Jon Lester, Playoff Ace

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Jon Lester, Playoff Ace

Chicago Cubs

jon lester cubs feature

The Cubs’ 2016 postseason coverage might be all about Javy Baez (can you blame ’em?), but Jon Lester may actually be the Cubs most valuable player.

For the third time in a row, Lester has tossed a gem for the Cubs, helping them along their way in a (hopeful) quest to make history.

His latest start – a one run, seven inning affair – was an especially impressive performance given 1) the severity of the game (the Cubs now have two shots at advancing to the World Series at Wrigley Field) and 2) the distractions with which he was forced to endure throughout (although that’s at least partially his fault). And all of that is exclude the fact that the one run he did allow came on a slow-roller to Anthony Rizzo who bobbled what may have ultimately been a play at the plate.

Needless to say, Lester was exceptionally good last night and has been all of October. So, let’s take a deeper look at what he’s done, and give him some love.

When the dust settled after last night’s game, Lester’s final line read: 7.0 IP, 1 earned run, 5 hits, 1 walk, and 6 strikeouts. The Dodgers have had fits with left-handers all season long, and Lester had no intention of breaking that cycle for them. Listen to him discuss his game here, or check out David Ross talking through his start, with some highlights sprinkled in, below:

Like I said above, winning last night’s game wasn’t a must-win so to speak, but the difference between coming home for two games with a one-game advantage and facing Clayton Kershaw in an elimination game is almost unquantifiable. The Cubs odds today are exceptionally better than they would have been otherwise (so I guess they are quantifiable!), but we’ll get into that and the second match-up against Kershaw tomorrow.

On those distractions (i.e. the excessive lead-offs), Lester did well to ignore them as best he could, while still throwing a great game. Of course, like David Ross said in his postgame interview, that’s nothing new for Lester. He’s dealt with it all season long and has still been one of the most effective pitchers in all of baseball, despite it.

And on the bunts, I made my opinion quite clear on Twitter, as I share the same perspective as David Ross. “I want them to bunt,” Ross said after the game. “I want them to give us free outs. That’s fine. Every out matters in the playoffs. Every pitch matters. When you give one away, that’s one you’re not getting back.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

And, for what it’s worth, Javy Baez made a ridiculous play on one of the bunt attempts (what else is new), and Lester did his own dirty work on a bunt in the second (that is, I guess!):

Did you catch the glare into the Dodgers’ dugout at the end? Lester wasn’t having any of it. Yes, his inability to make a strong throw to first base on or off the mound is troubling, but Lester does not seem anxious to shy away from getting the job done. He is just not a man you want to anger.

So let’s transition a bit, and take a look at Lester’s three postseason games side by side.

Jon Lester Postseason 2016:

  • NLDS Game 1: 8.0 IP, 5H, 0ER, 5Ks, 0BBs
  • NLCS Game 1: 6.0 IP, 4H, 1ER, 3Ks, 1BB
  • NLCS Game 5: 7.0 IP, 5H, 1ER, 6Ks, 1BB

As you can see, Lester never went fewer than six innings, never gave up more than five hits or one walk and never allowed more than one earned run in a single start. That’s just an unbelievable performance, accounting for half of the Cubs’ postseason wins.

In total, then, Lester is 3-0, with a 0.86 ERA through 21.0 postseason innings. During that stretch, opponents are hitting just .189/.211/.257, and while he’s only striking batters out at an 18.4% clip, he’s walked only 2.6% of the batters he’s faced. Throughout the 2016 season, Jon Lester was the ace the Cubs paid for two years ago, and now, he’s doing his job in October too.

The Cubs are lucky to have him.

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Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami