Given the lack of overall production from Joc Pederson and the tremendous inconsistency in the starting rotation, there are more than a few Cubs fans questioning the team’s decision to move on from Jon Lester and Kyle Schwarber this past offseason.
Regardless, the former Chicago fan favorites will make their return to the Friendly Confines this week as the Washington Nationals come to town for a four-game set. Lester will kick things off on Monday night, taking the ball opposite Adbert Alzolay in the opener. The veteran southpaw is known for his fiery passion and grittiness on the mound – but other emotions will be at play when he takes the hill.
"“It’s natural,” Lester told ESPN. “I had to get over some stuff leaving Boston. Chicago was my home for six years. We have a house there. My kids grew up there. You invest in a city, you invest in that place that you’re working. Yeah, there’s emotions involved.”"
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Calling Lester the Cubs’ greatest free agent signing of all-time is no stretch. The left-hander changed everything for the organization, stepping in and immediately giving a young, on-the-rise club real legitimacy. His first year with the team, Chicago went on a run, winning 97 games and advancing to the NLCS for the first time since 2003.
Of course, in 2016, Lester did it all. He finished runner-up in National League Cy Young voting, tying a career-high with 19 wins and working to a 2.44 ERA in 32 starts. Come October, he did what he does best, playing an integral role in the Cubs winning it all – even coming out of the bullpen in Game 7 of the World Series.
Cubs: Kyle Schwarber also left his mark on the North Side franchise
Schwarber, a former first-round pick back in 2014, also made his presence felt in a big way during his time with Chicago. He’s likely best remembered for his towering blasts, including the one that wound up on top of the right field video board at Wrigley Field – and his improbable return from a season-ending knee injury to play a pivotal role in the 2016 Fall Classic.
His best season came back in 2019 when he and teammate Nicholas Castellanos went on an absolute tear down the stretch offensively. Schwarber finished the year with a career-high 38 home runs and 92 RBI with a 123 OPS+ but followed it up with a lackluster showing last summer in the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign.
That led to the new front office regime to non-tender him last winter and, eventually, he joined current Washington skipper and former Cubs bench coach Dave Martinez in D.C. You can bet it’ll be a special moment when he runs out to left field this week and can see the fans back in the bleachers.
Lester and Schwarber aren’t the only former Cubs who call Washington home now. Longtime cornerstone Starlin Castro carries a .331 OBP into action this week and backstop Alex Avila is also a member of this Nationals ball club.