Cubs’ Jon Lester Gets His First Home Run. Ever!

Jon Lester

Chicago Cubs pitcher Jon Lester throws during the second inning of a spring training baseball game against the Colorado Rockies, Wednesday, March 30, 2016, in Mesa, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Sometimes Jon Lester surprises me. He really does.  Yesterday, he picked up his first home run ever.

I mean ever. Yeah. Really, really really ever.

The Cubs destroyed the Colorado Rockies 10-0. It just wasn’t a single shot but a two run kazinger over the wall in the fourth inning. Not known to be a hitting pitcher, Lester just proved another point about these Chicago Cubs;

They’re an offensive threat no matter where they are at the plate.

“You’re coming in and trying to figure out how far from the plate you’re supposed to stand and how you’re supposed to load and how you’re supposed to swing,” he said. “This year I have a better idea of what I’m trying to do. Just the comfort level of being in a batter’s box and seeing live pitching — that’s the hardest part. These guys all throw 94, 95 [mph] plus. It’s a big shock when you don’t see it all the time.”

But the fun doesn’t end there because it was his buddy, David Ross who wanted in on the fun, the retiring “Grandpa” of the group received three doubles and three RBI’s. Two players not known for their hitting and power practically carrying the team on their backs.

Now, my wife might say who cares about spring training, but these little moral victories are confidence builders especially since the regular season starts next week.

“I try not to read too much into Spring Training, whether it’s good or bad,” Lester said. “I would’ve liked to have gotten a couple more innings, but we had some long innings today and that’s why they pulled me a little early. That’s my big thing is making my starts and getting my innings — that’s all I really care about,” he said. “The runs and all that stuff, I try not to pay attention to that [in spring]. The big thing for me is not a lot of walks, which is good. It means I’m staying in the zone consistently and getting early contact.”

It’s practice Jon, but who knows where this might lead? Perhaps a batting title?

That was a joke Cubs fans.

What isn’t a joke is Manager Joe Maddon’s realistic approach to the Cubs’ season. We know about the drought. There’s high hopes in Chicago and after last season’s heroics there certainly is a lot of pressure but the players know that it’s a job and this season is no different than any other. The team’s good, the players are relaxed and confident, so now it’s about playing baseball to the best of their abilities.

“We have not won a World Series in a century, so there’s nothing to get complacent or cocky about,” Maddon said. “Bring that all on the table, talk about it, say it up front. That’s why I believe it’s important to embrace the target.”

1908 folks. That’s a long time ago.

Believe it.

Cubs Cut Then Resign Kawasaki

Munenori Kawasaki

Chicago Cubs’ Munenori Kawasaki fields grounders during spring training baseball practice, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016, in Mesa, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

The season starts next week, so the 5 home run output during yesterday’s game shouldn’t come as a surprise. The Cubs beat the Oakland Athletics, 9-5. The surprise is coming.

I promise.

Jake Arrieta threw 102 pitches and Kyle Schwarber hit his first orbit shot of the spring and Munenori Kawasaki  hit a home run on the day he was released and then resigned to a minor league contract.

“He’s a good baseball player,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He gets a lot of publicity based on his personality, but this guy is also a very good player.”

He’s one of the best clubhouse guys you can have. Given any opportunity, he’s the guy that’ll come through in a pinch or a clutch. Besides, he sings a mean karaoke.

I’m really glad the team has resigned this veteran. I hope he gets a chance this season. It was just a case of the depth the Cubs have with the releasing/resigning of a minor league contract.

“Not a thing,” Maddon said. “He couldn’t have had a better Spring Training. What he was lacking was opportunity. There’s enough people right now based on the personnel we had in house.”

True to Kawasaki’s word, “I don’t wanna miss a thing.”

Another guy I’m glad made the cut is Neil Ramirez. Here’s a guy that gave my son a baseball at his first Cubs game two years ago in Boston. A classy guy who goes above and beyond the ball diamond. The guy is going to be a monster in the bullpen.

“I feel the last three, four times I’ve been really locked in out there,” Ramirez said. “My fastball command right now is awesome. The slider is still getting where it needs to be. I’m just happy where I’m at, mentally and physically. Being healthy is huge for me. It’s fun to be out there and just competing again and not having to worry about anything. I’m where I need to be.”

This is going to be a good year for Ramirez because I have a funny feeling that the Cubs aren’t going to be digging deep into the bullpen too much this season.

