He has an outside shot at winning twenty games. He will pitch 200 innings for the third year in a row and is already over 200 strikeouts for the second consecutive season. He’s reached double digits in strikeouts in each of his last four starts. His WHIP is at an all-time low. And there are only two pitchers in the AL who are stingier with their hits. So how come Jon Lester seems to be flying under the radar this season, both in Boston and nationally?
I don’t mean to imply that Lester is being disrespected because I think the crowd acknowledges he is a pretty special pitcher. But for one reason or another, it doesn’t seem like many are aware of the fact that Lester is NOT leveling off. Instead, he just continues to get better and better. Maybe it’s because he got off to a slow start and then didn’t throw too well out of the break. Or perhaps it’s because Clay Buchholz’ breakout season has stolen some of the light. But for one reason or another, it seems like many are taking Jon Lester’s FINE 2010 season for granted.
Last night, Lester manhandled a terribly weak Seattle lineup for the second time this year. He may not have been quite as sharp as he was in July when he handcuffed Seattle for 5.2 perfect innings, but he wasn’t far off either. The final line was diluted by an 8th hiccup but was still impressive, highlighted by 12 strikeouts and just three hits over eight innings.
I realize Seattle is not the benchmark to judge a pitcher but Lester’s excellent year has not been the result of loading up on cupcakes. Sure, he has drawn Baltimore four times and he has simply killed the Birds. And yes, there are two games each against Seattle and Cleveland. But he missed out entirely on Oakland, there is only one meeting with the Angels and two of his inter-league games were played in the parks hostile to pitchers: Denver and Phoenix. On top of that, there have been two meetings with both Minny and Texas, three with Toronto, four with Tampa and three with New York. Clearly, this guy hasn’t been ducking good offenses.
And nor has he reached a plateau. In fact, if you just toss that one sickening start against Toronto – where Lester was sick – his ERA would be 2.82, a career best by a mile. And even with that bad outing, Lester’s ERA still sits below where it was in 2008. Throw in the fact that his strikeouts are way up over 2008 and his WHIP is down for the fifth year in a row, and good things are still ahead for this guy. The steps from here on out may be small but any further progress from these lofty levels get Lester into the “stupid good” category.
POINTS OF INTEREST:
* It never seems to fail. On a day that I went to bat for him, Ryan Kalish had me looking bad as he was hitless through three at bats. But then in the 8th, he put a beautiful swing on a Doug Fister changeup and knocked it into the right-field seats. God it’s hard to temper my Kalish enthusiasm right now. The guy is just too good.
* Lars Anderson has not been advertized as a “glove man” but from what I have seen so far, he is more than competent over at first. He made a nice snag last night and he had another down in Oakland. Granted, I haven’t seen him make a great throw to the plate or back-hand a tough chance to his right and then gun down the lead runner at second, but I also haven’t seen the guy trip over himself and that is what his naysayers would like to claim.
* Am I a day too early to mention that the Yankees are a Nick Swisher prayer away from waking up this morning on a seven-game bender and CC doesn’t pitch again until Sunday? Clearly, Joe Girardi isn’t pushing hard for the line or he might take advantage of the off-day on Thursday and move CC up to Saturday to face the Birds. That would allow him to pitch the final game of next week’s Tampa series but if Girardi isn’t going to maximize the effectiveness of his pen (strange decisions on Monday) then it seems unlikely he will jump through hoops for the division title. Guess that means CC starts on the road against Cliff Lee in the ALDS.
FARM REPORT: The only affiliate that reached the post-season was the Greenville Drive, who swept their opening playoff series and opened the Championship series last night against Lakewood. On the mound for the Drive was Drake Britton who had already won one post-season game and was looking for number two. He got it thanks to five innings of one-hit ball and it wouldn’t surprise me to see Britton now get some love this winter when the netscouts put out their prospect rankings. His name is starting to get mentioned in the chats and it wouldn’t surprise me to find his name now included in some top-100 lists.