If there’s one thing that the Chicago Cubs have lacked of late, it’s confidence. The team, coming off yet-another losing campaign, changed its entire dynamic this offseason, adding former Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon and Boston Red Sox ace Jon Lester to the mix.
And, at least for Lester’s part – 2015 is a completely clean slate.
After spending his entire career minus a half-season in Oakland with the Red Sox, Lester is appearing in camp with a National League team for the first time at age 31. Bringing with him a pair of World Series championships and 116 career wins, the southpaw was the victory of the winter for the Cubs’ brain trust of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer – and for good reason.
"“If you come in here and say, ‘Oh, it’s another year, we’ll see what happens,’ that won’t get you anywhere. You got to come in with the mindset, ‘We’re going to the World Series.’ That’s where the goals you set have to be. They have to be high. They have to be to the point you almost can’t reach them. That’s how I set goals."
Acquired at the trade deadline by the Athletics last season in hopes of putting the nail in the coffins of other American League West clubs, Lester and the A’s fell short of the Fall Classic, bowing out of the postseason with an emotional loss to the eventual-AL pennant-winning Kansas City Royals.
Despite the postseason loss, the former second-round draft pick posted a career-best 2.46 earned run average to go along with 16 wins across 32 starts. With Oakland, more specifically, he had a 2.35 ERA in 11 starts and a 159 ERA+.
Lester has two top-five Cy Young finishes under his belt during his nine years in big league baseball – and while he probably won’t keep up that type of performance throughout his entire $155 million career, his work ethic is something that this team has missed sorely.
He started things off on the right foot, showing up to Arizona for camp two weeks early. Given the rest of his Spring Trainings took place in Florida, it makes sense that the wanted time to adjust before the rest of the team showed up at the new Cubs’ facility.
"“I want to win. You’ll hear that a lot. If I don’t win, we don’t win. You probably don’t want to be around me too much. I’m not really happy. You can talk to my wife about that. I think that’s what helped playing in Boston. You have so much responsibility. The fan base is so crazy over the Red Sox that you kind of owe it to them to make sure you’re prepared every day to play.”"
Maddon recently told reporters that he believed Lester would start Opening Night on April 5 against the St. Louis Cardinals at Wrigley Field – which comes as little surprise given the other options in the Cubs’ rotation. It’s not that Jake Arrieta, who broke out in a big way last season, isn’t a viable option – but Lester enters 2015 a clear-cut above the rest.
The pair should form a dominant one-two punch at the top of the starting rotation this season, something the Cubs have not had in quite some time. Per usual, Lester is set to lead by example – assuming the role of quiet clubhouse leader.
"“The biggest thing for everyone in this clubhouse is winning. Whatever you do to get to that point, it really doesn’t matter.”"