Results tagged ‘ Jon Lester ’

Seven Cubs named to the NL All-Star team

The Chicago Cubs today had seven players named to the National League All-Star team, the second-most in franchise history, trailing only the eight Cubs named in 2008.

First baseman Anthony Rizzo, second baseman Ben Zobrist, shortstop Addison Russell, third baseman Kris Bryant and outfielder Dexter Fowler were all voted by fans to start the 87th Major League All-Star Game Tuesday, July 12 at San Diego’s Petco Park. Right-handed pitcher Jake Arrieta was named to the All-Star team through the player vote, while left-handed pitcher Jon Lester was named to the club by manager Terry Collins.

The Cubs are just the second team in major-league history to field the starting infield, joining the 1963 St. Louis Cardinals (1B Bill White, 2B Julian Javier, SS Dick Groat, 3B Ken Boyer). The Cubs have never had five players named to start the All-Star Game and are the first team to do so since the 1985 San Diego Padres. Chicago’s five position players are its most since also having five in 1988 (Andre Dawson, Shawon Dunston, Vance Law, Rafael Palmeiro and Ryne Sandberg).

Rizzo became the first Cub to lead the National League in fan voting since Derrek Lee in 2005. A three-time All-Star (2014, 2015 and 2016), Rizzo is the only first baseman in franchise history to be named to three-straight All-Star teams. He is only the fourth Cubs first baseman with three or more appearances, joining Ernie Banks (five All-Star Games as a first baseman), Mark Grace (three times) and Phil Cavarretta (three times). Rizzo is the first Cubs player to start at first base since Derrek Lee in 2005, as Rizzo was the starting designated hitter a year ago.

Zobrist has been named to his third-career All-Star team, joining his selections to the AL squad in 2009 and 2013. He is the first Cubs second baseman to be named to the squad since Ryne Sandberg started the game in 1993 and the fourth Cubs second baseman to be named to the club in the last 50 years, joining Sandberg, Manny Trillo and Glenn Beckert.

Russell has been named to his first All-Star team and is the first Cubs shortstop to start the game since Don Kessinger in 1972. At 22 years old, he is the youngest player in franchise history elected to start the game and second youngest All-Star overall, trailing only shortstop Starlin Castro who was named as a 21-year-old reserve in 2011. Russell is only the fourth Cubs shortstop named to the All-Star team in the last 50 seasons and the seventh overall.

Bryant earns his second All-Star honor in his second season, becoming the first Cubs third baseman to start the game since Aramis Ramirez in 2005. He is the first Cubs third baseman to earn All-Star honors in consecutive seasons since Ron Santo (1971-73) and the fifth Cubs third baseman to earn multiple All-Star honors, joining Aramis Ramirez (twice), Ron Santo (nine times), Randy Jackson (twice) and Stan Hack (four times).

Fowler has earned his first-career All-Star honor and is the first Cubs outfielder elected to start the game since Alfonso Soriano and Kosuke Fukudome in 2008. Fowler is the first Cubs center fielder named to start the game since Frank Demaree in 1937. He is the first Cubs outfielder overall named to the game since Marlon Byrd in 2010.

On the pitching side, Arrieta earned his first-career All-Star honor and is the first Cubs right-handed starter to make the game since Jeff Samardzija in 2014. Lester has been named an All-Star for the fourth time in his career, first time as a Cub, as he previously earned American League honors in 2010, 2011 and 2014. He is the first Cubs left-handed starter to make the club since Travis Wood in 2013. The last Cubs lefty to pitch in the game was Randy Myers in 1995.

The Cubs have not had multiple pitchers make the game in the same season since four pitchers in 2008, when Carlos Zambrano, Carlos Marmol and Ryan Dempster all pitched in the game (Kerry Wood did not appear).

1000 Words: Winning in style

On Tuesday, the Cubs punched their ticket to the National League Championship Series with a 6-4 win over the Cardinals in Game 4 of the NLDS. Javier Baez, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber all blasted home runs, and the bullpen sealed the game late to give the Cubs a 3-1 series win.

Yesterday marks the first time in franchise history that the Cubs clinched a postseason series at Wrigley Field. They now await the winner of the Dodgers-Mets NLDS series. The NLCS will get underway on Saturday.

