Morning Cubs Roundup: Lester battled through and the bullpen hopefully built some confidence


Last Game: Cubs 2, Pirates 1 (11 Innings)

Up Next: Royals (3-7) @ Cubs (7-2): Duffy vs Mills, 7:15, Marquee

Game Recap


What a turnaround by Jon Lester. His stuff and command were lacking in the early going. The Pirates were running deep counts and getting good hacks against him and it looked like Lester might not make it past four innings as his pitch count skyrocketed.

Then, Lester dialed in his command. He began inducing weak contact early in counts, and even posted a few Ks as he willed his way to his second quality start. The two lineups he has faced to open the year have not been killers (the Reds were without Moustakas and Senzel), and there will be outings this year where the BABIP gods will be unkind to him, but never doubt Lester knows how to battle and get outs.

From there we saw the first signs of life from the bullpen. Four relievers combined to toss five shutout innings. We caught a glimpse of what drew the Cubs interest in each of the newcomers. It wasn't an overpowering performance, they quartet recorded just three strikeouts between them, but it finally putting up some zeroes in the runs column of the ledger should give them something to build upon moving forward.

The bullpen did benefit from Kyle Schwarber's strong right arm, Willson Contreras's toughness, and some sloppy base running by the Pirates in extras. The Buccos didn't capitalize on their chances with the new extra innings format despite putting good wood on the ball a few times.

Injuries, Updates, and Trends

Javy delivered the extra inning heroics but yesterday was not the offense's finest day. In fact, it was the first game in which the offense failed to homer, and also the first time it failed to score at least three runs. The Cubs bats have truly been great overall though, as you can see by this graphic:
I don't believe the Cubs will be as susceptible to offensive droughts this season.

Trust Levels

We got to see glimpses of what drew the Cubs interest in each of the four relievers who worked yesterday.

Casey Sadler pitched over his head last year (2.19 ERA) as he relied on good command of a 93 mph sinker. But he also displayed tremendous spin rates on his curveball. That curve was not particularly effective last season, but it offered the Cubs reason to believe they could improve it, and give Sadler a way to miss more bats and not be reliant on getting ground ball outs. So far, the early returns are promising.

He is throwing his curve almost 40% of the time (up from about 27% in 2019). Already in the top 93% in terms of spin rate (2911) in 2019, he's up it even further to over (3063). He's getting far more vertical and horizontal movement compared to the average curveball. Small sample size caveats apply, but he's generated 6 whiffs one the pitch over his last two outings.

For Dan Winkler, the key to success is his cutter. He throws it in the upper 80s and relies upon it heavily, especially against left-handed batters. Yesterday, he got 4 whiffs among the 10 he threw. I still don't have a good read on Winkler's breaking ball or fastball, but he at least has one pitch he can use to get outs.

The Pirates made some hard contact against both Ryan Tepera and Jeremy Jeffress in extra innings, but both have found a go to pitch. Tepera's slider/cutter and Jeffress's splitter are both getting good results so far. Jeffress has not rediscovered his lost velo yet, but all of his pitches are generating good movement. It often may not be pretty, but I do think he can continue getting some big outs for this team.

High leverage: Jeffress, Ryan?, Wick?

Shaky, but trending in right direction: Ryan?, Wick?, Tepera, Sadler, Winkler, Brothers?, Underwood Jr.?

There's hope, but not earning it: Brothers?, Underwood Jr. ?, Steele

We gotta pitch somebody: Rea

Need a 3(5?)+ run cushion: Kimbrel

New Rules

  • DH count: Caratini 4, Contreras 2, Schwarber 1, Kipnis 1, Phegley 1
  • What did everyone think of the new extra innings format?

Filed under: Morning Cubs Roundup


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  • I think of myself as a traditionalist, but putting a runner on second in a game like last night worked pretty good. The last couple innings were exciting and I didn't have to stay up half the night to watch it.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    I have to say I got used to it pretty quickly watching it in the Minors the last couple of years. I'm not a fan of changing the rules of a game in the middle of a game, and I don't like what it does statistically, but I don't actively hate it like I thought I would.

    If they do implement it in the Majors beyond this season, I would prefer it beginning in like the 12th instead of the 10th.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    Agreed with that stipulation Michael. Pre-Covid, it was a rare event that a game went 15+ innings which everyone always complained about. I am sure someone can look that up. But when it does happen, it is usually a big story and what it ultimately does, is either highlight or expose a teams depth of pitching.

    Teams spend a lot of time building up a AAA pitching staff to have them ready in these types of cases and I think a team with depth should be rewarded.

    So your team plays a 17 inning marathon and you burn through your pen, the team with a great starter the next game than can go 7 or maybe even 8 to save the bullpen, or that team with extra arms at AAA can call them up and be ready to go if needed the following game.

    So go traditional extras for innings 10 and 11, but delay the extra runner until at least the 12th.

    But concur with original comment, it does add excitement right away.

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    In reply to Michael Ernst:

    Being an old guy (84) , and not liking the games rules changed . And being originally against the extra inning runner on 2nd base . AND being an X Pitcher , I had to eat my words last night ! the 10,11, innings were far more exciting than the first 9 put together !!! How bout that throw from Scwarbs !!!!!! That's BASEBALL !!!!! Ron GO CUBS !

