Jon Lester

CubsTalk Podcast: The fickle nature of championship windows in baseball

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AP

CubsTalk Podcast: The fickle nature of championship windows in baseball

My how the Mets have fallen in two years, going from the team that steamrolled the Cubs in the 2015 NLCS to just counting down the days until 2017 is up. That’s why the Cubs need to take advantage of every opportunity they have to make the postseason, as Jon Lester and Anthony Rizzo know full well.

Newsday Mets writer Marc Carig discusses how the Mets have fallen on hard times in the last couple seasons, including the scary uncertainty of pitching health. Plus, Kelly Crull, Jeff Nelson and Tony Andracki discuss playoff scenarios for the Cubs and how the postseason lineup and bullpen may shake out.

Check out the entire CubsTalk Podcast here:

Jon Lester’s playoff message for Cubs after seeing how fragile Mets are now

Jon Lester’s playoff message for Cubs after seeing how fragile Mets are now

The Jon Lester vs. Matt Harvey matchup from Game 1 of the 2015 National League Championship Series feels like ancient history now that the Cubs and New York Mets have gone in completely different directions.

Where Lester cemented his reputation as a three-time World Series champion and a borderline Hall of Famer, Harvey has dealt with too many surgeries, gossip items and clubhouse issues to be more than a one-year lottery ticket next season.

The Mets are so down and decimated by injuries that it’s impossible to draw many conclusions from Wednesday night’s 17-5 blowout at Wrigley Field. Except for looking at the out-of-town scores and remembering the one big idea about how fragile all this can be.

“This game’s fickle, man,” Lester said after beating Harvey and grinding through his third start since coming off the disabled list. “You got to take advantage while you can, while you have the players. We all see it. We all see guys that get called up that are supposed to be the next coming of whatever and two or three years they’re out of the game.

“With that being said now, you got to take each individual season for what it’s worth. You’re going to have ups and downs. You’re going to have injuries. You’re going to have things not necessarily go your way.

“I think we led the league in walk-off wins last year. We obviously led the league in defense. We led the league in pitching. We won 100-and-however many games. Years like that don’t happen that often.”

From one moment to the next, Lester can go from seemingly brooding and sarcastic to extremely chatty and thoughtful, the way he did in the interview room when a reporter mentioned Anthony Rizzo reminding the media that the Cubs were still in first place after getting swept by the Milwaukee Brewers over the weekend.

“How bout that, right?” Lester said. “You wouldn’t think it. God dang, it’s unbelievable.”

To stay there, the Cubs need Lester, who hasn’t shown the same sharpness since left shoulder fatigue/lat muscle tightness sidelined him from the middle of August until Labor Day weekend. Lester watched Jose Reyes drive an 89-mph pitch into the left-center field bleachers for a leadoff homer to begin the game, needed 78 pitches to make it through three innings and walked four batters for the second straight start.

Instead of David Wright, Yoenis Cespedes and Michael Conforto looming in the middle of their lineup, the Mets featured a guy who got released in late August in the No. 2 spot (Norichika Aoki), Kevin Plawecki and Juan Lagares hitting fourth/fifth, followed by two guys who made their big-league debuts last month (Amed Rosario and Travis Taijeron).

Will Lester be ready in time to match up with Max Scherzer and a loaded Washington Nationals lineup on Oct. 6? The $155 million ace stretched out to 114 pitches, lasted six innings and allowed two runs while the Cubs knocked out Harvey (5-5, 6.14 ERA) early and put up another football score against an overmatched team.

The Brewers winning kept them 2.5 games out of first place while the St. Louis Cardinals losing dropped them back to third place, three games out in the NL Central. The magic number for the Cubs to clinch the division is now 15.

“All you got to do is get in,” Lester said. “It doesn’t matter how the season looks, what everybody’s stats are. Whether you limp in or you sprint in, it doesn’t matter. You get in, anybody has a chance. I’ve always been a big believer in that. And there’s been a lot of teams over the years that have proven that.”

Lester brought up the Los Angeles Dodgers – going from a “Best. Team. Ever?” Sports Illustrated cover to losing 11 games in a row and 16 of 17 – and how everything will be wiped away in October.

“They’ve been the best team all year – from Day 1 – and look at the skid they’re going through right now,” Lester said. “This game will humble you. It will bring you back down. But at the end of the day, all you got to do is get in. And we’ll figure it out from there.”

Cubs essentially ruling out Jake Arrieta for Cardinals showdown

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USA TODAY

Cubs essentially ruling out Jake Arrieta for Cardinals showdown

Jake Arrieta will have to wait a little longer to put the Cubs on his back once again.

Arrieta threw from flat ground for the second time Tuesday and while he felt good recovering from an injured hamstring, the Cubs have yet to schedule an official bullpen for their dynamic veteran right-hander.

That means Cubs fans shouldn't expect Arrieta to get the ball in the all-important showdown with the St. Louis Cardinals at Wrigley Field this weekend.

"There's still some time involved here," Joe Maddon said.

The Cubs woke up Tuesday morning clinging to a two-game lead over the Cardinals in the National League Central and up 2.5 games on the Milwaukee Brewers, who just came into Wrigleyville last weekend and swept the defending champs.

The Cubs are currently tossing their three southpaws (Jose Quintana, Jon Lester, Mike Montgomery) against the New York Mets this week and John Lackey is penciled in for Friday's opener against the Cardinals. After that, the Cubs rotation has not yet been announced, though Kyle Hendricks will certainly slot in either Saturday or Sunday.

That led to a reporter wondering aloud during Maddon's pregame session Tuesday if Arrieta could possibly return for the weekend.

But it's a tricky situation given this is Arrieta's back leg, where he pushes off the mound to start his motion toward homeplate. And the Cubs want him to throw a full bullpen first and since that wasn't even scheduled yet on Tuesday, the likelihood of Arrieta pitching this weekend is pretty slim.

"I don't know," Maddon said. "We're running out of time for this time [through the rotation]. So maybe the next time through. I really don't know.

"In my mind's eye, I'm playing it like he won't. I think you have to do that first of all. And then if he can, wonderful."

The 2015 NL Cy Young winner wasn't quite turning in another superhuman second half for the Cubs when he went down with a hamstring injury last week in Pittsburgh, but he was in the midst of a dominant stretch. From the All-Star Break until he limped off the mound against the Pirates Sept. 4, Arrieta had gone 6-2 with a 1.98 ERA in 10 starts.

Arrieta's injury put the Cubs in a hole in that one game in Pittsburgh as he lasted just 2.1 innings in a game they were eventually routed 12-0. Had he not gotten injured, Arrieta would've been slated to start against the Brewers last weekend and on track to get the ball against the Cardinals this coming weekend.

In his stead, Montgomery will continue to find an opportunity in the starting rotation. 

But even if Arrieta can return shortly after the Cardinals series, will his complex mechanics be near the run he was on pre-injury or will the time off have affected him?