Jon Lester

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Ostrowski: Jon Lester Providing Much-Needed Reliability For Cubs

With a 2.22 ERA, Lester is having one of his best seasons.

Joe Ostrowski
June 12, 2018 - 7:56 am

By Joe Ostrowski--

(670 The Score) Cubs left-hander Jon Lester may not be considered in the class of overpowering No. 1 starters like Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander or Chris Sale, but he’s undeniably an ace in his age-34 season.

After 13 starts, this is one of Lester’s best campaigns. His 2.22 ERA and .204 batting average against would represent career-best marks. On top of that, he has a 1.09 WHIP and is on pace for just shy of a 200-inning workload.

Lester is in his 13th season and the back half of his six-year, $155-million contract. Those monster deals are typically ugly for clubs down the stretch, so how is this veteran southpaw doing it?

"It’s repetition of delivery," manager Joe Maddon said. "It’s knowing exactly what he wants to do. He doesn’t come out of his lane. He stays within his abilities."

Maddon added that Lester’s approach doesn’t vary.

"Fastball low carry," he said. "Fastball in. Cutter in. Cutter down and away from a lefty."

Translation: Lester flat out knows how to pitch, and the Cubs are confident they’ll put one in the left side of the standings when he's on the bump.

Runs are the name of the game, and Lester has tossed 16 consecutive shutout innings across his last three outings.

This is shocking. Is Lester really limiting opponents like he’s in his prime? Yes, but there are numerous factors to consider.

Of course, Lester didn’t face pitchers while he was in his 20s, as he was playing in the American League. After an inconsistent start for the defense, advanced stats have the Cubs fielding at an elite level -- a 16.6 UZR (second-best in MLB) and plus-38 defensive runs saved (third-best). It's closer to their record-setting defense during their World Series run.

"We’re back to 2016," Lester said after the win Saturday. "I think it took everybody a little bit last year to recover and get back to normal. When you come off that high of Game 7 and you’re looking for that high, you’re trying to get up for every game and it’s just not there."

There are peripheral statistics that suggest this Lester run is unlikely to continue, even with a strong defense behind him. He has allowed a .238 batting average of balls in play, a career-low mark and ninth-lowest among starting pitchers. He has an 84.8-percent strand rate, seventh-highest in MLB. He has a 4.34 xFIP, his highest since 2007, and is allowing a 34.6-percent hard-hit rate, a career-high.

Even if Lester comes back down to earth, his biggest strength is availability. If 2018 is his 11th consecutive season with 31-plus starts, the Cubs won’t be complaining. Their ace taking the ball every fifth day is what they envisioned.

Joe Ostrowski co-hosts Hit & Run with Barry Rozner on Sundays at 9 a.m. and is 670 The Score's weekday morning update anchor. Here's a link to his weekly sports betting podcast. Follow him on Twitter @JoeO670.​