Cubs

‘There’s no magic potion’ to fix Cubs team that looked lost during 0-6 West Coast trip

‘There’s no magic potion’ to fix Cubs team that looked lost during 0-6 West Coast trip

SAN DIEGO – Another city meant another round of hangover questions for Joe Maddon, this time the Cubs manager getting compared to John Wooden and Phil Jackson while his team is breaking down in all phases of the game.  

“Everybody looks good when things are going well,” Maddon said during Wednesday’s pregame media session at Petco Park. “You’d like to see who looks good when things aren’t going so well, who’s able to maintain their sense of decorum and composure and basically don’t lose their minds.”

We’re about to find out. The defending World Series champs are a lot closer to that breaking point than anyone would have imagined during the banner-raising ceremony and ring presentations, ending an 0-for-6 West Coast trip with a 2-1 loss to the San Diego Padres. 

There is no “Pyramid of Success” to follow or Zen Master around to fix this. The Cubs are clearly pressing and playing without the same confidence and crispness that had so many people thinking a dynasty along the lines of UCLA basketball or Jordan’s Bulls.       

“There’s no magic potion,” Maddon said afterward. “We just got to keep going out there and playing. I believe in our guys, 100 percent, wholeheartedly. These are good, young players. They’ve shown it in the past. They’re going to show it to you again.”  

Maybe the photos will trickle out later on social media, but several noticeable players in the visiting clubhouse weren’t wearing their “Anchorman” costumes and trying to match Maddon for the long flight back home to Chicago. The traveling press corps had essentially run out of different ways to ask the same question about the offensive spiral when Jason Heyward snapped at a reporter. 

“It’s part of the game, so I’m not going to say anything negative,” Heyward said. “If you’re trying to get me to say anything negative, I’m not going to say it.”

OK, then, the Cubs needed an infield single to score their only run through seven innings against Luis Perdomo, a Rule 5 guy last year who came into the game with a 5.61 ERA, wasting a quality start from 2015 National League Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta. 

The Cubs scored nine runs on this road trip – four off Clayton Kershaw, of all people – and went 3-for-40 with runners in scoring position against the surging Los Angeles Dodgers and last-place Padres.

“I feel like guys are battling,” said Anthony Rizzo, whose two hits through 22 at-bats in Southern California came against Kershaw. “It’s just that you grip that bat a little bit harder. And it’s not as easy – myself included – for all of us.

“The good thing is it means we’re due. The law of averages means we’re due for a big outbreak. And I think once it does come, we’ll be on for a while.”

Until then, the Cubs played with almost no margin for error against a franchise that’s tanking for the future, starting another Rule 5 pick (catcher Luis Torrens) who had never played above the Class-A level until this season. San Diego’s leadoff guy (Franchy Cordero) had been called up Memorial Day weekend to make his big-league debut and delivered the game-changing hit in the eighth inning, driving a 78-mph Koji Uehara pitch off the right-center field wall for a one-out triple.

Cordero scored the go-ahead run when Yangervis Solarte bounced a ball toward drawn-in second baseman Ian Happ, who popped up and made a high throw to Willson Contreras. Cordero slid safely through the catcher’s legs, the Cubs looking like a 25-27 team that needs Thursday’s day off to decompress and feels fortunate enough to be playing in a weakened NL Central. 

Rest up, get away from it, blow off some team, whatever, because the St. Louis Cardinals are coming to Wrigleyville this weekend.

“From spring training to the last game of the year, you always have to keep the mindset of you never know what’s going to happen in a season,” Heyward said. “Don’t get too high. Don’t get too low.

“Look up and still be thankful we still got a chance to win our division.”

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."