Jon Lester

Joe Maddon perplexed by the way baseballs are jumping this year: 'It's extraterrestrial'

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USA TODAY

Joe Maddon perplexed by the way baseballs are jumping this year: 'It's extraterrestrial'

On a mid-June night that felt more like the first week of April, the Cubs and White Sox combined for 2,029 feet of homers. 

As Leury Garcia hit Jon Lester's first pitch of the game 429 feet Wednesday evening, the reported temperature was in the mid 50s with winds blowing in from left field at 7 mph. That's not as chilly or windy as some of the games the Cubs have played this season, but it's still certainly not ideal hitting conditions at Wrigley Field.

Yet five home runs peppered the left and center field bleachers in the Cubs' 7-3 victory and prompted veteran manager Joe Maddon to bemuse about the way the ball is jumping around baseball today.

"Difficult conditions, but again — wind blowing in at a gale, it seemed, balls flying out easily," Maddon said after the game. "The home run that [James] McCann hit, my god, that just took off. You could actually see it from the field. You watch the flags [blowing in], it gets there, then all of a sudden it took off like a UFO. It stood still, then it took off. The first home run of the game, the first pitch, I mean my god, that ball went far. 

"I don't know what I'm witnessing. The way the ball is coming off the bat right now, it's extraterrestrial. It's like an ET kind of a thing going on out there. It's crazy. This is my fifth year here and I know what I've seen. Whenever the wind is blowing in like that, you don't see that. You don't see that."

Lester worked around those two homers from Garcia and McCann to pick up his 6th win, thanks in large part to the power supplied from his own teammates. Catcher Willson Contreras mashed his 14th and 15th homers of the season (after hitting only 10 all of last year) and David Bote smashed his 9th. 

Overall this season, the Cubs have been on an insane home run barrage, on pace to blow past the franchise mark for longballs in a year. Contreras reaching the 15-homer plateau puts five Cubs in that club this season. No other MLB team has more than three players who have reached that mark.

"I just know the ball's leaving," Maddon said. "I don't know if it's another year of maturity, but it's not just us. It's industry-wide. So it's hard to just say that we're the outlier with all this going on. I still want to see the better approach with runners in scoring position." 

Six weeks ago, Lester brought up the juiced baseball discussion after a start against the Marlins, saying he and other pitchers would like to know if MLB is juicing the baseballs. The league hasn't openly stated anything is different with the baseballs, though home runs are up at an astronomical rate across the board — in both the majors and Triple-A. And we haven't even gotten into the summer weather yet, when the ball really starts flying on warm evenings.

When asked for his thoughts on the baseballs Wednesday night, Lester shrugged it off.

"No comment," he said. "We can sit here and talk until we're blue in the face about the ball. It is what it is. Every pitcher in the big leagues has to pitch with it. You can comment on it all you want, but it just sounds like an excuse. I don't make excuses. Gotta make better pitches."

Cubs players support White Sox extending protective netting: 'That's a positive step for the sport'

Cubs players support White Sox extending protective netting: 'That's a positive step for the sport'

Albert Almora’s foul ball that struck a young girl in Houston’s Minute Maid Park started a discussion around baseball. The other team in Chicago became the first to act on it.

On Tuesday, the White Sox announced that the team will be extending the protective netting at Guaranteed Rate Field to both foul poles later this summer. As the news broke in the afternoon, Cubs players were asked about it before the first Crosstown game of the year. Unsurprisingly, all of them were in favor of the move.

“I think obviously that’s a positive step in this sport,” Almora said. “I don’t think anybody should go home with bumps or bruises or even worse so whatever they got to do to take care of that, I’m glad they’re taking procedures.”

Almora admitted that the incident he was involved in has moved the conversation forward and led to more action from teams. Before the White Sox announced the decision, the Iowa Cubs, the Cubs Triple-A affiliate, had said they would be extending the netting at their park.

“Unfortunately my incident was, I don’t want to say the reason behind it, but I think teams are obviously paying attention,” Almora said. “Even incidents that aren’t making headlines, we had one in Dodgers Stadium where I saw the section of the crowd go silent while we’re still playing. At least 10 fans go home with bumps and bruises at the best. I don’t want to see that and I know any player in this league doesn’t want to see that either.”

Manager Joe Maddon said this wouldn't have happened so quickly without Almora's incident.

"Everything that occurs like that is going to expedite," Maddon said. "It always does. It normally takes a situation to get things rolling so of course it had some bearing on it."

Jon Lester thinks more teams will follow suit now that the White Sox have been the first one to extend the netting.

“Would I like to see it? 100 percent, but we’ll see how far my opinion gets us,” Lester said. “It’s a positive. Obviously when one team does it, then you get kind of the herding effect and the rest of people follow.”

Anthony Rizzo also believes the rest of the league will get there eventually, but wasn’t sure going all the way to the foul poles is necessary.

“Both foul poles is pretty aggressive in my opinion, but you don’t want to see anyone get hurt,” Rizzo said. “I think sooner or later it probably will end up being both foul poles for every team, but I think the netting here is really good. There’s some line drives that hit fans, but that’s far enough away where it’s not the span of a finger and if you’re engaged in a game, which most everyone here is usually. You don’t ever want to see anyone get hurt so whatever it takes for people not to get hurt.”

Maddon told a story from his playing career to explain why the issue was close to him before Almora's foul ball. When he played in Quad Cities in 1976, he saw a kid sitting behind home plate get hit in the face because the net wasn't very wide. 

"I sat with his dad and the kid had a bloody face and from that moment it made an impact on me," Maddon said. "I won't let my kids sit anywhere at a ballpark unless there's a net in front of them or if they're high enough or far enough back that the velocity is off the baseball by the time it gets there. The way the nets are today, you can see through them relatively well. I'm good."

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Old town road (trip): Cubs don cowboy attire in Jon Lester-themed flight to west coast

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USA TODAY

Old town road (trip): Cubs don cowboy attire in Jon Lester-themed flight to west coast

Everything is coming up Jon Lester this weekend.

Saturday, Lester bounced back from a rough first inning to lead the Cubs to a 9-4 win over the Cardinals. Following Sunday's game, the team will pay homage to the big left-hander, holding a themed road trip in which they will don Lester-esque attire. 

Photos and videos of several players' outfits have begun circulating on social media. As a warning, there might be no way to defeat Anthony Rizzo's outfit:

https://twitter.com/Cubs/status/1137932328733499392

Pedro Strop went all out:

From Jason Heyward's Instagram story:

From David Bote's Instagram story:

Javier Báez getting in the spirit, too (from Báez's Instagram story).

Themed road trips are nothing new under Joe Maddon on the North Side. Last season, the Cubs held a Pedro Strop-inspired road trip; this season, they donned basketball jerseys in homage to the NBA Finals.

This post will be updated with other Cubs in Lester attire when photo/videos become available.

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