“I think Neil, based on his performance this spring, is showing signs of approaching what he did a couple years ago,” Maddon said. “The biggest thing with him is to stop pitching to the [radar] gun and try to get hitters out. When he does that, the velocity comes back up. He’s pitched well and deserves to be there.”

The right hander was marred by injuries last season and hopes to have a rebound year with the Cubs.

This is it folks, this time next week we’ll be looking at regular season action. Tomorrow night I gear up for my fantasy baseball league draft. Anthony Rizzo is one of my keepers but man, do I have tough choices to make. It almost feels like I know what Joe Maddon goes through on a daily basis.

Believe it.

Cubs Have a Stinging Loss

Jason Heyward

Yesterday’s game was a workout in the home run department. The Cubs lost 12-9 to the Seattle Mariners, but it was the bat duties of Jason Heyward, Addison Russell,  Matt Szczur and Dexter Fowler all took one deep for the Cubs who now have 30 homers in 20 games.

Is this a sign of things to come?

For Addison Russell, I feel that this is the season where he breaks out onto his own and becomes the player we knew he’d be.

“It’s been great working with him,”Ben Zobrist said. “It’s really tough to point out some weakness because he has so many strengths. The biggest thing he needs is time and experience, and he’ll get smoother and smoother and more and more polished as time goes on, and everyone will see what he’s really capable of. He’s got this special ability to make extended plays that other guys can’t get to because of his range and athleticsm. It’s going to be fun to watch.”

His defence is second to none. Last year, he made so many highlight reel catches it was just a matter of time before he makes it to the AllStar game.

“Conversationally, he’s much more confident,” Joe Maddon said. “He’s easier to joke around with. He’s just much more comfortable in his Major League skin. I love it. He knows he belongs here; he knows he’s good here. He’s in great shape. He was in fine shape last year, and I think he’s in even better shape now. There’s a lot going on in his personal life and his family, which is all good. He’s grown up a bit.”

There was a swarm of bees during yesterday’s game that made for some intense moments which stung Jason Heyward 10 times.

“They came over from right field,” Heyward said. “I saw them moving around a little bit, but right fielder Mark Zagunis was doing what I was doing, which is wearing it because we knew the game was going on. I wasn’t thinking to get out of there until it got crazy. I was like, ‘OK, I’m not going to stand here,’ so I tried to get away.”

Play was stopped for five minutes and  don’t worry Cubs fans, perhaps Jason should have some honey before games this season because it helped him with his home run output.

“You could see them from left field all the way to center, they were everywhere,” Jason Hammel said. “The fact that Heyward isn’t swollen beyond belief right now, I don’t know how he made it out of that.”

Believe it

 

Lester Rocks The Mound and Calling Chicago Style Sausages!

Jon Lester

(photo: The Associated Press)

The key to any spring training game is to get better. We all know this and in Jon Lester‘s outing against National league Central division rivals Milwaukee Brewers come from behind win over the Cubs 5-4, despite the loss,  Lester looked good.

Damn good.

Two hits over five innings is the kind of magic the Cubs will need from Lester this season. As the season draws closer, the games take on more intensity as rivalries heat up.

“I think it looked a lot better than it was,” Lester said. “For me, it definitely wasn’t as good as last time, as far as stuff and location, but we kind of masked that pretty well. Sometimes you have starts like that, especially now, you feel like you’re going pretty well and then your body lets you know that it’s Spring Training and you don’t have everything figured out. It was good to get up and down five times and face a team that we’re going to have a lot of experience with this year,” he said. “It’s good to kind of get a grinder like that out of the way, too.”

The Cubs have a tough rotation. Any of those guys could be the Opening Day starter and nobody would take fault to that. Last year, lester got the nod but this year it goes to National League Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta. However, Arrieta has been suffering from some finger issues but states that he should be fine and ready for the big day.

“It really won’t be a problem at all,” Arrieta said. “It really wasn’t even a blister. From the environment here, the skin, having to deal with dry skin, cracking all that stuff, it’s just managing it. Once we get out of Arizona, it’ll no longer be an issue at all.”

However, if situations change, Lester is all in should he be called upon to start Opening Day.

“If that’s what happens, then that’s what happens,” Lester said. “I think all five of us are prepared to go whenever they tell us to go. So if it’s a day sooner, we’ll make an adjustment. If it’s my normal day, then we’ll stay right on track. But talking to Jake this morning, I don’t think he’s too concerned about it. Hopefully that thing heals up fine and we don’t have to worry about it. I don’t think it’s going to affect him too much.”

