What would you say if I told you your team could have a pitcher ranked in the top 8 in the National League in FIP, xFIP, SIERA, and WAR, but that said pitcher would come at a very high price? Would you be willing to have the Cubs front office pony up for such an acquisition? Well, the question is academic at this point, since that’s exactly what they did in luring Jon Lester to Chicago this past Winter.
When paired with Jake Arrieta, Lester gives the Cubs a top-of-the-rotation tandem bested only by Clayton Kershaw and Zach Greinke of the Dodgers. On Tuesday night in Pittsburgh, Lester was at his best, shutting down the Pirates and defying those beat writers who have continually used his contract as a pejorative adjective. It might be hyperbolic to say the Cubs needed the win, but I don’t think fans felt the same.
Lester delivered a complete game, allowing the Pirates just a single run on 5 hits and a walk. Oh, he also picked off a runner for the first time in 4 years, thus (temporarily) quieting the soundtrack of naysayers that has scored his performance this season. Perfect it was not, but the fact remains that Lester threw the ball to Anthony Rizzo to initiate a rundown of Starling Marte. It was a great way to right the ship a bit as the Cubs head to the playoffs.
Let’s be clear here though: I’m not trying to reignite a conversation that should have long since burned out by praising Lester in the same breath as Arrieta. I think it’s all too obvious who the ace of this staff is. To his credit, Lester knows this and is simply focused on getting to — and winning games in — October, and he said as much after his big win.
“When I signed here, I envisioned winning a World Series,” the lefty explained. “Not just playing September baseball.”
He talked about maintaining consistent preparation and trying to vary looks when it comes to holding runner on base, but it’s his drive that will help propel the Cubs into unknown territory. I know that may not sit well for those of you with an analytical bent, but it’s going to be important for this inexperienced team to have a guy who’s not satisfied with just making it. Not that I doubt the desire of the young guys, but it’s easy with the long grind of a season to feel accomplished upon reaching the finish.
Lester’s been to the top of the mountain, so he’s not going to be happy just setting up shop at base camp and not making a significant push to the summit. He won’t let his teammates rest on their laurels either. To that end, they may want to avoid a team-building activity centered around watching Everest when it comes out.
Perhaps what I like most about Lester is his ability to keep things in perspective and to not take himself too seriously when he’s not on the mound. Asked about the pick-off move, the reluctant thrower quipped:
“I may surprise you guys one day with just like an Andy Pettitte move over there — and maybe surprise Rizz a little bit, too.”
Well, let’s just work on getting the ball into the first baseman’s glove and go from there. Seriously though, it was great to see Lester make the throw, even if Marte had to have had his head lodged in his backside to even make that move in the first place. But crawl before you walk and all that jazz.
When we boil it down, it’ll be Lester’s throws to the plate that define him and that lift the Cubs to new heights. And as far as that’s concerned, I’m pretty satisfied with what I’ve seen.