Lester continues rare early-season roll


Lester continues rare early-season roll

By MaureenMullen

BOSTON Getting through the month of April successfully has not been easy in the past for Jon Lester. Before this year he had posted a record of 3-6 with a 4.76 ERA for the first month of the season.

Those difficulties, it appears, are in the past.

This year, Lester has not needed a one-month delay to jumpstart his season. After Tuesday nights 7-3 win over the Angels at Fenway Park, he improved to 4-1 with a 2.33 ERA. He went seven innings, allowing one run a Mark Trumbo home run in the second inning with six hits, one walk, and 11 strikeouts, a season high. It was the 15th double-digit strikeout performance of Lesters career.

I think its really encouraging, manager Terry Francona said of Lesters strong start to the season, because the last couple years Aprils been so tough for him, and once he seems to find it he doesnt lose it. I think thats really good news. Tuesday night he went out and established his fastball and used it a lot. Hes got so many different weapons and I think I said in spring training, when he knows he can repeat his pitches hes a different pitcher.

Against the Angels on Tuesday, though, Lester was much the same pitcher he was against them in Anaheim last month when he shut them out through six innings. Of four wins this season, two have come at the expense of the Angels. In 13 combined innings he has allowed just one run on 10 hits with 3 walks and 19 strikeouts.

Lester had at least one strikeout in each inning Tuesday, and recorded all three outs in the seventh, his final inning, on K's (with a Jeff Mathis single in the mix). It was his fourth straight win and sixth straight quality start in seven outings. In four of his starts, he has struck out eight or more, joining only Detroits Justin Verlander, the Cubs Matt Garza, and Philadelphias Cole Hamels with at least four such games this season.

Just was able to repeat a good rhythm, good effort level, didn't really overthrow a lot of balls tonight, Lester said. So that part was good. Kept that same effort level pretty much through the whole game.

Lester threw just 93 pitches (66 for strikes), the fewest he has thrown since 88 over 5 13 innings on Opening Day in Texas. He felt strong enough to continue, but without a day off until May 12, Francona opted to be cautious.

I just think we got to take care of him, Francona said. Were going through a stretch here where there arent any days off and hes throwing pretty hard and its early. So just want to take care of him.

The Sox offense could do little against the Angels' Dan Haren, until the third time through the order, in the sixth inning, when they scored two runs to give Lester a precarious one-run lead. The Sox bats broke the game open in the seventh and eighth, scoring a combined five runs off Haren and reliever Hisanori Takahashi.

Sometimes its nice to sit in the dugout for a while and watch guys do what they did in the eighth Lester said. But its fun to have those battles every once in a while, to see whos going to make the first mistake. I did early. Just try to hang around as best we could, keep them within striking distance. Guys did a good job of grinding at-bats out. Haren did a good job early on, too. Our offense did a great job grinding at-bats, waiting for that one opportunity to strike and we did and we took advantage of it and its always fun to see.

That kind of a battle is not always appreciated by everyone.

Im glad Lester likes it, because I sure as heck dont, said catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. But its fun. Its fun to sit back there and make every pitch count, which he does anyways. Just to see him come out on top is great.

Saltalamacchia has caught six of Lesters seven starts this season and has watched the left-hander get stronger with each.

His bullpen before he came in the game, he was a little rough and wasnt sure and didnt have a feel, Saltalamacchia said. And as soon as the lights turned on and they said play ball, he was right there. But . . . definitely, every start's looking better and better.

With Lester starting strong not needing to find it as Francona mentioned it can only bode well for the Sox.

I dont feel any different compared to years past at the beginning of the season, Lester said. Like Ive always said, its about executing pitches and Ive had -- except for this year -- yet to do that at the beginning of the season. I was able to do that, velocity came a little bit earlier than normal. So I think that helps. Feel for a changeup helps. Theres different things that help. But at the same time its about execution. I didn't do that in years past and fortunately have been able to do that this year.

