A week removed from disappointing end to Cubs season, Jon Lester provides perspective

A week removed from disappointing end to Cubs season, Jon Lester provides perspective

"Sometimes you need to get your dick knocked in the dirt in order to appreciate where you're at. And you know what? Maybe we needed that. Maybe we needed to get knocked down a peg or two and realize that nothing's gonna be given to us."

That was Jon Lester', unique...rapid reaction to the heart-wrenching end of the Cubs' season after just one postseason game last week.

A week later, the Cubs ace still has the same perspective and believes the criticism of Joe Maddon is unfair and an unfortunate byproduct of a season that ended short of expectations.

Roughly 14 hours after Lester's NSFW summation, Cubs president of baseball opertations Theo Epstein spoke more eloquently on the matter, believing his team lacked urgency at times throughout the year and it came back to bite them by forcing a Game 163 against the Milwaukee Brewers.

"In our business, we have bosses and Theo's our boss," Lester said on ESPN 1000 Wednesday. "He obviously saw something that lacked in our team throughout the year. He sees it as a different view than we see it and if he feels that way, then he's probably right. With such a long, long season, you go through spurts where, yeah, it may not necessarily lack the sense of urgency, it may just be you're in a rut — mentally, physically, whatever it may be.

"We've all said it; I've been guilty of saying it — 'Hey, this is just one of those days and we'll move on.' Well, 'one of those days' turns into Game 163. Unfortunately, our lackluster performance falls on Joe's shoulder and that's the unfortunate part of any game - any athletic sport on the professional level.

"I think Joe has done a phenomenal job the past four years. I mean, he's given the city of Chicago expectations for us. So I think you gotta look at that. We're still fresh. We're literally a week removed from losing, so everybody's still got that bitter taste in their mouths and rightfully so. I think everybody needs to step back and realize we overcame a lot, but we still came up short.

"There are some positives we can take from this and we're gonna go forward with it and it's gonna make us stronger as a unit. It's gonna make Joe stronger as a manager. We all got Joe's back and we all believe in what he does. But like I said, the unfortunate part is when you provide expectations for a city, this is the stuff you have to deal with and we'll get through it."

Despite the heat Maddon took, his status as Cubs manager "remains unchanged" and is expected to once again be at the helm of a team with World Series expectations in 2019. 

Javy Baez also felt like the team lacked a sense of urgency all season and was outspoken about what he felt even before the Cubs were eliminated by the Rockies in the 13th inning of the NL Wild-Card Game. 

Yes, the season ended in disappointing fashion. Yes, everybody expected the Cubs to at least make the NLDS, especially after spending most of July, all of August and all of September as a first-place team with the best record in the entire NL.

Nobody's happy the Cubs fell short of their ultimate goal of winning the World Series.

That doesn't mean they choked, however.

"Let's get one thing straight — we're best record in the league minus 1," Lester said a few hours after his gutsy performance against the Rockies in the one-game playoff. "We had to play 163 in order to lose that title. So I like my chances every year if you're gonna come down to the last game of the year and you're fighting for the best record in the league.

"The Brewers got hot, they played really good. I feel like we played really good. I mean, I don't feel like we lost this. I feel like they beat us and we got ourselves in this situation."

As tough as this ending was for the 2018 Cubs, it sure doesn't seem like the 2019 team will be lacking any urgency, motivation or chip on their shoulder.

It'll be World Series or bust for the Cubs once again next year.

Kris Bryant owns St. Louis, pisses off Cardinal Nation

Kris Bryant owns St. Louis, pisses off Cardinal Nation

As far as Cubs fans are concerned, Kris Bryant is saying and doing all the right things in advance of what may be a major bounceback season for the former NL MVP.

Bryant assured everybody his shoulder is feeling great Friday evening and he's shown his standard one-handed finish in offseason workout videos.

He also cracked a couple jokes at his Cubs Convention panel, from serving as a resident "hitting poet" to playing up his wholesome image.

Bryant also managed to piss off Cardinals Nation, much to the delight of Cubs fans.

Bryant was a guest on Ryan Dempster's talk show Friday night at the Sheraton Grand Chicago and the topic of Bryce Harper came up (of course) along with Nelly, whom the two baseball superstars were photographed with over the winter. 

