Jon Lester began the season in a sleek Maserati, changing lanes with aplomb as he zipped through opposing lineups. But then he blew tire and was forced to commute on the struggle bus, a rickety-ass hoopty with no AC and bad brakes. The good news is that he’s not alone because most of his teammates are riding with him. The bad news is the driver may be legally blind and doesn’t yet know the streets by heart.
No one really believed Lester would maintain the performance of his first three starts, in which he went 2-0 with a 1.08 over 17 innings. He was hitting his spots perfectly and getting a lot of outs via contact, striking out just 13.6% of the batters he faced. The drastic departure from his historical results indicated that Lester had adopted a new philosophy, one that would allow him to transition successfully into the twilight of his career.
Since then, however, he’s 0-2 with a 9.26 ERA and eight home runs allowed over five starts, two of which haven’t even lasted a full four innings. Though Lester looked great against the Tigers in Detroit, allowing just one run, he’s surrendered at least five runs in the other four starts of this stretch. That includes his early exit Sunday night after falling apart against the Cardinals.
“You guys have seen the line scores,” Lester told the media after the game. “There’s not much confidence behind that right there.
“I try to take positives out of every five days, but there’s not many.”
Ever the pragmatist, Lester has always been blunt when assessing his struggles. The problem is that what he’s acknowledging here is a pretty insidious malady that can be damn near impossible to cure. Any pitcher, particularly one with as little margin for error as BDJ, has to believe in themselves in order to execute their pitches properly. Once doubt creeps in and steals that edge, it’s over.
“It’s very frustrating,” Lester said. “And when the frustration comes in, obviously there’s not a lot of confidence. So I’ll continue to work.”
For the Cubs to make any sort of noise in the postseason, that work must yield better results. They’re already down two starters in Tyler Chatwood and José Quintana and have seen Alec Mills fall victim to the same bout of dingeritis that’s plaguing Lester. Kyle Hendricks has been fine, he’s just not been at that ace level with any measure of consistency.
So there’s Yu Darvish and then a big gap, then Hendricks, followed by a massive chasm Lester’s trying to climb out of. The only way out is through, but hearing the lefty talk about his current predicament leads you to believe he’s not sold on his ability to make it back.
“I don’t know where the confidence will come from,” Lester admitted.
That’s pretty damning, folks, and I’m not sure how he fixes it from here.