Cubs

Shane Victorino joins Cubs with thoughts of a championship on his mind

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Shane Victorino joins Cubs with thoughts of a championship on his mind

MESA, Ariz. - Shane Victorino just got to Cubs camp Friday morning, but he's already pulling in the same direction as the rest of the organization.

Joe Maddon, Theo Epstein and the rest of the Cubs have all portrayed a unified message since arriving in spring training - World Series or bust in 2016.

[RELATED - Cubs add Shane Victorino to the outfield mix]

That's no problem for Victorino who, at age 35, is placing a premium on winning over money or his role.

"I'm just grateful for the opportunity to be a part of something hopefully that's going to be special," he said. "I've been blessed in my career to be a part of a couple special championships in special cities.

"Being a fan of the game, when there's a 100-plus year championship drought, you always want to be the first. That's the goal.

"At the end of the day, it's not about playing time. It's not about where things are. It's about winning. For me, I gotta win my job on the team and from there, whatever role I am, I gotta be the best player I can be to help the Cubs win the championship."

Victorino has played 60 postseason games in his career, making it to three World Series. He won it all with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2008 (beating Joe Maddon's Tampa Bay Rays team) and with the Boston Red Sox in 2013 (alongside current Cubs Jon Lester, John Lackey and David Ross).

Victorino said he's always respected Maddon from afar, admiring the way the manager has gotten the most out of his teams.

He's excited to get the band back together with Lester, Lackey and Ross and Victorino also trains in the offseason with Kris Bryant in Las Vegas.

This year, Dexter Fowler - who just signed with the Cubs Thursday - joined Bryant and Victorino taking some swings in Vegas.

Victorino has been talking to the Cubs for a while before agreeing on the minor-league deal with the invite to big-league camp this spring. The Cubs currently have four outfielders - Fowler, Jorge Soler, Kyle Schwarber and Jason Heyward - in place, so Victorino wouldn't figure to get a ton of playing time if he were to make the team.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Victorino said he doesn't want to start the season in the minor leagues - "I don't know if I'm at that point in my career" - but admitted he's not sure how things are going to play out in the next five weeks.

Victorino has plenty of connections to the Cubs beyond the guys in the clubhouse, too. Back in 2009, he was part of that infamous moment when a Cubs fan dumped a beer of his head in the bleachers while Victorino was trying to catch a fly ball.

"I understand the passion of Cubs fans," Victorino said. "My brother was childhood Cubs fan; [Ryne] Sandberg was one of his favorite players. Andre Dawson, guys like that.

"I've seen the Cubs logo since I was a child. To be able to put it on now, even if the situation is the way it is, I'm very excited for the opportunity in spring training."

A stellar Jon Lester outing gives the Cubs more than just a win

A stellar Jon Lester outing gives the Cubs more than just a win

It's been a tale of two halves for the Cubs veteran Jon Lester, who after a sparkling first half of baseball that saw him win 12 games with a 2.58 ERA, has looked nothing like a 2018 All-Star. Prior to Thursday's start, Lester had posted a 10.32 ERA, allowed 4 or more runs in 4 of his 5 most recent starts, and had yet to win a game in the second of the season. 

The 34-year-old veteran flipped the script Thursday night, throwing 6-shutout innings while striking out 8 Pirate batters in the Cubs 1-0 win in Pittsburgh. Lester surrendered only 5 hits and baffled the Pirates all-night, finally busting out of his slump and giving the Cubs his 2nd quality start since the All-Star break. 

Lester attacked the bottom portion of the strike zone all night with his fastball, which topped out at 93 mph, generating 4 whiffs with his heater. Over the last month, Lester has said he's felt he can't quite execute his "out" pitches, explaining that when he has a hitter set up for a strikeout he hasn't been able to throw the ball effectively in those moments. 

And while Lester walked off the mound after the 6th inning amassing 8 punch outs, the veteran starter never looked like he was trying to strike out batters. He just continued to dot the corners, occasionally raise the eye-level of the batter with an elevated heater, and threw his secondary pitches just enough to keep the Pittsburgh batters uncomfortable at the plate. 

The Cubs offense once again struggled, facing Ivan Nova who has won four his last five starts against the Cubs, but Ian Happ's solo shot in the 4th inning was enough run support for Lester to push the Cubs to 20 games over .500. But the biggest takeaway from Thursday night's win isn't that the Cubs came out on top, it's that Jon Lester returning to form gives this Chicago rotation something they've lacked seemingly this entire season. 

Stability at the front of the rotation. 

With Cole Hamels impressive three starts in a Cub uniform and Kyle Hendricks finally figuring out his issues on the mound, if Jon Lester can replicate Thursday's performance throughout the rest of the season, the Cubs rotation may finally turn into the strength many thought it could be before the season started. At the very least, Lester showed that whatever he's been working through over the last month of baseball is fixable. 

It's only one start in a string of poor outings for Lester, and while The Athletic's Sahadev Sharma did find some positives in his starts prior to Thursday's big win, Lester will have to show he can maintain this level of pitching through the remainder of this season. But I think our own Tony Andracki put it best tonight on Twitter. 

With the Cubs pitchers finally starting to perform to their expected level, and the return of Yu Darvish looking closer each day, it could be the Cubs starting pitching that carries through the rest of the season. 

Joe Maddon speaks out on Wednesday night's Marlins-Braves brawl

Joe Maddon speaks out on Wednesday night's Marlins-Braves brawl

Much has been made about Wednesday night's brawl between the Marlins and Braves, which started when Braves young star Ronald Acuna was nailed in the elbow with a 99 mph fastball from Jose Urena. The strangest part of the whole situation was that it seemed like Urena was unprovoked by Acuna or any of the Braves players prior to plunking the former No. 1 prospect in all of baseball.  

The ever wise Cubs skipper Joe Maddon was asked about the incident prior to Thursday's game, making it clear he felt plays like these needed to leave the game entirely. 

It was announced Thursday afternoon that Urena would be suspended just 6 games for intentionally throwing Acuna, which means the Marlins starter will likely only miss one game for trying to hurt Acuna. The good news is that Acuna did not sustain any serious injuries, but Joe Maddon is right there is no reason for people to be hurling nearly triple-digit fastballs at players. Whether provoked or not, intentionally throwing at players is something that needs to be phased out of the game, and its safe to assume Maddon would agree.