Maureen Mullen is on Twitter athttp:twitter.commaureenamullen

McAdam: World Series win could clear path to Cooperstown for Epstein or Francona


McAdam: World Series win could clear path to Cooperstown for Epstein or Francona

Sometime over the next 10 or so days, either the Chicago Cubs or Cleveland Indians will win the 2016 World Series.

Naturally, that will mean one of baseball's two longest-suffering franchises will end their championship drought. Either the Cubs will win their first title since 1908, or the Indians will win for the first time since 1948.

That alone should make for an epic World Series.

But there's another bit of history at stake, too - one of legacies.

In addition to the great discomfort felt by Red Sox ownership -- which fired the manager of one participating team and was seemingly happy to hold the door open for the exit of an executive now running the other - it will also almost certainly result, eventually, in either Terry Francona or Theo Epstein being enshrined into the Hall of Fame.

Epstein would go down as the architect who helped two star-crossed franchises win titles - the Red Sox in 2004, and the Cubs this fall.

The Red Sox went 86 years between championships; the Cubs would be ending a run of futility that stretched across 108 seasons.

That would provide Epstein with an unmatched resume when it comes to degree of difficulty. It's one thing to win it all; it's another altogether to do so with the Sox and Cubs, two clubs, until Epstein's arrival, linked in ignominy.

Epstein could become only the fourth GM in modern history win a World Series in both leagues. Frank Cashen (Orioles and Mets); John Schuerholz (Royals and Braves) and Pat Gillick (Blue Jays and Phillies).

He would also join a short list of executives who have won three rings, a list that includes contemporaries Brian Cashman and Brian Sabean.

Of course, Epstein can't claim to have constructed the entire Cubs roster, no more than he could have done when the Red Sox won in '04.

In Boston, Epstein inherited key players such as Manny Ramirez, Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek. Similarly, Javier Baez and Willson Contreras pre-date Epstein's arrival on the North Side.

But Epstein is responsible for nearly the remainder of the roster, and hiring manager Joe Maddon, the coaching staff and most of the Baseball Operations staff, including GM Jed Hoyer and scouting director Jason McLeod.

Francona's influence on the Indians is just as obvious.

Hired in late 2012 after spending a year in the ESPN broadcast booth, he inherited a team which had suffered through four straight losing seasons. In the five previous years before Francona's hiring, the Indians averaged just over 72 wins per season.

Since his arrival, the Indians have posted four straight winning seasons, with two playoff appearances, while averaging 88 wins per season.

It hasn't seemed to matter to the Indians that they've been without two of their three best starters (Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco) this postseason or arguably, their best offensive player for all but 11 games this season (Michael Brantley).

The Indians don't make excuses for injuries, or bemoan their modest payroll. Under Francona, they just win.

This postseason, he's made up for the absences in the rotation by masterfully utilizing reliever Andrew Miller anywhere from the fifth to the ninth inning.

A third World Series would put Francona in similarly rare company. Only 10 managers have won three or more World Series and just six have done so since World War 2 - Walter Alston, Joe Torre, Tony La Russa, Bruce Bochy Sparky Anderson and Casey Stengel.

The individual accomplishments of Epstein and Francona won't take center stage this week and next -- that attention will, rightly, go to their respective beleaguered franchises.

But the subtext shouldn't be overlooked. Once the partying and the parades come to an end, a path to Cooperstown for either the winning manager or winning president of baseball operations can be cleared.


NLCS: Cubs eliminate Dodgers, reach Series for first time since 1945


NLCS: Cubs eliminate Dodgers, reach Series for first time since 1945

CHICAGO -- Cursed by a Billy Goat, bedeviled by Bartman and crushed by decades of disappointment, the Chicago Cubs are at long last headed back to the World Series.

Kyle Hendricks outpitched Clayton KershawAnthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras homered early and the Cubs won their first pennant since 1945, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 Saturday night in Game 6 of the NL Championship Series.

The drought ended when closer Aroldis Chapman got Yasiel Puig to ground into a double play, setting off a wild celebration inside Wrigley Field, outside the ballpark and all over the city.

