Will Cubs make another splash this winter?


Will Cubs make another splash this winter?

Will the Cubs make another splash this winter?

Manager Joe Maddon downplayed the idea of another big-name addition on Wednesday, while chairman Tom Ricketts told reporters not to expect a contract-extension announcement for team president Theo Epstein at this weekend’s Cubs Convention.

The Cubs sell themselves right now, as Epstein likes to say. So heading into the fifth and final season of his contract, there should be “no alarm bells to ring” (another Theo-ism before firing Dale Sveum). Epstein’s front office has methodically rebuilt a roster that FanGraphs projects will finish with the best record (95-67) in baseball this year.

The Cubs don’t need to change the subject this weekend by introducing a new mascot at the Sheraton Grand Chicago or waiting for Masahiro Tanaka or unveiling more Wrigley Field blueprints. The focus should actually shift back to the on-field product (and not rooftop turf battles or City Hall politicking).

Working with ownership and the business side, Epstein appears to have already stretched the baseball budget, trying to cram two winters of talent acquisition into one offseason.

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After dropping $272 million on Gold Glove outfielder Jason Heyward, super-utility guy Ben Zobrist and big-game pitcher John Lackey, the Cubs are just about done reshaping a team that won 97 games last year and advanced to the National League Championship Series.

“Honestly, there’s a lot of talk,” Maddon said before his “Thanksmas” dinner at Catholic Charities on LaSalle Street. “But I’m working under the assumption – and I really mean this – that it’s going to look exactly like this when we go to camp.

“Do I anticipate anything? Not necessarily. I would imagine we’re pretty close to what we’re going to look like when we get there and into the first part of the season. But if that’s the case, I have nothing to complain about.”

At this time last year, it sounded crazy when All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo showed up at a similar event and predicted the Cubs would win the division. It sounded like Rizzo Being Rizzo.

The Cubs finished in third place behind the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates, and then eliminated their Central rivals from the playoffs in what became a delirious run through October, at least until getting swept by the New York Mets.

The Cubs will be the hunted this year, playing with a target on their backs. No more stepping-stone seasons in Wrigleyville for this talented group. All the expectations will revolve around winning the franchise’s first World Series title since 1908.

“No guarantees,” Maddon said. “We have a chance to replicate what we did last year. It’s up to us. Replicate in the sense you get to the playoffs and get deep into the playoffs and hopefully win at least eight more games.

“But I think everything’s in order. A big part of it is the guys that have never won learned how to win (last) year and that matters a lot. The guys that we brought in have known how to win.

“It’s a pretty good bedrock there.”

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Can Jon Lester get out of his slump?


Sports Talk Live Podcast: Can Jon Lester get out of his slump?

David Haugh, Ben Finfer and Seth Gruen join Kap on the panel.

0:00- The Cubs winning streak is over as Jon Lester's struggles continue. Should fans be worried that he can't get out of this slump? Would he be a playoff starter right now?

8:40- The White Sox rebuild continues as Rick Hahn says fans might have to wait until next spring to see whether or not they'll be contenders. Is next year too early to compete?

15:00- The Bears backups get ready to face the Colts backups Saturday night. Is there any reason to have the preseason at all?

18:30- Mitch Trubisky's preseason is over. So is he ready for Week 1?

20:00- College football is back. The panel give their picks for Florida vs Miami in the Fanduel Friday Faves.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Cubs rallying behind Jon Lester after another tough outing

Cubs rallying behind Jon Lester after another tough outing

There are three ways to look at the Cubs' 9-3 loss Friday:

1) Jon Lester had another rough outing and the sun is starting to set on his career as a front-of-the-rotation starter.

2) Lester gave up some hard contact, but also had some tough luck and pitched better than his final line indicated.

3) Meh.

To be honest, each of the three perspectives has an element of truth to it, but the third one is probably the main way to look at it as the Cubs tasted defeat for the first time in a week.

