Jon Lester shines once again as Cubs finish homestand on a high note


Jon Lester shines once again as Cubs finish homestand on a high note

Jon Lester was given every opportunity to implode on Sunday night. A 15 mile per hour wind blew in from the north all night, though as Kyle Schwarber can attest to, it was whipping in all sorts of directions. A steady rain on an already-cold night started around the third inning and didn’t relent. Two of the Brewers’ nine hits failed to get past the pitchers mound. The ingredients for an ugly night were all there. 

Instead, Lester continued to solidify his Big Game reputation, pitching 6.2 innings without allowing an earned run and striking out six. He’s now gone a career-high three straight games without allowing an earned run; his 1.16 ERA is the lowest of any starter who’s made at least seven starts, per team notes. He now has a 0.46 ERA at Wrigley. 

“He kept battling through it,” manager Joe Maddon said after the game. “He’s been so good at pitching through adversity, making pitches when he needs to. He’s really slowed the game down as well as you possibly can.” 

Maddon admitted pregame that, coming off Saturday’s 15-inning affair, Lester would have a longer leash than usual. He ended up throwing 116 pitches, the highest number he’s touched all season. His 74 strikes were also a season-best. 

“It’s the same mindset - every time my day comes I want to finish my game,” Lester said. “Obviously that’s not always the case, but I was able to get us into the 7th.

“I was just trying to get us quick outs early on, and I was able to do that for the most part.”

Lester cruised through the first three innings, getting nine outs on 32 pitches. What followed was a 40-pitch fourth inning that featured a leadoff, three-base error and two soft ground ball singles. He stopped the bleeding early though, getting Mike Moustakas and Yasmani Grandal to strike out before ending the inning on an easy force play at second base.  

“It’s just kind of the nature of the beast,” he said. “Those hits can happen when it’s hot and sunny. I think it just comes back to that you can be mad at one time, but as soon as you get back up on that rubber you’ve got to forget about what’s just transpired and try to execute the next pitch as best you can.

“It’s the ability to slow the moment down, and really see it for what it is,” Maddon added. “Some guys just start going the other way and it becomes a hamster wheel, other guys get off the wheel. I’ve seen him continually do that better over the last several years.” 

Over the last month, Lester’s pitched 19 innings while holding batters to a .180/.196/.220 line. He’s got six more strikeouts (19) than hits allowed (13) and has only walked one guy. 

“He’s just been really good all year long,” said Kris Bryant, whose seventh inning homer gave the Cubs some much-appreciated breathing room. “I think he missed one or two starts on the [IL] but he hasn’t missed a beat. He’s super fun to play behind, super competitive. We know what we’re going to get from him.” 

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Cubs easily on your device.

4 Cubs crack MLB Pipeline’s top 100 prospects list


4 Cubs crack MLB Pipeline’s top 100 prospects list

MLB Pipeline unveiled its annual top 100 prospects list on Saturday, and four Cubs minor leaguers made the cut.

Nico Hoerner (SS; No. 51), Brailyn Marquez (LHP; 68), Brennen Davis (OF; 78) and Miguel Amaya (C; 95) cracked the list for the North Siders. It’s the first time the Cubs have had four players on the list since 2016: Ian Happ (No. 21), Eloy Jimenez (23), Albert Almora Jr. (82) and Dylan Cease (98).

So yeah, it’s been a minute.

Cubs fans are most familiar with Hoerner; the 22-year-old made his big-league debut last September in an emergency spot after Javy Báez and Addison Russell got hurt. Hoerner hit .282/.305/.436 in 20 games and held his own defensively.

Hoerner is ranked as the No. 9 overall shortstop prospect, and he’ll get an opportunity to make the 2020 Opening Day roster. With Báez entrenched at shortstop, Hoerner will shift to second base and potentially play some center field, though he's still learning the latter.

Marquez, 20, is Pipeline’s No. 9 left-handed pitching prospect. The Cubs have struggled to develop homegrown starting pitching under Theo Epstein. In fact, Marquez is the first Cubs pitcher (LHP or RHP) to crack MLB Pipeline’s top 10 pitchers list during Epstein’s tenure on the North Side.

Marquez sported a 3.13 ERA and 1.30 WHIP in 22 starts between Single-A South Bend and advanced-A Myrtle Beach in 2019. The 20-year-old struck out 128 batters in 103 2/3 innings, walking 50.

Cubs senior director of player development Matt Dorey said the club has “really high expectations” for Marquez this season.

“Brailyn, his last half of last year in Myrtle was an epic run, just in terms of the raw stuff, the strikes, the breaking ball development,” Dorey said Sunday at Cubs Convention. “I think it’s a little early to decide where he’s going to start [the season], but I would guess Double-A.

“But I wanna see how he comes into camp — especially with our new pitching infrastructure — that we’re not missing anything with his delivery or anything from a pitch data perspective. We want to make sure that’s really tied before we send him out [for] a long, full season. It’s such a big year for him. But I think it would be foolish to put any cap on what he can do this year.”

Marquez allowed two earned runs or less in nine of his final 10 starts (he allowed three earned runs on Aug. 26 — the lone exception). The Cubs promoted him to Myrtle Beach on Aug. 6, where he posted a 1.71 ERA with 26 strikeouts and seven walks in five starts (26 1/3 innings).

The Cubs drafted Davis out of high school in 2018 (second round, No. 62 overall). The 20-year-old was more of a basketball player and had some Division I offers, but he ultimately signed with the Cubs and received a $1.1 million bonus.

Davis is considered to be a raw, athletic talent. He hit .305/.381/.525 with eight homers and a 160 wRC+ in 50 games with South Bend last season. He missed time after getting hit on the hand on two separate occasions.

Although Davis is listed as a center fielder (199 innings in 2019) he played left almost as frequently (193 2/3) in 2019. Pipeline projects him to make his big-league debut in 2022.

Amaya spent all of 2019 with Myrtle Beach, slashing .235/.351/.402 with a 122 wRC+ in 99 games. His defense has always been ahead of his bat, and he’s known to be an advanced catcher for his age.

The Cubs added Amaya to the 40-man roster in November in preparation for the Rule 5 Draft. However, he won’t make his big-league debut until 2021, at the earliest.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Chicago Cubs easily on your device.

Cubs agree to deal with free agent outfielder Steven Souza, per report


Cubs agree to deal with free agent outfielder Steven Souza, per report

The Cubs have made a roster move.

According to's Mark Feinsand, the Cubs and outfielder Steven Souza have agreed to a one-year, big-league deal. The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal first reported Friday the two sides were nearing an agreement.

Souza, 30, missed the 2019 season after suffering a torn left ACL and LCL at the end of spring training. He also missed a chunk of 2018, playing 72 games while hitting the injured list on multiple occasions. The Diamondbacks non-tendered him last month.

Souza is a career .233/.323/.417 hitter with 70 home runs in five seasons. His best campaign came with the Rays in 2017: .239/.351/.459, 30 home runs, 78 RBIs and a 121 wRC+ — all career-bests, excluding his average. He sported a walk rate (13.6 percent) above league average (8.5) that season, though his strikeout rate (29 percent) was worse than average (23).

Signing Souza likely rules out a return of fan favorite outfielder Nicholas Castellanos. The Cubs have been linked to Castellanos throughout the offseason, but since they're looking to stay under MLB’s luxury tax threshold, re-signing Castellanos would require some financial maneuvering.

Souza has spent most of his career in right field (3,608 career innings) but has minimal experience playing center (33 1/3) and left (20). He’s above average in right (career 6 Defensive Runs Saved) and posted a career best 7 DRS in 2017.

The Cubs have a five-time Gold Glove right fielder in Jason Heyward, so Souza will see time at all three outfield spots. Heyward moved to center full-time last season after the Cubs acquired Castellanos and has played center at times throughout his career.

He's coming off a serious knee injury, but Souza is a low-risk, high-reward move for the Cubs. If he's healthy, he’ll add power to the middle of the order and add another bat to an outfield group with some question marks. Albert Almora Jr. and Ian Happ have each struggled offensively at times since 2018. Souza offers another option in case those two slump again, with room for a larger role.