The sun finally shined on the Cubs’ dark and stormy season Monday at Wrigley Field with a 10-0 victory over the Pirates in their home opener.
After a six-run second inning, a home run from Kyle Schwarber in the fourth and seven scoreless innings by the embattled bullpen, the only thing missing for the Cubs at the end of the day was an MRI-exam result. The feel-good opener was muted by a hamstring injury the Cubs expect to cost ace Jon Lester at least one start and possibly a turn on the injured list.
“We don’t need that right now — we don’t want that,” said teammate Pedro Strop, who closed out the win in the ninth. “Hopefully, it’s not bad. . . . We need that guy. He’s a huge part of this team.”
Lester, one of the few bright spots in the Cubs’ 2-7 start on the road, is scheduled for an MRI exam Tuesday, and the Cubs say they expect to have the results Wednesday before the next game.
Until then, Lester — who injured his left hammy running the bases in the big second — said he’ll operate under the assumption he’ll make his next start as scheduled Sunday. But manager Joe Maddon said he planned to delay Lester’s next start even in a best-case scenario.
With sixth starter Mike Montgomery on the injured list until at least Monday with a “mild” lat strain, that almost certainly means a start Sunday for Tyler Chatwood.
“I’m just ready to pitch whenever, but hopefully he’s OK,” Chatwood said of Lester. “He’s our horse. We need him.”
An injured-list move for Lester would be one more early blow to a team that dug itself a 5½-game hole in the National League Central before playing a home game. The Cubs have three starts of at least six innings in their first 10 games, and Lester has two of them.
“His presence around here rubs off on a lot of people, and I think that the three best games we’ve played are when he’s starting,” Chatwood said. “I think everybody’s locked in when he’s out there, and that’s just the kind of person he is.”
Lester looked sharp in the first two innings before appearing visibly affected as he began the third.
“That was the best he’s thrown all year,” said Maddon, who took the trainer to the mound to check on Lester after the first batter singled in the third. He let Lester talk him into staying but pulled him after the next batter.
“He was on the verge of really getting hot, I thought, just from watching him,” Maddon said. “It’s unfortunate. But we’ll work through it.”
The injury occurred after Lester doubled home the game’s first run, then sprinted around third to score on Ben Zobrist’s single.
“I didn’t feel anything, as far as a pop or anything like that,” Lester said. “More of a cramping sensation. I’ve never really had anything wrong with my legs before. We’ll find out some more [after the MRI].”
In the short term, Lester’s status raises the stakes for Yu Darvish’s first home start of the season Wednesday in his effort to bounce back from the worst season of his career.
But anything more than a missed start or two for Lester also could quickly exacerbate the early hole the Cubs find themselves in. The slow start is already amplifying questions about their pitching depth, and they have little to no room in the payroll budget to seek outside help. Chairman Tom Ricketts reiterated that point during an interview Monday morning on The Score.
“There’s always a little bit of flex in every year’s budget, but typically we don’t think about that until we get toward the middle of the season,” he said. “I don’t know about Craig Kimbrel. That may just be a bigger ticket than we can swing.”
For now, at least, the Cubs enjoyed the sunshine.
“I’m not thinking about that now,” Zobrist said. “It’s just been a good day. Hopefully, [Lester is] not banged up too much.”