From the Pages of Vine Line: The Cubs believe they have the pitching to contend

Lester_JonConvention

(Photo by Stephen Green)

The following can be found in the March issue of Vine Line.

Whether because of too much rosé wine or too many pairs of rose-colored glasses, the annual Cubs Convention inevitably yields lofty predictions that rarely come to fruition. In 29 seasons since the advent of the winter fanfest, dreams of postseason play have materialized only five times, with the Cubs participating in the National League Championship Series just twice.

So why, in 2015, would first baseman Anthony Rizzo predict an NL Central title for the Cubs—a franchise that has won only five division championships in 45 years of divisional play and is coming off five consecutive losing seasons? This pitch to the populace was based on pitching, the ultimate measure of a playoff-bound club.

“I got to meet [Cubs Chairman Tom] Ricketts personally when I was hired,” said manager Joe Maddon. “He was totally committed to bidding for Jon Lester. It’s something we worked very hard at, so the credit goes to [President of Baseball Operations] Theo [Epstein] and [Executive Vice President and General Manager] Jed [Hoyer] and the entire front office staff. Getting Jon in the fold was pretty special.”

Last July 4, when the Cubs jettisoned Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland—where they were soon joined by Lester in Athletics GM Billy Beane’s ill-fated playoff push—it was difficult to imagine pitching would be a strong suit just five months later.

But the organization’s outlook changed dramatically when Epstein and company hired Maddon, put up $155 million over six years to land Lester and re-signed Hammel as a free agent. Acquiring All-Star catcher Miguel Montero and center fielder Dexter Fowler, a switch-hitting leadoff man, further fueled the optimism.

Not only did Lester echo the bold statements of Rizzo, the lefty took things to the next level, saying anything less than a World Series championship wouldn’t meet his goals—not this year or any year.

“It’s nice to have that anchor in the rotation,” Maddon said. “Here’s a guy who has pitched at a very high level and in very meaningful games. The rest of the staff, including the young guys, will look in his direction.

“I think Jon will be able to handle all this. That said, my request to Jon was ‘Do what’s comfortable for you.’ You don’t want to put too much in his lap. His primary role is to prepare and be ready to pitch every five days. After that, I told him if he has reserved energy—mental or physical—and wants to pass it along, go ahead. But he must take care of himself first.”

Lester and Hammel, along with emerging star Jake Arrieta, provide the foundation of a dominant rotation. Arrieta was as good as any NL pitcher at home last season, posting a 6-1 record and a 1.46 ERA at Wrigley Field. The 29-year-old right-hander took a no-hitter into the seventh inning or later three times, including in two consecutive starts. Still, he will defer to Lester for the Opening Day assignment in 2015.

“He’s well deserving,” Arrieta said. “He’s a leader and a guy all of us can look to for advice.”

Unlike the 31-year-old Lester, who has averaged 209 innings over eight years as a full-fledged starter, Arrieta has never pitched more than the 156.2 innings he logged last season.

“I don’t look at the innings as anything personally for me,” said Arrieta, who was 10-5 with a 2.53 ERA in 2014. “I want to be strong, healthy and durable. Those things will be there if I do things the right way in preparation.”

Though Hammel initially struggled after being dealt to Oakland, the righty was 8-5 with a 2.98 ERA in 17 Cubs starts last season. His excellent strikeouts-to-walks ratio of 4.5-to-1 was a major reason the team brought him back. Exactly where he fits in the rotation may depend on the performance of Kyle Hendricks and Travis Wood.

A right-handed finesse pitcher with pinpoint command, Hendricks, 25, was 7-2 with a 2.46 ERA in 13 starts as a rookie. Wood, 27, may have to battle veterans Felix Doubront and Tsuyoshi Wada for the second left-handed starter’s role. After posting a career-low 3.11 ERA and making the NL All-Star team in 2013, Wood saw his ERA jump almost two runs per game last season.

Personal issues, as well as failing to agree on a long-term deal offered in Spring Training, may have played a role.

“Maybe at the beginning of the year, the contract thing got to me,” he said. “At some point, I said, ‘Let it go,’ and just burrowed down and worked myself out of it.”

