Cubs

Messing with Jon Lester gets Dodgers nowhere as Cubs move closer to World Series

Messing with Jon Lester gets Dodgers nowhere as Cubs move closer to World Series

LOS ANGELES – This isn’t some WikiLeaks bombshell: Jon Lester has the yips. It must be in every scouting report by now, the reminder to get inside his head and make him feel uncomfortable, forcing him to field his position, throw to first base and become distracted with the running game.  

It’s not a secret, since the Cubs have openly answered those questions for the last two years, a timeframe that has seen the beginning of Lester’s $155 million megadeal and back-to-back trips to the National League Championship Series. 

It’s just so much easier said than done. The Los Angeles Dodgers got cute and tried to toy with Lester, and now they are one loss away from going home for the winter and wondering how good they could have been with another No. 1 starter to pair with Clayton Kershaw.  

Lester did not look like someone you would want to mess with on Thursday night at Dodger Stadium, channeling all that adrenaline into an 8-4 victory that gave the Cubs a 3-2 lead in this NLCS. A big Game 5 performance means the Cubs could clinch their first NL pennant in 71 years by beating Kershaw on Saturday night at Wrigley Field, which would set up an irresistible World Series matchup against the Cleveland Indians.  

“I play this game with emotion,” Lester said. “And if it rubs people the wrong way, oh well.”

A Dodgers team that can’t handle left-handed pitching (major-league-worst .622 OPS during the regular season) didn’t have any other answers for Lester, who unloaded 108 pitches and allowed only one run across seven intense innings.

Lester’s first inning began with his only walk, throwing four straight balls to Kike Hernandez, who showed bunt and then danced and hopped off first base. Hernandez never scored and the diversionary tactics simply didn’t work.

“It is what it is,” Lester said. “People have been doing it all year. I’d prefer Adrian Gonzalez and Joc Pederson to try to bunt. They’re home-run guys. They hit 30 homers, so I’d rather them put the ball on the ground and let these guys try to field it and take my chances that way.”

Lester didn’t let one of his infielders grab the ball Pederson bunted toward the left side of the mound, making a one-hop throw to first base to end the second inning. Lester looked back at the home dugout and gave the Dodgers a death stare.

When Lester felt like he got squeezed and finally struck out Corey Seager swinging to end the third inning, he screamed, flexed his muscles and glared at umpire Alfonso Marquez behind the plate.

The Dodgers did manufacture a run in the fourth inning with Howie Kendrick’s double down the left-field line, headfirst slide to steal third base (verified on replay review) and a Gonzalez groundball. But the Cubs have so many ways to counteract anyone thinking about exploiting that weakness, from Lester’s quick delivery to personal catcher David Ross to changing tempos to the explosive stuff that made a Cy Young Award contender this year. 

“They’re trying to find a way to beat one of the best pitchers in the game, and I don’t blame ‘em for that,” Ross said. “They were trying to rattle him a little bit. We’ve dealt with that all year, so it’s nothing new. 

“I want them to bunt. I want them to give us free outs. That’s fine. We have great athletes in the infield. Guys are ready for it.

“Every out matters in the playoffs, every pitch matters. And so you give one away, that’s one you’re not getting back.”

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

There is also something about October that brings out the best in Lester, a money player who’s allowed two runs in 13 innings during this NLCS, to go along with his 1-0 win over Johnny Cueto and the San Francisco Giants in the divisional round.  

Lester (.064 career batting average) even did an over-the-top bat flip after flying out to left field in the seventh inning, moments after NLCS LVP Joe Blanton gave up the go-ahead, two-run homer to Addison Russell, one of the dynamic young talents Theo Epstein’s baseball-operations group once sold the big-name free agent.

The Cubs caught fire last year and won 97 games, but 2016 was really supposed to be The Year where The Plan came together. When Lester made his recruiting trip to Chicago to check out a last-place team just before Thanksgiving 2014, he kept telling Epstein: “They’re going to burn this city down again when we win the World Series.”

Lester missed being on that 2004 team that forever changed the Boston Red Sox by two years, earning World Series rings in 2007 and 2013. Now the Cubs are on the verge of making history – and there will be no running from that. 

Javy Baez is now the face of baseball

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USA TODAY

Javy Baez is now the face of baseball

Javy Baez is one step closer to becoming the unquestioned face of Major League Baseball.

For the next year, El Mago will be the cover boy for video-game-playing baseball fans, as Baez announced on his Twitter Monday morning he is gracing the cover of MLB The Show 2020:

On the even of Game 1 of the World Series, Playstation released a video depicting why they chose Baez as the new face of the game:

Last year's cover featured Bryce Harper, announced before he even signed with the Phillies. 

Baez also joins the likes of Aaron Judge, Ken Griffey Jr., Chipper Jones, Barry Bonds and David Ortiz as cover athletes for the PS4 game.

The 26-year-old Baez has become one of the most recognizable figures in the game, playing with a flair and swag that includes mind-bending baserunning maneuvers and impossible defensive plays. 

Case in point:

Baez missed the final month of the 2019 season with a fractured thumb, but still put up 29 homers and 85 RBI while ranking second on the team in WAR. In 2018, he finished second in NL MVP voting while leading the league in RBI (111) and topping the Cubs in most offensive categories. 

Theo Epstein said he never deems any player as "untouchable," but Baez is about as close as it gets for this Cubs team right now. He made the switch to shortstop full time this year and wound up with elite defensive numbers to go along with his fearsome offense and an attitude and mindset the rest of the Cubs hope to emulate.

Willson Contreras commissions heart-warming painting commemorating his relationship with Joe Maddon

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USA Today

Willson Contreras commissions heart-warming painting commemorating his relationship with Joe Maddon

Joe Maddon’s time with the Cubs may be over, but the memories made in his five years on the North Side will live on in Chicago sports lore forever. No matter how frustratingly his tenure may have ended, the outpouring of support and appreciation from management, fans and players alike throughout the process of Maddon’s departure are evidence of that.

“I love him like a dad,” Anthony Rizzo said

“I personally never could have imagined having such a wonderful partner,” Theo Epstein later added, standing beside Maddon as they delivered joint reflections on the end of the era.

Maddon touched the lives of so many within the organization and without in his time with the Cubs, but not many more so than catcher Willson Contreras, who burst onto the scene as one of the best young sluggers in baseball under Maddon’s guidance. Maddon — a catcher himself in his short time as a player — never shied away from criticizing Contreras in times he thought it earned, but it’s clear that the two forged a real bond over the last four years. 

Sunday afternoon, artist Austin Ploch revealed that Contreras reached out to him shortly after the end of the 2019 season to commission this heart-warming piece, commemorating the mutual respect and adoration between mentor and pupil:

The painting is derived from a photo of the two that Contreras posted to his Instagram account after it was officially announced that Maddon would not return as the Cubs manager:

Ploch has commissioned work for Contreras before, but now Willson will have a tangible memento to remember his first manager (along with his 2016 World Series ring). We’re not crying, you’re crying.

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