Although the bats fell silent in the Chicago Cubs’ 2-1 loss to the Colorado Rockies in Tuesday night’s N.L. Wild Card Game, Jon Lester turned in yet another quality performance for a starting rotation whose contributions down the stretch will go largely unnoticed.
Given the circumstances, Chicago Cubs southpaw Jon Lester threw perhaps his best game of the season against a dangerous Colorado Rockies lineup. The big left-hander tossed six innings of four-hit ball, allowing just one run and striking out nine.
The performance seemed to embody the massive strides taken by the starting rotation at the end of the year after struggling out of the gate. And don’t look past the sheer lack of contributions from the two key offseason acquisition in Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood.
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Despite the total absence of consistent run support, Chicago’s starters turned in excellent performances, dominating in September with the division still hanging in the balance.
After a sterling first half in which he posted a 2.58 ERA, Lester struggled immensely in July and August. But he was superb in the final weeks of the regular season, going 4-1 with a 1.52 ERA in September before throwing a phenomenal game on Tuesday night.
Kyle Hendricks was equally impressive when it mattered most. Hendricks also posted a 4-1 record in September, notching a 1.79 ERA in the month to cap off a second half where he went 8-3 and posted a 2.84 ERA, the best mark amongst Cubs starters after the All-Star Break. The 28-year-old also posted a 7.96 K/9 in the second half, averaging over a full strikeout more per nine innings than in the first half.
Hendricks also made Cubs history earlier in the season:
For his part, Jose Quintana proved his mettle after an extremely inconsistent run of starts in August. Not only did the left-hander post a 3.49 ERA in September, but he beat the Brewers in back-to-back starts on Sept. 5 and Sept. 11, almost single-handedly keeping the Cubs atop the N.L. Central.
Quintana turned in another good performance against the Brewers in the tiebreaker game, going five innings and allowing just one run before giving way to Jesse Chavez.
Then of course, there are the immeasurable contributions of Cole Hamels. What the 34-year-old did for the Cubs is nothing short of remarkable.
In the first half with Texas, Hamels had posted a career-worst 4.72 ERA and 5.20 FIP, giving up an astonishing 23 homers in just 114.1 innings pitched. But after the Cubs acquired him on July 27, Hamels took off.
The veteran left-hander posted a 2.36 ERA in Chicago, showing new life with his stuff and reestablishing his changeup as the premium out pitch. Hamels also threw the only complete game of the season by a Cub against the Reds back on Aug. 23.
Although Hamels posted a 4.10 ERA in September, that number was inflated by an outing against the Diamondbacks in which he gave up four runs in the first inning and three runs in the sixth inning to bookend his start. Still, Joe Maddon was willing to call on Hamels on Tuesday night as the game went into extra innings, and, in turn, he pitched two scoreless innings.
Unfortunately, the Cubs’ early exit from the postseason and the persistent struggles at the plate will likely overshadow a valiant effort from Chicago’s starters, who turned in quality starts ad nauseam when the Cubs needed them the most.
Make no mistake, they did their job.