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Tigers 6, Cubs 0: What's Wrong With Jon Lester?

The Cubs signed a pitcher they thought would be an ace last offseason. He's struggled most of this year so far.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

When the best thing about a 2015 Cubs game is Edwin Jackson's performance, you know the Cubs must have had a bad night.

The Tigers shut out the Cubs 6-0 behind Anibal Sanchez and two relievers. It was the fourth time the Cubs have been shut out this year, and Jon Lester was the victim of all but one of the runs. Lester's performance so far this season can best be described as "erratic." Here are his monthly splits:

April: four starts, 6.23 ERA in 21⅔ innings
May: six starts, 1.76 ERA in 41 innings
June: two starts, 10.61 ERA in 9⅓ innings

And Lester didn't even have to worry about batting Tuesday night, as the game was in an American League park. Neither Lester, who now has a 6.35 career ERA in five starts at Comerica Park, nor the Cubs, who are now 2-7 there all-time in regular-season games, have ever done well in Detroit.

This one could have gone the other way, too. In the top of the second inning, with the Tigers up 1-0 and Starlin Castro on base, David Ross lofted a ball to deep left-center field. Rajai Davis leaped and pulled the ball down from over the fence for the third out of the inning. The fantastic catch robbed Ross of a two-run homer:

If Davis doesn't catch that ball, the Cubs have a 2-1 lead and maybe they take advantage of other scoring opportunities against Sanchez. Of course, that would have also required Lester to pitch better than he did. He didn't make it out of the fifth inning for only the second time this year and matched his worst game score at 28.

Jackson tried to keep the Cubs in this game. Surprising, isn't it? He's the only Cubs reliever to throw three or more innings in a game this year, likely done to save the pen and because in the A.L. park, Joe Maddon didn't have to worry about batting for him. Jackson threw 43 strikes in 59 pitches, gave up three singles and a double, didn't walk anyone and struck out five. The one run he allowed didn't, in the end, mean anything. Let's hope some scouts were watching. It was both the longest outing and most pitches he'd thrown this year, and for the first time in his Cubs career, Jackson is in positive bWAR territory -- +0.1.

The Cubs did have a couple of opportunities to score in this game. In the fifth, Junior Lake singled and stole second. Tigers manager Brad Ausmus challenged the call, and replays showed he might have been right, but the review folks ruled there wasn't enough evidence to overturn, and the call stood. Addison Russell singled to left and Yoenis Cespedes threw Lake out trying to score.

In the eighth, the Cubs loaded the bases on a single and a pair of walks with two out, and that's when Ausmus lifted Sanchez in favor of Joba Chamberlain, who's been quite good this year in more limited usage than in previous years. It is, of course, a stretch to hope that Miguel Montero would hit a grand slam in that situation, but even a single would have helped. Chamberlain struck him out and that, essentially, was that. By this time, I have to admit, I had become more interested in following the possible no-hitter being thrown in New York and was flipping back and forth between the two games. Congratulations to Chris Heston of the Giants for throwing the year's first no-hitter, in which he didn't walk anyone but became the first pitcher ever to hit three batters in a no-no.

I suppose I should at least mention Castro's failure to throw to first base quickly enough on a play in which Miguel Cabrera grounded to Russell. Russell's toss to Castro didn't get there fast enough to force Ian Kinsler, and Cabrera was more or less loafing down the first-base line. But when he saw Castro dawdling, he sped up just enough to beat Castro's late throw. In the end, this play didn't cost the Cubs any runs, but really, that kind of thing shouldn't happen. Castro did have two hits Tuesday night, the only Cub to have more than one. He's hitting .296/.345/.519 this month (8-for-27, a double, a triple, a homer, only four strikeouts) so maybe he's coming out of his batting slump.

There's not much more you can say about games like this one. Just pick up the pieces and move on to the next one, in which the Cubs will go for a series split of this brief two-gamer. Jake Arrieta will face Shane Greene tonight.