<
>

What we learned after Cubs' first two games: Jon Lester was right

PHOENIX, Ariz. -- A great start to the season for the Chicago Cubs played out to near perfection in sweeping the Los Angeles Angels. Let's take a look at three items we may have learned or at least confirmed in Games 1 and 2 of 2016. (We'll exclude Jake Arrieta's performance. By now that's expected.)

The offense is what we thought it would be: The Cubs are averaging 3.90 pitches per plate appearance through two games. It's a little less than what they averaged (3.97) all of last year so expect them to be right around that number when it's all said and done. Getting the starter out of the game isn't what it used to be, according to many in baseball. Bullpens have gotten too good but the thinking is the more relievers that are needed the better the chance one of them isn't on top of his game. Plus there's the carryover effect to the next game of the series. Eventually a bullpen gets worn out. The Cubs used to have all sorts of trouble adding on runs late in contests. That shouldn't be a problem in 2016. See these first two games for evidence.

Jon Lester told us so: For many reasons, which he's documented several times this spring, Lester just wasn't himself last year. And he told us as much. He was a good enough pitcher to produce some good efforts and certainly the numbers weren't bad but everyone knew he could be better. His stuff already is -- Anthony Rizzo noticed better movement on his pitches in his first start than in any last year. And his catcher also knew there was more for Lester to give.

"No doubt about it," David Ross said after Lester's win on Tuesday. "He knew it too."

It's a reminder the game is played between the ears as much as it is on the mound and at the plate. Even Lester's dead arm last spring -- a physical problem -- can be attributed to him pushing himself trying to prove he deserved his big payday. The game in the majors starts with what's above the shoulders. Lester is a prime example as well as a reminder.

Matt Szczur has game: The accolades continue to roll in for the Villanova grad. "He's a guy I can use in many ways. He can pinch run, he can pinch hit, plays all outfield positions. Pretty astute baseball player."

That was former Cubs manager Rick Renteria late in 2014. You may have noticed he didn't mention anything about Szczur's power. It's because he didn't have any back then having hit a total of five home runs in two full minor league seasons in 2013 and 2014. A swing change last year produced more pop and Szczur has taken advantage. He can also bunt with the best of them. Whether he sticks with the team or continues his hot play remains to be seen, but it's been a fun couple days for him as the only Villanova alum active in the majors.