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Jon Lester won't point fingers after Cubs can't finish off Cardinals

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Jon Lester won't point fingers after Cubs can't finish off Cardinals

ST. LOUIS — Time to grow up.

Jon Lester sent that message while meeting with reporters after his Cactus League debut in early March, when the Cubs had young talent, rising expectations and honestly no idea if this would actually work.

Lester had come of age with the Boston Red Sox and their World Series-or-else mentality. If you didn’t do your job, he said, they would simply find someone else. Next.

Six months later, this series showed how much these Cubs have matured and how far the organization has come. Even if the bullpen couldn’t finish off the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday afternoon at Busch Stadium, another meltdown leading to a 4-3 loss that exposed a potential major weakness for October.

Blame your teammates? Second-guess the manager? Start popping champagne bottles already? Lester wouldn’t have any of that.

“Have we gotten in the wild-card game yet?” Lester said. "That’s putting the cart before the horse. We got a long way to go. I know it looks good on paper right now to sit and talk about it. And I know everybody is excited about it.

“But we got to worry about playing Philly tomorrow. That’s what we got to worry about. And not worry about who’s pitching the wild-card game. We got to get there first."

[MORE CUBS: Javier Baez showing Cubs why he can be a game-changer]

Just when it looked like the Cubs would put the exclamation point on a three-game sweep and make this division race more interesting, the best team in baseball made its comeback.

Cubs fans have seen this before, the bullpen unraveling in the eighth inning and the Cardinals suddenly turning a two-run deficit into a one-run lead.

Lester allowed one run on two hits in the first inning — and then put up zeroes across the next six. The $155 million lefty retired 20 of the final 21 batters he faced before manager Joe Maddon pulled the plug at 105 pitches.

“Right now, it’s glaring, because it’s here and now and fresh in our minds,” Lester said. “But we’ve closed out plenty of those games this year against good teams.

“The natural reaction for everybody is to go: ‘Oh, what happened?’ We’ve been there all year. We’ve been doing it all year. That’s why we’re in the position that we’re in. We won plenty of one-run games and two-run games this year.

“The bullpen has a hard job. They’re called upon every single day. They don’t know when they’re pitching.

“When they don’t succeed in those high-leverage situations, it’s real easy to stand back and point the finger at those guys. Those guys have done it all year for us.”

[MORE CUBS: Jon Lester endorses Jake Arrieta for wild-card game]

Lester said he wasn’t surprised by Maddon’s decision or lobbying to throw 120 pitches.

“I don’t make those decisions,” Lester said. “That’s Joe’s decision. It’s easy to go back and second-guess any decision that’s made when you lose. Put it this way: When he came down to the end of the dugout, I didn’t fight him.”

Maddon has pushed almost all the right buttons — and explains his moves with such detail and inspires so much confidence within his players — that it’s difficult to slam his decisions.

But this didn’t work out in the eighth inning, Pedro Strop giving up a walk and a hit, lefty Clayton Richard losing his matchup against Matt Carpenter (line-drive RBI single) and Stephen Piscotty blasting Fernando Rodney’s 91-mph fastball out toward the center-field wall for the go-ahead, two-run double.

Maddon didn’t think he took the ball away from Lester too soon: “If somebody were to get on base, you’re probably going to want to do something anyway, so give the guy a clean inning.

“You got 7, 8, 9 (in the order) coming up right there. It was a perfect spot for Stropy. And part of it was to reestablish his confidence, too.”

[MORE CUBS: How Dave Roberts and 2004 Red Sox saved Quintin Berry's career]

Maddon laid out the logic behind Richard vs. Carpenter.

“The big thing there is that Carpenter has not hit homers against lefties,” Maddon said. “He hits them against righties, so you have a better chance of just a single, which did occur. But Richard came out, threw strikes and a good hitter got him up the middle. No big deal.”

What about having unofficial closer Hector Rondon get five outs?

“You can’t just burn people out in an attempt to win a game today,” Maddon said. “Everybody’s got to do their job for us to be successful. Moving down the road, you can’t alter these opportunities for these guys. Everybody was in the right spot today. It didn’t play.”

The Cubs now trail the Cardinals by 7 1/2 games in the rugged National League Central. To set the mood for the next stop on this three-city road trip, Maddon blasted Elton John’s “Philadelphia Freedom” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Streets of Philadelphia” from his office inside the visiting clubhouse.

The Cubs have done such a good job this season with finding the right balance between relaxed and intense, focused and oblivious, youth and inexperience.

