Cubs pitcher Jon Lester has no idea where to find confidence right now.
If this is his swan song, it’s certainly not what Jon Lester had in mind. A three-time World Series champion and five-time All-Star, Lester has a resume that warrants Cooperstown consideration. But this season, he hasn’t pitched like an ace or even a serviceable member of the Cubs staff.
After his latest start, in which he allowed five runs on six hits – including a pair of homers – in just 3 1/3 innings of work, Lester sounded defeated in every sense of the word. This isn’t a guy who’s used to putting up a 9.26 ERA over his last five starts. But that’s what he’s done of late.
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"“I don’t know,” he said when asked what gives him confidence he can figure things out down the stretch. “Obviously, with a shortened season, everything’s magnified even more. I don’t know where that confidence will come from.”"
It’s unnerving to hear Lester speak like this. He’s always brutally honest and owns his shortcomings, never making mistakes or casting blame elsewhere. But normally, he still carries that gritty edge and competitive nature that’s helped him be so successful.
For the second consecutive season, the southpaw is on pace to allow more than 10 hits per nine. His home run rate (2.0 HR/9) would be a career-worst for Lester and he’s striking out fewer batters than ever before. All of this has culminated in a very hittable guy who’s lost more than a few ticks on his fastball – making squaring him up easier than in the past.
Chicago has lost four of Lester’s last five outings. In three of those starts, he’s allowed at least five runs. Of late, the Cubs have seen their lead in the division shrink to a mere 1 1/2 games heading into Monday afternoon’s finale against the Cardinals.
Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks are the only dependable arms in the Cubs rotation right now. And, really, if you want to dig a little deeper, Hendricks has been a totally different pitcher at home compared to on the road (2.60 home ERA/5.24 road ERA).
Let’s get real for a minute. With Tyler Chatwood and Jose Quintana both injured and Alec Mills getting hit hard (7.66 ERA in his last five outings), Chicago needs Jon Lester to turn back the clock and at least keep the Cubs in ballgames over the final three weeks.
"“There’s not much confidence behind that (the line scores) right there … I try to take positives out of every five days, but there’s not many. I proud myself on work and pitching innings and keeping my team in the ballgame, and that, frankly, is not the story right now. So, it’s very frustrating. When frustration comes in, obviously, there’s not a lot of confidence. I’ll continue to work.”"
Right now, things don’t look good for Lester. He’ll turn 37 in January and has roughly 2,800 innings of work on his left shoulder. The Cubs carry an option on him for 2021 – but we may very well be seeing a disappointing end to an amazing run for the big left-hander.