Tag: Jon Lester

Jon Lester Re-Establishing Himself as One of October’s Unflappable Heroes

The Chicago Cubs are one win away from the World Series, and Jon Lester is back among the pantheon of postseason studs.

On Thursday, the Cubs defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers 8-4 at Chavez Ravine to grab a 3-2 lead in the National League Championship Series. Game 6 will be played Saturday at Wrigley Field.

For his part, Lester twirled seven innings of five-hit, one-run ball with one walk and six strikeouts. He got the win, moving his 2016 playoff record to 2-0 and his ERA to 0.86.

Nothing is over until the Cubs bust their century-plus championship drought, as Lester himself noted.

“This season isn’t anything unless we do what we showed up at spring training to dowin a World Series,” Lester said in early October, per ESPN.com’s Jesse Rogers.

Still, in his pivotal Game 5 outing, Lester was every bit the crafty, nasty, unflappable ace the Cubs thought they were getting when they inked him to a six-year, $155 million deal in December 2014.

At the time, Lester was coming off a disappointing postseason outing with the Oakland A’s.

Oakland acquired Lester from the Boston Red Sox at the trade deadline in 2014, only to watch him allow eight hits and six earned runs in a heartbreaking Wild Card Game loss to the Kansas City Royals.

It was only one game, the mother of all small samples. But in 2015, Lester was again mediocre in the playoffs, yielding seven earned runs and 13 hits in 14 innings as the Cubs fell in an NLCS sweep to the New York Mets.

Suddenly, the veteran southpaw’s clutch credentials were in doubt.

Sure, Lester won a pair of rings with the Red Sox, in 2007 and 2013. Yes, he’s gone a spotless 3-0 in three World Series starts, allowing a single run in 21 innings. Granted, he’ll never buy another drink in Beantown.

Reputations, however, last only so long. At a certain point, the query inevitably creeps in: What have you done for us lately?

Now, Lester can offer this answer to the title-starved Cubs faithful: Pitched you one essential step closer to a Commissioner’s Trophy, that’s what.

The Dodgers tested Lester on Thursday, seeking to exploit his well-documented difficulties throwing to first base. They stretched their leadoffs beyond credulity. They bunted. They stole.

“This isn’t some WikiLeaks bombshell: Jon Lester has the yips,” CSN Chicago’s Patrick Mooney noted. “It must be in every scouting report by now, the reminder to get inside his head and make him feel uncomfortable, forcing him to field his position, throw to first base and become distracted with the running game.”

L.A. did. Lester was not amused.

“It gets him pissed off,” catcher David Ross said, per 670 The Score

That can mean rattled, or it can mean laser-focused. On Thursday in Southern California, it meant the latter. 

Lester pushed through. He pitched like a guy who has been on this stage many times before. He wasn’t flawless, but he was more than good enough.

It can’t be overstated how huge this win was for the Cubs. In Game 6, they’ll face Clayton Kershaw, who has cast aside his playoff demons and is still the best pitcher on the planet. Had they lost Game 5, that would have been a do-or-die situation. 

Now, thanks to Lester, it’s a game they’d very much like to win, but not one they have to win.

Oh, we should toss some praise at the Cubs offense, which has plated 18 runs in the last two contests after scoring one in the previous two.

If Chicago is going to slay the billy goat once and for all, it will be a team effort spearheaded by the lineup, the bullpen and the full complement of starters.

Lester doing Lester things, however, is a welcome addition. President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein remembers this guy from his days in the Boston front office. And while Epstein rarely smiles when the cameras catch him, surely he’s grinning behind closed doors.

The Chicago Cubs are five wins away from a champagne bath that’s been on ice since Theodore Roosevelt occupied the Oval Office.

And Jon Lester, not coincidentally, is back in vintage autumn form.


All statistics current as of Thursday and courtesy of MLB.com and Baseball-Reference.com.

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Jon Lester Comments on Cubs’ World Series Expectations

With Major League Baseball’s playoffs just days away, the first 100-win season since 1935 doesn’t mean a thing for Chicago Cubs starter Jon Lester

On Saturday, the All-Star left-hander who is tied for the National League lead with 19 wins, made his intentions clear as the calendar flipped to October, via Jesse Rogers of ESPN.com: “This season isn’t anything unless we do what we showed up at spring training to do—win a World Series. I don’t want to sound like an a–hole or anything, but we really haven’t done anything yet.”

