Cubs agree to deal with Villanueva, close in on Jackson

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Cubs agree to deal with Villanueva, close in on Jackson

The Cubs entered the 2012 offseason knowing that they had to improve their rotation by leaps and bounds. After finishing a horrific 2012 season with the likes of Justin Germano, Jason Berken and Brooks Raley in their rotation, the Cubs appear poised to enter spring training in 2013 with eight legitimate candidates to start games.

Jeff Samardzija, Matt Garza, Scott Feldman, Scott Baker, Travis Wood and Arodys Vizcaino all will go to camp as potential starters and the Cubs are waiting on results of a physical from Carlos Villanueva as they finalize a deal for the former Toronto Blue Jays right-hander. The contract is expected to be finalized in the next 24 hours and is worth 10 million over two years.

In addition, sources have confirmed to me that the Cubs are in prime position to land right-handed starter Edwin Jackson who is close to agreeing to a 4-year deal worth 52 million.

The Christmas holiday could delay an official announcement for a few days. However, Jackson loved playing in the city of Chicago when he pitched for the White Sox and he is very open to signing a long term deal with the Cubs.

Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer spoke with me last week regarding the Cubs thoughts as they look to improve on a 61-101 record in 2012 and he was very clear on the Cubs' plan going forward.

It is very difficult to improve a team dramatically through free agency in one off season no matter how much money you have to spend," Hoyer said. "The supply of talented players isnt always there, you have significant competition to beat to land the player or players that you want, and in todays game most teams are locking up their young stars with long-term deals so they dont get to free agency.

We are looking to improve our team incrementally and strengthening our pitching staff is one area we are focused on."

It appears that with an agreement in place for Villanueva and a deal with Jackson close, the Cubs' pitching staff just got a whole lot stronger. However, their offense looks to be a long way away which will keep them from taking a big a leap in the standings in 2013.

As Arrieta garners all the fanfare, Jon Lester keeps cruising along in Cubs win

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As Arrieta garners all the fanfare, Jon Lester keeps cruising along in Cubs win

Jake Arrieta is getting all the attention on the Cubs pitching staff, but don't sleep on Jon Lester.

As Arrieta defends his supernatural stat lines, Lester has looked every bit the $155 million starter this season.

The veteran left-hander turned in another gem Friday in the Cubs' 6-1 victory over the Atlanta Braves in front of 34,007 fans at a frigid Wrigley Field.

Lester allowed only one run in seven innings, striking out 10.

He got himself into a major jam in the seventh when he gave up a single and a walk and then couldn't get a handle on a bunt (or didn't want to risk a throw to first), loading the bases with nobody out. But he struck out the next two batters and got Nick Markakis to ground out to Anthony Rizzo at first base to end the threat.

For the first time in his career, Lester has notched five straight quality starts to begin a season and now has a 1.83 ERA and 0.93 WHIP in 2016.

Lester has gone at least seven innings and given up exactly one earned run in four of his five starts this season.

The Cubs couldn't get him a win, however, putting up just one run through seven innings against the Braves pitching staff. This just hours after talking about how this lineup is built to generate offense even in cold, miserable conditions.

But the bats came alive late when Rizzo broke the tie with an RBI single in the eighth and then Matt Szczur followed with his first career grand slam.

Pedro Strop picked up the win with a perfect eighth and Hector Rondon pitched a scoreless ninth to slam the door on the Cubs' fourth straight victory.

Cubs fans regulate on rapper Warren G for his rendition of 'Take Me Out to the Ball Game'

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Cubs fans regulate on rapper Warren G for his rendition of 'Take Me Out to the Ball Game'

Cubs fans may have witnessed one of the quickest seventh inning stretches ever performed at Wrigley Field on Friday.

Rapper Warren G, famous for his 1994 hit song "Regulate", yelled "Cubbie fans mount up!" and then sang "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" during the Cubs-Braves game. The results were ... interesting, to say the least. 

Cubs fans were not having it.

Watch the full stretch and decide for yourself in the video above.

ESPN's Stephen A. Smith defends himself against Jake Arrieta

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ESPN's Stephen A. Smith defends himself against Jake Arrieta

Jake Arrieta vs. Stephen A. Smith: Round II?

Not quite, but the ESPN personality still felt the need to defend himself from the Cubs ace on air Thursday after Arrieta created a stir by Tweeting at Smith Wednesday.

Smith initially took a strong stance against Arrieta and the possibility of the 2015 NL Cy Young winner taking performance-enhancing drugs, but then immediately backed down when confronted on Twitter. 

On Thursday's "First Take," Smith apparently felt like he had to keep the drama going and responded to Arrieta:

"I can appreciate Jake Arrieta defending himself," Smith said. "If it were me, I certainly would. I take no offense whatsoever at anything he said towards me or that he Tweeted at me. 

"But I do think he needs to understand my perspective. Skip Bayless - we didn't walk on this show saying, 'We've been watching Jake Arrieta pitch. Let's talk about it because this seems suspicious.' No, it was an article in USATODAY with fans and contemporaries quietly saying, 'Something doesn't seem right here.' So we pointed out the level of excellence, what he did in the second half of last season."

Smith then delved into how many others in the game of baseball have denied using PEDs - like Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun - and how we can't take anybody's word for it nowadays.

Apparently that means that Smith can accuse (without technically accusing) somebody of taking PEDs or claiming they handled the aftermath wrong by laughing it off?

To be fair, that's basically what "First Take" is: discussing hot-button sports issues with vague language - it's basically a bunch of hot takes communicated with lawyerspeak - so the Arrieta comments Wednesday weren't all that newsworthy until the Cubs pitcher decided to respond on Twitter.

"I don't know anything about Jake Arreita," Smith continued. "All I know is this man is nothing short of sensational, deserving of the Cy Young Award because of his performance in the second half of the season and - by the way - happened to lose to the Mets in the postseason. That's all I know about him."

Cheers to the (hopeful) end to this saga.