We've been waiting all season for Jon Lester to show us he's the ace that Theo & Co. paid $155 million for over this year and the next five.
Wednesday afternoon, on a brilliantly sunny and warm afternoon at Wrigley Field, Lester did just that. He struck out 14 and executed three perfect sacrifice bunts in eight strong innings and the Cubs beat the Rockies 3-2 to get the series win they'd been seeking. The offense was all provided on home runs, a solo shot by Dexter Fowler leading off the bottom of the first, and a two-run blast by Anthony Rizzo that hit the right-field foul pole, his first since July 7.
And Hector Rondon threw an efficient ninth for his 13th save. After all the jockeying around a "closer committee," Joe Maddon likely has his closer solution right in front of him. I hope he leaves Rondon as closer, as he did a fine job with it in 2014 and also in early 2015 before a couple of blown saves, something many good closers have happen to them.
Back to Lester. He set a franchise record for lefthanders with 14 strikeouts. The previous record of 12 had been accomplished five times: once by Jamie Moyer (1987), twice by Ken Holtzman (1969 and 1971) and twice by Hippo Vaughn (1914 and 1918). All that shows is how few quality lefthanders the Cubs have had in their history.
Lester also laid down three sacrifices, after having had none all year before Wednesday. In fact, Cubs pitchers combined had only four total sac bunts all year (two by Jake Arrieta, two by Kyle Hendricks). Three sac bunts in a game is quite rare these days. Only one other pitcher -- Gio Gonzalez of the Nationals -- has done it this year. Here's a list of all the pitchers in Cubs history who have done it:
- Sean Marshall, July 5, 2006
- Greg Maddux, August 16, 1992
- Bill Bonham, April 9, 1974
- Curt Davis, September 1, 1937
The Cubs won three of those four, losing only the 1937 game, and won today. The irony, of course, about today's win is that none of Lester's bunts had any effect on the scoring, as none of the runners he advanced scored and all the Cubs runs came on home runs.
Kyle Schwarber played left field Wednesday afternoon and I really can't tell you anything about his abilities out there, because he barely touched the ball. He fielded two singles and threw the ball back to the infield both times, and finally recorded a putout on a lazy fly ball hit by Charlie Blackmon to end the eighth inning. That was only the second outfield putout of the game for the Cubs, and other than the two singles, the only ball hit out of the infield by the Rockies was a solo home run by Carlos Gonzalez off Lester in the seventh that made the score 3-2.
The Rockies scored their first run largely because of Lester's one flaw, his inability to hold runners on base. Blackmon singled and stole second in the fourth, then new Rockie Jose Reyes -- who is nearly impossible to walk -- walked, and both advanced on a double steal. Blackmon then scored on a fly to right by Nolan Arenado. The stolen-base parade could have been worse, but David Ross did throw out Reyes trying to steal in the first inning. That caught-stealing was followed by six straight K's by Lester, one short of that franchise record.
I hope this portends a long stretch of good pitching by Lester, who has shown a weird alternate-month pattern of good and bad pitching this year. Here are his ERAs by calendar month:
April: 6.23 (four starts) May: 1.76 (six starts) June: 5.74 (five starts) July: 1.66 (six starts)
Let's hope Lester does this year what he did last August and September for the Athletics: 2.35 ERA in 11 starts.
The weather was gorgeous and the ballpark was full and everyone was really into the game. That, of course, is much easier to do when the Cubs are a contending team, and that they certainly are. The Phillies series behind, they've now won another home series and head to Miller Park, where they lost a set in May, for a four-game series beginning Thursday night.
The Brewers (not including Wednesday's game which is still in progress at this writing) are 19-11 since June 28, so not the pushover they might have been earlier in the year. Thursday's series opener features Ja vs. Jimmy Nelson, and Sunday's starter is still listed as "TBD." It was suggested earlier Wednesday that Clayton Richard might take that start; personally, I'm hoping the Cubs make a deal before 3 p.m. CT Friday (the non-waiver deadline) for a starter who could take that spot.
We'll be on trade watch here for the next couple of days. Stay tuned!