Cubs

Jon Lester’s frustrations boil over after Cubs lose to Cardinals: ‘I’m over this damn slide rule’

Jon Lester’s frustrations boil over after Cubs lose to Cardinals: ‘I’m over this damn slide rule’

ST. LOUIS – Jon Lester's frustrations boiled over with an epic rant that captured another classic moment in the Cubs-Cardinals rivalry.
 
"We're out there playing with a bunch of pansies right now," Lester said after a 5-3 loss at Busch Stadium. "I'm over this damn slide rule."
 
Major League Baseball's Chase Utley Rule certainly isn't the root cause of an 18-18 start, but the Cubs clearly aren't working with the same margin for error as last season or looking like the team of destiny that finally ended the 108-year drought.
 
Surrounded by reporters at his locker in the visiting clubhouse, Lester rolled with a question about a pivot point in the fifth inning, when Anthony Rizzo chopped a ball back to St. Louis starter Carlos Martinez, who flipped it underhand, high and wide toward shortstop Aledmys Diaz at second base. 
 
Diaz stretched to his right to catch it, hopped over Ian Happ as he slid through the bag and held onto the ball. The interference call handed the Cardinals an automatic inning-ending double play and protected their 3-1 lead – instead of Kyle Schwarber scoring from third base to make it a one-run game.
 
"I'm over it," Lester said at least four times. "There was nothing malicious about that slide. (Happ) slid three inches past the bag and we got a double play. I'm over the rule. The rule was meant to be for guys doing dirty slides, sliding late, taking guys out. There was nothing wrong with that slide whatsoever."
 
Lester, the $155 million pitcher, approached Happ in the dugout on the day he made his big-league debut and told him: "Next time, you do the exact same thing."
 
"That's baseball, man," Lester said. "We're replaying if it was too far and all this other BS. We're all men out there. We're grown men. These guys have turned double plays their entire lives. They know how to get the hell out of the way. There was nothing malicious about it and we got two outs for some reason.
 
"That's the way baseball should be played. If it's a dirty slide, if it's a late slide, if a guy barrel rolls a guy, now that's a different discussion.
 
"Baseball's been played for 100 years the exact same way and now we're trying to change everything and make it soft."

[CUBS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]
 
This became the postgame focus on a day where the defending World Series champs had a Triple-A Iowa feel with Happ, Jeimer Candelario and Tommy La Stella batting second, fourth and fifth in the lineup while so many regulars got treatment in the training room.

In front of the largest crowd in Busch Stadium III history (47,882), the Cubs committed their 29th and 30th errors through 36 games and allowed their 25th unearned run this season. 
 
As Lester (1-2, 3.45 ERA) fell short of the rotation's 15th quality start in 2017, manager Joe Maddon pushed the wrong bullpen button with a runner on and two outs in the sixth inning. Pedro Strop gave up back-to-back hits to the bottom of the St. Louis lineup – Tommy Pham and Magneuris Sierra – and all of a sudden a two-run game became 5-1. That dulled the excitement in the seventh inning when Happ notched his first hit in The Show, crushing a Martinez slider 413 feet over the bullpen in right-center field for a two-run homer.  
 
When two beat writers asked the same question at the same time during the manager's postgame media session – What about the slide? The play at second? – Maddon talked uninterrupted for two minutes and 37 seconds (or 33 seconds longer than the replay review).
 
"I have no idea why these rules are a part of our game," Maddon said. "That had a tremendous impact on today's game where outs are awarded based on a fabricated rule. It is created under the umbrella of safety. I totally disagree that was a non-safe play.
 
"You slide directly over the bag and you're called out where there's no chance for a runner to be thrown out at first base. There was nothing egregiously dangerous on the part of our runner. Don't give me hyperbole and office-created rules, because I'm not into those things.
 
"When you're sliding on dirt and you have momentum, you just keep going. I'm sorry, you just keep going, and there was no malicious intent there whatsoever, so I don't think it breaks the intent of injury. It has nothing to do with injury. 
 
"The rule does not belong in the game. And I'm not blaming the umpires. The umpires do a great job. (Second base umpire) Mike (Everitt) did what he had to do – and I told him that. 
 
"There's a tremendous disconnect there. And…in general I think we have a tendency to micromanage stuff that we have no business attempting to do."
 
Maddon brought up The Buster Posey Rule and how ex-Cub Chris Coghlan "almost broke his neck" last month with a spectacular leap over Yadier Molina to avoid a collision.
 
"So don't give me all this protectionism injury stuff, because I'm not buying into it," Maddon said. "It's tough for the umpires to have them enforce rules (when) they know it's not part of the game. They know that the game was not intended to be manipulated, in a sense, where you lose based on a fabrication where we could have scored a run there and made the game entirely different. 
 
"But we're out where there's no play at first base whatsoever. None. So don't tell me that's protectionism. Don't tell me a middle infielder was protected. And don't tell me a middle infielder was in danger right there. None of that holds up.
 
"So I would like to see that rule ejected. I would like to see the rule at the plate ejected. They have no place in our game, because it's under false pretenses. 
 
"That was one out they did not have to earn and I totally, absolutely, unequivocally disagree with that, because it has nothing to do with safety and protecting the middle infielder."
 
Sitting at a desk, Maddon paused for a moment and looked up at the reporters crowded into the office: "Was that clear?"

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Do the Cubs need to make a deal?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Do the Cubs need to make a deal?

