Cubs

This is nice for Cubs, but Jon Lester signed up to win World Series

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This is nice for Cubs, but Jon Lester signed up to win World Series

PITTSBURGH — This is why the Cubs gave Jon Lester $155 million guaranteed — to pitch in big games, give their young players more confidence/attitude and ultimately lead this team into October.

Lester took care of business in Tuesday night’s 2-1 Game 2 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates, salvaging a split of this huge doubleheader at PNC Park. He pumped his fist at the end of this complete-game performance — and then quickly came down from the emotional high by the time reporters surrounded his locker.

Sure, this is nice. The Cubs reduced their playoff magic number to 12 and stayed within four games of the Pirates for home-field advantage in the National League’s wild-card game. But Lester earned two championship rings with the Boston Red Sox, so in terms of expectations for the first season of this six-year deal megadeal ...

“When I signed here, I envisioned winning a World Series,” Lester said. “Not just playing September baseball. Hopefully, we can get to that point and we can talk about that a little more.”

[MORE CUBS: Scott Boras knows what 20 wins could mean for Cubs and Jake Arrieta]

That looks more realistic when the Cubs have Lester or Jake Arrieta on the mound, a 1-2 playoff punch that might be as good as any other combination in the game.

Manager Joe Maddon noticed Lester still throwing 94 mph in the eighth inning, and the lefty got Andrew McCutchen and Aramis Ramirez to swing at first pitches in the ninth for two quick outs. Lester froze Francisco Cervelli with a 94-mph fastball — his 111th pitch — to end the game with his ninth strikeout.

“This is what he does,” Maddon said. “He likes pitching in big games in the latter part of the season. It’s not a surprise.”

In the moment, the Cubs (83-61) needed Lester (10-10, 3.38 ERA) to give the bullpen a break and stop a three-game losing streak. Big picture, the franchise needed someone to anchor the rotation and set an example for being a professional and handling the big stage.

“(I) prepare the same way (for) an April start as I do in September or October,” Lester said. “If there’s a magic formula or whatever, I think everybody would try to share that with all your teammates. I don’t know. I always feel better the second half of the year, both with stuff and physically.”

[MORE CUBS: How Theo Epstein would fix the wild-card format]

Since Lester’s issues with throwing over to first baseman Anthony Rizzo and controlling the running game have been so publicized, it’s only fair to also mention that he initiated a 1-3-4-3 to pick off Starling Marte, ending the third inning.

“He picked himself off,” Lester said. “He tried to sneak one, and the infield did a good job (with) that rundown. He’s such a good athlete. He can turn and move and he’s fast.

“As far as other teams and all that stuff and all the other things that have gone on this year, I’m not too concerned about it. I’ll continue to try to vary my looks and holds.

"And I may surprise you guys one day with just like an Andy Pettitte move over there — and maybe surprise Rizz a little bit, too.”

Lester doesn’t appear to get defensive or too stressed out, and the Cubs also looked much sharper defensively in Game 2, whether it was Kris Bryant crashing into the right-field wall to make a leaping catch or shortstop Addison Russell gliding to his left and flipping the ball to Starlin Castro to start a key double play that limited the Pirates to one run in the seventh inning or Javier Baez seemingly getting to everything over at third base.

That’s what the Cubs will need if they return to this beautiful waterfront stadium on Oct. 7 in a win-or-else situation. Arrieta and Lester can take it from there.

Brandon Morrow ruled out for the year as Cubs dealt another big blow to bullpen

Brandon Morrow ruled out for the year as Cubs dealt another big blow to bullpen

Brandon Morrow won't be riding in to save the day for the Cubs bullpen this October.

Theo Epstein ruled the closer out for the year Tuesday evening, saying Morrow just couldn't make it all the way back from a bone bruise.

"Every time he pitched, it got worse," Epstein said, according to MLB.com's Carrie Muskat.

Morrow hasn't pitched since before the All-Star break while battling the bone bruise in his forearm.

The Cubs gave him as much time as possible to recover and then he tried to ramp up his rehab over the last couple weeks in an effort to make it back for the postseason. 

He threw off a mound twice last week and then faced live hitters in a sim game Saturday that supposedly went well with the hope of being activated either sometime this week in Arizona or over the weekend on the South Side for the Cubs-White Sox series.

This leaves the Cubs in a serious hole in the bullpen for October, a time when relievers become some of the most important players on the roster.

With Pedro Strop's hamstring injury he suffered last Thursday in Washington D.C., the Cubs are down their top two relief pitchers for the final two weeks of the regular season and will be down at least Morrow in the playoffs. 

Strop said Monday he hoped to be able to return to the Cubs over the final weekend of the regular season (Sept. 28-30), but there is still a lot up in the air with his timeline. 

The Cubs are now left with a bullpen that includes Steve Cishek, Justin Wilson, Carl Edwards Jr. and Jesse Chavez plus a bunch of question marks.

[RELATED — Jesse Chavez has emerged as the most important pitcher in Cubs bullpen]

Will Dillon Maples be able to carve out a role in the October bullpen? What about Jorge De La Rosa or Jaime Garcia? 

The next 13 days will be telling.

Morrow has a long history of injuries over his career - making only 91 appearances (21 starts) and pitching 180.1 innings over the last five seasons entering 2018. He emerged as a dynamic piece of the Dodgers bullpen last October and appeared in each game of the World Series against the Astros.

This is the second pitcher the Cubs have ruled out for the season with a bone bruise, as Yu Darvish also had to be shut down due to a bone bruise in his elbow. Darvish had a debridement procedure on his elbow last week and is supposed to be ready to go for spring training 2019.

Theo Epstein gets a little sassy in response to doubt about Cubs bullpen

Theo Epstein gets a little sassy in response to doubt about Cubs bullpen

Theo Epstein made it known to everyone that he believes in the Cubs bullpen and even shared some statistics with reports yesterday when asked about his club's lack of a true closer. 

The rest of Epstein's comments can be found here, but the Cubs President of Baseball Operations clearly has heard enough about the Cubs bullpen being doomed without Pedro Strop and Brandon Morrow, but that hasn't been the case. Since Strop injured his hamstring, the bullpen has thrown 9.2 scoreless innings and seen three different pitchers collect saves in Randy Rosario, Steve Cishek, and Jorge De La Rosa. 

And Epstein is right, the Cubs do own the best ERA among bullpens in the National League with a 3.30 ERA, Padres are in behind them at 3.52 ERA. However, if someone were to check Twitter about the state of the Cubs bullpen, it might seem like things are far worse than they really are. And while they may not have a true closer at the moment, and possibly longer with Brandon Morrow being shut down for the season, the Cubs are the best in baseball at keeping the ball in the park (0.79 HR/FB) and have the best opponent batting average in the National League. 

And when factoring in how many relievers in the bullpen have closing experience, the Cubs bullpen is in better shape than most despite suffering injuries in the second half to their two main closing options in Strop and Morrow. So, for Theo Epstein's sake, stop worrying about the bullpen because the Cubs certainly are not.