Kris Bryant Cubs

When will the Cubs call up Kris Bryant to join Javier Baez?


DENVER – Yes, Theo Epstein sees the light at the end of the tunnel, but that doesn’t mean the prospects are getting an E-Z Pass to the big leagues.

Who’s next? When’s Kris Bryant getting here? What about Jorge Soler? That’s what players, Cubs fans and the Chicago media wondered after Javier Baez got called up from Triple-A Iowa.

The president of baseball operations didn’t want to go there, dialing into a conference call with reporters on Tuesday afternoon to downplay expectations for Baez, and not broadcast this as the start of something.

“It’s just a promotion of a very talented prospect who’s had an outstanding development year,” Epstein said. “I don’t believe in making grand pronouncements as an organization or making statements. I think we want the talent, and ultimately the performance of our players, to speak for themselves.

[MORE CUBS: Castro thinks Baez can make immediate impact]

“So I’m not going to get into what this means or what this signifies, other than it’s the right step for Javy’s development. And there are others behind him who – at the appropriate time – will follow.”

Insiders say Bryant won’t be called up until sometime after Opening Day 2015. The Cubs won’t want to start the free-agency clock for a Scott Boras client.

“He doesn’t need to do much more,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “But this game is a business, and everyone needs to remember that.”

[MORE CUBS: Javier Baez leads tidal wave of prospects about to hit Cubs]

Bryant is a polished, mature hitter who’s generated 36 homers and 94 RBI through 114 games split between Double-A Tennessee and Iowa this season. The Cubs knew the third baseman would be on the fast track after drafting him No. 2 overall out of the University of San Diego last year and then watching him emerge as the Arizona Fall League’s MVP.

“It’s his first year in the minor leagues, and he’s done really well,” Rizzo said. “From what I’ve seen, he’s handled himself really well, so just keep getting better. You never know. You never know what can happen.”

Soler’s in a different position because he’s already on the 40-man roster with a $30 million major-league contract. The Cuban outfielder has put up a 1.078 OPS through his first 14 games at Iowa and is expected to be a September call-up.

[MORE CUBS: The future is now as Cubs call up Javier Baez]

“They bring those guys up right now, and next year we’ll have a really young team,” shortstop Starlin Castro said. “We can be together, and we can prove it, because we know we got a lot of talent. We got players that can play at this level.”

Epstein’s hope-and-change message isn’t all talk. The Cubs have two 24-year-old All-Stars in Castro and Rizzo, Arismendy Alcantara and Baez at the top of the lineup and a farm system ESPN recently ranked as the best in baseball.

“We’ll continue to add potential impact talent to our big-league club,” Epstein said. “That’s ultimately what it’s all about. We’re not here to top the standings of the prospect rankings. We want to top the National League Central standings, and ultimately have a lot of opportunity in October and a lot of success in October.

“So this is nothing but an appropriate promotion for a player who’s earned it. And we’ll see what the future brings.”

But with this collection of young talent, and the financial flexibility to go shopping for big-ticket items this winter, the Cubs can see the future isn’t that far off in the distance.

Concerns over Jon Lester’s throwing ability much ado about nothing

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 20: Jon Lester #34 of the Chicago Cubs pitches against the Los Angeles Dodgers in game five of the National League Division Series at Dodger Stadium on October 20, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images)
Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images

Going into Thursday night’s NLCS Game 5, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts planned to have his team be annoying and distracting on the base paths for Cubs starter Jon Lester. Lester, you see, has a hard time making throws when he’s not pitching from the rubber, as seen here.

The Dodgers got an immediate opportunity to test their strategy, as Enrique Hernandez drew a four-pitch walk to start the game in the bottom of the first inning. Hernandez was taking leads between 15 and 25 feet, just taunting Lester to throw over to first base. Lester never did. And despite being given the luxury of such a large lead, Hernandez never attempted to steal second base.

It ended up costing the Dodgers a run. After Justin Turner struck out, Corey Seager lined a single to center field. Hernandez, large lead and all, should’ve been well on his way to third base, but he settled for staying at second base. Carlos Ruiz then flied out to right field on what should’ve been a sacrifice fly. Hernandez instead just advanced to third. Howie Kendrick grounded out to end the inning with the Dodgers having scored no runs.

