By Mark Grote–
(CBS) — Former Cy Young award winner John Smoltz will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on July 26 and currently has a great view of all 30 teams from the Fox Sports TV booth.
So it seemed like a perfect time to snag Smoltz (the only pitcher in big league history with at least 200 victories and 150 saves) and intercept his thoughts on the Cubs and the National League.
Grote: Are the Cubs a legitimate contender?
Smoltz: I think they are. They are still going to have their share of strikeouts, but their pitching has been so much better. And their young production and the maturity of their young players has gotten them to a point where they are relevant. I think everybody, in the beginning of the year, thought they were a year away, and they are ahead of the curve. Who knows what they will add? I think the experience that they brought in, by way of certain veteran players, is a huge component that most analytic people don’t factor in. Although, they need to hit a little bit better than they have.
Grote: Why has Jake Arrieta been so good since joining the Cubs in 2013?
Smoltz: That’s the million-dollar question. He is comfortable here, and he is nasty. When something happens to a pitcher, whether it’s mentally or physically, it’s a lot more fun to do the things you want to do once that “thing” clicks. This is now starting to look like a very formidable rotation where you go, “wow.” Put them in the playoffs, and you are in a nice spot in the front end of their rotation.
Grote: It has been a hot-and-cold season for Jon Lester. Where’s the consistency?
Smoltz: There is a transition that a pitcher goes through when he goes from the American League to the National League. The whole lifestyle change and, obviously, more day games (with the Cubs). And we all know the documented effect that base-runners have had on him, and that plays bigger here in the National League than it did in the American League. But I consider Jon Lester to be a horse and a guy that you are going to ride in the post season. When his mechanics click, he goes on huge rolls, and because he has devastating stuff, that will play out at the most important times of the year. I think he’s probably been bearing too much responsibility because of the big contract (six years, $155 million), but look for him to get on a roll.
Grote: Who do you think is the best team in the National League?
Smoltz: Right now, it’s the Cardinals, but I still think some things are going to expose them late because of the injuries. I still find it hard pressed that it is not going to go through Washington. I think their pitching staff is so talented. We’ve already seen what (Max) Scherzer can do and his ability to pitch in dominant fashion. They too have struggled offensively and have had their fair share of injuries, but at the end of the day, I still think it’s going to go through Washington.
Mark Grote is the Cubs pregame and postgame host on WBBM. Follow him on Twitter @markgrotesports.