Cubs

With Cubs reeling, Jon Lester comes up big and plays stopper

lester_stopper.jpg
USA TODAY

With Cubs reeling, Jon Lester comes up big and plays stopper

The last three games have been more than forgettable for the Cubs.

From Wednesday’s 11-1 drubbing at the hands of the Phillies to back-to-back walk-off losses on Thursday and Friday, the Cubs’ current road trip has looked much like those that preceded it. At various times, the offense has scuffled, the rotation has pitched a clunker and the bullpen has cracked.

The solution to the latest road trip woes? Give the ball to Jon Lester and get the hell out of the way.

Lester —  who pitched a clunker himself Aug. 6 against the A’s — did what the Cubs have become so accustomed to see him do over the past four seasons. The 35-year-old tossed 6+ shutout innings, allowing just four hits, leading the Cubs to a 2-0 win.

Lester had no room for error on Saturday, as the Cubs offense went hitless for the first 4 1/3 innings. While the Cubs bats were asleep, the Pirates threatened to break the game on open multiple times, loading the bases with one out (first inning), no outs (fifth) and getting runners on first and second with no outs in the sixth.

The latter two of those instances were assisted by errors by third baseman Kris Bryant, but that’s neither here nor there. Point being, with how the Cubs looked offensively, any Pirates runs could have proved critical on Saturday. Instead, Lester worked out of every jam, stymying the Pirates bats to an 0-for-12 line with RISP.

Winning Saturday’s game was obviously important for the Cubs, as it puts them a game ahead of the Cardinals in the win column (pending the outcome of St. Louis's game against the Reds later Saturday). But it was equally important for Lester, who called himself the “weakest link” in the Cubs starting rotation after that tough outing against the A’s.

The beautiful thing about baseball is that the regular season is 162 games long. Each day presents teams with a new slate, a chance to forget about what happened in the previous game and move forward.  If Saturday’s start shows anything, it’s that Lester and the Cubs are more than capable of putting a tough game in the rearview mirror and keep moving forward.

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13 Days to Kickoff: Phillips

13 Days to Kickoff: Phillips

NBCSportsChicago.com preps reporter "Edgy" Tim O’Halloran spotlights 100 high school football teams in 100 days. The first 75 team profiles will focus on teams making strides across Chicagoland and elsewhere in the state. Starting Aug. 5, we’ll unveil the @NBCSPrepsTop 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 30.

School: Phillips

Head coach: Troy McAllister

How they fared in 2018: 9-3 (5-0 CPL Illini Land of Lincoln Conference). Phillips made the Class 6A state playoff field and defeated Lake Forest and Prairie Ridge. They advanced for the quarterfinal round and lost to Cary-Grove.

2019 regular season schedule:

Aug. 31 @ Cass Tech (MI)
Sept. 7 vs St. Mary (MO) at East St. Louis
Sept. 13 vs Taft
Sept. 20 vs Raby
Sept. 27 @ Morgan Park (Gately Stadium)
Oct. 5 @ Simeon (Gately Stadium)
Oct. 11 vs Lane Tech
Oct. 19 @ Westinghouse
Oct. 25 @ Lincoln Park (at Lane Tech)

Biggest storyline: Phillips has gone from a Public League also-ran to a program with annual state title aspirations. Can the two-time state champion Wildcats get back into the 6A playoff field and make a deeper run this November?

Names to watch this season: S Robert Pledger (Sr., Western Michigan) OL/DL Demerick Morris (Sr., Temple)

Biggest holes to fill: The Wildcats will bring back an experienced team this season after playing a ton of underclassmen in 2018. The biggest hole is more from a leadership standpoint with the graduation losses of WR/DB Fabian McCray (NIU) and DB Joseph Thompson (Illinois), both of whom were long time varsity starters. 

EDGY's Early Take: Phillips (4A-sized enrollment) and head coach Troy McAllister volunteered to "move up" to Class 6A level last season and also this season. The Wildcats will bring back big group of returning starters who saw significant playing time last season.

While they came up short last season with a 6A quarterfinals loss to Cary-Grove, look for the Wildcats to again challenge everyone who comes their way in the Chicago Public League. They’ll have to be road warriors the first two weeks, as they take on marquee competition from out of state. The Oct. 5 date vs. Simeon is a must-see. The 6A playoff field will have to be wary of Phillips.