Cubs

Taking a look at the Cubs' performances in the Arizona Fall League

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Taking a look at the Cubs' performances in the Arizona Fall League

With the holidays just around the corner, the Arizona Fall League is wrapping up action, as some teams are already done playing.

All eight Cubs in the league played for the Mesa Solar Sox, who dropped the season finale Thursday afternoon and finished with a 10-20 overall record.

As a group, the Cubs didn't light the world on fire on the stat sheet, but there were definitely some promising numbers. Statistics in the Arizona Fall League certainly aren't an end-all, be-all (especially for pitchers, as it is widely considered a hitter-friendly landscape). Experience is what matters in pro baseball's premier fall league.

Javier Baez, SS

The Cubs' top prospect didn't play the last half of the season after breaking his thumb, but he still tied for the team lead in homers (4) and was second in RBI with 16 in just 57 at-bats. However, he hit only .211 and walked just twice. Baez added three steals and was never caught.

Matt Szczur, OF

Szczur's name is probably familiar to most Cubs fans since he's been in the Cubs' system for the past three years and boasts some exciting athletic ability. Some of that was on display this fall, as the 23-year-old stole nine bases (which led the Solar Sox) in 12 attempts and carried a .368 OBP. Szczur walked 14 times and struck out just 10, but he struggled to hit with power, notching only five extra-base hits and a .363 slugging percentage in 91 at-bats. The good news is he definitely had a chance to showcase his talents, as only three other players on the team collected more at-bats.

Logan Watkins, 2B

Watkins joined the club when Baez went down and played in nine games, hitting .219.375.344. The most encouraging sign was his eight walks compared to just three strikeouts. He also homered and scored eight runs in 32 at-bats. His final line wasn't eye-popping, but it was a solid way to end 2012 for the Cubs' Minor League Player of the Year.

Rubi Silva, OF

The 23-year-old Cuban outfielder enjoyed a breakout 2012 campaign, in which he hit .296.315.412 at High-A and AA for the Cubs. But that success didn't carry over to the AFL, as Silva hit just .206 with 21 strikeouts in 68 at-bats. He stole three bases, but managed just two extra-base hits, both triples.

Dae-Eun Rhee, RHP

Rhee, a 23-year-old Korean pitcher, started 26 games for Double-A Tennessee this season, sporting a 4.81 ERA and 1.54 WHIP. He pitched six games in the same capacity for the Solar Sox, but struggled in the hitters league to the tune of a 6.27 ERA and 1.82 WHIP in 18.2 innings. Rhee's biggest problem wasn't control (8 walks in 18.2 innings is not a horrible total), but he surrendered 26 hits, including one homer.

Tony Zych, RHP

The Illinois native (born in Monee, attended St. Rita High School) got his first taste of Double-A action for the Cubs this season and continued to gather experience with his first stint in the AFL. Zych, 22, had a 3.86 ERA and 1.43 WHIP in 13 games. The oddest part about his stat-line is the 4 strikeouts in 14 innings, a far cry from his minor-league numbers in which he has whiffed 69 batters in 65.1 innings.

Nick Struck, RHP

The Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Year didn't make a start in the Arizona Fall League, but pitched in 12 games out of the bullpen and sported a solid 1.47 ERA to go with a 5.51 EAR. He struck out 11 guys in 16.1 innings and allowed just 12 hits, but walked 12 batters and allowed three homers.

Kevin Rhoderick, RHP

The 2010 draft pick out of Oregon State University (Darwin Barney's alma mater) was the Cubs' best pitcher on the Solar Sox boasting a 0.96 WHIP and 4.82 ERA in 9 games, with 14 strikeouts in 9.1 innings.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Jon Lester struggles against the division-rival Cardinals

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Jon Lester struggles against the division-rival Cardinals

It was a tough day for the North Siders.

The Cubs got obliterated by the Cardinals as Matt Carpenter had a three-homer, two-double day. Ben Finfer, Seth Gruen and Maggie Hendricks join David Kaplan on the latest SportsTalk Live Podcast to talk about the blowout.

Was Jon Lester due for this kind of terrible outing? And do the Cubs have enough to swing a big trade before the deadline?

Plus, the panel discusses Matt Nagy’s first training camp practice in the rain and Roquan Smith’s absence in Bourbonnais.

You can listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Jon Lester saw a start like this coming

Jon Lester saw a start like this coming

Jon Lester had easily his worst outing of the year, allowing the Cardinals to score eight runs on seven hits, the veteran All-Star only managed three innings before Joe Maddon turned to his bullpen. 

The Cardinals would take game two of the series by the score of 18 to 5, and while none of the Cubs pitchers could silence the Cardinal bats, Lester didn't shy away from his poor outing. 

"You know, I don't want to chalk this up as bad days happen," said Lester. "I think mechanically this has kinda been coming." 

Lester knew he was struggling to hit his spots, and while his ERA was a sparkling 2.58 coming into this start, his peripheral stats had him pegged as a potential regression candidate in the second half of the season.

His 4.35 FIP and 3.30 walks per nine innings show a pitcher who is relying heavily on his defense to get outs, which isn't surprising for a 33-year-old veteran but the walks are a concern. 

Cubs manager Joe Maddon was aware Lester had been working on his mechanics, but even he was surprised that Lester's start went downhill so quickly. 

"I thought he had good stuff to start the game, hitting [92-93 mph] and I'm thinking this might be a good day," said Maddon. "But you could just see from the beginning he was off just a little bit." 

Over Lester's last four starts his ERA has been an uncharacteristic 4.57, issuing 10 walks over those four starts, and only making it past the 6th inning once. At this point of Lester's career, he knows the best way for him to get outs isn't through strikeouts but by inducing soft contact and avoiding walks. 

And while both his hard contact rate and walks have increased this season, Lester's experience and high baseball I.Q. has allowed him to navigate his way through sticky situations. 

"I've been getting outs," Lester said candidly. "I just feel like when I've had that strikeout or I have a guy set up for that pitch I haven't been able to execute it." 

And while this outing was one to forget, it's at least a positive sign that Lester is aware of his issues on the mound. The veteran knows how to get outs and he knows what he needs to do to be successful in the latter part of his career. He just needs to get back to executing those pitches. 

Just don't expect Lester to dive head first into the analytics on how to fix his issues, he'll stick to hard work and baseball common sense. 

"I'm not too concerned with the analytic B.S., I'm worried about my mechanical fix for my next start."