Other than Lester and Wood, only Edwin Jackson, who is 14-33 in two years with the Cubs, has a 200-inning season under his belt. The 31-year-old is still owed $11 million in both 2015 and 2016, but he may land in the bullpen if he isn’t traded first.

“We have a strange sport where you need all people to pull in the same direction on the same rope,” Lester said. “That’s all we expect to do—mesh as a unit, bond and become brothers. Hopefully that takes us to the prize at the end of the year.”

With Lester and Maddon on board, the Cubs have raised the bar. Now let’s hope fans will finally be able to raise a toast in October.

—By Bruce Levine and Joel Bierig

Hot Off the Press: The January issue featuring new ace Jon Lester

VL1501_Cover_Newstand_2

NOTE: THE HOLIDAYS THE BEST TIME TO SUBSCRIBE TO VINE LINE. FROM NOW UNTIL JAN. 1, 2015, USE THE PROMO CODE MERRY, AND YOU CAN GET VINE LINE FOR JUST $22/YEAR.

Now things are starting to get fun. Last month when I sat down to write this letter, I was reflecting on the improvements of the past year and the splash the Cubs made by signing free-agent manager Joe Maddon to a five-year contract. President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein had recently spoken about how the organization was turning a corner and how he expected the Cubs to contend for the NL Central crown in 2015.

“We’re going to be very involved [in the free-agent market],” Epstein said. “It’s starting to be the right time to add impact talent.”

I think it’s safe to say he wasn’t exaggerating. Christmas came early for Cubs fans when the team landed coveted left-hander Jon Lester, righty Jason Hammel, All-Star catcher Miguel Montero and backup catcher David Ross around December’s Winter Meetings.

Lester, whom the Cubs signed to a six-year deal with an option for a seventh, was the jewel of the offseason pitching market, and several top teams—including the Red Sox, Giants and Dodgers—waged a fierce battle over him. Though those teams have been postseason fixtures in recent years, Lester ultimately chose to come to Chicago and reunite with Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer, the executives who drafted him back in 2002 with Boston.

For years, people have questioned the front office’s plan for the organization, and many wondered aloud if and when they could get a major free agent to buy into their vision. But the Cubs’ plan all along has been to rebuild the minor league system as quickly as possible and add impact players from outside the organization when the time was right.

These recent moves weren’t a deviation. They were a confirmation.

The Cubs’ pitch to Lester, who turns 31 years old on Jan. 7, centered around the lure of bringing a World Series title to the North Side, the unrivaled young talent filling the system and the restoration of Wrigley Field, which will soon provide players with some of the best facilities in the game.

“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think [the Cubs] were going to win in 2015,” Lester said. “So that’s how I think. I’m never going to say, ‘Well, we’ll be all right this year, and we’ll get ‘em next year.’ I’m going in with the intention of winning in 2015. And that means the division, that means the World Series, that means everything. Like I said, I don’t like to lose. You can call it arrogant, you can call it cocky, whatever you want. But I like to win, and that’s what I’m here to do.”

The baseball world has long been drooling over the Cubs’ preponderance of young bats, from Javier Baez to Kris Bryant to Addison Russell to Jorge Soler. Add that to an already solid bullpen and proven major league players like Jake Arrieta, Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo, Hammel, Lester and Montero, and you’ve really got something.

This month, we only touch on the recent signings, which hit the Chicago area like a tsunami moments before we went to press. Next month, we’ll take a deep dive into all the moves (along with providing our annual minor league prospectus).

It’s funny how fast things change. Last I checked, the Cubs were at 12-1 odds to win the World Series at online sports book Bovada. Like I said, things are starting to get fun.

Speaking of fun, in this month’s issue, we get the backstory on three decades of the Cubs Convention, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary from Jan. 16-18 at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers. We also shed some light on the charitable work the team performed in the last year as part of its 100 Gifts of Service, the club’s most ambitious philanthropic initiative ever. Finally, we get our first chance to talk to new hitting coach John Mallee about his philosophy and what he hopes to achieve on the North Side. With a talented crop of young players now under his tutelage, it’s safe to say the Chicago native is eager to get started.

Here’s the good news: We’re just one month away from pitchers (Lester, Hammel) and catchers (Montero, Ross) reporting to Spring Training. As always, look for us at the convention, where we’ll be renewing subscriptions, meeting fans, and possibly hosting a player or two. See you there.

