Chicago Cubs 2016 NL Central Championship Gear

jon lester cubs featureI’ll be heading home from Chicago today, back to Columbus, and I’ll probably be on the road as you’re reading this. You’ll still see normal posting coming throughout the day, though, so enjoy.

  • Something I try to tell folks around me at games – ok, and I try to tell myself – is that you just can’t tell the strike zone reliably from the stands. If you’re in dead center with a view very near the TV camera view, then you might be close (but you’re not sitting very close, so it’s still not quite like what you can see on TV), but, otherwise, you simply can’t tell levels and location as well as you think you can. Case in point: based on what we could see in the center field bleachers last night, and based on Jon Lester’s reactions, it sure looked like the Cubs’ starter was getting squeezed at a few inopportune times. Was he? Nope:

  • I count just one ball that should have been called a strike, and a count seven called strikes that were clearly out of the zone (and a few more that were right on the border). Indeed, the zone for Lester looks about as liberal than the one Mets starter Jacob deGrom was getting:

  • The main difference I see is that Lester was around the zone much more than deGrom, whose balls were more obviously balls, even as he got some low strikes that were way out of the zone. All in all, I don’t see much here for either guy – just a fairly large zone (which probably helped both pitchers on a night with the wind howling out), especially low. Which has pretty much been the story for umpires going on a few years now.
  • As for his start and his performance thus far this year, Jon Lester said simply: “I stink.” (ESPN) The line is evocative of Carlos Zambrano’s famous “we stinks,” and I’m not sure Lester’s quite being fair to himself (even last night, he generated 10 swings and misses, which means the stuff was good). But his expectations, not unlike fan expectations for the $155 million ace, are incredibly high. He hasn’t quite reached them yet, and given his perfectionism, he might never reach them. But Lester has undoubtedly been better the last few times out than he was the first few times. The wind was howling out last night, and Lester mostly managed to keep the ball on the ground and limit the damage on a tough night to pitch.
  • Although he’s got a 4.10 ERA on the year, Lester’s FIP and xFIP are more in line with what you’d expect from him (3.41, 3.40). His BABIP-against is .325, far higher than his career average (.301), and his LOB% is 68.1%, far lower than his career average (74.6%). Those are likely to normalize a bit as the season goes on, which will only make Lester look better.

  • Jed Hoyer discussed the Cubs’ bullpen here at ESPN, and it sounds like the Cubs won’t be rushing into any outside additions soon. Neil Ramirez (shoulder inflammation) threw another bullpen yesterday in Arizona, which Hoyer said went well, and will likely be followed by another soon. From there, I’m guessing it’s possible he could see action in a simulated game or an extended Spring Training game. I don’t think we’ll see Ramirez come back as quickly as Justin Grimm did once he got to that point (one extended ST outing and one rehab outing), but it might three or four total extended ST and rehab outings. That could see Ramirez back in a couple weeks at the earliest. As I’ve said before, I still don’t expect to see him before June – maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised.
  • More on just how uniquely Kris Bryant is being pitched from Owen Watson at JABO. Rookies simply don’t see the kind of extreme out-of-the-zone approach that pitchers have taken to Bryant. But it’s happening all the same. Like I asked before: is Bryant already one of the most feared hitters in baseball? Maybe it sounded crazy to you then, but the evidence is mounting that pitchers are treating him that way.
  • Joe Maddon tells Mark Gonzales that scouting these days makes it particularly hard on young hitters.
  • Patrick Mooney on the Cubs’ and Mets’ similar – yet different – rebuild paths, and on the return of the bleachers backing Cubs players.
  • Although he writes about the Rays – with a throwaway mention of Joe Maddon now departed – the emphasis of this Russell Carleton piece could just as easily be directed at the Cubs. Why? Because he’s looking at something the Rays are doing consistently this year: pulling the starting pitcher at the first whiff of trouble once he’s reached the third time through the order. There’s not much in the way of conclusions, but the entire predicate of Carleton’s article should serve as a reminder to Cubs fans who don’t like what Maddon has been doing: on the whole, pitchers are much, much less effective the third time through the order.

  • Dallas Beeler is still working on his command at AAA Iowa after missing Spring Training with arm issues (Des Moines Register).
  • Tonight’s Cubs/Mets tilt will be on MLB Network and will feature Statcast tracking.
  • If you missed it earlier this morning, here’s video on Bryant and Rizzo’s back-to-back shots last night.
  • Buddies:

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