No, the team did not play well, but it went far beyond Lester.

The Nationals didn't get into town until the wee hours of Friday morning, yet it was the Cubs who looked sluggish Friday. They managed only two baserunners - a single and a walk - until the ninth inning when they put together a too-little-too-late rally thanks to some shoddy Washington fielding.

But even if the offense did come to play, the game was out of hand by the fifth inning, when Lester and Pedro Strop combined to allow 3 runs, extending Washington's lead to 7-0.

Lester was charged with 6 runs on 9 hits and a walk over 4.1 innings, but 8 of those 9 hits were singles. The only extra-base knock off the Cubs southpaw was Adam Eaton's line drive home run in the first inning that he smacked into the 18 mph wind howling in off the lake.

Of the singles, a couple were hard ground balls knocked down by Cubs infielders and one was a perfectly executed bunt by pitcher Anibal Sanchez with two strikes that the Cubs had no choice but to hope it would roll foul. At that point in the fourth inning, the score was only 3-0, but the Cubs' misfortune seemed to open the door for the Nationals.

"I'm telling you, I don't think he was that bad today," Maddon said. "We were a little bit unlucky with him. ... Outside of that last inning when they squared him up, I thought he actually threw the ball decently.

"I think he's gonna be fine. He will find a way to get himself back into the picture in the right way. There's a lot of time left with the playoffs, etc., so I'm counting on it. I believe in Jon."

Beyond the tough luck, the Nationals hit five balls more than 100 mph off Lester, including a 108.5 mph single on the final batter (Juan Soto) he faced in the fifth inning.

After the game, Lester couldn't do much but shrug and accept responsibility for the loss.

"I feel fine," he said. "Today sucks. Tomorrow, I'll wake up and start a new day and get ready for another start. That doesn't take the sting away from today. Joe's always said, 'you win hard, you lose hard' and losing for me is even harder than that. Sucking as a pitcher is even harder than that.

"It's my job to do better and I'm not. I let a five-game winning streak basically go by the wayside because I didn't throw the ball very well. It's frustrating, but tomorrow starts a new day and move on to the next one."

Friday's game marks the fifth time this season Lester has allowed at least 6 runs in an outing. This was his 25th start of 2019, so that means 20 percent of his appearances have resulted in putting his team in a major hole.

"I think we're getting to the point where you can't isolate [the rough games]," Lester said. "They're happening a little bit too much for myself. I felt pretty good about myself after the last one, just being able to continually execute pitches. I don't feel like stuff was much different than last time, just different results and that's the shitty part about this game and my job - it's results driven and it doesn't matter how I feel or what the gameplan was going in.

"You have to execute and get people out and keep them from scoring runs and I'm just not doing that."

Lester started the five-game winning streak for the Cubs with a performance befitting true "ace" or "stopper" status. After a pair of disheartening bullpen meltdowns, he took the ball last Saturday and shut out the Pirates through 6 innings, battling despite not having his best stuff (5 walks).

But even including that start in Pittsburgh, Lester has now allowed 23 earned runs in 24.1 innings in five starts in August.

For a 35-year-old with three World Series rings and a long track record of pitching well when the lights are the brightest, he isn't where he wants to be as September approaches in a tight playoff race.

"Better than this," he said. "Usually this is the time of year where I pitch a lot better than I have been. For whatever reason, I haven't hit that stride. I usually have ups and downs to every season, but usually more ups than downs.

"Right now, it's just continuing to go down. The old saying - one step forward, two steps back - is kinda what I'm doing right now. The positive is I physically feel fine. Can't blame it on that. Just have to be better. Tomorrow's a new day, prepare for the next one."

Even with the recent struggles, Kyle Schwarber said Lester is still the guy the Cubs would want to give the ball to in Game 1 of a playoff series.

"He'll bounce back," Schwarber said. "He knows how to handle himself really well. He's a leader out there and we always have his back."

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