On this episode of SportsTalk Live, Fred Mitchell, Seth Gruen and Jason Goch join David Kaplan on the panel.

The Cubs bats come alive against the Giants while Theo says there have been plenty of trade rumors but no trade talks. Do the Cubs need to make a deal?

Plus, Ray Ratto joins Kap to talk about the Warriors struggles and the guys debate if LeBron is playing his final game in a Cavaliers uniform.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

The Cubs are ahead of the game in MLB's brand new world

The Cubs are ahead of the game in MLB's brand new world

"BINGO!"

Joe Maddon couldn't contain his glee as he was told there is actual scientific evidence that proves the Launch Angle Revolution has not had any impact on the uptick in homers over the last couple seasons.

The reason MLB players were hitting the ball into the bleachers more than ever before in 2017 was because of the way baseballs are made now, reducing the wind resistence and causing balls to carry more.

But all these players changing their swing path to get more lift on the ball? Not a thing for the group as a whole (h/t MLB.com):


But in analyzing Statcast™ data from the measurement tool's 2015 inception through 2017, the committee found no evidence that batter behavior, en masse, has been a contributing factor toward the homer surge. In fact, exit velocities decreased slightly from 2016 to 2017, spray angles from the time studied were stable and a small increase in launch angles was attributable primarily to, as the study refers to them, "players with lesser home run talents."

Basically, the long-ball surge was global, affecting players from all spectrums of homer-hitting ability and irrespective of their approach.

"Going into this, I thought that was going to be the magic bullet, the smoking gun," Nathan said. "But it wasn't."


Hence the "BINGO!" cry from Maddon, who has been very vocal in the fight against the Launch Angle Revolution this season.

The end result is the study will eventually lead to baseballs being returned to normal levels and a more uniform way of storing the balls moving forward. Thus, homers figure to eventually return to normal levels, too, and everybody who was caught up in the Launch Angle Revolution may be left behind.

It's the changing landscape of baseball and we've already seen the after-effects this year: April was the first month in MLB history where there were more strikeouts than basehits.

Why? Because strikeouts are a natural byproduct of the Launch Angle Revolution as players are swinging up on the ball more and sacrificing contact for power and lift.

That, coupled with an increase in velocity and higher usage of relievers, has led to more strikeouts.

It makes perfect sense — it's tougher for a player to try to catch up to 98+ mph at the top of the strike zone with an uppercut swing.

"It's one of those things that sounds good, but it doesn't help you," Maddon said of launch angle. "There's certain things that people really want to promote and talk about, but it doesn't matter. When a hitter's in the box, when you're trying to stare down 96 or a slider on the edge, the last thing you're thinking about is launch angle.

"Now when it comes to practice, you could not necessarily work on angles — your body works a certain way. Like I've said before, there's guys that might've been oppressively bad or they just had groundballs by rolling over the ball all the time So of course you may want to alter that to get that smothering kind of a swing out of him.

"But if you're trying to catch up to velocity, if you're trying to lay back and I could keep going on and on. It sounds good."

The idea of hitting the ball hard in the air has been around for decades in baseball, pretty much ever since Babe Ruth on some level. It just wasn't able to be quantified or accessed by the public as easily until Statcast came around and made it all mainstream.

The Cubs, however, have been anti-launch-angle to a degree this season. They let go of hitting coach John Mallee (who liked players to hit the ball in the air and pull it) and replaced him with Chili Davis (who teaches the full-field, line-drive approach).

The effects haven't yet yielded results in terms of consistently plating runs or having a better performance in the situational hitting column, but the contact rate is, in fact, up.

Here is the list of Cubs hitters who currently boast a career best mark in strikeout rate:

Kris Bryant
Javy Baez
Willson Contreras
Addison Russell
Jason Heyward
Kyle Schwarber

Even Ben Zobrist is very close to his career mark and Anthony Rizzo is right at his career line.

Some of that jump in contact rate can be attributed to natural development and maturation of young hitters, but the Cubs are buying into the new way of doing things and it's paying off.

It's also probably the way the game is going to shift, with an emphasis on contact going to become more important the less balls are flying out of the yard.

The Cubs have seen firsthand how to beat the best pitching in the postseason and they know that cutting down on strikeouts and "moving the baseball" (as Maddon likes to put it) can help manufacture runs in low-scoring, tight affairs in October.

Now science is supporting those theories and Major League Baseball teams will have to adjust. 

The Cubs, however, are at least a step ahead of the game.

It's a long game — the offensive strides will take time to fully take effect even for the Cubs, who are at least a full offseason and two months ahead of the curve in terms of bucking the Launch Angle Revolution.

Maddon concedes that launch angle is a cool stat to see on the video board after homers, but other than that, he doesn't see much of a use for it, pointing to Kyle Schwarber's laser-line-drive homers having the same effect as Kris Bryant's moonshots.

However, Maddon does believe there's a place for launch angle and exit velocity in the game, though mostly for front offices trying to acquire players (think "Moneyball").

"As a teaching tool, you either come equipped with or without," Maddon said. "It's like you buy a new car, you either got this or you don't. Sometimes you can add some things occasionally, but for the most part, this is what you are.

"I like inside the ball, top half of the ball, inner half of the ball, stay long throughout the ball, utilize the whole field. I still think that's the tried and true approach and I'm not stuck in the mud on this by any means.

"The harder pitchers throw the baseball, the more laying back is going to be less effective."