Cubs

Theo Epstein's imprint was all over the All-Star Game beyond just the Cubs

Theo Epstein's imprint was all over the All-Star Game beyond just the Cubs

By: Brenna Carberry  

When the MLB All-Star teams were revealed last week, much of the attention was focused on the Cubs dominating the National League roster. 

But maybe the most underrated star of the midsummer classic was Theo Epstein, the one responsible for acquiring all seven Cubs players selected to this year's National League roster, as well as four of the six Boston Red Sox players selected to the American League roster.

Epstein's impact throughout his 14-year tenure with the Red Sox and Cubs can be seen on the list of players who made the trip to San Diego for this year's All-Star Game. Nine of the 11 All-Star selections who Epstein was involved in acquiring were starters in the midsummer classic. 

The Cubs made All-Star history by becoming just the second team ever to have its entire infield start an All-Star Game - Anthony Rizzo (first base), Ben Zobrist (second base), Addison Russell (shortstop) and Kris Bryant (third base) - last to do it were the 1963 St. Louis Cardinals. Outfielder Dexter Fowler was also voted in as a starter for the NL All-Star team, but decided not to play in Tuesday night's game due to an ongoing hamstring injury. Pitchers Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta were selected as reserves for the National League squad. 

[MORE: Are Cubs as good as they thought?]

For the Cubs, Epstein traded for Rizzo, Russell and Arrieta, drafted Bryant, and signed Zobrist. Epstein also acquired Fowler - initially through a trade, then Fowler re-signed with the Cubs through 2017 - and signed free-agent Lester. 

As General Manager for the Red Sox Epstein made several key acquisitions, such as signing David Ortiz and Xander Bogaerts, and drafting rising stars Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts; all of which were starters in the All-Star Game.

Epstein's imprint stretches from Boston to Chicago, and this year's All-Star Game is an opportunity for baseball fans to recognize his greatness. 

He has brought winning baseball back to both clubs, but his work in Chicago is far from complete if he is going to do what he did in Boston back in 2004, and again in 2007 - bring home a World Series trophy. While Epstein's acquisitions in Chicago have powered the Cubs to one of the best records in the MLB through the first half of the season, there is still plenty of baseball left to be played. 

A World Series trophy in Chicago would put an end to the North Siders' 108-year drought, and it would prove that Epstein is a master at his craft (if you needed any further proof).

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." 

Cubs set the wrong kind of history in blowout

Cubs set the wrong kind of history in blowout

Cubs fans had plenty to cheer about late in Friday's game against the Cardinals, but not in the way they expected.

With St. Louis absolutely wearing out the Cubs pitching staff in an 18-5 blowout, Joe Maddon turned to a trio of position players to pitch.

In front of 41,077 people at Wrigley Field for the second game of the official second half of the season, Tommy La Stella came on to pitch for the Cubs with 2 outs in the top of the sixth inning. After La Stella got 4 outs, it was Victor Caratini's turn for the eighth inning.

The Cubs have actually used multiple position players as a pitcher before, but it was back on June 16, 1884 in a 20-9 loss, according to historian Ed Hartig. Obviously, the game of baseball was quite different back then.

But just using two position players on the mound wasn't enough for this wacky day at the ballpark.

Ian Happ got the nod for the ninth inning on the mound, serving as the third different position player on the mound. He joked he was using his sinker effectively and that he's now the Cubs clubhouse leader in ERA after not giving up a run in his inning of work.

Was there a friendly competition between Happ, Caratini and La Stella?

"Yes," Happ said. "I won." 

How did Maddon determine who would get the opportunity to make history?

Well, for starters, the process began with getting a certain player OUT of the lineup.

"I had to take Rizzo out of the game because he would've been badgering me the whole time," Maddon laughed. "So it started by getting Rizzo out, and that made my decision-making process a lot easier. Otherwise just imagine him harping in your ear constantly that he wants to pitch and every time I go out to the mound and the game may be lopsided as I'm maybe bringing somebody else in, he reminds me.

"At some point, hopefully in a good situation where we're leading [he can get in and pitch]."

Seeing a position player pitch has actually been a pretty common occurence under Maddon as he's done everything he can to limit the stress on the bullpen:

"I think the fans kinda started to enjoy it, too, which is always fun when you're getting blown out," said Kris Bryant, who connected on his 11th homer of the season in the blowout loss. "Those guys stepped up for us to save the bullpen. So there ya go. We're making history."

Meanwhile, on the other side, Matt Carpenter had a record-setting game.

Before being removed from the game in the sixth inning, Carpenter smashed 3 homers and 2 doubles and drove in 7 runs. It tied a Cardinals record for total bases (16) while tying the MLB record for most extra-base hits in a game (5):

It also was only the second recorded game in MLB history where a player had 3 doubles and 2 homers. The other? Bryant, of course — in Cincinnati in 2016.

Of course, the fact he did it all before the game reached the seventh inning is remarkable:

Offensively, the Cubs left 12 men on base, which would normally be the focal point of ire for the fanbase if not for the rest of the day's events...