Roughed up early on, couldn’t throw to first. The Cubs’ Lester has moved past all that to become an ace down the stretch
Go back in your mind Chicago Cubs’ fans. Hopes were high on Opening Day. The team had brought in a proven winner and ace in Jon Lester. This year was going to be different. And then Lester put up an April/May that had fans screaming he was a bust. His inability to throw to first, or at least minimal desire to was widely known–but immediately fans said if he didn’t learn to do it, it would be a problem all year. Jorge Soler wouldn’t be there every time to bail him out like he did against the Reds’ Zack Cozart.
Lester was able to quiet the critics with a strong May in which he went 4-1 with a 1.76 ERA in six starts. Teams were still stealing on Lester, but he wasn’t giving up much so they became moot. And Billy Hamilton of the Reds steals on everyone, so that’s not Lester’s fault. Of the 30 stolen bases against him? Only five of those runners have crossed the plate.
After an 0-3 June brought the haters back out, as it was once again the worst money the Cubs have ever spent. But even then, I wrote why it was too soon to be labeling him a bust. As the calendar moved from June to July, several things happened. First, the Cubs were still in the race for a postseason spot, chasing the Pittsburgh Pirates for the top Wild Card spot. And as the trade deadline approached, the Cubs were buyers–not sellers. The games still mattered in July. They would matter in August.
And Lester was just getting started.
Lester posted a 2-2 record, not indicative of his pitching, but the Cubs struggles on offense. His numbers? Ace like. In six starts, Lester posted a 1.66 ERA while striking out 50 in 43 1/3 innings. The 50 strikeouts were the most by any pitcher in the majors for the month. The 1.66 ERA was the second-best. Simply put, Lester is pitching as well as anyone in baseball.
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After struggling early in the season to go deep into games–prompting many to wonder what “damage” he was causing to the bullpen–Lester has been a model of consistency. Seven straight games of at least seven innings pitched. And the 6-8 record? Sure, there have been some games that Lester pitched poorly, but his run support sits at 2.91, third-lowest of all qualified starters, and the lowest of any pitcher with at least 100 innings pitched.
For a good stretch, for Lester to win he needed to be perfect. And when he wasn’t the internet wasn’t kind. For the first few years of Theo Epstein’s plan, fans were very patient. Many have lost that. Now, patience isn’t about tolerating losing seasons for later return. It’s about understanding that these players individually won’t always be perfect. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. These are your 2015 Chicago Cubs. Focus on the whole. 12 games over .500, currently in possession of the second Wild Card.