  • In reply to 44slug:

    Seriously, it's a great idea for a pandemic abbreviated season. One thing is, that I really missed baseball so I'm going to support it. Professional sports including MLB seem to be in some sort of self destruct mode. Millions of former fans have stopped watching because of that kneeling thing. I wonder if Jackie and Frank Robinson.would be taking a knee. Sorry to bring that up, but look what it has done to our national pastime.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    The very presence of those men on the field was a political statement and a scathing indictment of American culture far more profound than anything happening right now. Plenty of fans in that era believed their inclusion "ruined" the game and vowed to never watch again. Plenty more said baseball would be ruined when Curt Flood and others pushed for free agency.

    On the flip side, the return of baseball post-9/11 provided a wounded nation an opportunity to grieve together.

    Sports never been merely an "escape", they have also always been an engine (or at least a mirror) for social gathering AND social change.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    I've made the reply above in an effort to defuse, not encourage.

    As we all know there is a general no religion/politics policy for the comments section on Cubs Den set by John. I've been pretty lax with the enforcement given the state of the world the last 6 months, and I appreciate that for the most part everyone has kept it civil. I don't want to remove any comments.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    Yes, thanks for that reminder. I was hoping baseball would keep avoiding that whole flag thing.

  • How does the 60 game season affect the final year of Jon Lester's contract?

    For 2021, his $25M salary becomes vested if he pitches 200 innings in 2020. ( He also has a $10M buyout). How many innings does Jon have to pitch in this 60 game season for his 2021 contract to become vested?

  • In reply to DropThePuck:

    72 and he vests. On the hand pray he doesn’t get it but if he does probably means cubs had good season

  • In reply to Oldno7:

    Exactly, God-willing he does well enough that vesting is worth it; and if he doesn't, then we give him the $10M and say: "Thanks for everything"............

  • In reply to DropThePuck:

    It's probably moot. If Jon keeps pitching as he has so far the club will want him back. They will have to pay him ten million anyway. I think Lester will still be finding a way to to get people out unless he is injured.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    Buy Lester out, and let him be a free agent. I cannot imagine after the last two off-seasons, Cubs want anything to do Lester's $25 million cap number in 2021.

    Even with the 2020 bullpen having big issues, I still like the idea of going cheap on the bullpen. Maybe Cubs need a few guys back-end relief pitchers to build around.

  • In reply to Naujack:

    I believe Theo did stagger some of the contracts to maintain some flexibility. I always thought that Lester would be bought out.

  • In reply to DropThePuck:

    I don't see any way they pay him the 25M unless his stuff rebounds. I'm expecting the Cubs to pay the 10M buyout.

    Not sure they've closed the book on bringing him back though. If they do, I think it will end up being the 10m buyout then a 1-2 yr deal for like 8-10M per.

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    I have to say that I like the runner on 2nd at the top of the 10th. To me, it's the same as hockey going to 3 on 3 in overtime. It adds excitement and new strategies to the game. I'm embracing it.

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    I just heard that now 13 Cardinals have tested positive. I'm not exactly sure how many are players or staff or a combination. They can't be playing for a while now.
    I think the games should go on and those teams that are unable to field a team (be in worrying about the dugouts and facilities) should forfeit, not postpone, the games. There has to be penalties for people who aren't careful.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    According to Rosenthal 7 players, 6 staff.
    Their series this week has been postponed.
    Plan is for Cards to resume play Friday versus the Cubs. We'll see.

  • Seems to me if the cancellation/postponement is caused by only one team (e.g. Marlins or Cardinals), the team that caused the cancellation should FORFEIT and be charged with a loss, while the other team has no game (i.e. no win nor loss). If the teams are scheduled to play each other later than a postponement is possible (e.g. Cards-Brewers) but if not (Cards-Tigers), forfeit applies. Both team's outbreaks have been tied to rules violations (clubs, casinos) while causing chain reaction postponements that are unlikely to be squeezed in with the few days off. Forfeits would send a strong message to follow the rules and be respectful of teammates' and others' health. One or two positive tests are understandable, but if more than three, which is 10% of the players and covered by the taxi squad, than forfeit for 4+ positive tests.

  • In reply to charactercounts:

    The Brewers are definitely penalized now. But in your scenario, do they get three wins? That penalizes the Cubs and other teams. Also, it’s possible the Cardinals players went to a casino. But the virus seems highly contagious and they might have got it some other way. I fear a day if/when we get a virus as deadly as Ebola and as contagious as Covid-19.

  • In reply to Cubs09:

    NO. As I stated, no impact on the other team (no win, no loss, no impact on winning percentage). Only affects team that violated the rules and caused the cancellation. If players obey the hotel isolation, the odds of 4+ out of 30 getting Covid at the same time would be astronomical.

  • In reply to Cubs09:

    I hope the virus you are dreaming up isn't in my lifetime.

    I never thought about the Spanish flu of 1918, before Covid.... Spanish flu of 1918 is staggering to think, 1/3 of the people on earth got it over a 3 years period!!!! Wow pretty contagious.

    In Vegas it is shocking to me how much occupancy some of resorts/casinos have in Vegas Thursday to Sunday.

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