From the time he signed with the Cubs, much has been made of Jon Lester’s deficiencies. To be more specific, we can de-pluralize that and call it for what it is: the dude has trouble throwing to bases that have fewer than five sides. As such, it’s been important to employ a catcher with the ability to control the opponent’s running game, a role occupied quite admirably by David Ross these last couple years.
More than just a laser-rocket arm, Ross possessed the veteran street cred to hold Lester’s trust and keep the big lefty settled in tight situations. That’s why it might have seemed an odd choice to some when Joe Maddon paired his top starter with the youthful and exuberant Willson Contreras.
The thing about sports, though, is that you’ve got a relatively pure meritocracy in effect. In some cases, that means you can flip your bat on Jake Arrieta without having to wear one in the ribs the next time up. If you’re Contreras, it’s about commanding the respect of the elder statesmen with whom you’re forming batteries. And from the sound of it, the young backstop already has a fan in Lester.
“I know what Willy is capable of doing,” the grizzled southpaw said after Saturday’s outing. “You know, he likes to show his arm off and it’s impressive to see. He made a hell of another throw on (Gerardo) Parra, I thought he had him…from his knees.”
That “another” was in reference to Contreras throwing out former Cub — and primary source of “well, actually” criticism of the club’s nigh impeccable personnel moves — DJ LeMahieu on a stolen base attempt. We talk a lot about how the results of these games don’t matter, but that’s not true for all the intricacies taking place within the games themselves.
Though they only worked together for three innings Saturday, a performance like this goes a long toward helping Lester and Contreras establish a rapport and gain a little more trust in one another.
“Willy’s obviously very talented back there and with his arm I think we’ll all be able to neutralize a lot of different things,” Lester said. “Not only just myself, but our whole staff.”
I like the way Lester phrased that, setting Contreras up as something different from the personal caddies we’ve see in the past. To take nothing away from Ross and others of his ilk who played their roles well, WillCo is an entirely different animal. He’s more like hired muscle, a bodyguard who’s more than happy to throw down — or throw out, as the case may be — in support of his charge on the mound.
Folks, it’s going to be all kinds of fun watching Lester’s starts this season. Not only is he looking to put up his third straight exemplary season, but you know teams are going to try to run on him. Which means Contreras is going to have to draw down with great frequency. How long do you think it’ll take runners to start thinking twice?
I kinda hope they never learn, as I’m all about the game inside the game — would that be a game of throwns in this case? — and how Contreras and Lester are able to bring out the best in one another over the course of the season.