It’s been 108 years since the Cubs won their last World Series, which was the second in franchise history, and while Lester is downplaying his team’s accomplishments, 100-win seasons don’t come around too often in the team’s 141-year history. 

In fact, it’s only happened only six times, including this season:

For Lester, though, the shift to October means that it’s a clean slate, but it’s imperative that his Cubs carry over their regular-season success into the playoffs:

This is the real season now. You play 162 to get to now. … It’s go time. Now we have to live up to the expectations and hype. … The big thing with this team is we’re consistent. We show up every day to play. That’s huge, especially with the young group that we have. That’s hard to do. That’s a hard thing to learn at a young age. These guys do it.

At 32, Lester is an elder statesman on a Cubs team that is riddled with young talent ranging from National League MVP candidate and 24-year-old third baseman Kris Bryant to 22-year-old starting shortstop Addison Russell. 

That youth has brought a swagger of sorts to a downtrodden organization as the Cubs rank third in the MLB in runs, first in team ERA and most importantly, first in wins. 

Lester has done his part to contribute to that team ERA, posting a 2.44 that ranks second in the majors. It’s 0.45 points higher than his Cubs teammate, 26-year-old and league-leader Kyle Hendricks’ 1.99 mark. 

According to Rogers, Lester is slated to pitch Game 1 of the NLDS where the Cubs will meet the winner of the National League Wild Card Game whether it be the New York Mets, San Francisco Giants or St. Louis Cardinals

His veteran presence is sure to be one of the most valued in the clubhouse too as he won a pair of World Series with the Boston Red Sox in 2007 and 2013. 

Given the Cubs’ past though, it’s understandable why fans could be entering the postseason as cautiously optimistic supporters. The last time the Cubs even competed in a World Series was 1945, and the following seven decades have been filled with collapses and playoff heartbreak. 

But given the makeup of this team and the way they barnstormed through the league this season, the Cubs have a great chance to end baseball’s longest, most torturous drought this season. 


Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com

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Jon Lester Comments on Bone Chip in Throwing Elbow

One alarming concern for the Chicago Cubs is a bone chip in Jon Lester‘s throwing elbow.

On Friday, Lester said it’s been a “non-issue,” according to Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times:

It’s just a matter of hopefully it stays put, and we don’t have any worry about it. And then if it does become a concern, if I start having inflammation or missing starts because of it, then that’s when we’ll probably sit down and talk to somebody about getting it removed.

As of now, knock on wood, I haven’t had any concern with it.

Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan first reported the chip existed in his new book, The Arm, which is set to be released in April. The book, which discusses the epidemic of elbow injuries suffered by pitchers, chronicles Lester’s path to joining the Cubs.

Lester’s bone chip was discovered when he underwent an MRI in 2014, well before the Cubs signed him to a six-year, $155 million deal in December of that year.

Passan reported (h/t Sahadev Sharma of The Athletic) that Lester’s ulnar collateral ligament—the tissue that, when torn, requires Tommy John surgery—looked fine. Passan noted that “at some point it would warrant surgery,” though doctors weren’t recommending it at the time.

Lester is fearful that surgery could spark a separate injury.

“It’s kind of one of those deals if it’s not bothering you, don’t mess with it,” he said, per Wittenmyer. “You start getting cut on and doing rehab, and that’s when maybe they’re in there, taking that bone chip out, and it puts more stress on something else. You don’t know. If-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it-type thing.”

Lester, who has a track record of good health, was upfront about the issue with the Cubs, who weren’t fazed, per Passan.

The North Siders are a little more than two weeks away from embarking on one of their most highly anticipated seasons in recent memory.

Coming off a 97-win campaign in 2015 that culminated with a berth in the National League Championship Series, expectations are sky-high for the franchise that hasn’t won a title since 1908.

Last year, Lester was overshadowed by NL Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta, who emerged as the ace by the All-Star break. But the hard-hurling lefty will be as vital as any other piece of the team if it hopes to make another lengthy run in October.

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NLCS Schedule 2015: Start Time, Odds, World Series Predictions Before Game 2

Matt Harvey had made one start in the postseason in his short career in the majors, and that was earlier this season. Jon Lester had started 13 games and carried a 2.66 postseason ERA over his long tenure with the Red Sox, Athletics and Cubs.

