Bears

Ian Stewart is having a rough go of it

748551.png

Ian Stewart is having a rough go of it

When the Cubs traded for Ian Stewart in early December, it was seen as a low-risk, high-reward move for Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer.

After all, Stewart was a former first-round pick that hit 53 homers for the Rockies from 2008-10. The Cubs needed a third baseman and Stewart could be had for cheap after struggling badly in 2011, hitting just .156 in 136 at-bats with zero home runs.

But somehow, Stewart's numbers are just as bad to start 2012.

After hitting a three-run homer in St. Louis April 13, the 27-year-old third baseman is just 4-for-49 (.082 AVG) with only one extra-base hit and three walks. That equates to a sickening .237 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) in 13 games.

To be fair, Stewart has been incredibly unlucky this year. Against the Phillies on Sunday, he hit a couple balls really hard, just right at guys. The same thing happened April 20 against the Reds. Stewart was 0-for-4, but had four hard-hit balls and nothing to show for it.

His BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is just .196 this season, almost 100 points lower than his career average of .291. That is just beyond unlucky. Only seven major-league players boast a lower BABIP, including Marlon Byrd and sluggers Jose Bautista and Eric Hosmer.

Theo and Hoyer said prior to the season that Stewart was going to get every opportunity to turn things around. He was going to get 400-500 at-bats regardless. His defensive numbers at third leave a little bit to be desired, but he's still better than Aramis Ramirez has been the past few years.

Should the Cubs keep playing Stewart at third? Of course. They really don't have any other options. Top third base prospect Josh Vitters is far from ready, as he is struggling with a .618 OPS in his first season in Triple-A.

Beyond that, the Cubs have Blake DeWitt, Joe Mather and Jeff Baker in the majors. While all three of those guys are productive bench players, none of them has the upside Stewart has and none figures to be the answer at third.

Baseball is a game that evens out over time. If Stewart keeps hitting the ball hard, he will eventually find some holes. Even-tempered Dale Sveum is the perfect manager to make sure Stewart doesn't get too down.

Sveum and the Cubs figure to stick with Stewart at third base. One of these days, his luck will finally turn and he'll go 4-for-4.

Sports Talk Live Podcast: How much will Trubisky improve in his 2nd preseason game?

mitch_trubisky_usa_today.jpg
USA TODAY

Sports Talk Live Podcast: How much will Trubisky improve in his 2nd preseason game?

Mark Carman, Scott Merkin and Chris Bleck join Kap on the panel. Jon Lester looks to get back on track against the Pirates? Should he still be the Cubs Game 1 starter in the playoffs?  Len Kasper joins Kap to discuss.

 

How much will Mitch Trubisky improve in his 2nd preseason game? And will Carlos Rodon end up being the White Sox’ best starter?

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

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.