I’m not sure who needed that start more: Jon Lester or the Chicago Cubs.
After his last start, Jon Lester sounded absolutely defeated. A guy known for being gritty, resolute and hard to knock down, the three-time World Series champion admitted he didn’t have much confidence in himself – the last things the Chicago Cubs needed given their up-and-down performance this year.
But in typical ‘BDJ’ fashion, the 36-year-old southpaw buckled down and delivered one of his best outings of the year Friday night, allowing just three hits and striking out eight over six scoreless innings of work.
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"“I just needed to figure out what was going on,” Lester said after the game. “I don’t want to say we reinvented the wheel or we found some magical cure or anything, but the adjustments that we did make in my bullpen, the stuff just translated better.”"
The lefty is in the final guaranteed year of his six-year, $155 million deal that announced a new era in Cubs baseball. His arrival coincided with the team making four consecutive postseason appearances, including three-straight NLCS berths – and winning a World Series title. That’s no coincidence.
Lester has been everything the team needed and then some, accumulating just under 1,000 regular season innings in a Cubs uniform with a 3.61 ERA. He’s narrowly missed 20 wins twice on the North Side, finished runner-up in 2016 NL Cy Young voting and earned a pair of All-Star appearances, as well.
In short, he’s been the ace Chicago needed.
But since last year, the miles are starting to show. He’s not the kid he once was and he’s been taking his fair share of bumps and bruises every five days. Last season, his 1.497 WHIP marked his worst since 2007 and he allowed an MLB-high 205 hits. This year, it’s been more of the same.
"“I was worried about him,” Ross said after Lester’s last start. “I’ve had multiple friends call and text that they were just worried about where his head space was. … When you feel like that, and you don’t know what to do or where to go, it’s just very – ‘frustrating’ is not even the word."
After a hot start, Lester got shellacked – and even after Friday night’s gem, he still carries an unsightly 5.05 ERA and similarly disappointing 5.09 FIP. But all of that will be forgotten if he rounds into form as October begins. After all, he is one of the best big-game pitchers in baseball history, his recent struggles not withstanding.
If the Cubs are going to go for one more magical run, they’ll need their elder statesman at his best. And if I were a betting man, I’d go all-in on Lester turning back the clock in hopes of capping off his time on the North Side with one more ring.