As the Chicago Cubs rotation looks for consistency, one man continues to deliver just that. Gritty veteran Jon Lester is up to his old tricks at age 34.
Since signing Jon Lester to a six-year, $155 million deal ahead of the 2015 campaign, the Chicago Cubs are yet to miss the postseason. Better yet, the team not only made the postseason in his first three campaigns with the team – they’ve never fallen short of, at the very least, the NLCS.
That’s hardly coincidence.
The three-time World Series champion brought a winning mentality with him when he signed with the Cubs. He immediately assumed the title of ace – and has largely kept it, despite the emergence of Kyle Hendricks as a top-tier arm. Why? Because even though he lacks the flash some big-name hurlers offer, he knows how to get the job done and he executes pretty much every time he gets the ball.
Hoping to help the team get rolling
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His latest effort? Overcoming awful conditions, the lefty turned in six innings of one-run ball. Lifting the Cubs to a lopsided win over the lowly Reds, Lester told MLB.com afterward he hopes the start will get the team started on a nice run.
"“Our guys have done a great job of bouncing back. I feel like early on, we were kind of behind the eight ball a little,” added Lester. “I feel like we’ve played some really good games, just haven’t been on the other side of them. Hopefully we can get on a little bit of a [roll] here.”"
Despite sitting in fourth in the Central, Chicago enters Saturday’s doubleheader just two games out of first. With the win Friday, the team finally hit .500 away from Wrigley Field. To this point, Joe Maddon‘s club has ridden an impressive13-8 mark at home while figuring things out on the road.
As for Lester, it hasn’t mattered much where he takes the ball. In four home outings, he owns an impressive 2.01 ERA to go along with a 1.254 WHIP and 8.1 K/9. Across his five road starts, he boasts an above-average 2.93 ERA – with a similar 1.193 WHIP and 7.9 K/9. And that fact alone demonstrates why he remains this team’s ace.
External factors matter not
Weather, location and all the outside factors that can impact a starting pitcher never seem to matter to Lester. He knows he has a job to do and refuses to stop anywhere short of accomplishing said task.
His contract runs through 2020 with a team option for 2021 – giving the Cubs, at the very least, two more seasons of their southpaw leader after 2018. Still pitching at an elite level, it’s not hard to see him continue pitching past that point, either. But a lot can happen in three years.
Do I expect a drastic fall-off from Lester down the stretch? No. Because he’s too smart of a pitcher to fail to adapt as his repertoire changes. Since 2016, his fastball has lost 1.5 MPH in average velocity – but he seems to be well aware of that and has altered how he attacks hitters.
As he loses his ‘overpowering’ stuff (although Lester has never really been a mid-to-upper 90s type of pitcher), we’ll see his game evolve. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned in the last three-plus seasons, it’s this.
No matter the challenge, Jon Lester always rises to the occasion. Always.