As Harper continues his free agent tour, Nelly apparently tried to pitch the superstar on St. Louis, the hometown of the rapper.

Fans booed when Bryant reminded everybody Nelly is a diehard Cardinals fan.

"Yeah, boo," Bryant said. "He was trying to work the magic on Bryce. Who would want to play in St. Louis? Boring. So boring. 

"I always get asked, 'Where would you like to play? Where would you not like to play?' St. Louis is on the list of places I don't like to play. It is rough."

Cubs fans absolutely loved it, of course, but those comments are not going over well in the shadow of the arch:

Even Cardinals reliever John Brebbia apparently took exception to Bryant's comments, reportedly calling the Cubs slugger a "loser" at their own fan convention over the weekend:

The NL Central already promised to be one of the most interesting divisions in baseball in 2019. The Cubs-Brewers rivalry (or not, if you ask Cole Hamels) took center stage last year, but Cubs-Cardinals may be getting the fire back if this early trash talk is any indication.

What new bench coach Mark Loretta brings to the 2019 Cubs

AP Photos

What new bench coach Mark Loretta brings to the 2019 Cubs

Mark Loretta was happy in San Diego. And as icy wind whipped snow across downtown Chicago on Saturday morning -- where Day 2 of Cubs Convention had just gotten started -- it’s easy to understand why. 

Loretta, who had spent the last decade as a special assistant in the San Diego Padres front offices, was hired as the Cubs’ newest bench coach back on January 3rd. His familiarity with the Cubs front office goes all the way back to 2006, when he played for the Boston Red Sox under Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. He was then hired by the Hoyer-run Padres after he retired in 2009. 

A Northwestern alum, Loretta had never thought about leaving Southern California - until the Cubs came calling. 

“I think it was just a really unique opportunity for a lot of reasons,” he said. “You know, obviously the Chicago connection, the team, Joe, so many factors that I thought made it a good fit. I always felt that I would want to get back in a uniform at some point. I didn’t know when it would happen, but when this opportunity came up my family was very excited about it and it seemed like the right fit at the right time.”  

Loretta joins a Cubs team that, as you’ve surely heard by now, is returning most of last year’s roster. Though they won 95 games last summer, their late-season stumble soaked up most of the fans’ goodwill. Going 0-2 in home clinchers, while scoring two runs in the process, will leave a bitter taste in most anyone’s mouth. 

“I think the silver lining of last year is that this team is really motivated,” he added. “From the front office all the way down, I’ve talked to just about every one of them either in person or on the phone, and they’re stung by last year. There were some tears in the clubhouse after the Wild Card game.” 

“I think these guys realize that they can’t just show up and be this dynasty, even though they’re extremely talented. It’s not about changing for me, it’s about growing. These guys need to take the next step and really understand what it takes for the long haul.”  

Bench coach jobs are a bit like the White House Chief of Staff in that there’s never really a set job description. During his time in San Diego, he had a hand in the Padres’ scouting, player development, and community relations. Here, Loretta sees the role as an intermediary between the players and staff; he and new quality assurance coach Chris Denorfia are already neck deep in day-to-day planning of Spring Training. Despite only being here for a little over two weeks, Loretta’s already made an impression on many. 

“I watched him growing up, and I got to talk to him a little bit,” David Bote said. “He called me a couple weeks ago to kind of get to know each other a little bit. He’s awesome, I think he fits really well into what we have going here. I don’t really know his coaching style, but I don’t think there are going to be any issues based on our conversations. I think he’s really into what we’re doing and I’m really excited to see what he brings.” 

The elephant in the room, of course, is that manager Joe Maddon only has one year left on his current contract. He enters 2019 with about as little job security as he’s ever had in Chicago. Though his last two bench coaches have found managerial jobs of their own in D.C. and Baltimore, Maddon’s uncertain future only adds fuel to the potential-replacement fire. 

“I think you can read things into it, but as far as I’m concerned, that was not on my radar,” Loretta said. “It was nothing obviously that I talked to Jed or Theo about, so again, I understand the speculation - you can start adding things together. But again, Joe is a huge reason why I was interested in taking this job. I think he’s one of the best managers in the game for sure.”

“I look really forward to learning from him next year.”