But in Game 1 at Citi Field, Harvey looked like the veteran superstar against the Cubs’ talented bats, going 7.2 innings and only allowing four hits and two runs as the Mets took the early series lead with a 4-2 win.

It was a typical performance from New York this season, relying on their skilled, if slightly inexperienced, group of pitchers while the offense put together a passable game to secure the win.

With the Mets taking a 1-0 lead in the NLCS and the Royals up 2-0 heading to Toronto in the ALCS, the World Series has to be on the minds of both sets of fans. But can they get there, or will the Cubs or Blue Jays battle back to steal the series?

Let’s take a look at which teams are likely to advance to the Fall Classic and who is best positioned to take home the title:


Date: Oct. 18, 2015

Time: 7:30 p.m.

Odds: Cubs -175, Mets +165

Odds via OddsShark.com


World Series Prediction

Despite what was expected heading into the ALCS, the Kansas City Royals have taken complete control in the series and head to Toronto with a 2-0 lead. Blanking the Blue Jays in Game 1 was the perfect start, and a comeback win in Game 2 put last year’s runners-up in great position to return to the World Series.

Toronto has already used two of its top pitchers and still failed to secure a victory, while the Royals haven’t trotted out Johnny Cueto to pitch yet and should hold the advantage in Game 3 against Marcus Stroman.

If the Royals can manage a win in Toronto over the next three games, it will be hard for the Blue Jays to fight back into the series even with the powerful bats they have.

In the NLCS, the Mets played great defensively and shut down the vaunted young bats of the Chicago Cubs, doing just enough offensively to eke out a 3-1 win.

But with the talent the Cubs bring to the field on a nightly basis, it will be hard for New York to count on only giving up a single run every game and it remains to be seen if the Mets can keep up with Chicago in a high-scoring affair.

The Cubs get Jake Arrieta back for Game 2, which automatically gives them a huge advantage, and if they can win home-field advantage away from the Mets, Wrigley Field could be too much too handle over a three-game span.

With power hitting, youth and pitching on their side, the Cubs should be able to overcome the 1-0 deficit in the NLCS and join the Royals in the World Series.

The Cubs have shown time and again this postseason that they are one of the best power teams in the majors, but against the Royals, that seemingly means nothing. The bats of the Blue Jays have been largely held in check so far, and while Chicago is good, it can’t quite measure up to what Toronto brings to the plate.

Kansas City has the experience, the pitching and the batting to improve on last season’s result and claim the franchise’s second title in history. Chicago is the fun story this year and should challenge for the title for a long time, but the Chicago fans will have to wait at least another year before celebrating the ending of the drought.

World Series Prediction: Royals beat Cubs 4-2

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Why Jon Lester, Not Jake Arrieta, Should Be Cubs’ Do-or-Die Wild Card Game Ace

If the second game of the Chicago CubsPittsburgh Pirates doubleheader Tuesday was a preview of the National League Wild Card Game, the Cubs will take it and smile.

Chicago got timely hitsincluding a two-out RBI single off Anthony Rizzo’s bat and an RBI double from Dexter Fowler—and most of all a shutdown pitching performance by Jon Lester, who allowed one run, scattered five hits and struck out nine while twirling a complete game in the 2-1 victory.

But wait a minute, you may be asking: If that was a preview of the Wild Card Game, why was Lester on the hill? Surely if the Cubs end up in that do-or-die scenario, they’ll call on Jake Arrieta, a Cy Young contender and the clear stud of the staff.

That’s a fair point. Certainly the Cubs could pitch Arrieta, and no one would argue. But there is an argument to be made for Lester—so let’s make it now.

First, to set the stage: After splitting their twin bill (Pittsburgh took the first game, 5-4), the Pirates (87-57) and Cubs (83-61) remain in firm possession of the NL’s two wild-card slots.

The race for the National League Central isn’t over. As I recently highlighted, the next week will give us a flurry of action between the Cubs, Pirates and division-leading St. Louis Cardinals (90-54), who lead Pittsburgh by three games and Chicago by seven games entering play Wednesday.

But if the season ended today, the Cubs would play the Pirates at PNC Park with a trip to the National League Division Series on the line. And they should hand Lester the ball.