—Gary Cohen

Cubs officially sign LHP Jon Lester to a six-year contract

JonLester

(Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)

The biggest move of baseball’s offseason became official Monday when the Cubs and pitcher Jon Lester agreed to terms on a six-year contract that includes a vesting option for the 2021 season.

Lester, 30, is a three-time All-Star and a two-time World Series champion during his nine seasons with the Boston Red Sox (2006-14) and Oakland Athletics (2014). He has a pair of top five Cy Young Award finishes (2010 and 2014, both fourth), four top 10 finishes for the ERA title and six top 10 finishes in wins. The left-hander has made more than 30 starts in each of the last seven seasons, eclipsed 200 innings in six of the past seven and has three seasons with more than 200 strikeouts. His .634 career winning percentage (116-67) ranks fifth among all active pitchers.

The Cubs beat out teams like Boston, the Dodgers and San Francisco, who were all reported to have offered the southpaw significant deals. In the end though, the steps the Cubs had taken to produce sustained success swayed the starter.

“I believe in the plan and the thing that’s in place right now for the future of the Cubs,” Lester said. “Obviously leaving a place that you’ve already won and the comfort of that it’s difficult, but also you can relish in the process of enjoying the chance of winning a World Series for a franchise that never has just adds that little extra for me.”

Overall, Lester is 116-67 with a 3.58 ERA (635 ER/1,596.0 IP) in 253 major league appearances, all but one as a starting pitcher. Among big league left-handed pitchers active at the end of the 2014 campaign, he ranks best with an average of only 0.82 home runs per nine innings, second with 8.22 strikeouts per nine innings, third in ERA, fourth in wins and WHIP (1.28), and fifth with 1,457 strikeouts and 156 quality starts. He threw the 18th no-hitter in Red Sox history on May 19, 2008, a 7-0 victory against the Kansas City Royals at Fenway Park.

A World Champion with the Red Sox in 2007 and 2013, Lester is 6-4 with a 2.57 ERA in 14 postseason appearances, 12 as a starter. He has won all three of his World Series starts, posting a 0.43 ERA, and was the winning pitcher in the clinching Game 4 in 2007 in Colorado.

Lester turned in one of the best seasons of his career in 2014 when he went 16-11 with a 2.46 ERA in 32 starts with the Red Sox and Athletics. He earned an All-Star nod and recorded his lowest single-season ERA, which ranked fourth in the American League. He struck out 220 batters and walked only 48, good for a 4.6 strikeout-to-walk ratio that ranked seventh in the league. Lester was 10-7 with a 2.52 ERA in 21 starts for the Red Sox before being traded to Oakland on July 31, where he went 6-4 with an even better 2.35 ERA in 11 starts.

Eptsein and current Cubs General Manager Jed Hoyer were members of Boston’s front office for the majority of Lester’s tenure, with Epstein serving as general manager from 2003-11. Along with Lester’s success on the field, Epstein said he respects the pitcher’s drive and character, which were equally important attributes that led to the signing.

“He’s focused, competitive, hard working, intense and now fully mature. I think he’s got good self-awareness and understands the group concept,” said Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein. “And he’s at his best in the most important moments, I think because he’s so driven and focused and not swayed on outside variables like pressure.”

The 6-foot-4, 240-pound Lester was originally selected by the Red Sox in the second round of the 2002 Draft (57th overall) out of high school and was in the big leagues just four years later at the age of 22. He made his debut on June 10, 2006, and made 15 starts before being diagnosed with anaplastic large cell lymphoma in late-August. Lester was declared cancer-free in December of that year and returned to the big leagues on July 23, 2007, going a perfect 4-0 with a 4.57 ERA in 12 outings (11 starts) down the stretch to help the Red Sox to the playoffs and a World Series championship.

Lester began his run of seven straight seasons with more than 30 starts in 2008 and has posted 15 or more victories in six of those seasons, including a career-high 19 wins in 2010, his first of two-straight All-Star seasons. He struck out 225 batters in consecutive seasons in 2009 and 2010, his single-season career bests.  In 2013, Lester went 4-1 with a 1.56 ERA in five postseason starts to lead the Red Sox to the 2013 World Series championship.