What win over Phillies and Vince Velasquez says about Cubs as contenders built to last

What win over Phillies and Vince Velasquez says about Cubs as contenders built to last

PHILADELPHIA – Pitching goes poof. That fundamental belief drove the Cubs during their rebuilding years, factoring into so many franchise-altering decisions made by Theo Epstein’s front office.
The Philadelphia Phillies watched Vince Velasquez throw two pitches clocked at 86 and 87 mph on Wednesday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park – and then walk off the mound with one out in the first inning.
The Phillies called it right biceps soreness for Velasquez, the talented pitcher acquired from the Houston Astros in the Ken Giles trade that came together during the winter meetings. This gave Andy MacPhail’s organization another reminder about the unpredictability of pitching – within the final 30 hours before making the No. 1 overall pick in a draft without any obvious franchise players. 
The Cubs simply wore down the Phillies during an 8-1 victory, showing why they are off to the majors’ best start (41-17) since Lou Piniella’s 2001 Seattle Mariners won 116 games – and have a built-to-last foundation that should be able to withstand the inevitable MRIs.
After throwing seven scoreless innings against the Phillies, John Lackey listened to a reporter who relayed the initial Velasquez diagnosis and said: “A lot of times that’s code for elbow.” 
“A guy with that kind of upside,” Lackey said, “you definitely don’t wish that on anybody.”
At the age of 37, Lackey is a Tommy John survivor who hasn’t lost his edge and definitely knows how to set up and attack hitters, limiting the Phillies to three singles and finishing with eight strikeouts against zero walks.  
At a time when the price of pitching is skyrocketing and nine-figure contracts look like awful investments, the Cubs locked up Lackey with a two-year, $32 million deal that looks like a bargain in this market. Lackey is now 10-for-12 in quality starts, allowing two earned runs or less eight times and putting up All-Star-caliber numbers (7-2, 2.63 ERA) behind Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester.       
“When you’re looking around as a free agent, that’s one of the reasons you come here – the talent base is really good,” Lackey said. “They’re really young and it’s something that can be together for a long time. I only got a few years left, but for a guy like ‘J-Hey,’ that’s a selling point, for sure. This is a team that can be good for a long time.”
The Cubs gave Jason Heyward the biggest contract in franchise history, guaranteeing $184 million to a 26-year-old Gold Glove outfielder, adding him and Lackey to a 97-win team and taking them away from the St. Louis Cardinals.  
The emphasis on defense helped Lackey in the first inning when Albert Almora Jr. – the sixth overall pick in 2012 and the first player drafted here by the Epstein administration – caught a flyball on the move in left-center field and made a one-hop throw to beat Odubel Herrera to home plate and execute the momentum-shifting double play.
Without Velasquez, the Phillies (29-31) would have trouble containing this offense. Kris Bryant crushed a two-run homer off Andrew Bailey in the sixth inning that generated an exit velocity of almost 107 mph and traveled 432 feet into the left-field seats. Two batters later, Ben Zobrist drove his eighth home run over the center-field wall.
Where Bryant (14 homers, 43 RBI) has anchored this lineup, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 draft developing into an All-Star third baseman and a Rookie of the Year, the switch-hitting Zobrist (.436 on-base percentage) has given it a different dimension and a veteran presence in the first season of a four-year, $56 million contract.  
The Cubs have stockpiled so many position players that Javier Baez can go 4-for-4 with three RBI – and develop a reputation as one of the league’s best defensive infielders – and still not have an everyday job.   
“You’re starting to see the teams with better records built like that,” Heyward said. “That’s the way it goes. When somebody goes down, somebody else is ready behind (them) to come in and contribute. (When) guys need days off, those guys contribute. In pinch-hit spots, they contribute. It just makes everybody’s job easier for the long run.
“You just understand it’s going to take a 40-man roster if you want to go out and accomplish what you’re trying to get done and win a World Series.”

Cubs infielder Ryan Court had a special night in Iowa


Cubs infielder Ryan Court had a special night in Iowa

The farm system doesn't have the big names it once did, as the majority of the top prospects have graduated to the Major League roster, but that doesn't mean the minor league clubs aren't having fun. 

Take 29-year-old Ryan Court, a minor league infielder who has bounced around from Arizona and Boston's systems and found a home this year with the Cubs triple-A affiliate in Des Moines, IA. Court has had a solid season in Iowa, slashing .272/.347/.410 in 74 games, but might have had his finest game as I-Cub Friday night against the New Orleans Baby Cakes. 

Court came up in the 8th inning last night needing just a triple to hit for the cycle, but his club was on the verge of taking the lead in the after scoring three runs prior to his at-bat.

With Bote on 1st, the game tied at 8 runs apiece, Court placed a ball in front of the right fielder who overplayed the ball and allowed Bote to score from first and Court to scamper to third to complete the cycle.

The I-Cubs would tack on another run to polish off a 5-run 8th inning and take home the win in a 10-8 victory over the Baby Cakes, and according to Des Moines Register's Tommy Birch, it was the first time in two decades an Iowa player has hit for the cycle. 

It's unlikely Ryan Court will make his way to the big leagues with the Cubs already carrying plenty of infielders, but for one night he played the hero and got his team the win, finishing the night 4-5 with 2 RBI, 4 runs scored and one massive smile on his face. 

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


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: