Cubs

Scott Boras has a very high opinion of the Cubs — even if they won't hand Jake Arrieta $200 million

Scott Boras has a very high opinion of the Cubs — even if they won't hand Jake Arrieta $200 million

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Scott Boras saved all his money one-liners for other teams like the Miami Marlins and New York Yankees.

The Cubs weren't on the wrong end of any of the super-agent's zingers like they were a few years ago with Boras' "Meet the Parents" comment about how the Ricketts family preferred not to jack up their payroll during a rebuild.

Instead, Boras has completely changed his tune from that timeframe and took several opportunities to give the Cubs rave reviews as he stood on a literal pedestal to deliver his State of the Union Wednesday morning at the Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort.

"The club, economically, they're $2 billion above where they were five yeras ago, which just says a great deal about the operation with Tom [Ricketts] and Theo [Epstein] and Jed {Hoyer], what they've done," Boras said in a 1-on-1 interview with NBC Sports Chicago's Kelly Crull. "They've really done a remarkable job with the restoration of the franchise.

"The next step — and often the hardest step — is how do you reinvest in your success? How do you continue to give that fanbase their best opportunity?"

Boras, of course, is alluding to money and how the Cubs have to spend money to stay where they are. Because it always comes back to money with the world's most powerful sports agent.

Money is also a major sticking point for Jake Arrieta, the top free agent pitcher on the market and Boras' No. 1 priority this winter.

Arrieta and Boras are reportedly asking for somewhere in the neighborhood of $180-$200 million, though Boras balked at that, claiming he doesn't set the market (c'mon...).

But Boras was also creative in how he sold Arrieta to the media throng of 200+ people Wednesday morning. He could've gotten into the epic 2015 season, Arrieta's Cy Young votes the last few years or his reputation as an elite (or close to it) starter.

Instead, Boras continued to talk about the road to "Playoffville" and how Arrieta has joined the ranks of Madison Bumgarner and Justin Verlander as active October legends.

Boras also continually pointed to Arrieta's lack of wear and tear on his arm, with only 1,161 big-league innings under his belt through his age-31 season.

The Cubs almost certainly won't pay an exorbitant amount for what figures to be Arrieta's only big contract of his life, but that won't stop Boras from keeping Epstein and Co. in the loop publicly.

"There are a number of people who are Jake's age who are 30, 31 and they have 1,700-2,000 innings on their arm," Boras told Crull. "Much like Max Scherzer, who was a similar age when he signed his contract 2-3 years ago, he also only had about 1,200 innings on his arm.

"So [Arrieta is] about 4-5 seasons behind the customary wear and tear you usually see. I think it's part of the fact, but with Jake's conditioning, the rarity of his innings, having Cy Young success, being a big-game pitcher — those are components that you rarely don't find in a free agent market."

Double the fun: Cole Hamels, Cubs defense make history

Double the fun: Cole Hamels, Cubs defense make history

Cole Hamels' dominant start to his Cubs career continued on Friday in stellar fashion, and with some considerable help from his infield.

The 34-year-old veteran not only pitched seven innings of five-hit ball without allowing a run, but induced five ground ball double plays. The Cubs finished with a staggering seven double plays in a 1-0 win at the Pirates on Friday.

The last time the Cubs turned five double plays was in 1985. 

All five hits Hamels gave up were groundball singles. The 16 groundballs induced is the most for a Cubs pitcher this year.

After Hamels exited after seven innings, the Cubs got double plays in the eighth, on a line drive double play with Jorge De La Rosa on the mound, and ninth, on a groundball induced by Jesse Chavez to end the game.

Hamels was initially brought in to provide depth to a struggling rotation and ease the pain of Yu Darvish being unavailable. But Hamels has now started an honest debate over who should be the Cubs' starter in Game 1 of the postseason. He has been otherworldly since joining the Cubs, with an 0.72 ERA, three wins and one no-decision (the Cubs won and he had nine strikeouts). 

The 1-0 win over the Pirates gives the Cubs more breathing room in the NL Central. The St. Louis Cardinals beat the Milwaukee Brewers on Friday, pushing the Cubs lead to 4.5 games in the division.

And the Hamels hot-streak comes at an excellent time for the North Siders, who took in Jon Lester's gem of an outing on Thursday, where he went six innings with no earned runs and eight strikeouts in a win against the Pirates. The Cubs starting pitching seems to be turning the corner, and with three straight series against sub-.500 teams following their series in Pittsburgh, this could be the beginning of a great run of outings that carries the Cubs confidently into the postseason.

A stellar Jon Lester outing gives the Cubs more than just a win

A stellar Jon Lester outing gives the Cubs more than just a win

It's been a tale of two halves for the Cubs veteran Jon Lester, who after a sparkling first half of baseball that saw him win 12 games with a 2.58 ERA, has looked nothing like a 2018 All-Star. Prior to Thursday's start, Lester had posted a 10.32 ERA, allowed 4 or more runs in 4 of his 5 most recent starts, and had yet to win a game in the second of the season. 

The 34-year-old veteran flipped the script Thursday night, throwing 6-shutout innings while striking out 8 Pirate batters in the Cubs 1-0 win in Pittsburgh. Lester surrendered only 5 hits and baffled the Pirates all-night, finally busting out of his slump and giving the Cubs his 2nd quality start since the All-Star break. 

Lester attacked the bottom portion of the strike zone all night with his fastball, which topped out at 93 mph, generating 4 whiffs with his heater. Over the last month, Lester has said he's felt he can't quite execute his "out" pitches, explaining that when he has a hitter set up for a strikeout he hasn't been able to throw the ball effectively in those moments. 

And while Lester walked off the mound after the 6th inning amassing 8 punch outs, the veteran starter never looked like he was trying to strike out batters. He just continued to dot the corners, occasionally raise the eye-level of the batter with an elevated heater, and threw his secondary pitches just enough to keep the Pittsburgh batters uncomfortable at the plate. 

The Cubs offense once again struggled, facing Ivan Nova who has won four his last five starts against the Cubs, but Ian Happ's solo shot in the 4th inning was enough run support for Lester to push the Cubs to 20 games over .500. But the biggest takeaway from Thursday night's win isn't that the Cubs came out on top, it's that Jon Lester returning to form gives this Chicago rotation something they've lacked seemingly this entire season. 

Stability at the front of the rotation. 

With Cole Hamels impressive three starts in a Cub uniform and Kyle Hendricks finally figuring out his issues on the mound, if Jon Lester can replicate Thursday's performance throughout the rest of the season, the Cubs rotation may finally turn into the strength many thought it could be before the season started. At the very least, Lester showed that whatever he's been working through over the last month of baseball is fixable. 

It's only one start in a string of poor outings for Lester, and while The Athletic's Sahadev Sharma did find some positives in his starts prior to Thursday's big win, Lester will have to show he can maintain this level of pitching through the remainder of this season. But I think our own Tony Andracki put it best tonight on Twitter. 

With the Cubs pitchers finally starting to perform to their expected level, and the return of Yu Darvish looking closer each day, it could be the Cubs starting pitching that carries through the rest of the season.