The Rundown: Lester Leads Feisty Cubs Squad, Harper Circles Back With Cubs, Darvish Takes Bump Today

The Cubs are a feisty bunch these days, which makes me happy because I get to use a word that is an exception to the “i before e except after c” rule. I’m all about exceptions, a contrarian if you will, which is why I continue to fight to the death on social media that 2019 PECOTA projections are way off base. As a fan, perhaps I’m an extension of the ethos the team is carrying lately, one that was birthed by Jon Lester back in October.

“Sometimes you need to get your dick knocked in the dirt in order to appreciate where you’re at,” the poetic southpaw opined.

Lester first spring outing was vintage and efficient. He walked the leadoff batter, then retired the next six in order. The Cubs won the game, beating the Padres 6-4. But his day was far from over, as he morphed into a quote machine after his two-inning performance

In layman’s terms, he is saying that in Chicago, “keep talking” really means STFU. Perhaps Lester is filling that leadership role that vanished into retirement with David Ross in 2016. Cole Hamels continues to provide a voice of experience to some of his younger teammates, too. The two veterans have combined for 333 wins across 13 seasons and now anchor a rotation that could be one of the best in baseball. When they speak, people tend to listen.

Hamels’ old-school approach reflects the likes of Roy Oswalt, Roy Halladay, and Cliff Lee, his mentors during his time with the Phillies.

“Like Jon said, our time is to kind of be that sort of person, and I know we’re ready to do so,” Hamels said last week. “It’s an honor when you’re able to play the game as long as we have, that’s the role you get thrust into.”

Lester is a fan of Hamels, and vice versa.

“I love our rotation,” Lester continued. “I love our guys. I love our competitiveness. I love how each person is different.”

He wasn’t finished. Asked if he could pitch even better in 2019, Lester left no doubt.

“Why not? I’m not dead. I still compete.”

Cubs News & Notes

  • Kyle Schwarber has reverted to his old batting stance, which features him in more of a crouch with his knees bent. “I finally said, ‘screw this.’ I’m going to go back to being simple. Squat, put the foot down and go hit.”
  • Today is a big day for Yu Darvish. He gets his first start of the spring and his first action in a game at the major league level since his 6-1 victory over the Reds last May.
  • Fans may not recognize last year’s free-agent prize. He’s added about 10-15 pounds of muscle and looks “jacked” according to teammate Steve Cishek. We are all hoping for a big season from the right-hander.
  • You’d have to see it to believe it, but Darvish can hit 80 MPH on the gun, throwing with his left hand! Apparently he can bat left-handed as well.
  • The Cubs checked in on Bryce Harper yesterday. I had heard this too, but hesitated to let Evan know for fear of Patrick Mooney calling me out again. The team remains a longshot at best to sign the free agent slugger, though Jim Bowden reported last night on MLB Radio that Harper is strongly considering a short-term deal to play for the Dodgers. The Yankees, Dodgers, and Cubs remain Harper’s top choices, which doesn’t help the Phillies in their quest to get Harper to agree to a long-term deal.
  • Lester is not bothered by the league-mandated pitch clock. “Sure,” Lester said with a hint of sarcasm when asked about the clock. “Whatever makes people feel better.”
  • Kris Bryant knows top prospects will continue to have their service time manipulated ($). Bryant blasted back at the way MLB hypes kids like Fernando Tatis, Jr., Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., and Eloy Jiménez . “That infuriated me. Stop promoting the guy[s] if you know exactly what’s going to happen.”
  • On the latest episode of ESPN’s “Baseball Tonight” podcast, Buster Olney surmised that Joe Maddon likely won’t return for the 2020 season unless the Cubs at least reach this year’s World Series. Tim Kurkjian added a little lighter fluid to those burning briquettes, speculating that Maddon’s job could be in jeopardy if the team got off to a slow start.
  • The Cubs are far from a longshot to win the World Series. The Dodgers are the only NL team with better odds to win the Fall Classic. Los Angeles has won the NL pennant in each of the last two seasons.
  • David Bote hopes to resume baseball activities today. The utility infielder was beaned by Madison Bumgarner during Sunday’s victory over the Giants.

Spring Training Notes

Clayton Kershaw is struggling with a shoulder injury and it’s not looking good. Dave Roberts says the three-time Cy Young Award winner “didn’t feel so great.” That may help explain the Dodgers renewed interest in Harper.

Aaron Hicks reached an agreement with the Yankees yesterday on a contract extension. Hicks will earn $70 million over the next seven years.

It’s looking more and more like Harper simply doesn’t want to play in Philadelphia. Of course, we’ve said that numerous times here at CI.

Despite earning what will probably be a record-setting contract, Harper’s defensive metrics were dreadful last season and he failed to pass the eye test on effort at times.

Love this quote from Giants pitcher Drew Pomeranz: “Carrying a little extra fat around, it’s important for guys,” the right hander said. Pomeranz gained 15 pounds by design during the offseason. “You see guys lose weight, come in and their velo drops and they get hurt. You don’t have any protection in your body.”

Cardinals starter Carlos Martinez met with a physician yesterday for a second opinion on the shoulder ailment that has halted his spring training and threatens his availability for the start of the regular season.

Dallas Keuchel is still looking for a job but he hasn’t reached panic mode just yet.

Yuesei Kikuchi was extremely pleased with his debut performance for the Mariners.

Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard isn’t easing into the season. Thor hit 99 mph on the radar gun in his two-inning stint yesterday.

Troy Tulowitzki homered in his first game for the Yankees. He hit his bomb off of Blue Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman. Toronto is paying Tulo’s salary this year after cutting him in November, so it was a moment of sweet revenge.

Extra Innings

Nope. Millennials are the new hipsters.

This Week’s New Spins

  1. Centerfield by John Fogerty – The 1985 release was the third for Fogerty in his solo career. The vinyl was re-released last April 6th in 180g format as part of a digi-pak that contains a CD of the album. The latest vinyl pressing features the original cover art, a gatefold LP opening which reveals a bird’s eye view of a classic baseball field, with Centerfield painted in the grass. I didn’t get that copy, however. I picked up an original pressing in mint condition for two bucks. I’ll still pick up the reissue.
  2. Car Wheels on a Gravel Road by Lucinda Williams – Long a favorite of mine, this release had not been available on vinyl until just recently. I have two copies, one of which will be kept sealed and in pristine condition. There is not a bad song on this album and if you steer toward alt-country in your musical tastes, you’ll want to spin this yourself.
  3. Live: Tuesdays, Thursdays & Saturdays by Jimmy Buffett – nothing says summer in the middle of winter like dropping the needle on a Buffett record. If you’ve made the annual pilgrimage to Wrigley Field or Alpine Valley for his annual summer tour, this is a great reminder of sunshine, sun tan oil, and summer revelry. For my money, the songs Tin Cup Chalice and Trying to Reason With Hurricane Season are among Buffet’s best of all time, though I have an affinity for One Particular Harbor as well.

Tuesday Walk Up Song

Can’t Let Go by Lucinda Williams. A little more upbeat than the rest of the music I’ve featured this month but there’s a sweaty, sexy groove to this song that will ear worm you.

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