Seeking their first crown since 1908, manager Joe Maddon's team opens the World Series at Cleveland on Tuesday night. The Indians haven't won it all since 1948 - Cleveland and Cubs have the two longest title waits in the majors.

"This city deserves it so much," Rizzo said. "We got four more big ones to go, but we're going to enjoy this. We're going to the World Series. I can't even believe that."

All-everything Javier Baez and pitcher Jon Lester shared the NLCS MVP. Baez hit .318, drove in five runs and made several sharp plays at second base. Lester, a former World Series champion in Boston, was 1-0 with a 1.38 ERA in two starts against the Dodgers.

Deemed World Series favorites since opening day, the Cubs topped the majors with 103 wins to win the NL Central, then beat the Giants and Dodgers in the playoffs.

The Cubs overcame a 2-1 deficit against the Dodgers and won their 17th pennant. They had not earned a World Series trip since winning a doubleheader opener 4-3 at Pittsburgh on Sept. 29, 1945, to clinch the pennant on the next-to-last day of the season.

The eternal "wait till next year" is over. No more dwelling on a history of failure - the future is now.

"We're too young. We don't care about it," star slugger Kris Bryant said. "We don't look into it. This is a new team, this is a completely different time of our lives. We're enjoying it and our work's just getting started."

Hendricks pitched two-hit ball for 7 1/3 innings. Chapman took over and closed with hitless relief, then threw both arms in the air as he was mobbed by teammates and coaches.

The crowd joined in, chanting and serenading their team.

"Chicago!" shouted popular backup catcher David Ross.

The Cubs shook off back-to-back shutout losses earlier in this series by pounding the Dodgers for 23 runs to win the final three games.

And they were in no way overwhelmed by the moment on Saturday, putting aside previous frustration.

In 1945, the Billy Goat Curse supposedly began when a tavern owner wasn't allowed to bring his goat to Wrigley. In 2003, the Cubs lost the final three games of the NLCS to Florida, punctuated with a Game 6 defeat when fan Steve Bartman deflected a foul ball.

Even as recently as 2012, the Cubs lost 101 times.

This time, no such ill luck.

Bryant had an RBI single and scored in a two-run first. Dexter Fowler added two hits, drove in a run and scored one.

Contreras led off the fourth with a homer. Rizzo continued his resurgence with a solo drive in the fifth.

That was plenty for Hendricks, the major league ERA leader.

Hendricks left to a standing ovation after Josh Reddick singled with one out in the eighth. The only other hit Hendricks allowed was a single by Andrew Toles on the game's first pitch.

Kershaw, dominant in Game 2 shutout, gave up five runs and seven hits before being lifted for a pinch hitter in the sixth. He fell to 4-7 in the postseason.

The Dodgers haven't been to the World Series since winning in 1988.

Pitching on five days' rest, the three-time NL Cy Young Award winner threw 30 pitches in the first. Fowler led off with a double, and Bryant's single had the crowd shaking the 102-year-old ballpark.

They had more to cheer when left fielder Andrew Toles dropped Rizzo's fly, putting runners on second and third, and Ben Zobrist made it 2-0 a sacrifice fly.

The Cubs added a run in the second when Addison Russell doubled to deep left and scored on a two-out single by Fowler.


Maddon benched slumping right fielder Jason Heyward in favor of Albert Almora Jr.

"Kershaw's pitching, so I wanted to get one more right-handed bat in the lineup, and also with Albert I don't feel like we're losing anything on defense," Maddon said. "I know Jason's a Gold Glover, but I think Albert, given an opportunity to play often enough would be considered a Gold Glove-caliber outfielder, too."

Heyward was 2 for 28 in the playoffs - 1 for 16 in the NLCS.


Kerry Wood, wearing a Ron Santo jersey, threw out the first pitch and actor Jim Belushi delivered the "Play Ball!" call before the game. Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder and actor John Cusack were also in attendance. And Bulls great Scottie Pippen led the seventh-inning stretch.