CHICAGO – Things are going so well for him early in the 2019 season, an old debate continues to be brought up among Chicago sports fans: Is Jon Lester the greatest free agent signing in the city’s sports history?
The fact that he won 61 games coming into the 2019 season for the franchise, along with a World Series title and nearly a Cy Young as he anchored the pitching staff, is as good of an argument as any for the left-handed starter. Now this season, his fifth in a Cubs’ uniform, Letser continues to make his case.
Despite missing a few weeks in April with a hamstring injury, Lester is 3-1 on the season with an incredible 1.16 ERA in 38.2 innings of work over the course of seven games. It gives more justification that the six-year, $155 million contract given to Lester before the 2015 season was money very, very well spent.
“He hasn’t missed a beat, he’s super fun to play behind,” Kris Bryant said.
Lester had yet another gem on a national stage Sunday night at Wrigley Field.
In cold, rainy, and windy conditions, Lester remained steadfast against the rival Brewers when manager Joe Maddon needed him. With the bullpen spent after a 15-inning game on Saturday, Lester went 6 2/3 innings and allowed just a single unearned run, one walk, while striking out six batters. It helped the Cubs to a 4-1 victory that gives them a season-high two-game lead over Milwaukee in the National League Central division.
“Regardless of the conditions, it just comes down to trying to execute each pitch,” Lester said in Sunday’s postgame. “(I) just tried to do that tonight.”
The performance is a prime example of the kind of performances Lester has enjoyed since the beginning of the season, especially since his hamstring injury suffered in the home opener. In the three games before, Lester had a 2.57 ERA with 14 strikeouts compared to just six walks. While he wasn’t perfect, allowing three home runs in the first two games, he was able to get an opening day win over the Rangers on March 28th and appeared on his way to another one with a strong start against the Pirates in the home opener before leaving with the injury.
Since then, he’s been outstanding.
In four starts, Lester has allowed just one earned run over the course of 24 2/3 innings, giving him a 0.36 ERA during his four starts. He has 25 strikeouts compared to just two walks and has helped the Cubs to three wins in those four games. Only in his first start back from injury did he get a loss. That was against the Dodgers on April 25th, despite the fact he allowed his only earned run in the stretch during his five innings of work, as Los Angeles pitching made it hold up in a 2-1 victory.
Fast starts are nothing unusual for Lester, who was 11-2 in the first half of the 2018 season with a 2.45 ERA. He slipped a bit in the second half as his ERA went up to 4.54 with a 7-4 record, but a strong Wild Card game performance left no doubt he was still the ace of the Cubs staff.
That has been reinforced in the first month-and-a-half of the 2019 season.