The first and most obvious argument in favor of the seasoned left-hander is his extensive postseason resume. 

Whereas Arrieta has never pitched an inning past Game No. 162, Lester owns a sterling 2.57 ERA in 84 playoff innings. He won a pair of rings with the Boston Red Sox, in 2007 and 2013, and went 3-0 in those Fall Classics, yielding just a single run in 21 frames.

Yes, there is a blemish on his record. In last season’s Wild Card Game, Lester—whom the Oakland A’s acquired at the trade deadline for just such an occasion—surrendered six runs in a gut-wrenching loss to the Kansas City Royals.

That one notable hiccup aside, however, Lester has demonstrated repeatedly that he thrives in the October spotlight.

That big-game pedigree is one reason the Cubs handed Lester a six-year, $155 million deal this winter. He endowed a young, hungry team with a needed veteran presence. 

“This is what he does,” Chicago skipper Joe Maddon said after Lester’s gem, per Carrie Muskat and Tom Singer of MLB.com. “He likes pitching in big games in the latter part of the season. It’s not a surprise.”

And so we arrive at the second argument in favor of Lester pitching the Wild Card Game. After a rough start to his Cubs career, he’s been performing like the guy who made three All-Star teams and twice finished in the top five in American League Cy Young balloting. 

As April drew to a close, Lester’s ERA was a cartoonish (in a bad way) 6.23. He’s since whittled it down to 3.38 and has pitched at least seven innings and given up only one run in three of his last five starts.

“I always feel better the second half of the year, physically and with my stuff,” Lester said, per the Chicago Tribune‘s Paul Sullivan. 

Still, Arrieta is the team’s undisputed ace. He leads the staff in ERA (1.99), innings pitched (199), strikeouts (204) and virtually every other meaningful category. Heck, Lester all but endorsed Arrieta for Wild Card Game duties, should it come to that.

“Everybody has an ego, and everyone wants to be that guy, but when it comes down to it, if he gives us the best chance to win that one-game playoff, I’ll be on the top step cheering my butt off for him to do well,” Lester said, per ESPN.com’s Jesse Rogers.

Now for the third and perhaps most compelling reason to pitch Lester over Arrieta: Arrieta would be available for Game 1 of the NLDS.

Yes, we’re getting way ahead of ourselves by talking about playoff series with more than two weeks left in the regular season, when nothing has been decided for sure.

But bear with the hypothetical, if you will.

If Lester goes in the Wild Card Game, and the Cubs win, Arrieta could pitch twice in a best-of-five division series. And if the current standings hold, that division series would be against the Cardinals, whose pitching staff is deep and dangerous.

The other two current division leaders—the New York Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers—also have aces up their sleeves. 

Holding Arrieta back in the Wild Card Game means he’ll have more opportunities to pitch the Cubs toward the National League Championship Series (NLCS) and beyond.

There’s an inherent risk, of course: If the alternative to Arrieta starting the one-game playoff was a vastly inferior pitcher, Chicago would have no choice but to expend Arrieta and hope for the best, a strategy that worked swimmingly for Madison Bumgarner and the San Francisco Giants in 2014.

Lester, though, isn’t vastly inferior. When you factor in his decorated postseason past and recent success, you can almost squint and pretend he’s not inferior at all.

Now, all of this could be a moot point, as Muskat reported:

Of course, “lined up to start” and “will undoubtedly start” aren’t the same thing. There’s time for Maddon and the Cubbies to change course. 

The bottom line is this is a good problem to have: choosing between two superlative starters with different but equally compelling credentials. In the end, as Sullivan opined, “No one is overlooking the Cubs, who obviously have the talent and just need to play better in crunch time.”

On Tuesday night, behind Lester, they did play better. Was it a preview of a coming attraction? We’ll know soon enough.


All statistics and standings current as of Sept. 15 and courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise noted.

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Daily Fantasy Baseball 2015: MLB DraftKings Studs and Duds for August 13

The 2015 MLB season continues to roll along with less than two months before October. Most daily fantasy owners have likely gotten into a groove at this point, but the names at the top of lists are constantly changing.

Some players have risen to the task in August, while others have fallen off under the pressure of a playoff push. Ahead of Thursday’s slate of games, here’s a look at some studs and duds for August 13.



