Chicago Cubs need Jon Lester to step up down the stretch
By Paul Steeno
In the Chicago Cubs’ 2-1 victory against the Cleveland Indians on Monday night, starting pitcher Jon Lester looked like he deserved the six-year, $155 million contract the Cubs gave him last December.
Against Terry Francona’s club, Lester turned in 8 2/3 innings of one-run, six-hit ball. However, against the Detroit Tigers a week prior, he struggled badly, giving up seven runs on seven hits, prompting Joe Maddon to pull him in just the second inning.
Inconsistency has been the name of the game for Lester this season. In March/April, June and August he posted a 6.23, 5.74 and 4.44 ERA respectively. In May, his ERA was 1.76 and in July 1.66.
Overall, Lester still maintains a respectable 3.44 earned run average and 1.204 WHIP to go along with his 8-9 record across his first 25 starts as a member of the Cubs.
These numbers are solid, but they are they worthy of a $155 million contract?
When Lester signed his name at the bottom of his brand new deal in December, the Cubs expected him to be the ace of this staff. This initial expectation hasn’t materialized, as the left-hander has played second fiddle to a number of his starting pitching counterparts this season.
Jake Arrieta has become the Cubs’ undisputed ace, leading the starting pitching staff in wins, ERA and strikeouts. In addition, Jason Hammel has a better ERA and WHIP than Lester – despite his second-half struggles.
Jason Hammel is currently on a two-year contract valued at $20 million while Arrieta is making $3.63 million this season. Their combined salaries are over $130 million less than what Lester is making.
In a recent interview, Lester admitted that he has felt pressure due to the size of his contract.
"At times, it’s a good feeling. At times, it can be that monkey on your back — especially early. You want to come out and do well. That’s what put me behind the eight ball in spring training. I’m used to my routine of going out and throwing fastballs and knowing where I’ll be at at certain times — and not really having that pressure to get off to a good start in spring training. But when you come into something like this, you feel like you have to do more. I tried to show a little too much a little too early.—-Quote obtained by New England Sports Network writer Ricky Doyle"
Lester still has an opportunity to redeem himself. With the regular season winding down, the Cubs face the most crucial part of their season. What Lester does between now and October will determine if the Cubs got their money’s worth last winter.
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During his career, Lester has performed well in the postseason.
In 14 postseason appearances, Lester has a 2.57 ERA to go along with a 6-4 record. In three starts in the World Series, he has a spotless 3-0 record and a 0.43 ERA.
Throughout his career, in regular season games in September and October, Lester has posted his best monthly winning percentage(.686) and his second best monthly ERA (3.20).
The Chicago Cubs signed Jon Lester because they thought he could help them when the games really mattered from September and beyond. It is time for Lester to hold up his side of the bargain and start consistently pitching well in his remaining starts down the stretch.
If he pitches well for the rest of the season, his previous inconsistencies will be forgiven. In baseball it’s not necessarily about how you start, rather it is more important how you finish. It is time for Lester to finish well and justify why the Cubs paid so much for his services.