring and helped lead to a 6.23 ERA in four April starts, including suffering a 3-0 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals on Opening Day.

But after April, Lester settled in, going 11-10 with a 2.99 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 183 strikeouts in 183.1 innings over his final 28 regular season starts.

This year, Lester has his best friend - John Lackey - in the clubhouse, Ross is still around and Lester is familiar with Maddon, Bosio and the rest of the coaching staff and roster.

Lester knows his surroundings, he's familiar with where to go in both spring training and at Wrigley Field, he has more help in the rotation and he can prepare this spring knowing he won't have the stress or pressure of starting on Opening Day (Jake Arrieta was tabbed the Cubs' Game 1 starter Tuesday morning).

Lester threw live batting practice to Addison Russell, Tommy La Stella and Jorge Soler Tuesday and has one more bullpen session left before his first spring start that will come sometime next week.

Forget 2015, the Brewers are more like 2016 Cubs

Forget 2015, the Brewers are more like 2016 Cubs

With the Milwaukee Brewers about to kick off the NLCS, many Cubs fans and pundits have taken to comparing them to the 2015 Cubs.

At first glance, it's easy to see why — they're in the playoffs for the first time as something of an underdog and "surprise" team — but that's not the recent Cubs squad we should be comparing the 2018 Brewers to.

This Milwaukee team is a lot more like the 2016 Cubs.

Here's why:

1. They're not a surprise.

Nobody expected the 2015 Cubs to win 97 games and wind up in the NLCS. They were expected to compete very soon, but everything went right in a red-hot August, they rode Jake Arrieta's right arm to the NLDS and then toppled the Cardinals to get to the LCS, where they ran into the brick wall that was Matt Harvey and and the Mets pitching staff.

The 2018 Brewers are not — and should not be — a surprise. Anybody who was caught off guard by this team being so good hasn't been paying much attention. The Brewers were leading the NL Central in 2017 for much of the year before a late-season fade that coincided with the Cubs' late-season surge.

This Milwaukee squad was always supposed to be one of the top teams in the NL in 2018 and they really hit their groove in September to chase down the Cubs. Still, it took a Game 163 to force a changing of the guard atop the division.

2. They greatly improved expectations with a big free-agent OF signing over the winter.

The Cubs had Jason Heyward in between 2015 and '16. The Brewers had Lorenzo Cain.

Cain has provided quite a bit more offense in the first season of his 5-year, $80 million contract but both Cain and Heyward provided leadership in the clubhouse and elite defense in the outfield in the first years with their new teams.

3. The Brewers have the NL MVP.

This one's an easy comparison to make, though Cubs fans will hate it.

Christian Yelich is this season's NL MVP. Sorry, Javy Baez fans. "El Mago" had a great season, but it's impossible to give the award to anybody but Yelich.

Yelich winning the league's most coveted accolade would be another perfect tie-in to the 2016 Cubs, who had Kris Bryant take home NL MVP.

4. They have a dominant LHP out of the bullpen.

Josh Hader has been doing his best Aroldis Chapman impression in 2018 as an absolutely dominant southpaw out of the bullpen. Unlike Chapman, Hader's spent all season with the Brewers, but like Chapman in '16, Hader will be leaned on heavily for multiple innings throughout the rest of the playoffs.

5. They picked up some valuable in-season assets.

The 2016 Cubs dealt for Chapman, but they also traded for reliever Joe Smith and called up Willson Contreras in the middle of the year, who provided a spark for the offense.

The 2018 Brewers have acquired plenty of valuable assets along the way this season from Mike Moustakas to Jonathan Schoop to Erik Kratz (more on him later) to Gio Gonzalez. But one of their most important additions (especially in October) was the promotion of top prospect Corbin Burnes, a flame-throwing right-hander who posted a 2.61 ERA in 30 regular-season games and allowed only 1 hit in 4 shutout innings in the DS.

6. They're on a mission with a chip on their shoulder.

The 2015 Cubs had a little bit of a chip on their shoulder as they attempted to take down the divisional powerhouse that was the St. Louis Cardinals. But again, they were a surprise contender - even within that clubhouse (especially early in 2015). But after falling short in the NLCS, the Cubs retooled over the winter and came back with one goal in mind - to win the World Series.

It was a goal they accomplished. We'll see if the Brewers will be able to do the same, but they certainly came to play in 2018 with a chip on their shoulder and the ultimate goal of winning the final MLB game of the year.

The Brewers didn't lead the division from Day 1 and weren't able to coast into October, but they still wound up with homefield advantage throughout the NL playoffs.

7. They have journeyman catcher who is winning over fans' hearts.

This is a fun one.

The 2016 Cubs had David "Grandpa" Rossy who still elicts deafening cheers whenever he's shown on the giant video board at Wrigley Field. The 2018 Brewers have Kratz, who has become a fan favorite recently and was mic'd up for the final out of the NLDS.

Ross was 39 when he helped lead the Cubs to the 2016 World Series and Chicago was his eighth stop (seventh different team) along his MLB journey. Kratz is 38 and on his ninth stop (seventh different team) along his MLB journey.

In fact, Ross and Kratz are so intertwined, they've already been compared to each other by MLB.com.

But the major difference is Kratz has zero postseason playing experience until a week ago. Will he be able to ride off into the sunset with a championship ring on his finger the way Ross did?

We'll have an answer to that over the next few weeks in the final chapter of the Brewers' 2018 season, though Cubs fans surely wouldn't be too happy to see their division rivals celebrating with a World Series parade just 90 minutes north of Wrigley Field.

Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde interviewed for Rangers' manager opening

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USA TODAY

Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde interviewed for Rangers' manager opening

The Cubs just lost one coach with hitting coach Chili Davis getting fired. Another opening on Joe Maddon's coaching staff could also open up.

According to report from MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan, bench coach Brandon Hyde interviewed with the Rangers on Thursday.

Rangers farm director Jayce Tingler was the first candidate the club interviewed, but Hyde and Astros bench coach Joe Espada were also interviewed.

The 45-year-old Hyde has been with the Cubs since 2014. He was a bench coach in 2014 under Rick Renteria before moving to first base coach from 2015-17. This past season he moved back to his original role as bench coach.

He played four seasons in the minors for the White Sox.

The Rangers job opened up when Jeff Banister was fired on Sept. 21. Banister won AL Manager of the Year in 2015 and guided the Rangers to back-to-back playoff appearances in 2015 and 2016, but couldn't get out of the ALDS either year. A 78-84 season in 2017 was followed by an even worse 2018, which led to his firing late this season.