Jon Lester, Chicago Cubs ($10,800)

That massive investment by the Chicago Cubs in the offseason is finally starting to pay off. As October approaches, Lester is starting to turn it on with two runs or less allowed in his last four starts. Three of those happened to come at Wrigley Field, which is where the Cubs will play on Thursday.

Not to mention, Lester is facing off against the lowly Milwaukee Brewers. With an average of two runs scored over the last five games, it seems pretty obvious that Lester should put up similar results. At $1,400 less than Sonny Gray, Lester is an affordable ace for owners to target.


Prince Fielder, Texas Rangers ($4,500)

Prince Fielder’s comeback season just keeps on going with another hot stretch recently. Over his last 10 games, Fielder is averaging over 10 fantasy points with five extra-base hits, including two homers.

Oh, let’s also note that he has a perfect matchup on Thursday.

Ervin Santana has struggled in his last three starts, allowing 19 runs over that stretch with his last outing ending after 2.1 innings. Fielder holds a .444 on-base percentage against Santana with three home runs and a double. If you aren’t convinced by now, maybe this isn’t for you. Fielder is a lock.


Michael Cuddyer, New York Mets ($3,400)

In order to afford the Jon Lesters and Prince Fielders of the world, you’ll need a value pick. Look no further than Michael Cuddyer. The New York Mets outfielder is back to the torrid pace he was on before hitting the disabled list last month.

Cuddyer’s three hits, two runs, RBI and stolen base over the last two games prove he doesn’t have any lingering effects. He’s also facing Eddie Butler, who has been horrid at the MLB level this season. The stars are aligned for Cuddyer to go off, so don’t miss this opportunity before his price goes up again.



Mat Latos, Los Angeles Dodgers ($7,200)

Most of the pitchers at the top of DraftKings‘ price sheet on Thursday are worthy of their salary. However, when looking for a pitcher to pair them up with, Mat Latos is not a formidable option. Even at $7,200, Latos is coming at too high of a price for his recent performance.

In his last two starts, Latos hasn’t fooled anyone with just one strikeout—combined. While Latos would likely love to shut down his former team, the Cincinnati Reds are simply too patient at 22nd in the MLB in strikeouts (822). Wielding bats like Todd Frazier, Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips, the Reds stars will get the better of their former teammate.


Josh Reddick, Oakland Athletics ($4,100)

Josh Reddick is struggling. Like, getting the bat remotely close to the ball has been a tall task recently. Over his last 10 games, Reddick has barely averaged three fantasy points and has just one game where he reached double digits.

Reddick doesn’t have a difficult matchup with Mark Buehrle on the mound, but the Toronto Blue Jays pitcher has a habit of making batters uncomfortable. His fast approach to the plate combined with Reddick‘s recent struggles are a bad omen for DraftKings owners.

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Cubs’ Young Bats, Veteran Rotation Perfect Mix to Keep Matching the Hype

For almost four years now, there has been absolutely no shortage of hype.

Ever since Theo Epstein agreed to turn around the Chicago Cubs to the tune of $18.5 million for five years, the North Side faithful—and beyond—have salivated for the season when the new president of baseball operations would make good. In Epstein’s fourth season running the show, the hype is now developing into substance.

Epstein, along with general manager Jed Hoyer and the Ricketts family’s deep pockets, has used the draft (Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber), the domestic and international free-agent markets (Jon Lester and Jorge Soler) and shrewd trades (Anthony Rizzo and Jake Arrieta) to build the Cubs into legitimate contenders in 2015.

With a mix of young position players and some veteran pitching, the Cubs’ plan has gone from living off potential to a win-now attitude. And finally, with a recent surge that has seen them win 11 times in 12 games to move into the second wild-card spot, the Cubs’ play is matching the hype.

“Keep it rolling,” manager Joe Maddon told reporters after Tuesday night’s win, which put the Cubs 15 games over .500 for the first time since the end of 2008 and a year after finishing 16 games below .500. “The next goal is 20. I’m really proud of these guys and the way they’re going about their business.”

Right now is the first time in Epstein’s reign that excitement on the major league field has been anywhere near this current level. The Cubs are 3.5 games ahead of the San Francisco Giants for that second wild-card berth, and it would be the franchise’s first postseason appearance since 2008. If Chicago can get there and manage to win a game, it would be its first playoff victory since 2003.

Just based on where this club was at the end of last season, it would appear the Cubs are about a year ahead of a reasonable contending schedule.

Considering that on any given day, six of their regular position starters are 25 years old or younger, growing pains and inconsistency would be an understandable hurdle as they adapt to major league rigors and pitching. That is why Epstein was ecstatic with the team’s midseason record.

“If somebody came up to me in spring training and said here’s where you’ll be at the end of the first half, I’d have taken it in a heartbeat,” Epstein told the Associated Press (via the New York Times) last month when the Cubs were seven games over .500 at the All-Star break.

There have been bumps.

All-Star rookie third baseman Bryant hit .177/.302/.329 with 31 strikeouts over his previous 23 games before he went 1-for-4 with a double and five men left on base Tuesday. But there have also been clear signs of why the Cubs had the No. 1-rated farm system in baseball entering this season, according to John Manuel of Baseball America.

The team’s top four prospects are all in the majors right now, and the last man to debut, catcher/left fielder Schwarber, hit .385/.484/.808 with a 1.292 OPS, two doubles and three home runs in his previous seven games going into Tuesday.

Part of the credit can go to Maddon. He is in his first year on the job with the Cubs after earning a reputation as an open-minded analytical manager with the Tampa Bay Rays. There, he worked under then-GM Andrew Friedman, who has the same kind of reputation. Friedman now runs a similar ship to Chicago’s front office with the Los Angeles Dodgers (he is the president of baseball ops with a whiz-kid GM, Farhan Zaidi).

But more of the credit has to go to the fact the Cubs have as much talent as any team in the sport. And the credit for that has to go to Epstein and Hoyer, as does the construction of the veteran pitching staff, which has a 2.61 ERA in its last 12 games.

The rotation in particular is the group solidifying the Cubs’ run to the postseason. The front office got the OK from ownership to pursue a difference-making starter over the winter, and Epstein’s gang went hard on Lester and landed him for six years at $155 million, the largest contract in franchise history.

Days before netting Lester, the Cubs signed Jason Hammel to a free-agent deal. Those two, along with Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks and recently acquired Dan Haren, give the team a balance of youth on one side and experience on the other. In that same 12-game stretch, the rotation has a sub-3.00 ERA.

There will be some correction over the team’s next 51 games. The offense won’t be so potent as its 116 wRC+ (weighted runs created plus) in August, according to FanGraphs. And the pitching won’t be so dominant through the end of the regular season. But that correction won’t be so dramatic that it takes the Cubs out of contention.

This team has the right combination of youthful upside and veteran experience that makes almost every other organization envious until they are a bright shade of green.

“These last 11 games have helped us as far as our mentality and getting out of a group rut that we were in,” Rizzo told reporters Tuesday after going 2-for-3 to raise his average to .419 in August. “We’re all very confident here and have to keep it going. The mentality in here has been unbelievable.”

Because of that, the possibility of this Cubs team breaking its 107-year World Series drought is becoming less unbelievable as the hype is becoming justified.


All quotes, unless otherwise specified, have been acquired firsthand by Anthony Witrado. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.

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How Much Should Jon Lester’s Slow Start to 2015 Worry the Chicago Cubs?

They say you only get one chance to make a first impression, but nobody says you can’t recover from making a bad first impression.

That’s what the Chicago Cubs must be telling themselves about Jon Lester‘s bad first impression, anyway. And fortunately for them, their $155 million man should allow them to breathe easy before long.

In fairness, the Cubs are in a pretty good place at the moment. Arismendy Alcantara’s walk-off single in the 10th inning of Monday night’s game against the Cincinnati Reds gave the Cubs a 7-6 victory and ran their record to 4-2. It’s early yet, but they’re in first place in the NL Central. That calls for much rejoicing.

[Pauses for cries of “Huzzah!”]

OK, now let’s talk about Lester.

The 31-year-old lefty made his second start in a Cubs uniform on Monday night, and it didn’t go so well. He lasted six innings, but gave up six earned runs on 10 hits. After his Opening Night flop against the St. Louis Cardinals, he’s now allowed nine earned runs on 18 hits in 10.1 innings pitched. 

So, that’s not good. But just as noteworthy as Lester’s bad pitching on Monday night is the bad…well, terrible throw he made to first base in the second inning. Courtesy of MLB GIFs:

That throw served as a reminder not just that Lester hadn’t even made a pickoff throw to first in two years, but also clarification for why it had been so long. He’s got the yips, and he’s got ’em bad.

So, it doesn’t look good. Lester is in the first year of a seven-year, $155 million contract, and right now he looks like a bad pitcher who’s doomed to be torn apart by opposing baserunners.

But here’s one reason not to worry: It’s the 13th of April. The season is barely a week old. We’re in the very heart of Small Sample Size County, people.

While that’s the big reason not to worry too much about Lester, it’s not the only one.

Let’s start with Lester’s problems with throwing to first base. It looks like a particularly bad problem now, and it’s easy to trace it back to the Kansas City Royals running wild on him in last year’s American League Wild Card Game. Right now, it looks like a problem he can’t possibly succeed with.

But we know that’s not true.

Lester just posted a 2.46 ERA in 2014 despite not making a single pickoff throw to first. At least part of the reason why is because stolen bases actually weren’t too bad of a problem. Would-be base stealers were successful 24 percent of the time against him, which was three ticks better than league average.

Part of the explanation is David Ross, who is Lester’s personal catcher in Chicago just as he was in Boston. He’s long been outstanding at controlling the running game, and he could once again help keep runners in check if Lester chooses to make Monday night the extent of his pickoff experimentation.

What could really help Lester’s problem with the yips go away, however, is if he simply stops allowing so many baserunners. And yes, there’s hope there too.

If nothing else, Lester is due for some good luck. He’s been fine in the strikeout (8.7 K/9) and walk (1.7 BB/9) departments so far, but FanGraphs puts his batting average on balls in play at .486. Basically half the balls in play against Lester have found holes in the defense. “Unsustainable” is a good word for that.

Of course, Lester can help himself by pitching better. To this end, he’s actually making some strides.

One thing that was readily apparent in Lester’s Opening Night start against the Cardinals was that he didn’t have his best stuff. As the man himself put it to The Associated Press, his stuff was “flat.”

That showed up in Lester’s velocity readings, as Brooks Baseball can show his stuff was about a mile per hour slower than it had been in 2014.

But this brings us to some good news, which is pictured here:

On Monday night against the Reds, Lester’s velocity was back up to roughly where it was in 2014. That makes it look like he wasn’t at full strength when he started on Opening Night, which makes perfect sense in light of how his spring training was cut short by a dead arm.

Lester also threw more first-pitch strikes, going from 50 percent against the Cardinals to 59 percent against the Reds. That’s right on the border of last year’s career-best rate of 61.2 percent, so he more or less reverted back to his 2014 self in that department as well.

Lastly, it also appears Lester made one other improvement for which he had been striving.

After his first start, one of Lester’s biggest complaints about his performance was that he was up in the zone too much, telling Carrie Muskat of MLB.com: “It’s still getting the ball down in the zone, regardless of who you’re pitching against. I just didn’t do that tonight.”

Courtesy of Brooks Baseball, you can see what he was talking about:

That’s a lot of pitches in the upper-two thirds of the zone and beyond. Exactly 46.1 percent, according to Baseball Savant, which is a bit high knowing that only 42.1 percent of Lester’s pitches in 2014 found their way into those zones.

But now take a look at Lester’s locations from Monday night:

Comparatively, Lester did indeed get better at keeping the ball down. He was a bit too much in the middle at times, but he didn’t serve up quite as many meatballs as he did against the Cardinals.

Though Lester finished with worse results, he actually pitched better against the Reds than he did against the Cardinals. He was throwing harder, got ahead of more hitters and was better at keeping the ball out of the happy zone. 

But this is not to suggest that Lester got back to being exactly the pitcher he was during his dominant 2014 season, mind you.

Lester’s 2014 dominance stemmed largely from his suddenly masterful command on and around the corners of the strike zone, and in how he made that command all the more effective through sequencing. So far this season, Lester has only shown flashes of these two abilities.

