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."

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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?"

What the Cubs can learn from the 2019 MLB postseason so far

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USA TODAY

What the Cubs can learn from the 2019 MLB postseason so far

For the 10 teams that qualify for MLB’s postseason, October represents a chance to climb baseball’s mountain and secure a championship. For the 20 other teams sitting at home, though, October is a chance to evaluate those in the Big Dance.

Less than two weeks into the postseason, here’s some things that the Cubs can take away from the action thus far.

1. Starting pitching matters

With bullpens being relied on more than ever, starting pitchers aren’t used the same way as just a few seasons ago. The Brewers rode their bullpen all the way to Game 7 of the NLCS last season, while the Rays used an “opener” (a reliever who starts a game and pitches 1-3 innings) in Game 4 of the ALDS this season – beating the Astros 4-1.

And yet, the Astros and Nationals are proving how important it is to have a difference-making rotation. The bullpening method can work, but being able to throw Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Zack Greinke at an opponent in a single postseason series is downright unfair.

The Nationals have Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin in their rotation, as formidable of a trio as any in the National League. They also have Anibal Sánchez, who took a no-hitter into the eighth inning of Game 1 of the NLCS against the Cardinals on Friday. No big deal...

And despite getting eliminated, the Rays — Blake Snell, Tyler Glasnow, Charlie Morton — and Dodgers — Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler and Hyun-Jin Ryu — have talented rotations, as do the Cardinals and Yankees.

Meanwhile, the Cubs rotation didn’t have as big of an impact this season as they expected, a contributing factor to the team not making it to October.

“We had really high hopes for our starting group this year," Theo Epstein said at his end-of-season press conference. "You looked at it 1-through-5, we had a chance to roll out a really quality starter on a nightly basis, and that might be an area that was a separator for us versus some of the teams we were competing with. While we had a couple guys who had really good years and all our starters had their moments, it didn't prove to be a separator.

"There was some injury and regression (especially after injury) that led us to be closer to the pack certainly than we had envisioned. It’s an accomplished and experienced group, but with experience means that we could stand to add some younger talent, refresh the group as well. We certainly need to add depth and we need to add some youth and a little bit of a different look to the staff, as well, going forward.”

Yu Darvish, Kyle Hendricks and Jon Lester are under contract for 2020, while Jose Quintana has an $11.5 team option. The Cubs don’t have an Astros or Nationals-esque trio, but their rotation can still be good enough to lead the charge in 2020. They’ll need them to do just that if they are to return to the top of the NL Central.

2. Manager decision-making is far more important in October than regular season

The Dodgers’ season came to an abrupt close in Game 5 of the NLDS, with manager Dave Roberts being smack dab in the spotlight.

With the Dodgers leading 3-1 in the seventh inning, Roberts called Clayton Kershaw’s number to get Los Angeles out of a two on, two out jam. Kershaw did just that, but the Nationals opened the eighth with home runs from Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto (on consecutive pitches) to tie the game.

Kershaw is one of the best pitchers in his generation, a three-time Cy Young Award winner and one-time NL MVP. However, his postseason woes are real (4.43 ERA, 32 games/25 starts), and therefore, Roberts made a questionable decision going with Kershaw in that moment. 

Where was Kenta Maeda to face Rendon? Maeda had allowed just a single hit in 3 2/3 innings at this point in the postseason. He took over for Kershaw after Soto’s home run, striking out three-straight Dodgers to end the eighth. 

Roberts also didn't bring in closer Kenley Jansen to start the 10th inning, when the game was still tied 3-3. Instead, he left in Joe Kelly, who allowed a decisive grand slam to Howie Kendrick. Only then did Jansen come in, but the damage was done. Not bringing in your closer in an extra-inning postseason game is inexcusable, and while it may be outcome bias, this game proves why.

Roberts has 393 wins in four seasons as Dodgers manager, leading them to World Series appearances in 2017 and 2018. Even with that experience, though, he made a bad decision at a terrible time. The postseason is a different animal, not only for players, but the coaches in the dugouts, too.

Of the known candidates the Cubs have interviewed for manager — David Ross, Joe Girardi, Mark Loretta and Will Venable — only Girardi has big-league managing experience. And while Epstein noted at his press conference that it isn’t everything, he added that experience is important.

"Lack of experience - and I'm speaking broadly for the group, not necessarily [about Ross] - is always a factor,” Epstein said. “It's not a determining factor, but it's a significant factor. I always have greater comfort level hiring for roles in which the person has done the role before. Especially with manager.

“But I think there are ways for that to be overcome - there are a lot of different ways to get experience in this game - beliefs, skills, personal attributes, those can outweigh a lack of experience, but experience certainly helps.”

3. Winning in the postseason is tough

After the Cubs won the World Series in 2016, there was a feeling that baseball’s next dynasty was underway. After all, the Cubs had a talented, young position player group that reached the promised land early in their time together. It made sense.

Those talks have died down, of course, as the Cubs haven’t even appeared in the World Series since 2016. And while they've had plenty of success since 2015, it feels like they could’ve had more.

The thing about baseball, though, is that it’s extremely hard to sustain those high levels of success. A few teams (Red Sox, Cardinals, Giants) have won multiple World Series this century, none have repeated as champions since the Yankees, who won three-straight from 1998-2000.

The Twins won 101 games this season and were swept out of the ALDS. The Braves won 97, only to lose Game 5 of the NLDS in brutal fashion at home to the Cardinals.

The Dodgers made it to the World Series in 2017 and 2018 and came up empty both times. They won 106 games this season, a franchise record, only to be eliminated in the NLDS by the Nationals — a Wild Card team, nonetheless.

Does that make last few seasons even more frustrating for the Cubs and their fans? Probably. October is a crapshoot, meaning as long as a team gets in, they have a shot at winning it all, no matter their record.

At the same time, the Cubs made things look easy in 2016. They had brilliant injury luck, a historic defense, a deep position player group, a loaded starting rotation and the right manager for their young core. Even so, it took erasing a 3-to-1 series deficit against the Indians to win it all, not to mention a dramatic Game 7 win that nearly didn’t go their way.

This isn’t an excuse for the Cubs shortcomings in 2019, but merely a reminder: they won the 2016 World Series, and that's no small feat. This offseason offers the chance to improve as a team for 2020, when they’ll set out to win again.

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Cubs Talk Podcast: Kap breaks down the Cubs managerial search

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USA Today

Cubs Talk Podcast: Kap breaks down the Cubs managerial search

David Kaplan shares his thoughts on the Cubs, the decision to move on from Joe Maddon (0:50), the process in hiring a new manager (2:40), and who should be in the dugout next season (4:05).

Listen here or in the embedded player below. 

Cubs Talk Podcast

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