Speaking of Opening Day, we have a tradition in our household that we celebrate the start of the season with a get together. Baseball in Canada in early April is a little bit colder than  the Chicago(though not by much) so we bring Chicago to our home.

When we visited Chicago last May we discovered the fine cuisine of your beautiful city. The thirst quenching taste of Old Style soothed our hearts after the Cubs loss to the Pirates. The beer wasn’t my favourite though at eight bucks for a twelve pack wasn’t bad at all. Up here a twelve costs $25. The best beer belongs to Goose Island. Their IPA is incredible and it’s now available in the Great White Northside. That’ll be on tap for our Opening Day festivities.

I’m not a fan of pizza, although if you’re ever visiting the Kingston or Ottawa area, be sure to stop in at Gabriel’s Pizza, it’s the only pizza I’ll have.

But–

Giordano’s and Old Style went down deliciously during our visit to the North Side of Chicago.

This year, we’re planning on doing Chicago style sausages. What I’m looking for is an authentic recipe. If anyone has a recipe pass it on to me. I’m talking heart of Chicago, spicy Italian goodness. We’re going to try a bit of a twist and go for maple baked beans as a side dish. You know, a little Canadiana to throw into the mix. Add the Goose Island and away we go!

Here’s a recipe I found. Looks delicious, but I want the real thing!

Believe it

Chicago Cubs Topple Giants 16-14

Kris Bryant

Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY Sports

 

Some games are pretty and then some games are very ugly. Yesterday’s 16-14 not so quite destruction of the San Francisco Giants looked like a Spring Training game although it should have had the look of a well oiled machine.

Jake Arrieta was starting and the Giants took a commanding 7-1 lead into the third inning. Arrieta left the game early due to a blister and isn’t expected to miss any starts.

“It was the right move,” Arrieta said. “There’s no point in staying out there and having the same thing happen over and over to each hitter. We’ll let it heal and go from there.”

Hey, it’s only spring training, right?

But something happened in the fifth inning when the Cubs put up 8 runs to take a 13-11 lead. Now, I don’t know about you but I’m not always a big fan of ultra high scoring games. It’s great that there’s a lot of runs scored but it doesn’t always make for an exciting game.

There was an unusual incident in the fourth inning when Jason Heyward was accused of calling the pitches. Dexter Fowler was on second when Heyward was called out on strikes and says to Fowler, it was a front door cutter.

“I looked out at second base to see what Dexter had — ‘What have you got, like ball or strike?'” Heyward said. “I thought it might have been around the plate. Either way, I’m out, I know that, bottom line. Next thing you know, I see Buster coming out of my periphery and saying, ‘Hey, hey, hey,'” Heyward said. “I was like, what’s going on? Then I saw Madison. I wasn’t looking out at anybody, I wasn’t trying to show anybody up.”

Ah, but baseball is a gentleman’s game.

Is it a concern that Kris Bryant hasn’t homered too much this spring? He only has one this spring compared to nine last year. It could be that pitchers are used to him now but I disagree. Good hitters are good hitters and firmly believe that it’s because of the Cubs depth. I would rather have him not hitting too many over the fences now then having him not get any later.

“So far this spring, I just missed a couple homers — hit one off the fence, flew out to the track numerous times,” Bryant said. “That’s good for me and the ball flight for me is better. It’s not a really high fly ball, it’s a better swing path through the ball.”

The Cubs have a lot of potential and judging from yesterday’s come from behind victory, maybe home runs aren’t always the answer. I mean Bryant collected three RBI’s yesterday.   It’s just another way the Cubs will beat the competition this year.

“He’s going to hit his home runs,” Joe Maddon said. “Technically, he’s got a better swing. The work they’ve done, it’s better than it was last year at the same time. There’s no comparison on what he’s able to do and the variety of different pitches he can handle with this kind of adjustment.”

Believe it.

Rizzo Homers and Donald Trump Has Dirt On Cubs

Anthony Rizzo

As the regular season draws closer and closer, the big bats of the Chicago Cubs are coming out of the wood work in more prevelant ways. Yesterday, it was Anthony Rizzo that took one yard in a 9-6 defeat of divisional rivals Cincinnati Reds.

