Cubs

Scherzer out-duels Lester as Cubs fall to Nationals

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Scherzer out-duels Lester as Cubs fall to Nationals

The $355 million pitching matchup was exactly as advertised, but Max Scherzer walked away the winner, outdueling Jon Lester.

Scherzer struck out 13 Cubs in seven shutout innings as the Nationals (28-19) beat the Cubs 3-0 in front of 34,215 fans at Wrigley Field Wednesday night.

Lester was stellar in his own right, striking out 10 in seven innings, allowing only a Bryce Harper home run in the sixth and an unearned run in the fourth.

It was the first time the Cubs (25-21) had been involved in a game where both starting pitchers notched at least 10 strikeouts since April 2007.

"It was good. Obviously Max threw the ball just a little bit better than I did," Lester said. "It was fun, though. Obviously we lost and that's not the ultimate goal, but if you're a pitcher or a purist of the game and like watching pitching matchups, that was fun tonight.

"That was what it kinda lived up to be. I made one mistake. When you're going against a guy like him, you can't make any. Unfortunately, we weren't able to beat him down at all and get him out of that game early, but I feel like guys had some pretty good at-bats. He's just really good."

[MORE: Starlin Castro leaves Cubs with questions to answer at shortstop]

Scherzer is out to a ridiculous start with his new team, allowing more than one earned run in just two of his 10 starts. His road ERA is a stunning 0.79 mark in five starts (34 innings) away from the nation's capital.

Lester has been on a hot streak in his own right.

After starting the season with a 6.23 ERA through his first four starts, Lester has become a different pitcher since the calendar flipped. In six May starts, the 31-year-old lefty allowed just eight earned runs in 41 innings, good for a 1.76 ERA. His season ERA now sits at 3.30.

Lester tossed another quality start - his sixth straight - Wednesday night, but still wound up with his first loss since April 19.

Lester said he was fully aware of the pitching matchup between last offseason's top two free agent arms, but also said he didn't spend much time worrying about his opponent on the mound.

"I don't. I just can't," he said. "I've gotta take a game against whoever the same as I take a game against Max. I can't do the roller coaster ride. That doesn't work for me.

"I have to prepare the same, I have to do everything the same and act like I'm pitching against him or whatever the top pitcher is. I can't let down.

"I have to take the same mindset over and over and over. That's just the way I think, the way I work. I can't let my guard down if I'm facing someone's No. 5 or whatever it is."

Lester has been trying to instill that mindset with a Cubs franchise that is coming off five straight fifth-place finishes.

The Cubs are young and still a work in progress, but they viewed this series against the Nationals as a measuring stick.

The offense struggled, collecting only one hit with runners in scoring position in the three games (in fact, it was the only hit with runners in scoring position from either team in the series) and the defense made three errors Wednesday after several spectacular plays Tuesday night.

The Cubs managed seven hits and one walk Wednesday night, but couldn't push across any runs.

[MLB DRAFT: Cubs keeping Braidy Aiken on their radar screen]

But the Cubs weren't the only team to struggle offensively. The Nationals hit six solo homers and scored the one unearned run to outscore the Cubs 7-4 in the three-game set.

Despite the series loss, the Cubs came away feeling they can stick with a team that many project to be the top contender from the National League.

Lester liked the way the Cubs battled and Joe Maddon took a big-picture look at what this series could mean for a team still trying to figure it all out.

"Overall, it was a hard-fought series and I did enjoy it from that perspective," Maddon said. "The takeaway is we can play with these guys.

"I feel very confident about that moving forward as we continue to get better. Some entertaining baseball at Wrigley Field for the last three days."

The Cubs are off Thursday and return to action Friday against the Kansas City Royals on CSN.

Podcast: In light of recent hitting coach turmoil, who’s to blame for Cubs offensive struggles?

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USA TODAY

Podcast: In light of recent hitting coach turmoil, who’s to blame for Cubs offensive struggles?

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, David Kaplan, Kelly Crull, Luke Stuckmeyer and Tony Andracki discuss the comments Chili Davis made after being fired as Cubs hitting coach, ask if the Cubs struggles on offense were Davis' fault or the players and what Anthony Iapoce will be walking into as he tries to gets the team back on track a the plate.

 

Listen to the entire podcast here, or in the embedded player below:

 

Texas Rangers hire Cubs' Shiraz Rehman to be assistant GM

Texas Rangers hire Cubs' Shiraz Rehman to be assistant GM

The changing of the guard continues for the Cubs this offseason. 

After the team hired a new hitting coach yesterday, it was reported today that they're losing a front office member: 

Rehman, who has been with the Cubs in the same position for the last seven years, will reportedly head up the Rangers' analytics department. According to the Chicago Tribune, Rehman's role was " evaluating existing systems, and recognizing and applying solutions in an effort to create competitive advantages for the organization." 

All reports indicate that he'll be doing similar analytic-based work with the Rangers.