Lester remembered another lesson from his time in Boston, the epic collapse in 2011 that led to seismic changes at Fenway Park.

“I’ve been on the other side of it,” Lester said. “I’ve been up and then not make the playoffs and we were talking about who’s starting Game 1. We got a long way to go.”

Who Knew? Baseball oddities from Daniel Palka, Anthony Rizzo and more in Chicago baseball

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USA TODAY

Who Knew? Baseball oddities from Daniel Palka, Anthony Rizzo and more in Chicago baseball

After a two-week hiatus, “Who Knew?” is Back!  Time for our (usually) weekly journey through the improbable, inane & obscure of Chicago Baseball.

All notes are through Sunday’s games.

Extra Innings… Extra Runs

Last Monday the Cubs beat the Brewers 7-2… in 11 innings.

They have three wins this season in extra innings.  By 4, 5 and 6 runs!  Their four extra-inning losses this season are by 1, 1, 1 and 2 runs.

No other team has won an extra-inning game by at least 5 runs this season.  The Cubs have done it twice.

Inning Checklist

Anthony Rizzo homered in the 11th inning in that Monday Cubs win.  He has now homered in every inning from 1 to 13 in his career, joining Ron Santo & Sammy Sosa as the only players in Cubs history who can make that distinction.

One-Two Punch

Tuesday night, Yoán Moncada & Yolmer Sánchez led off the game with back-to-back home runs.

It was the fourth time in franchise history the Sox led a game off with consecutive homers.

Sánchez hit the second home run each of the last two times they did it (also September 2, 2017 after Alen Hanson)

It was the FIRST time in Major League history two players whose first name begins with the letter Y had hit consecutive home runs to begin a game.

What’s the Catch?

439 players have had at least 30 at-bats this season.

The best batting average of those players belongs to Kevan Smith (.441 but in only 34 at-bats)

In the Park

The most batters faced without allowing a home run this season is 149, by Dylan Covey. He allowed 20 Home Runs in 70.0 Innings in 2017.

Through the Draft

Friday night:

Javier Báez Cubs’ 1st round pick in 2011 (9th overall)  reached base 3 times (including two walks!)
Albert Almora Jr. Cubs’ 1st round pick in 2012 (6th overall)  reached base 3 times
Kris Bryant Cubs’ 1st round pick in 2013 (2nd overall) homered
Kyle Schwarber Cubs’ 1st round pick in 2014 (4th overall)    homered
Ian Happ Cubs’ 1st round pick in 2015 (9th overall)   homered

Double Time

José Abreu has 21 doubles since May 8th.

You could chop off Abreu’s first 31 games this season and those 21 doubles alone would be enough to tie Ozzie Albies & Nick Markakis for the FULL season National League lead this season

Palka Party

Daniel Palka’s 7 batted balls of at least 115 mph is the 4th highest total in MLB (according to the available data at baseballsavant.com).

But look at how many more plate appearances this season the other guys have had!

  Batted balls of 115+mph  PA
Giancarlo Stanton    10 294
Joey Gallo   9 286
Aaron Judge     8 300
Daniel Palka     7 154

                                                

By the way, the rest of the White Sox team has a combined 3 batted balls of 115+ MPH this season.  Palka is clearly a special talent.

Cubs still owning second place in the NL All-Star vote standings

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USA TODAY

Cubs still owning second place in the NL All-Star vote standings

One Cubs player is within shouting distance of starting at the 2018 MLB All-Star game. But this time around, as compared to last week, the vote deficit is a bit larger.

MLB updated its second round of All-Star ballots for the National League. Catcher Willson Contreras trails Giants catcher Buster Posey by 90,000 votes. The margin was only 22,000 votes at this time last week.

And for other Cubs players such as Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and others, the margin is a little more substantial.

Rizzo is behind Braves first basemen Freddie Freeman by nearly 870,000 votes. Baez trails Braves second basemen Ozzie Albies by 148,000 votes.

Bryant trails Rockies third basemen Nolan Arenado by 447,000 votes. At shortstop, Addison Russell is in third place, trailing the Dansby Swanson of the Braves and Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford.

In the outfield, Jason Heyward moved up to the seventh spot with 447,359 votes, dropping Kyle Schwarber to eighth with 442,471 votes, and Ben Zobrist ranks ninth with 434,943 votes.

There will be another All-Star ballot update for the NL next Monday, and voting ends on July 5 at 11 p.m. Central.