But despite the veteran presence yesterday, it was another veteran that took the spotlight, the surprising, yet not-so surprising performance of Jason Hammel that took front and centre. He pitched five innings allowing one earned and three hits. Not bad at all.

“I feel pretty crisp, I feel good, I feel like everything I worked on and the things I was focusing on this spring have really started to translate,” Jason Hammel said. “My arm felt real good today.”

Things started getting a little weird in the Cubs’ camp. First Manager Joe Maddon, known for his tendencies to keep things light and loose in the clubhouse, brought in mimes.

“We like to keep it loose,” Hammel said. “We talk about embracing the target all the time. There is really no pressure. We have fun with it. It was hilarious. Everything is on the table. Who knows what’s going on with that tornado in his mind? I’m sure he’ll come up with something else that blows us away.”

“If everybody’s entertained, so be it,” Maddon said. “That’s our way to start the day. We did it last year without nearly as much attention. I would never want to not do those things. I’m an advocate of the morning joke. If people misinterpret it, honestly, that’s their fault. It’s really about the esprit de corps of the day, it has nothing to do with your work except that I think your work can be better because you get off to a good start.”

I think it’s great that he does this. Sometimes the length and struggle of the season needs to be brought down a notch and if spring training can lighten the load with a few mimes, well so be it.

Then–

This quote got me a little concerned with Donald Trump. Again, It’s not my place to butt my nose into American politics but this quote had me a little concerned, what do you think?

“Well, it means that I’ll start spending on them,” Trump said. “I’ll start taking ads telling them all what a rotten job they’re doing with the Chicago Cubs. … I’ll start doing ads about their baseball team. That it’s not properly run or that they haven’t done a good job in the brokerage business lately.”

That was in response to the Rickett family funding Super PAC targeting him.

“Maybe Mr. Trump did not follow the team last year,” Maddon said. “I have no idea.”

I have no idea either,

Believe it.

 

There’s No Chip On Jon Lester’s Shoulder

 

Jon Lester

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

If over 15 000 fans can jam into Sloan Park for a preseason game against the current World Series champions squaring off with the, um, next World Series champions, that says something about the popularity of the Chicago Cubs. In fact, the Cubs set an attendance record as they defeated the Kansas City Royals 5-2.

As the lineup is getting more and more like the one we’ll see on Opening Day with the likes of Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Dexter Fowler and Jason Heyward the power is starting to show.

“It’s obvious just by making the daily lineups now,” Joe Maddon said “When you give guys a day off playing but the team that goes to play that day is pretty thick still. That’s what has hit home with me. … The depth is really intriguing. You need that to be successful during the course of a long season. You’re going to have things happen. No question.”

The depth is staggering. There is one question that has been nagging at me since last year–

Is Jon Lester as good as people think he is?

He’s a great pitcher, there’s never been an argument there, but his inconsistencies reared their ugly heads yesterday when he worked on his fielding. He continually doesn’t throw to first and an error led to a run.

“It’s obviously not what I want to do,” Lester said. “Once again, I didn’t move my feet. If I move my feet, I think everything’s fine.”

Lester is a hard worker. With the depth in the rotation, there’s folks who can take his spot.

There has been some concern about bone chips in his arm according to a book by Jeff Passan called “The Arm” read chapter 7.

“I’ve watched him throw several times in camp and I think he’s throwing the ball as well as I’ve ever seen him,” Maddon said. “Regarding any kind of discomfort in his arm, I’m not aware of that. Jonny’s kind of a tough guy, a quiet guy. I think he’s in a good place. Until he talks to me about his arm being uncomfortable, I’m fine with what I’m seeing.”

So perhaps that’s the reason of his inability to throw to first? I don’t know and Theo Epstein wouldn’t have struck that rich of a deal if they were concerned.

“Regardless of what an MRI shows or anything like that, you can throw a pitch and blow out,” Lester said. “I’ve been pitching a long time, I’ve dealt with different minor and even bigger things through my years. I think you can go back and look and I haven’t missed any time for any elbow problems.”

With or without an elbow issue, Lester is a great pitcher with a few quirks and those quirks could lead to problems as the Cubs make their way to October. He has to work on his throws to first base.

“Stuff like that I don’t concern myself with,” Maddon said “Just go play. A bone chip is a bone chip. If there’s an issue, you attack the issue and move on from that. I have a hard time worrying about stuff like that. Right now I think he looks great. I saw him with Boston when he was really good. I think he looks as good as he did in Boston.”

Believe it.