Make your own luck: Jon Lester dominant in first Cubs victory


Make your own luck: Jon Lester dominant in first Cubs victory

This is what the Cubs are paying Jon Lester for.

After four rocky starts to begin the 2015 season, the $155 million pitcher flashed his dominance Friday, hurling seven shutout innings to pick up his first Chicago win as the Cubs beat the Brewers, 1-0, in front of 31,128 fans at Wrigley Field.

"This is a big day for me personally," Lester said. "It always goes back to your first start in spring training, your first start of the season, when you get that first 'W.' Obviously, we would have liked to have had that happen a while ago, but that's not the case."

Lester needed only 90 pitches to get through his seven innings, allowing three hits and a walk while striking out four. He set down 15 of the last 16 batters he faced, lowering his ERA from 6.23 to 4.71 in the process.

"It just keeps getting better," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "It's going to keep getting better, too."

[MORE - MLB Commissioner, Cubs like seeing Wrigley Field's progress]

This was more like the Jon Lester with a 3.62 ERA and 116 victories over his nine-year career.

"A little crisper, ball was coming out really good," catcher David Ross said. "He had a good fastball, some late velocity behind it. Stuff was a lot sharper. I thought he was WAY back to being the Jon that I know and the guy that I'm used to. It's good for the Cubs."

Ross - who became Lester's personal catcher when the two were in Boston - said he believes this is the Jon Lester Cubs fans are going to get most of the time when he's on the mound.

Ross also felt Lester may have been pressing a bit with the pressure that came with the enormous contract.

"I envy his bank account, not the expectations that come along with that," Ross deadpanned. "It's human nature and you want to go out there and prove every last penny of that. But that's impossible, so I think as a catcher, I'm excited about what I saw today."

Lester endured a dead arm period in spring training that threw him off a bit and admits he was not executing to the degree he's become accustomed to in his first four starts with the Cubs.

At the same time, Lester was a bit unlucky, with a .424 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) against him in those four starts, which was well above league average. Lester's FIP (fielding independent pitching) was also 2.27 - a far cry from his 6.23 ERA - which is another indicator that he was getting unlucky.

Only, Lester doesn't look at it like he was "due."

"I think luck is what you make of it," he said. "It comes down to pitching better, executing better and you make your own luck at the end of the day."

Even with the victory, Lester's mindset hasn't changed. It's still all about "the next one" and not getting complacent.

"Today's a big day," he said. "We'll celebrate this and have some fun with it, but tomorrow, it's back to work and look forward to the next one."

[SHOP CUBS: Get a Jon Lester jersey right here]

Addison Russell supplied the only offense the Cubs needed, depositing his first big league homer into the new left-field bleachers in the third inning.

The Cubs collected eight hits but ran into three outs on the basepaths, including two at third base when Cubs runners tried to stretch from first to third on base hits. Maddon said after the game he had no issues with the Cubs' aggressiveness on the basepaths.

Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon preserved the win for Lester by combining for four strikeouts over the final two innings.

Report: People around baseball believe Joe Girardi is waiting for managerial job with Cubs or White Sox


Report: People around baseball believe Joe Girardi is waiting for managerial job with Cubs or White Sox

Joe Girardi won't be the manager of the Cincinnati Reds in 2019, perhaps because he has hopes of landing a gig in Chicago.

According to Fancred's Jon Heyman, Girardi was in the running for the Reds' managerial job (which went to former Cubs third-base coach David Bell this weekend) but pulled himself out, this after interviewing for but not getting the same position with the Texas Rangers. Heyman cites "industry speculation" that Girardi might want to remain a free agent so he can land the job of skipper in Chicago.

Heyman is of course not specific, listing a city with two major league teams, leaving this open for interpretation as either the Cubs or the White Sox.

Obviously Girardi has a history on the North Side. He had two stints there as a player, from 1989 to 1992 and again from 2000 to 2002. Joe Maddon has one year remaining on his contract, and Cubs president Theo Epstein said during his end-of-season press conference that the team has not had discussions with Maddon about an extension. After managing the New York Yankees to their most recent World Series championship in 2009, Girardi might again want a crack at managing a big-market contender.

But if Girardi is simply itching to get back to his home state — he was born in Peoria and graduated from Northwestern — perhaps he has the White Sox on his wish list, too. Rick Renteria has one year remaining on his current contract, as well, and should the rebuilding White Sox see all their young talent turn into the contender they've planned, the manager of such a team would be an attractive position to hold.

But just because folks believe Girardi wants to manage in Chicago doesn't mean there'd be mutual interest. Despite Epstein's comments that there have been no extension talks with Maddon, the president of baseball operations also backed his manager in that same press conference, refusing to blame Maddon for the team's "broken" offense down the stretch last month. And Rick Hahn and the rest of White Sox brass heap frequent praise on the job Renteria has done in his two years, describing him as an important part of player development and of establishing a culture hoped to spread throughout the organization.

