Jon Lester helping manage Chicago Cubs’ newfound expectations


When the Chicago Cubs Anthony Rizzo dropped the “quote heard ’round baseball”, some of us weren’t sure what to think. I mean, so much happened this winter. Was he serious?

"“We’re going to play, we’re going to win the NL Central. You can quote me on that.”"

Okay, going worst to first isn’t unheard of. Even our Cubs have done it. Is it possible? Was there that much upside last season and enough added to believe it to be so, or has the young Rizzo lost his mind?

As the “default” leader of the Cubs – and not that he isn’t capable, just doesn’t fit the mold yet – his teammates supported the notion. Breakout star Jake Arrieta was on board. Well, sort of.

"“I don’t think it’s out of reach at all,” Arrieta said about getting to the playoffs. “I expect the guys on our ballclub to have that same sort of mindset, especially starting with a clean slate, a fresh season, a lot of new faces. Optimism is a good thing to have. I think everybody’s excited and ready to get started.”"

Both optimistic, but one not quite as sure-fire as the other. Still, the Cubs made many of the moves that we thought necessary, and added a bona fide ace in Jon Lester. He’s already been part of breaking curses in Boston. And while he’s not a vocal leader, giving the rah-rah speeches or proclaiming victory in October, his presence is already paying dividends.

The Cubs didn’t HAVE to sign Lester this winter. Most believed they would be fairly aggressive, getting a few veterans to help lead the young ballclub, but not a $170 million star pitcher. But Theo Epstein has known him since he was just a prospect in the Red Sox system. Manager Joe Maddon managed against him more than a handful of times in the AL East. Would you call him a once in a lifetime signing? Well, it’s likely the Cubs haven’t won in your lifetime, so yes he was.

When Lester sat with Epstein before Thanksgiving last year, hearing the pitch for “why Chicago”, Epstein can recall his on more than one occasion saying  “They’re going to burn this city down again when we win the World Series.” Notice he didn’t say if, but when.

Lester is well aware of 1908, the billy-goat and Bartman. He’s also aware of his guaranteed $155 million contract. But there’s no added pressure. Lester welcomes that what is perceived to be pressure to win.

"“Pressure is what you make of it,” Lester said. “In anything that you do, there’s pressure. For me, this is a game. This is what I love. This is what I work so hard for in the offseason — to come in here and pitch and try to give my team the best chance to win."

He is a man of few words, and generally let’s his pitching performances speak for him. But his decision to come to Chicago – a last place team – to try and win a World Series shows his belief in the plan that’s in place. Lester won’t have to give speeches, or declare the Cubs will win the division.

He became a leader when he chose the Cubs over all other suitors.

Next: Can the Central be the NL's best division?