Getting the Best of Jon Lester
The Chicago Cubs put lefthander Jon Lester on its Wild Card roster earlier this week in case ace Jake Arrieta faltered against the Pirates. He didn’t, and the Cardinals get the former Red Sox number-one in the first game of the Divisional Series on Friday.
That’s better than the alternative. Ask the Pirates. Facing Arrieta would have been a tone-setting
disaster for the series. The guy has looked downright Bumgardian for about a month now, and nothing suggests that will change.
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Lester is no slouch, he’s just not Arrieta.
That said, Lester has been as advertised for the Cubs this year, even with the hype and distractions he’s put up. He made 32 starts, pitched 200-plus innings and racked up 200-plus strikeouts, all while getting accustomed to a new league with unfamiliar hitters and fighting his well-documented issues throwing to first. Oh, the local media also rode him for his extremely poor hitting skills — even for a pitcher.
Cardinals’ hitters will have their hands full on Friday. What they’re likely to see are first-pitch strikes with Lester’s low-90s four-seamer, then a flurry of high-80s cutters, low-90s sinkers and mid-70s curveballs to get swings-and-misses. His curveball is the most effective out pitch he has. Lester will also throw the occasional change-up to righthanders to really mess with their heads.
The best advice for Matt Carpenter and Co.? Lay off uncle charlie. Opponents hit under .200 off Lester’s curveball this year, faring much better against the sinker (.275) and four-seamer (.258). Sit on those pitches and put the ball in play. Good things will happen.
Lester’s BABIP against is a relatively high .304 mostly because Chicago has one of the most porous defenses in the league. Middle infielder Starlin Castro and third baseman Kris Bryant are among the ten most error-prone infielders in the National League.
Once Cardinal hitters get on base — and they will — the green light should be left on. Not only is every throw over to first an adventure with Lester on the mound, Cubs’ catchers can’t gun anyone down. Opponents enjoyed a .783 stolen base percentage against the Cubs, highest in the National League.