Plus, it's worth mentioning that Girardi's decade-long tenure in the Bronx came to an end amid suggestion that he was unable to connect with his young players. It's unknown how much of a realistic concern that would be for any team thinking about hiring him. But the recently fired Chili Davis believed that very issue was part of the reason his time as the Cubs' hitting coach came to an end. And there are few teams out there younger than the White Sox.

Again, it's just speculation for now. But if for some reason one or both Chicago teams don't hand out new contracts to their current managers, perhaps Girardi would be interested in an opening on either side of town.

Glanville: Fall to Spring - A player’s offseason changes meaning with each changing season

Glanville: Fall to Spring - A player’s offseason changes meaning with each changing season

A few weeks after we (the Cubs) were eliminated from the 2003 playoffs, I got a phone call from my college professor. Since it was officially the offseason, I was in the early stages of a break from following a pocket schedule to tell me where to be every day for nearly eight months.

But this was a man I could not refuse. I chose my college major to go into his field of transportation engineering and he was calling because he needed a teaching assistant to accompany him on his trip to South Africa.

One minute, I could barely move off of my couch in my Chicago apartment after losing Game 7 against the Marlins. The next minute, I would be standing within miles of the Southern most point in Africa at the Cape of Good Hope. Why not? I needed the distraction so I agreed to go.

The offseason is its own transition. Leaving the regimen of routine, of batting practice and bus times, to an open ended world that you have to re-learn again. When I finished my first full major league season in 1997, I lived in Streeterville at the Navy Pier Apartments.

That offseason, I decided to stay an extra month in Chicago only to wake up panicked for the first two weeks because I thought I was missing stretch time for a home day game. A major league schedule becomes etched in your DNA after a while.

It is also a time that you get to reflect. The regular season does not give you a moment to really get perspective on what was just accomplished, what it all means, what you would change. I always joked about the T-shirt I wanted to a sell that listed all of the things a major league player figures out during the off-season. From the perfect swing to the ex-girlfriend you need to un-break-up with next week.

It all becomes so clear when a 96 MPH fastball isn’t coming at you.

For years, I would arrange a training program to follow, but I quickly learned that I had to mix it up. There was only so much repetition I could stand in the off-season. So some years, I moved to the site of spring training and worked out early with the staff, other years I found a spot at home where I grew up or wherever I played during the season, to train.

I was single when I played, but now with a family, I have a better understanding of the challenges my teammates would express as they were re-engaging as a daily father again after this long absentee existence.

To keep it fresh and spicy, when I got older in the game, I enrolled in a dance studio and took a winter of dance lessons. Salsa, Foxtrot, Rumba, you name it. On Thursdays we had to dance for an hour straight, changing partners in the room every song change. Dancing with the Stars had nothing on me.

Of course, not every offseason is fun and games. There were years when I wasn’t sure I would have a job the next year, or I was in the throes of a trade rumor. In 1997, I was traded from the Cubs to the Phillies two days before Christmas. In 2002, my father passed away on the last game of the season, leading the offseason to be a time of mourning.

By my final season in 2005, I thought I was officially on my couch forever. I was going to fade away into oblivion like many players do. No fanfare, the phone just would stop ringing and I would just let the silence wash over me. The Yankees had called earlier in that off-season, acting like they were doing me a favor which I turned down, then they called back later with a more open tone, seeing me as a potential key piece in their outfield with Bernie Williams slowing down quite a bit at that point.

I did get off that couch for that call, only to get released the last week of camp, so I was back on the couch, with a fiancé and some extra salt in the wounds after that final meeting with Brian Cashman and Joe Torre, who boxed me into the coaches office to tell me I was released. Released? Come on. Never had that happen before.

The Cubs players will go through all of this if they have the good fortune of playing a long time. The wave of uncertainty, the meaning of age in this game spares no one. Each offseason is a time to reset, a period where you get away, seemingly adrift from the game, then as spring gets closer, the shoreline comes up in the horizon once again, magnetically drawing you to its shores for another season.

Amazingly, you don’t always know your age and what it has done to your body. 34 can’t be that old, right? I can still run, or throw 95. Then those 23-year-olds in camp are the wake up call, or maybe you are that 23-year-old and can’t believe your locker is next to Ryne Sandberg’s.

Then you blink, and you are advising Jimmy Rollins about etiquette and realize you have become that guy, the seasoned vet, preaching about locker room respect.

For the 2018 Cubs, they fell short of their goal to repeat their 2016 magic. Failed to meet their singular destination that meant success over all else. Yet, those who come back for 2019, will not be the same player, the same person, that left the locker room at the close this season. They will have grown, changed, aged, wizened up, rehabbed, hardened. All of which means that new perspective is the inevitable part of this time off, whether you like it or not.

Baseball is a game that has this unique dynamic. The highest intensity rhythm of any sport. Every day you are tested. You are pushed to the brink by sheer attrition. According to my teammate Ed Smith, who was playing third base at the time when Michael Jordan reached third, Jordan, after playing well over 100 games in a row, said to him “Man, I have never been this tired in my entire life.”

The grind.

Then it stops on a dime. Season over. Only on baseball’s terms.

But you may be granted another spring. Another crack at it. Until one day, the baseball winter never ends and its time for you to plant your own spring.