jon lester cubs stareI’ve been doing BN since just after the 2008 season, and full-time since the middle of 2011. The Cubs were expected to be competitive in 2009, and they mostly were. They clearly hoped to be competitive in 2010 and 2011, but there were signals very early that it wasn’t going to happen. We all know the early-season stories in 2012-14. In short, since I’ve been doing BN, and especially since I’ve been doing it as a job, Aprils have quickly been disappointing, and have become something to “get through” so that we could get into Draft Season and Trade Season. There was a rhythm to it, and, speaking from a professional perspective, I didn’t really mind. I like to think I developed a knack for it.

This year, as Luis aptly put it, it feels different. This team could be good. These April games really, really matter. It’s a strange and exciting experience to be covering the team right now, and something with which I really can’t relate. I’m learning as I go. It’s fun and invigorating. Maybe the Cubs trail off come June, and the second half looks a lot like the second halves of the last several years. But, for now, it feels different.

Which reminds me: thank you. Thank you for reading, participating, and generally supporting this place. I’m extremely grateful to be doing a job that I not only enjoy, but that I also feel like I get to be a part of the way other folks experience their Cubs fandom. It’s a privilege, and I feel it even more acutely now that the Cubs look like they could be competitive. (And, of course, a big thanks to Luke, Michael, and Luis for being such an incredible part of what we do around here.)

  • I poked around the PITCHf/x and the video on Jon Lester’s performance yesterday, but nothing jumped out at me. So I can only go with my instinct, which was that it really wasn’t much better than either of his first two outings, each of which featured control (he wasn’t walking guys, and he was getting some strikeouts), but not much command in the zone (he wasn’t getting pitches where he wanted them, and gave up hard contact as a result). If you were looking for a reason to be hopeful that Lester’s just warming up, you could see that April and May were his worst months by far in 2014, which was the best season of his career. Granted, even that was just a 3.45 ERA/2.79 FIP situation, so it’s not like he was bad. He just got a lot better after that. For his career, that trend holds up, with April/May his worst months – and April features his highest wOBA-against. So … let’s just get through April and May, I guess?
  • Each of Lester and Joe Maddon believe there were improvements in this latest start (ESPN, CSN), so that’s good. And there were no misadventures at first base – except for the very nice place Lester made with his glove – so that, too, was a good sign. I still wouldn’t characterize myself as “worried” about Lester, for whatever that’s worth to you. I think we’ve seen a combination of struggles from Lester AND some bad BABIP/sequencing luck. Sure, the former needs to get better, but the latter will likely positively regress on its own. Combine all of that with his interrupted/wonky Spring Training and early April … yeah, not worried yet.
  • You’ve undoubtedly noticed that Maddon, so far, has been pulling his starting pitchers relatively early in games. Some of that, I’m sure, is just normal early-season arm management, but, because it’s been consistent, I’m wondering if there’s something a little more strategic at play. We know that pitchers, almost uniformly, are much worse the third and fourth times through the order than the first or second. Thus, if you have a strong pen, you’re probably better off letting them face the opposition in the 7/8/9 innings, even if your starter is “cruising.” The issue, of course, is keeping the bullpen fresh if you’re going to try something like this. You can’t really carry eight relievers all year … but what if you could shuttle guys in and out from AAA to the bigs and back? The Cubs have a ton of capable relievers (note I didn’t say dominant, as the Ramirez/Grimm injuries have really stung) with minor league options, so I wonder if we’re going to see this trend continue. Or, I wonder if this was the plan, but those injuries – plus the Jacob Turner injury and now the Blake Parker injury – will make it less feasible going forward.

  • I don’t want to sound like a meatball, but I’m getting mighty tired of seeing Cubs batters failing to run to first on a dropped third strike. Just yesterday, the Astros had runners on first and second with two outs, and the catcher dropped the third strike. The batter took off for first, as he’s allowed to do, and the catcher threw the ball away. A run scored, and the Astros wound up winning by one. ALWAYS RUN TO FIRST ON THE DROPPED THIRD STRIKE. You never know what might happen. (Respect 90.)
  • Ken Rosenthal reports that lefty Andrew McKirahan – formerly of the Cubs’ system, but taken by the Marlins in the Rule 5, and then claimed by the Braves – has been suspended 80 games for PEDs. If true, that’s the second reliever who spent last season in the Cubs’ system, but then wound up with the Braves, and was subsequently suspended (Arodys Vizcaino). That’s … a fluke, right?
  • The White Sox are going to bring up top lefty pitching prospect Carlos Rodon, who will start out in the pen as he builds up professional innings. I think it’s a fine decision, and I have no beef with the timing. But where’s the outcry and rage about the service-time-related timing of the call-up? Rodon, after all, is also a Scott Boras client.
  • Dave Cameron reminds folks that, even if a team like the Mets still projects to be only a .500 team the rest of the way, the 10 wins they’ve already secured still count – and that means .500 the rest of the way makes them a clear playoff contender, right there in that Wild Card tier with the Cubs.

  • Did you miss anything this weekend? Catch up here.
  • Luke’s Minor League Daily is here.

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