Cubs

Jon Lester sends positive message to John Farrell after lymphoma diagnosis

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Jon Lester sends positive message to John Farrell after lymphoma diagnosis

All things considered, Jon Lester came away from a conversation with John Farrell feeling optimistic about the Boston Red Sox manager’s Stage 1 lymphoma diagnosis.

On Friday at Fenway Park, Farrell revealed that he will be taking a medical leave of absence and begin chemotherapy, responding to a “highly curable” condition detected this week during hernia surgery. 

Farrell had been a huge influence on Lester, helping the lefty develop into one of the best big-game pitchers of his generation, someone the Cubs felt comfortable giving a six-year, $155 million megadeal last winter.

[MORE: Chase Utley? GM Jed Hoyer says Cubs aren’t close to any deals (yet)]

Lester beat cancer and earned two World Series rings with the Red Sox while Farrell worked as the pitching coach (2007) and manager (2013).

“I don’t really think you give John too much advice,” Lester said after Friday’s 6-5 win over the White Sox, surrounded by reporters inside U.S. Cellular Field’s visiting clubhouse. “He’s pretty strong-willed. I would imagine he’ll be fine. I’m sure it’s a little bit of a blow for his family. But I’m sure he’ll be fine through this whole process.”

One of Farrell’s three sons – Shane – works for the Cubs in the team’s amateur scouting department. Boston bench coach Torey Lovullo – a managerial candidate the Cubs had on their radar after the 2013 season – will manage the Red Sox for the rest of the season.  

Lester received treatment at Massachusetts General Hospital while dealing with his own cancer scare, which cut short his 2006 season after an anaplastic large-cell lymphoma diagnosis that August. By October 2007, Lester beat the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field in the game that clinched a World Series title.

“He seems pretty positive,” Lester said. “It’s obviously one of the better places – if not the best place – in the country to be if you do have cancer. He’s in good hands. I know those doctors pretty well.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up for the stretch run, Cubs fans]

That experience helped shape the “Never Quit” message Lester keeps sending through the charitable foundation he’s aligned with now. Lester met with Anthony Rizzo when the future All-Star first baseman got diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma as a Red Sox prospect in 2008.

“I don’t think you can ever really prepare for a situation like that,” Lester said. “It’s just one of those things you have to ride out. You have to do what the doctors tell you to do.

“You just have to kind of grind through it.”

Podcast: Albert Almora Jr. dishes on his role and the Cubs’ unsung hero that keeps things loose behind the scenes

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USA TODAY

Podcast: Albert Almora Jr. dishes on his role and the Cubs’ unsung hero that keeps things loose behind the scenes

Albert Almora Jr. joins Kelly Crull on the Cubs Talk Podcast to weigh in on a variety of topics, including his budding bromance with rumored Cubs target Manny Machado, his expanded role and how he spends his time off away from the ballpark.

Plus, Almora has a surprise pick for the organization’s unsung hero, stating the Cubs would’ve never won the World Series without this guy.

Listen to the full Cubs Talk Podcast right here:

How Ian Happ got his groove back at the plate

How Ian Happ got his groove back at the plate

There's a legit case to be made that Ian Happ has been the Cubs' second-best hitter in 2018.

Yes, really.

Happ ranks second on the Cubs in OPS (.895), behind only Kris Bryant (.995) among regulars, though a recent hot streak has buoyed that overall bottom line for Happ.

Still, it's been a pretty incredible hot streak and it's propelled Happ back to where he began the season — at the top of the Cubs order. 

Happ has walked 10 times in the last 6 games and hammered out 3 homers in that span, including one on top of the Schwarboard in right field as a pinch-hitter Tuesday night.

Even more jaw-dropping: He's only struck out 5 times in the last 9 games after a dreadful start to the season in that regard.

"It was just a matter of time until things clicked a little bit," Happ said. "That's why we play 162 games and it's a game of adjustments. At the end of the day, it all evens out.

"Look at the back of Tony [Rizzo's] baseball card — it's the same thing every single year. That's how this thing goes. You're gonna have your ups and your downs and I'm just trying to be as consistent as I can. If I can level it out a little bit and be more consistent over a period of time, that'll be better for our team."

So yes, Happ is on the upswing right now and he'll inevitably have more slumps where he strikes out too much and looks lost at the plate.

Such is life for a 23-year-old who is still a week away from his 162nd career MLB game.

The league had adjusted to Happ and he had to adjust back, which he'd been working hard doing behind the scenes.

"I just try to get him to primarily slow things down," Joe Maddon said. "Try to get him back into left-center. And I did not want to heap a whole lot of at-bats on him. When you're not going good, if you heap too many at-bats on somebody, all of a sudden, that's really hard to dig out of that hole.

"So a lot of conversations — a lot of conversations — but nothing complicated. I like to go the simple side of things. I wanted him to try not to lift the ball intentionally, really organize his strike zone."

Maddon believes Happ had lost sight of his strike zone organization, chasing too many pitches out of the zone — particularly the high fastball.

Now, the Cubs manager sees Happ using his hands more and less of his arms in his swing, working a more precise, compact path to the ball.

The Happ experiment at leadoff was a disaster to begin the year — .186 AVG, .573 OPS and 22 strikeouts in 10 starts there — but all the same tools and rationale exist for why Maddon likes the switch-hitting utiliy player in that spot.

And that's why Happ was leading off Wednesday with both Ben Zobrist and Albert Almora Jr. getting the night off.

"We're gonna find out [if he can stick at leadoff]," Maddon said. "I just thought he's looked better. He's coming off a nice streak on the road trip. [Tuesday night], pinch-hitting. I know the home run's great and of course that's nice.

"But how he got to the pitch that he hit out, to me, was the important thing. Got the two strikes, took the two borderline pitches and then all of a sudden, [the pitcher] came in with a little bit more and he didn't miss it.

"That's the big thing about hitting well, too — when you see your pitch, you don't either take it or foul it off. You don't miss it. He didn't miss it."