Lester thinks Cubs will give Cardinals a run for their money


Lester thinks Cubs will give Cardinals a run for their money

ST. LOUIS – This is why the Cubs gave Jon Lester six years and $155 million guaranteed: To beat the best team in baseball – the franchise’s biggest rival – and transform this group into the kind of contender they watch here seemingly every October.

These are the benefits that come with having an ace: Boosting clubhouse confidence, giving a beat-up bullpen a break and stopping the four-game losing streak.

This definitely wasn’t one of Joe Maddon’s oil paintings, and the degree of difficulty became higher than it probably needed to be. But the Cubs still hung on for a 6-5 win over the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday night at Busch Stadium.

Lester beat St. Louis twice during the 2013 World Series to win his second ring with the Boston Red Sox. So he’s not going to concede anything, even with the Cubs (14-12) in the middle of their youth movement and the Cardinals (20-7) jumping out to a 5.5-game lead in the National League Central.

“It’s May – we got a long ways to go,” said Lester, who went seven innings, giving up four runs (one earned). “They’re obviously a very, very good team, a team that’s built on a history of winning. They’ve got a certain way they go about things. We got to find our way. This team hasn’t done anything. We got a bunch of talent. But that doesn’t get you anywhere.

“We got to keep grinding it out and keep playing these guys tough. We’ve been in every game that we’ve played these guys. It’s not like we’re coming in here and getting our butts kicked.

“You play 162 for a reason. We’ll keep doing what we’ve been doing and see where we’re at – at the end.”

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Lester finished April at 0-2 with a 6.23 ERA but has notched two wins within the first week of May, chopping that ERA down to 4.04. If the All-Star lefty sharpens his cutter and really gets rolling, maybe this team will take off this summer.

“We can play with these guys,” Maddon said. “Head-to-head, I like it. Not a little bit. A lot. … I really believe that. We need more experience. We need a little bit more salt and pepper, a little oregano.

“We have to do a better job once you get on top of making pitches – and being more assertive – and the kind of things that take you to that level. But purely when it comes man-for-man, I’m good right now. I feel good about it.”

Lester walked up the dugout steps at 7:32 p.m. and jogged out to the mound with a 2-0 lead before he threw his first pitch. But the Cardinals are relentless, capitalizing on mistakes and creating their own sense of momentum. Lester couldn’t handle a throw from Anthony Rizzo while covering first base in the second inning, and that led to one unearned run.

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Cubs fans must have been feeling like here we go again: With two outs in the sixth inning, Jhonny Peralta hit a sinking line drive that went underneath Addison Russell’s glove and through his legs for an “E4” that led to two more unearned runs.

But Lester ended that second-and-third threat by striking out pinch-hitter Matt Adams swinging. And Lester pumped his fist after freezing Mark Reynolds with a 92 mph fastball to end the seventh inning, leaving the potential game-tying run stranded at second base.

The Cubs survived, with Pedro Strop needing a double-play ball to escape an eighth-inning jam with only one run scoring. And Hector Rondon putting runners on the corners in the ninth before getting his sixth save. But you definitely notice a team with a lot more nerve this season, and that should start with Lester.

“We haven’t been playing all that great,” Lester said. “We’ve had our chances and everybody knows that. But (it’s being) able to separate it and just go play a game. Yesterday was yesterday and we’re going to worry about today. For the most part, I feel like these guys have done a great job of that this year. You worry about the task at hand.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: It's so good to be with the Director of Morale

USA Today

Cubs Talk Podcast: It's so good to be with the Director of Morale

Luke Stuckmeyer and producer Eric Strobel welcome Frederic, aka the Cubs' unofficial Director of Morale. Fred takes us through the origins and growth of his fandom and social media persona (1:30), before discussing how Jake Arrieta's dominance announced the Cubs as contenders (7:30) and the now-ubiquitous hard hats in the bleachers (16:00). Finally, Fred and the guys talk about this year's team, including the lack of strikeout stuff on the pitching staff (22:30) and the unicorn that is Javy Baez (30:00). 

You can listen to the entire thing right here or in the embedded player below:

Cubs map out next steps for closer Craig Kimbrel

Cubs map out next steps for closer Craig Kimbrel

Craig Kimbrel is one step closer to joining the Cubs bullpen.

According to Patrick Mooney of The Athletic, Kimbrel will join Triple-A Iowa and make his first appearance on Tuesday, against the Sacramento River Cats.

While the Cubs officially signed him on June 7, Kimbrel has yet to pitch in actual games. The 31-year-old has been in a condensed spring training program at the Cubs' Arizona complex, throwing live batting practice on both Thursday and Saturday.

The Cubs haven't revealed an official timeline for Kimbrel to join the 25-man roster, as they are basing things off of how he feels. The expectation is he will pitch in about five games with Iowa before joining the Cubs. However, both Theo Epstein and Kimbrel acknowledged how the goal isn't to rush the closer back into MLB action.

"We're not gonna rush it," Epstein said. "It's gonna be tempting to get him here as soon as possible, but we're trying to plan this thing the right way so that he could be in a position to succeed not just immediately but in October. That's gonna be our guiding principle as we go."

"We sat down and put a gameplan together — something to work off of," Kimbrel said. "But at the end of the day, it's based off how I recover, how I get ready. This isn't about getting back on the field as fast as I can. This is about being the best that I can be in October and down the stretch and doing what I came here to do for this team."

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