Jon Lester

Quick takes: Cubs show no rust in return, avoid Mike Clevinger to beat Indians

Quick takes: Cubs show no rust in return, avoid Mike Clevinger to beat Indians

The Cubs didn’t seem to have any rust to shake off on Tuesday, despite an unexpected break over the weekend.

The Cubs beat the Indians 7-1 in their return to Progressive Field, the ballpark where they claimed the 2016 World Series title.

Before the game, Cubs manager David Ross set up his pregame Zoom session with reporters in the visiting manager’s office. It was the same room where former Cubs manager Joe Maddon sat Ross down to talk about the then-backup catcher's role for Game 7 of the World Series.

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“A lot of memories walking down the street,” Ross said, "walking to the park today, walking in, for sure.”

Here are takeaways from the Cubs’ win:

Cubs avoid Clevinger

Indians pitcher Mike Clevinger was originally scheduled to start Tuesday. But instead, he spent the evening in quarantine and on the restricted list.

Clevenger apologized Tuesday for violating health and safety protocols by leaving the team hotel without permission while in Chicago for the Indians’ series against the White Sox.

Instead, Adam Plutko drew the start. He began the season in the bullpen but stretched out to 78 pitches on Tuesday. In four innings, Plutko allowed one run on four hits.

The Indians’ rotation is considered one of the best, if not the best, in baseball this season. The Cubs benefitted from getting to the Cleveland bullpen early. A five-run sixth inning included a three-run home run by Jason Heyward.

Lester stays steady

Jon Lester recorded his second straight quality start on Tuesday. Including the one run he allowed in six innings Tuesday, Lester has only given up two runs this season.

Lester was originally slated to pitch in the Cubs’ series opener at St. Louis. When that series was cancelled, due to three more positive COVID-19 tests from the Cardinals, Lester threw a bullpen session instead on Saturday to stay sharp.

Lester didn’t pitch like his schedule had been altered. He held Cleveland scoreless through five innings. The only run he allowed came in the sixth, when the Cubs had a six-run lead.

Kipnis returns

Cubs second baseman Jason Kipnis faced the Indians for the first time in his career, after spending nine seasons in Cleveland. He signed with the Cubs this offseason as a free agent.

The Indians played a tribute video for him before the game, which included an extensive montage of game-winning hits and plays.

During the game, Kipnis hit a double into right field to start his night at the plate. He also scored on a wild pitch in the seventh inning.

Where they stand

The Cubs improved to an 11-3 record, still leading the NL Central in wins despite having played three fewer games than the Reds at No. 2 in the division.

On deck

Next, the Cubs remain in Cleveland for the second game of a two-game series.

 

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Cubs lay out rotation plans following postponed series against Cardinals

Cubs lay out rotation plans following postponed series against Cardinals

The Cubs laid out their starting rotation plans for this coming week following the postponement of their series in St. Louis due to several more Cardinals testing positive for COVID-19.

After Monday’s off day, Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks will take the bump in Cleveland on Tuesday and Wednesday. The Cubs return to Chicago for a four-game set against the Brewers starting Thursday, and Yu Darvish, Tyler Chatwood and Alec Mills will start the first three games.

“It lined up for giving each guy the least amount of days off as we possibly could,” Cubs manager David Ross said Sunday.

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Lester, who was scheduled to start in St. Louis on Friday, threw a bullpen session on Saturday. He last started on Aug. 2, giving him eight days between starts.

Hendricks (Tuesday), Darvish (Wednesday) and Chatwood (Thursday) started against the Royals and will each have seven days between starts. Mills started this past Monday but pitched five innings in a sim game on Sunday, putting five days between that and his next outing.

RELATED: Why Cubs-Cards COVID-19 postponement raises heat on MLB, ethics questions

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Why Chicago Cubs starters Jon Lester, Alec Mills are two of MLB's best pitchers

Why Chicago Cubs starters Jon Lester, Alec Mills are two of MLB's best pitchers

Usually when GMs, managers and fans get ready for a baseball season, any consistent production from the Nos. 4 and 5 starters is a luxury. In the Cubs’ case, it’s been an embarrassment of riches through two turns of the rotation.

Through 10 games, the Cubs are 8-2, good for the best win percentage in the National League. One huge reason for that has been the team’s incredible starting pitching. Kyle Hendricks set the tone early when he pitched a complete game shutout in the very first game of the season. Now, the Cubs’ starters lead MLB in ERA (1.95), batting average against (.156) and WHIP (0.780). They’ve done all that while also throwing 60 innings, second only to the Indians who have thrown 70 innings.

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At first glance you’d probably think, yeah, that makes sense with Hendricks starting the season the way he did, and Darvish getting back on track with six innings of two-hit ball in his second start. But surprisingly the only two clunkers came in Hendricks and Darvish starts. In fact, the analytics say Jon Lester and Alec Mills, the Cubs’ last two guys in the rotation have been two of the most impressive starters in MLB.

Let’s start by looking at the ERAs of all starters who have at least 8 IP, since the name of the game is keeping runs off the board. If 8 IP seems like an arbitrary cutoff… well, it is. But it seems like a fair number to assess quality pitchers who have made two starts in this shortened season with short leashes on pitchers. Among those pitchers, Lester and Mills each rank in the top-10 with ERAs of 0.82 and 1.38, respectively, according to FanGraphs.

So how are they doing it? Neither is a power pitcher who relies on strikeouts. In fact, Lester’s four punchouts place him tied for fourth-fewest in our split of SPs who have thrown more than 8 IP. Mills’ seven strikeouts (tied for 10th-fewest) aren’t much better. These guys succeed by keeping guys off the base paths, and not allowing hard-hit balls.

Looking at batting average against, Lester and Mills move into MLB’s top-five, according to our FanGraphs split, with each pitcher holding batters under .120. Since we’ve already established that neither guy is a power pitcher, when we filter further to just show BAA on balls put in play it should come as no surprise that Lester and Mills rise to No. 1 and No. 2 in all of baseball with .118 and .139 marks, respectively.

Great defense, like Javy Baez’s tag in Monday’s game, certainly helps the pitchers’ stats. But the starters also make things easier on the defense by inducing poor contact, regardless of whether the ball is hit on the ground or the air. According to FanGraphs, Mills ranks second in MLB by inducing soft contact on 33.3% of all balls put into play. In addition, he’s 11th in MLB with a 54.3 ground ball percentage. Lester ranks ninth by getting hitters to make soft contact 26.5% of the time, although he’s 11th in the league in getting batters to hit fly balls 47.1% of the time.

In the end the result is the same, with Mills and Lester combining to only allow four extra base hits in 24 IP. So although they aren’t typical “dominant” pitchers that teams like to make their aces, Mills and Lester have been two of the most effective starters in the game.


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