Chicago Cubs: Jon Lester has returned to his old ways

ATLANTA, GA - JULY 17: Jon Lester
ATLANTA, GA - JULY 17: Jon Lester /

While his last start was not his best, Chicago Cubs’ ace Jon Lester seems to be back on track after a rough first half

Chicago Cubs’ ace Jon Lester did not have a good first half. In 19 starts prior to the All-Star break, Lester posted a 4.25 ERA with 110 strikeouts in 108 innings pitched.

One reason for Lester’s first-half struggles was the amount of walks given up. In 108 innings, Lester walked 37 batters, driving his WHIP up to 1.34. Furthermore, Lester’s increased amount of walks resulted in a 2.97 strikeout-to-walk ratio in the first half. That number was a far cry from the 3.79 strikeout-to-walk ratio Lester posted in 2016.

In addition to walking more batters, Lester just flat-out failed to get anyone out. Prior to the All-Star break, opposing hitters slashed .262/.322/.436 off Lester.

Lester has turned a corner in the second half

Lester’s last start before the All-Star break did a lot to sum up how the first half had gone for the lefty. Facing the Pirates, Lester recorded just two outs and yielded 10 runs (four earned), while using 53 pitches to face 12 batters. Whether or not that start lit a fire under Lester is a mystery, but there’s not doubt the 33-year-old picked it up to start the second half.

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Through four second-half starts, Lester owns a 2.77 ERA and has struck out 29 batters in 26 innings pitched. In addition to that, Lester has also recorded a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 5.80 in the second half. That increased ratio suggests Lester is walking less batters since the break, and his WHIP backs that up. Thus far, Lester has posted a 0.77 WHIP since the All-Star break.

In the first half of the 2017 season, opposing hitters tore the cover off the ball when facing Lester, as highlighted by the numbers above. In the second half, however, it has been a different story. Since the break, Lester is holding opposing hitters to a .165/.224/.319 slash line.

Lester’s last start was a blimp on the radar

After pitching at least seven innings in each of his first three starts since the All-Star break, Tuesday against the Diamondbacks would be an exception. In the Cubs’ 16-4 rout of Arizona, Lester lasted just four innings and allowed five hits and three earned runs.

Despite his premature exit, Lester accomplished some career milestones on Tuesday. In his four innings, Lester struck out nine batters to notch his 2,000th career strikeout. Along with that, Lester also collected his first major league home run; a two-run shot in the third inning.

Even with those milestones, Lester was not happy with his performance on Tuesday, posting this on Twitter after the game.

While it’s safe to say that Lester is being a little hard on himself, needing 104 pitches to get through four innings is unacceptable. Nevertheless, Lester exited the game with the Cubs leading, so one cannot be too hard on the lefty.

The Cubs will ride Lester into the postseason

Even with their loss on Wednesday, the Cubs are 14-4 since the All-Star break. While Lester’s success during that streak has no doubt helped, the Cubs are clicking on all cylinders right now. The offense, for example, is slashing .274/.344/.494 since the break. That is noticeably better than the .239/.326/.419 slash line the Cubs posted as a team prior to the break.

In addition to the improved offensive numbers, the Cubs’ pitching has also taken off in the second half. After posting a 4.10 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP as a team before the break, the Cubs have posted a 2.93 ERA and 1.06 WHIP since the break.

Even though the Cubs are clicking as a unit, it is Lester who will be the most important come postseason time. He will be the one Joe Maddon hands the ball to in Game 1. Lester will also be the first starter to be used multiple times in a playoff series if the need arises. For that reason, it is important that Lester is pitching well.

Next: Chicago Cubs: Now in a hot streak, Cubs’ push for postseason begins

Right now, the Cubs are playing the type of baseball that many fans expected out of the gate. Even though the Cubs got off to a slow start, they are clicking at the right time. Behind the strong play of Jon Lester, the Cubs should be able to ride this hot streak into the postseason; hopefully resulting in another World Series title.