Chicago Cubs: Aaron Boone talks Sunday Night Baseball

Apr 18, 2016; St. Louis, MO, USA; Chicago Cubs starting pitcher John Lackey (41) reacts after striking out St. Louis Cardinals third baseman Matt Carpenter (not pictured) to end the fifth inning at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 18, 2016; St. Louis, MO, USA; Chicago Cubs starting pitcher John Lackey (41) reacts after striking out St. Louis Cardinals third baseman Matt Carpenter (not pictured) to end the fifth inning at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports /

ESPN Sunday Night Baseball Analyst Aaron Boone chatted about this week’s pitching matchup between the Chicago Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals as well as the state of the rivalry.

This week, ESPN broadcasts their Sunday Night Baseball (presented by Taco Bell) from the “Friendly Confines” of Wrigley Field. On Friday, I was able to visit with analyst Aaron Boone and discuss what he expects from the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals pitchers as well as where the rivalry now ranks in baseball.

Corey Francis: With this game between the Cards and Chicago Cubs on Sunday night and the season coming to a close, what do you think the Cardinals and Cubs need to see out of Mike Leake and John Lackey on Sunday night?

Aaron Boone:  Well, Lackey after a little bump in the road, has continued his outstanding performance. He is coming off an outing when he was outstanding. It has been interesting to watch him, at the back-end of this career, really not only maintain but I would make the case that he is as good as he has ever been right now.  And that has been the case really the last couple years. He is obviously a guy that, with the Cubs running away with that division and certainly headed into the postseason, to be able to slot a guy in that middle of the rotation with all that experience and throwing the ball the way he is, is really a great thing.

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CF: Absolutely

AB: For Mike Leake, you know, statistically in a lot of ways it’s been a really down year for him. But he is coming off an outing where he went 6 innings and gave up 3 runs, and I would argue that if you watched that outing, I thought that he was really on top of his game. I thought he threw the ball well, I thought he didn’t make a lot of mistakes. He has been victimized a little bit by some of the defensive issues that the Cardinals have had this year. I mean, if you watch his last game there are a couple of just measly ground balls that get through and ultimately end up leading to the runs. I expect Leake to go out there and throw well, a guy with outstanding command of his fastball.

What is interesting with both of these guys is they get like three different pitches with their fastball. They both have the ability to run it four-seam, but they both sink it a lot, and they’ll both cut the fastball. It is like they get three different pitches. In this game, what you are going to see is two guys that, when you say fastball command, these guys absolutely have that.

I would make the case that he is as good as he has ever been right now.  -Aaron Boone on John Lackey’s performance

CF: It has been impressive to watch Lackey do that with his fastball this year. Straight, cut, whatever he needs to do with it. With the Chicago Cubs, though, they have played pretty well all season. But, when you watch them play against the Cardinals, they seem to be pretty tense, They are not as aggressive at the plate or they make errors on the base paths like they did last night (Thursday) with Chris Coghlan. What about this rivalry is affecting the Cubs?

AB: I don’t know. I mean, if you go back since the Cubs have become this giant of a team over the last 12 months, they handled them in the post season, kinda dominated 100-win team that the Cardinals were last year in the postseason. They come from behind in last night’s ball game.  Right now, when you are playing for the Cubs, every game is a pretty big deal. They are the marquee team right now. They are the team the everyone is coming to see, so every game seems a little ratcheted up. Now, you sprinkle in the fact that it’s the Cardinals, your archrival, a team that has had all kinds of success and is still a quality team, it kinda ratchets up. Every now and then you are going to make a mistake. Every now and then you are going to throw out a clunker. Even the best of teams, the best of players.

CF: Yeah, that is very true as well. I remember the last series at Wrigley, a four-game series in which the Cardinals took three of them. There were just a few interesting plays that weren’t made that the Cubs usually make. Where does this rivalry now stand in terms of rivalries in baseball? I know the Yankees and Red Sox have been that rivalry. Is this kinda replacing that with the step up of the Chicago Cubs and maybe the pull back of the Yankees?

AB: Absolutely, I would put it up there with anyone. I would also say the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers are right there too.

CF: That is another good one.

AB: But, the Cardinals and the Cubs right now don’t take a backseat to anyone. I mean, it is two great franchises. Obviously, the Cardinals have has the better of them, certainly over the last 10-12 years for the most part. But, the Cubs have started to flip that script, beating them in the postseason last year, clearly looking like, at least on paper anyway, the best team in baseball. So, in a way the Cubs are that hottest team right now. And the Cardinals have been struggling through all year. You know, injuries, consistent performance, and they are fighting for their playoff life right now. There is always a lot on the line regardless of the situation when it is Cubs-Cardinals, there is still a lot at stake for both teams, especially the Cardinals to keep that playoff streak alive.

CF: Absolutely. I do really appreciate you taking the time to speak with us at Cubbies Crib and look forward to your call on Sunday Night.

AB: I appreciate it. Take care.

Again, thank you to ESPN’s Aaron Boone for taking the time to speak with us. Do not miss the action on Sunday night baseball this week. Here are the details:

Adnan Virk, Dallas Braden, Tim KurkjianESPN 8 p.m.St. Louis Cardinals at Chicago Cubs presented by Taco Bell

Dan Shulman, Aaron Boone, Jessica Mendoza, Buster OlneyESPN, ESPN Radio, ESPN Deportes TV, ESPN Deportes Radio