What You Need To Know: Basically, Jon Lester didn’t have it, couldn’t find it, and then it got worse. It started with a homer in the first, then paper cuts in the second, and then farce in the fifth. It was yet another outing for Lester that has Cubs fans, and possibly Cubs management, tugging their collars when thinking about the postseason. Combine that with the Cubs waving white hankies at whatever Blake Snell was throwing and you get a pretty convincing loss. So no, not quite the way you’d want to head into the biggest series of the year. But longer view—winning seven of eight is—so let’s take that.
Next Level: Clearly, when Jon Lester doesn’t strike out any hitter over four innings plus, something is wrong. His stuff doesn’t have the usual bite. There were three more walks tonight in just 4.1 innings, and that’s 11 in the last three starts. It’s either lack of feel after the injury absence, nibbling because he doesn’t think his stuff is anything less than crushable, or a combination thereof. His velocity dipped a bit in his last start against the Mets, with his four-seamer averaging 91.5. That’s about where he was tonight. That could be better. His sinker and cutter were in about the same range as they were in the last start as well, which again, probably needs to be a touch higher.
His cutter had a little more movement since he came back tonight, but he wasn’t able to control it. Same with the curve, but no command. But his curve didn’t really have any downward movement, which makes it awfully hittable and a third of them were put in play for hits.
And it’s a bind. Lester is only going to get two more starts, Monday in St. Louis and then the last Saturday of the season if the Cubs stay on schedule. If he doesn’t straighten out, the Cubs are going to have an awfully big decision on their hands. Quite simply, all four other starters have been better than him of late, assuming full health for Arrieta (and if not, then we can just pack up the cats here). Lester has all the veteran status and experience in his corner, but you can’t win playoff games with sentimentality and memories. And Lester really wouldn’t have much use out of the pen, given his profile. I wouldn’t want to be in on this conversation, but it’s one that is looking more and more like it will be necessary.
Beyond that, anything else about tonight doesn’t really matter. While the Cubs have played it cool all year and haven’t panicked or barely even raised their blood pressure, starting tomorrow they’re going to have to. They can’t have their manager telling us how groovy things are and how things are going to work out, and they can’t just shrug everything off. The next four are basically playoff games, and if the Cubs do a balls-up as they did two weeks ago they could find themselves out of the playoff picture altogether. Or they could be in a dogfight for the division and wildcard heading into St. Louis against a team that would just love to ruin the Cubs season.
So all the goofiness and nonchalance we’ve seen just a bit too much of this season has to go away. That means playing your best lineup. What that means for the lineup could be debated all day. It might mean Happ doesn’t automatically start. Same goes for Schwarber. I don’t know, but I know it’s time for the Cubs either be the Cubs or they can shut up and go home and we can move on with our lives. Either they’re good enough or they’re not, and they get four games to show us either way.
Top WPA Play: Addison Russell’s single in the fifth that put runners on 1st and 2nd with no one out when the game was still in reach at 4-0. Pretty much tells you how the night went. (+.050)
Bottom WPA Play: Miller’s bleeder of a single in the second that made it 2-0. (+.109)
Lead photo courtesy Kim Klement—USA Today Sports