The Rundown: Lester’s Milestone Night, Cubs Deadline Could Have Been Much Different

Well, that was one helluva night for Jon Lester. And a pretty weird one, too, especially after the way it ended. After notching seven strikeouts through the first three innings of the game, Lester was sitting on 1,998 career K’s, just one behind Billy Pierce for 25th all-time among lefties.

Then he got Daniel Descalso looking at a cutter to move into a tie with Pierce and within one of a pretty cool round number. Facing the combined power of Lester and history, poor Jack Reinheimer never stood a chance. He managed to foul off a fastball and take a curve for a ball, but Lester zipped a cutter past the bat for strike three and his 2,000th strikeout. Wait, would that be 2K K’s?

Either way, it’s the last out Lester would record, which was a real shame because he wasn’t able to get through the 5th inning to earn the win. Now, I could spend the next few hundred words complaining about how stupid it is that a starter needs to go that far for a W when a reliever can come in and pick one up for next to nothing. But there’s something else about Lester’s performance that requires my attention.

I don’t have the slightest idea what they’re saying, but I love it.

That oppo taco was the first home run Lester had hit in 236 career plate appearances, though I’m sure he’d have hit one long ago were it not for the paucity of PA’s he got over nearly a decade in Boston. And because of that time, I still associate him with the Beaneaters and the trademark accent of the region.

Which is why I found myself exclaiming, “Jawny Lestah just hit that homah wicked fah!”

Now if you’ll permit me, I’d like to circle back to the strikeouts for just a bit here. Lester has been one of the most consistent pitchers in baseball over the past several years and never has that been more true than in his two-plus seasons in Chicago. While it’s only one measure of that consistency, I’m somewhat fascinated by his strikeout totals.

Coming into Tuesday’s start, Lester had struck out 130 men in 130 innings here in 2017. And with nine K’s in four innings last night, he pushed his Cubs career totals to 543 K’s in 541.2 innings (9.02 K/9). Does that mean anything beyond just underscoring just how flippin’ good this guy has been? Maybe not, but I think it’s cool.

What might have been

We all know how the Cubs navigated the period leading up to the non-waiver trade deadline, flipping their three top-ranked prospects and three others for Jose Quintana, Justin Wilson, and Alex Avila. But things could have been much different had they not played as well through late July or perhaps missed out on the guys they got.

Theo Epstein had said multiple times that the Cubs’ performance coming out of the break would dictate their trade strategy, with a hot streak pushing them to be more aggressive with moves. And though he had also said he couldn’t envision a scenario in which they’d sell, The Plan’s chief architect admitted that falling too far behind could force a slight change in direction.

Able to speak a bit more freely with the last dying embers of the hot stove cool enough to allow even further transparency, Epstein acknowledged that the Cubs would have sold had they fallen well back of the Brewers. Given the structure of the new CBA, he reasoned, it’d be foolish to pass up on the opportunity to pick up prospects if you’re not in position to win.

Thing is, they are in a position to win, hence the big moves. Picking up a lefty starter and lefty reliever with very reasonable contracts and more control after this season checked several boxes, not the least of which is strengthening the staff for potential playoff matchups with Washington and Los Angeles. And they weren’t necessarily done there.

“We did look at some rental options,” Jed Hoyer admitted Monday before reiterating that the main focus was on players who could help after this season. One assumes that said rentals would have been more of a Plan B had the Wilson/Avila deal not come to fruition. Or perhaps he was even talking about Yu Darvish.

Whatever the case, the Cubs are playing some pretty solid baseball these days and they could still make some moves with waiver claims and whatnot. But the way the rotation and pen are pitching and the bats are swinging, it’s hard to imagine a way they can actually improve.

Justin Wilson all smiles

“I’m just excited to be here,” the newest member of the Cubs bullpen told media through a grin that made him look like a kid on [insert boisterous quasi-religious or secular holiday/big event] morning. “It’s been welcomed greatly. I just wanna go win ballgames now, that’s what it’s about.”

Absent the context of his body language, you could read this and think Wilson was just like any other automaton athlete going through the motions and spitting out whatever idiom its AI decided was best for the situation. But the smile, man, that smile said a lot.

“I wasn’t surprised to get traded and I wasn’t really surprised to come here,” Wilson continued. “I was more just relieved that it was over. Couldn’t have been more excited to be here.”

Whether it was the incredible clubhouse or the automatic leap to first place in the standings, the lefty reliever didn’t seem to care about losing out on save chances, either.

“Everyone’s been pitching well and [Maddon’s] gonna use me when he feels best, and I said, ‘Great.’ I just wanna pitch, it doesn’t matter when.”

He didn’t pitch in Tuesday’s laugher, though he did get to participate in a few celebratory dance parties out in the pen. Yeah, I think he’ll fit in just fine.

More news and notes

  • Edinson Volquez has a torn UCL and will undergo Tommy John surgery.
  • Johnny Cueto avoided a scare when he was diagnosed with a mild flexor strain.
  • How does Dusty Baker manage to do this to guys who don’t even pitch for him anymore?
  • Noted hot take artist Doug Gottlieb set Twitter ablaze with a napalm take on Adrian Beltre. I mean, he climbed up to the top of that hill with a flaming sword that he was swinging at everyone while trying not to fall on it at the same time. I’m not going to link to the rest of the mess, but here’s Jeff Passan joining Gottlieb’s radio show after skewering him on Twitter.
  • We are donating all proceeds from sales in our CI shop to the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation in the honor of the late John Arguello; this will continue indefinitely.
  • If you’re in the Wrigleyville area this Friday, stop by Nisei Lounge to raise a glass in John’s honor and help raise money for Jon Lester’s NVRQT foundation.
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