Cubs

Jon Lester lends perspective to Cubs pitching woes

Jon Lester lends perspective to Cubs pitching woes

MILWAUKEE — Everybody is waiting for the Cubs' pitching struggles to turn around. 

The Cubs entered play Sunday with a team ERA (7.87) nearly a full run above the next-worst team (Red Sox — 6.97). Opposing players are hitting .316 off the Cubs this year.

Even PECOTA didn't project this.

Things have gotten so bad, cameras caught the ever-positive Joe Maddon expressing himself in a profane way in a moment of frustration Saturday night after Randy Rosario came out of the bullpen and gave up a 3-run shot:

Maddon laughed it off Sunday morning, admitting his emotional side is always there — "I think I hide it pretty well" — and explaining the frustration stemmed from the fact he'd have to bring in Steve Cishek in a blowout. 

"Ahh, so the word you used was 'Cishek?'" a reporter asked Maddon.

"By him pitching last night, now he's not available today," Maddon said. "That was the frustration. That's what the inner-connectedness of the bullpen — when guys all do their jobs and you rest other people, then they're more available the next day and the day after that. So that was the genesis of it."

The bullpen has obviously been a cause for concern, but the Cubs have a team-wide run prevention problem, from errors and poor defense to late-inning ineffectiveness to tough starts to games. 

Kyle Hendricks served up a 2-run homer to Christian Yelich in the first inning Sunday afternoon, immediately putting the Cubs in a hole for the third straight game. The Brewers scored 5 runs in the opening frame during the course of the three-game series.

The Cubs have a veteran-laden pitching staff, but the way things have gone here early, even these guys with a ton of big-league service time can feel like they have to be the hero every time they take the mound.

"Everybody's human," Jon Lester said. "I think everybody's trying to do well not only for themselves, but for the team. Sometimes that gets you further behind the eight ball than just going out there and focusing on a gameplan or one of your own cues that gets you locked in. 

"We've all seen it wigh guys at the plate, we've seen it with guys on the mound — it's natural to try too hard. Especially, too, now. Early in the year, you turn around and you see a 9.00 or a 12.00 or a 27.00 ERA up there and you want that to be back down to where your normals are.

"Early on, it's so hard to not get caught up in that kind of stuff. I can only speak personally, but for me, I try to rely on the report and my cues and try to execute one pitch and that's all I can control."

Lester has been the lone bright spot on the pitching staff, turning in a quality start each time out. 

The Cubs have asked the 14-year veteran to help step up more as a leader in the clubhouse this year, but how can Lester help his fellow pitchers through these early-season issues?

"Just stay out of the way," Lester said. "I can only speak for myself, but when I struggle, the last thing I want is somebody patting me on the back or the butt or whatever. Just leave me alone and let me figure it out. I try to do the same thing to other guys. If they come to me or they come to other people to try to figure things out, then that's good. 

"But for me, I kinda crawl into a bigger hole and avoid people even more than I do right now. That's how I try to figure things out. The big thing is, just like with hitting — everybody runs to the video, runs to mechanics, runs to this. Nine times out of 10, it's just confidence. 

"A lot of times when you're struggling, that 2-0 pitch gets hit out as opposed to right at somebody. A couple of those fall your way and then it's like 'OK, maybe I am halfway decent' and you start getting that confidence going, you start throwing that 2-0 pitch with conviction and usually you get good things. 

"But yeah, I try to stay out of guys' ways. I've always said — if they want to talk, and come to me, great, then we'll sit down and try to figure out whatever we can. But I think the biggest thing is to just keep running out there and pitching. Our guys are too good to keep doing this."

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Joe Maddon goes after Sean Doolittle's delivery: ‘That's exactly what I was told Carl can't do’

Joe Maddon goes after Sean Doolittle's delivery: ‘That's exactly what I was told Carl can't do’

The Cubs finished Saturday's loss at the Nationals under protest after Joe Maddon saw what he believed to be an inconsistency in how illegal pitches are being called.

Nationals reliever Sean Doolittle came in to close the game out in the ninth with the Nats up 5-2. After one pitch, Maddon went to the umpires to complain. This dragged on throughout the inning.

Maddon didn't like that Doolittle's delivery involved him pausing and potentially even touching the ground in the middle of his wind up before coming home with the pitch. To Maddon, it was clearly an illegal pitch and he was fired up because that's something Carl Edwards Jr. got called for earlier in the season. By comparison, Edwards' version may be more deliberate, but Maddon thinks it is the same thing.

"That's exactly what I was told Carl can't do," Maddon said postgame in a video posted by ESPN's Jesse Rogers. "There's no judgment. If he taps the ground, it's an illegal pitch, period. There's nothing to judge. You can judge whether he did or not. It's obvious that he did, or if you can't tell that then there's something absolutely wrong."

Maddon and the Cubs protested the game as a result. If they win the protest, the game would be restarted with one out in the ninth, when Maddon notified the umpires of the protest.

Doolittle was less than amused by Maddon's protest.

"I have no qualms against Doolittle," Maddon said. "He's great, but they took it away from our guy so for me to sit in the dugout and permit that to happen while they stripped us of that ability earlier this year with Carl, how could I do that? You can't do that. I got to say something."

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Jon Lester's hot streak comes to an end at Nationals

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USA TODAY

Jon Lester's hot streak comes to an end at Nationals

Jon Lester was on a heck of a run since coming off the IL in late April, but it came to a screeching halt on Saturday.

Lester had by far his worst start of the season at the Nationals in a 5-2 Cubs loss. He labored through his start, giving up five runs in 4 1/3 innings.

Lester gave up 10 hits, which matches the most he has given up since joining the Cubs. He gave up a fair number of hits in his last two starts, but was able to avoid trouble on the scoreboard. Lester gave up nine hits in 6 2/3 innings against the Brewers last time out, but only gave up an unearned run. On May 7, Lester gave up eight hits to the Marlins, but only allowed two unearned runs in six innings of work.

This time, Lester couldn’t stay out of trouble. Brian Dozier got the Nats on the board with a solo shot in the second and then the wheels came off in the third.

To open the third inning Lester gave up six straight hits. The Nats got three runs that inning and then added another in the fifth, when Lester departed the game.

Since Lester came off the IL on April 25, he had allowed just one earned run (four runs in total) in 24 2/3 innings. During that stretch, he had 25 strikeouts against just two walks. His ERA fell to 1.16, which would have led all of baseball if he had enough innings to qualify. It’s at 2.09 after Saturday’s loss.

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