Chicago Cubs will benefit from a comfortable Jon Lester

Apr 5, 2016; Anaheim, CA, USA; Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jon Lester (34) in the third inning of the game against the Los Angeles Angels at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 5, 2016; Anaheim, CA, USA; Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jon Lester (34) in the third inning of the game against the Los Angeles Angels at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports /
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Jon Lester was mighty impressive in his season debut on Tuesday against an Angels lineup desperately in need of a makeover.

The lefty went seven strong innings giving up just one run on four hits, which helped fuel the Chicago Cubs to a satisfying 6-1 victory. Among the two impressive wins to start the year came a feat by Cubs pitching, which involved a stifling of two of the game’s best hitters, Mike Trout, and Albert Pujols, to a 0-for-15 performance.

For Lester, by no means should last year be considered a downer, but he expects to perform at a much more consistent level in 2016. His 207 strikeouts, 3.34 ERA, and 2.92 FIP in 205 innings pitched last season is about what you’d expect from a top-of-the-rotation starter making $155 million over the next six seasons.

However, joining a team like the Cubs on a lucrative contract with a fan base filled to the brim with expectations can result in unnecessary, self-inflicted extra pressure. That may have certainly been the case for the 32-year-old left-hander in the first year of his new deal, as Lester pushed himself too much for the wrong reasons.

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“Last year was so different and had so much hype involved in it, too many expectations for myself,” Lester told 670 the Score’s Bruce Levine in an interview. “You try to go out the first start and live up to those expectations all at once.”

He experienced heavy arm fatigue during last year’s Spring Training, which was likely a result of overworking his body. There was also a noticeable discrepancy in performance — specifically in the months of April, June, and August where he posted ERAs of 6.23, 5.74 and 5.04.

Despite the struggles, Lester acted as a major influence in the Cubs magical 97 win season. This year, with the addition of his good buddy John Lackey and continued presence of personal catcher David Ross, as well as the increased focus on the Cubs being good as a whole instead of just on him, Jon Lester can settle in as the savvy command specialist who oozes the aura of an unfazed veteran.

Bruce Levine was able to get Joe Maddon to comment on the difference between this year and last for Lester.

“He is more comfortable not having the weight of the world on his shoulders,” said Maddon. “He has other guys to deflect for him now, which I think will make him even better.”

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It was apparent in Spring Training that Lester was in a good place. His pitches were effective and he managed to work locations at will, which is a staple of what makes Lester such good pitcher.

In his start against the Angels, the lefty hurler hit his spots at will, working each side of the plate masterfully and kept Los Angeles hitters off-balanced all night. To the viewer watching at home, Lester had great movement to all of his pitches.

“I am in a better place than I was last year,” Lester said. “Physically and mentally, I am light years ahead of where I was last year.”

The Cubs need Lester to be in a better place because with sights set on a World Series, the men in blue need production from reliable rotation pieces. Jake Arrieta looks to be picking up right where he left off, while John Lackey is set to make his Cubs debut.

If Jon Lester says he feels better than he did last year, then its just another reason to be excited about Cubs baseball in 2016.

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