In the bottom of the second inning with two outs, Joc Pederson dropped down a bunt, but Lester was able to field it and make a bounce-throw to Anthony Rizzo at first base to end the inning. Lester stared angrily into the Dodgers’ dugout as he walked off the field. If it were me, I’d have been glaring angrily not because the opposing team was attempting to exploit my weakness, but because the strategy is so poor.

The bunting would continue in the seventh inning as first baseman and noted power hitter Adrian Gonzalez tried to sneak a bunt past Lester on the right side of the infield. Second baseman Javier Baez was able to scoop it up and fire to first. Gonzalez was initially ruled safe, but the call was overturned upon replay review.

Lester countered the Dodgers’ bunting and greedy lead-taking by just pitching his game. He went seven innings, allowing just one run on five hits and a walk with six strikeouts on 108 pitches. The Cubs went on to win 8-4, taking a 3-2 lead in the NLCS. A worthy consideration for the National League Cy Young Award based on his regular season performance, Lester now has a 0.86 ERA in 21 innings spanning three starts this postseason. Turns out, the yips isn’t debilitating if you’re really good at your main job.

Cubs swat their way past the Dodgers 8-4 in NLCS Game 5

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 20:  Addison Russell #27 of the Chicago Cubs hits a two-run home run in the sixth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers in game five of the National League Division Series at Dodger Stadium on October 20, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

During the regular season, the Cubs had the second-best offense in baseball behind the Rockies, averaging 4.99 runs per game. It was the best after debiting the Rockies for playing in Coors Field. There was no way, after getting shut out in NLCS Games 2 and 3, that the offense was going to stay dormant much longer. They broke out for 10 runs in a Game 4 victory on Wednesday night. They scored eight more to beat the Dodgers 8-4 in Game 5, taking a 3-2 NLCS lead.

The Cubs took an early 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning when leadoff batter Dexter Fowler greeted Kenta Maeda with a single to center field. He’d come around to score on a one-out double by Anthony Rizzo who, like teammate Addison Russell, hadn’t hit much until breaking out in Game 4.

Starter Jon Lester was able to silence the Dodgers’ offense despite their strategy of attempting bunts and taking big leads, knowing Lester has trouble throwing when it’s not from the pitching rubber. They managed just one run, coming around in the fourth inning to knot the game at 1-1 when Howie Kendrick doubled, stole third base, and scored on an Adrian Gonzalez ground out.

Ultimately, Lester lasted seven innings, holding the Dodgers to five hits and a walk with six strikeouts on 108 pitches. Addison Russell allowed him to leave with a lead, slugging a two-run home run off of reliever Joe Blanton in the sixth to break the 1-1 tie.

The Cubs tacked on plenty of insurance in the top of the eighth against reliever Pedro Baez, which proved to be rather necessary. Russell reached on an error by Baez, Willson Contreras singled, and Albert Almora, Jr. moved both runners up a base on a sacrifice bunt. Dexter Fowler then hit a single to first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, but Baez didn’t break to cover first base. Gonzalez wasn’t able to beat Fowler to the bag, allowing the Cubs’ fourth run to score. Kris Bryant hit a weak grounder to third base and he was able to beat that out as well, pushing across another run in the process. Anthony Rizzo lined out, but Baez prolonged the inning by walking Ben Zobrist. Ross Stripling relieved Baez, but he served up a bases-clearing double to Javier Baez, making it an 8-1 ballgame. Jason Heyward, as has often been the case, popped up feebly, mercifully ending the inning with the Cubs having hung up a five-spot.

Pedro Strop took over for Lester in the bottom of the eighth. He gave up a double to Andrew Toles, then hit Justin Turner to begin the inning. Though Strop was able to induce a ground ball double play from Corey Seager, Carlos Ruiz followed up with a double to left-center to push in a run. Howie Kendrick flied out to send the game to the ninth.

Closer Aroldis Chapman took over with a six-run lead in the bottom of the ninth. He issued a leadoff walk to Gonzalez, then served up a single to Yasiel Puig. Joc Pederson grounded out, but Josh Reddick knocked in Gonzalez and moved Puig to third with a single to center. Toles plated Puig with a sacrifice fly, making it 8-4. Turner grounded out to shortstop to end the game, finalizing the victory for the Cubs.

The two clubs will take Friday off to travel back to Chicago. Game 6 will take place at Wrigley Field at 8:00 PM EDT. Clayton Kershaw will start for the Dodgers opposite the Cubs’ Kyle Hendricks.