Also, there is something to be said for how aggressive hitters have been against Lester in the early going. FanGraphs says the Cardinals swung at 54 percent of his pitches on Opening Night, and Matthew Trueblood of Baseball Prospectus saw the pattern continue in distressing fashion Monday night:

This, granted, could simply be because Lester’s command has been off in the early going. But if it is because hitters have a book on him, then it’s on Lester to change the book.

For now, it’s good enough that he doesn’t look like he’s broken. Problems that plagued him in his first start were taken care of in his second, and his issues with throws to first base should go back to being a secondary concern once his pitching and a bit of better luck start keeping runners off the basepaths.

So don’t call Lester a $155 million bust just yet. It’s a bit early for that, and he’s hardly committed to that path.


Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference unless otherwise noted/linked.

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5 Reasons to Be Excited for the 2015 Cubs Season

Even though the 2015 Chicago Cubs baseball season is just a week away, the hot topic of discussion lately has not been the state of the team; rather, it has been the fate of the historic Wrigley Field.

Chairman Tom Ricketts has already announced that the ballpark will not be ready for Opening Day, and renovations could take an extra year to complete.

Look on the bright side, Cubs fans. Wouldn’t you prefer an extra year of construction for the ballpark instead of the reconstruction of the team?

There are mixed expectations for the 2015 Cubs, though the reality is that the success of the team depends largely on the growth and performance of its youth. Players such as Javier Baez, Arismendy Alcantara and Kris Bryant will play a significant role in the Cubs’ success (or lack thereof) this season. Even if the Cubs fall short of Anthony Rizzo’s promised NL Central title, there’s plenty to look forward to in 2015.

Here are five reasons to be excited for the 2015 Cubs season.

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San Francisco Giants: Biggest Missed Opportunities of the Offseason

The San Francisco Giants are basking in the glow of their third world championship in five years. In today’s era of free agency and player movement, this is indeed a dynasty.

However, the Giants did not make a major splash in the free-agent market this winter, and one must wonder if general manager Brian Sabean has done enough to keep the Giants in contention in 2015.

Somehow, the acquisitions of Casey McGehee and Nori Aoki do not carry the same flair as the San Diego Padres getting Matt Kemp, James Shields, Justin Upton, Wil Myers and Derek Norris.

Nor do the Giants’ acquisitions measure up with the Los Angeles Dodgers picking up Jimmy Rollins, Howie Kendrick, Yasmani Grandal, Brett Anderson and Brandon McCarthy.

Nevertheless, Sabean deserves the benefit of the doubt based on his proven track record. However, it is tough to see the Dodgers and Padres acquiring a ton of new talent and the Giants not.

The Giants lost Pablo Sandoval and Michael Morse to free agency. They also missed out on some of the other key players they were after. The two biggest players the Giants could not sign were Jon Lester and Yasmany Tomas.

According to John Shea of SFGate.com, Lester had the Giants on his short list of teams that he was considering. Ultimately, Lester signed with the Chicago Cubs on a six-year, $155 million deal. 

In 2014, Lester split the season between the Boston Red Sox and the Oakland A’s. In 219.2 total innings, he allowed only 194 hits and 48 walks while striking out 220. Lester fashioned an ERA of 2.46 and a WHIP of 1.102. At the age of 31, Lester looks like he still has a lot of mileage left.

Although these kinds of long-term deals for pitchers often do not work out, one can only imagine if the Giants could’ve paired Lester with Madison Bumgarner. That would’ve made up a formidable one-two punch on par with any pair in baseball.

The second player who would have looked great in a Giants uniform is Yasmany Tomas. The Cuban national signed a six-year, $68.5 million contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks, although he can opt out after four years.

On FoxSports.com, Jeff Sullivan provides a detailed scouting report on Tomas.

Tomas will probably have some growing pains as he adjusts to the major leagues. Even fellow Cuban and Dodgers’ star outfielder Yasiel Puig has had his ups and downs making the adjustment.

The overall talent and athleticism that Tomas possesses makes him an excellent bet for stardom. In addition, his contract is relatively inexpensive, and Tomas will be a bargain if he indeed becomes a star player.

Had the Giants been able to land Tomas, he would likely have been their left fielder for years to come.

Although the Giants missed on both Lester and Tomas, the team is still strong, and it has the wherewithal to add pieces prior to the trade deadline, if necessary. The outlook is positive, and if the Giants can stay healthy, they will be in the thick of the playoff race again.

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