WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
In another wild game, with seven home runs between the two teams, it was the Reds’ turn to blow a huge lead—9-0 in the second, tied in the fifth—but still win. Worse for the Cubs, Lester took himself out of the game in the second and is being evaluated for left lat tightness.
You don’t tend to think of Jon Lester as a pitcher who needs more than 10 runs of support, but there you have it. After a six-pitch first inning, Lester didn’t make it out of the second, as the Reds sent 13 men to the plate against him and Mike Montgomery and scored nine times. Hilariously, Lester didn’t get a decision, since the Cubs tied the game before falling behind for good, but almost all the Reds’ damage was done on his watch.
How badly did Jon Lester pitch today? The obvious answer is very, very badly. 1.2 innings, 7 hits, 9 runs (7 earned), no strikeouts…that’s a meltdown by any standards. In the midst of a performance like that, seeing him leave early was distressing but hardly surprising.
But is the obvious answer correct? Viewed another way, Lester didn’t pitch all that badly but just got BABIPed to death. The first five hits he gave up were all singles, few of them well-hit; Ervin drove in the second run of the game on an inside pitch that broke his bat. Votto’s homer, like the ones the Cubs hit, was helped by the wind, plus he’s Joey Votto. Sure, no strikeouts isn’t great, but in the course of eight outs it’s hardly noteworthy. Maybe a tight cluster of bad luck obscured what could have, barring injury, gone on to be a decent performance.
So which is right? How much blame does Lester, or his lat, deserve for the Cubs being down by nine in the second inning? Maybe this is reductionist, but I keep going back to Lester’s battle with Billy Hamilton that inning. Everyone knows you don’t want to walk Billy Hamilton, but this time it wasn’t because of the obvious reason—there were runners at second and third, so basestealing wasn’t a concern. You don’t want to walk Billy Hamilton because what are you doing walking Billy Hamilton? He has a .300 OBP, which is actually above his career total. He’s slugging .334 for his career.His offensive WAR for the year is -.1, and that includes his baserunning. Yet Lester walked him on six pitches, with none of the four balls particularly close. Sure, some of those singles in the inning were bad luck, but when Hamilton took his base it seemed clear that Lester wasn’t particularly right.
Now comes the wait to find out just how not right he is.
TOP WPA PLAY
Anthony Rizzo’s RBI double in the fifth, which brought the score to 9-8 (+.168). Fun fact: according to WPA, none of the Cubs’ first three homers (which brought the score from 9-0 to 9-4) were as valuable as getting Scott Feldman to ground out in the second, back when it was still 2-0.
BOTTOM WPA PLAY
Phillip Ervin’s two-run homer giving the Reds back the lead for good in the seventh (-.302).
Lead photo courtesy Caylor Arnold—USA Today Sports