Cubs

Reds acquire starter Latos from Padres

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Reds acquire starter Latos from Padres

Cincinnati has acquired starter Mat Latos from the San Diego Padres in exchange for prospects Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal and Brad Boxberger along with starter Edinson Volquez, according to FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal.

Latos, 24, is under team control through 2015. Over the last two seasons, he owns a 3.21 ERA with 374 strikeouts, 112 walks and 32 home runs allowed -- certainly encouraging numbers for someone going from a pitcher's park in San Diego to a hitter-friendly one in Cincinnati. That high-strikeout, low-walk success Latos has had will play anywhere, not just at Petco Park.

In four career starts against the Cubs, Latos has struck out 30, walked eight and allowed one home run with an ERA of 3.47. Over those 23 13 innings, Cubs hitters have just a .659 OPS.

The biggest knock on Latos is that he hasn't shown the kind of durability teams would like to see out of an ace. He's never thrown over 200 innings in a season and has only averaged about six innings per start in the last two seasons.

Regardless, only Pittsburgh and Houston had a lower cumulative pitching staff WAR than Cincinnati in 2011. This is a major upgrade for the Reds, to say the least.

The Reds gave up a ton in this trade -- Alonso was blocked by Joey Votto, so he's not a major loss, but Grandal is a big-time catching prospect while Boxberger, a reliever, has posted some gaudy strikeout numbers in the minors.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Kyle Schwarber puts on a show in Home Run Derby

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Kyle Schwarber puts on a show in Home Run Derby

Jon Greenberg, Rich Campbell and Kevin Fishbain join Luke on the panel.  Kyle Schwarber puts up the good fight in the Home Run Derby. Meanwhile, which Chicago All-Star will have a breakout performance on the national stage?

Plus Rich Campbell discusses why Roquan Smith’s deal may not get done before the Bears’ first practice in Bourbonnais.

Cubs' starting pitching a reasonable discussion topic, but Jon Lester's no fan of 'nitpicking' this first-place team

Cubs' starting pitching a reasonable discussion topic, but Jon Lester's no fan of 'nitpicking' this first-place team

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Cubs are in first place, they own the best record in the National League at the All-Star break and remain as much a World Series contender as any team out there.

But things are never 100 percent rainbows and lollipops for a team with this high a profile.

No, instead of a simple thumbs up from fans and observers, a pat on the back and a “job well done,” there’s been quite a bit of focus on what’s not going well for the North Siders. Mostly, that’s meant starting pitching, as four of the team’s five Opening Day starters owns an ERA north of 3.90.

If all you’ve heard this season is “What’s wrong with Yu Darvish? What’s wrong with Jose Quintana? What’s wrong with Kyle Hendricks? What’s wrong with Tyler Chatwood?” you might think the Cubs are woefully underachieving. Instead, they’re 55-38, a first-half record not far off from what they owned at the break back in 2016, a season that ended in a curse-smashing World Series championship.

The lone Cubs starting pitcher at the All-Star Game, Jon Lester, isn’t happy with what he calls the “nitpicking” that’s come with the Cubs’ otherwise excellent start to the season.

“We’re kind of pulling at hairs,” he said before the Midsummer Classic on Tuesday night. “We’re splitting hairs right now as far as things that we’re looking for negatively on our team. And that can kind of rub wrong in the clubhouse as far as guys looking around going, ‘Wait a second, we’re doing pretty good and we’re getting nitpicked right now.’

“I don’t like nitpicking. So I feel like we’ve been doing really well and just stay with the positives of everything that we’ve been playing really good baseball.”

Lester’s got a point, though at the same time it’s an understandable discussion topic: If the Cubs aren’t getting consistent results from four of their five starting pitchers, what kind of effect will that have in a playoff series? There’s a long way to go before things get to that point, but Cubs players made their own expectations known back in spring training: It’s World Series or bust for these North Siders.

Lester has been phenomenal, unquestionably worthy of his fifth All-Star selection. He posted a 2.98 ERA in 19 first-half starts. But the rest of the rotation wasn’t nearly as pretty. Hendricks finished his first half with a 3.92 ERA, Quintana with a 3.96 ERA, Chatwood with a 5.04 ERA and Darvish, who made only eight starts before going on a seemingly never-ending DL stint, with a 4.95 ERA. Mike Montgomery, who’s made nine starts, has a 3.91 ERA overall and a 3.20 ERA as a starter.

None of that’s exactly end-of-the-world bad, and there are plenty of pitching staffs across baseball that would probably make a trade for those numbers in a heartbeat. But is it the elite, best-rotation-in-baseball type stuff that so many projected for this team before the season started? Of course not. And Lester knows it. He, like team president Theo Epstein, just looks at that fact a little differently than the fans and observers who are so quick to push the panic button.

“Can we pitch better? Absolutely. As a collective unit, yeah we can. And that’s a positive,” Lester said. “I think guys are ready for runs. You kind of saw Kyle put together a couple starts there where he’s back to being Kyle. Q’s been throwing the ball pretty well for us.

“I think this break will do Chatwood a lot of good. This is a guy, he’s pounding his head against the wall, beginning of the season he wasn’t giving up any runs but everybody’s talking about walks. I look at the runs, I don’t care about the walks.

“We get these guys back to relaxing and being themselves, we’ll be fine. Our bullpen’s been great, our defense has been great. Offense is going to come and go, as we’ve seen in the game. As starters, we’ve got to keep our guys in the game the best we can, at the end of the day our bullpen and our defense is going to pick us up.”

The fretting will likely never end unless the Cubs have five starters throwing at an All-Star level, that's just the way things go. Something’s got to fill all that time on sports radio, after all, and for a team with postseason expectations, it’s perfectly reasonable to talk about how they might fare in the postseason, where those starting-pitching inconsistencies will most definitely come into play.

But Tuesday night, Cubs fans will see three players representing their club. Lester will be a happy observer with one of the best seats in the house, and Javy Baez and Willson Contreras will deservedly start among the best in the game. And they’ll have bragging rights over all their NL teammates because nitpicking or not, they’ve got the best record in the league.