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Cubs Heroes and Goats 2017 biggest WPA countdown: No. 9 (negative)

The pitching duel that wasn’t.

Chicago Cubs v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

On May 28, 2017 the Cubs visited the Los Angeles Dodgers. On the mound for the Cubs was Jon Lester. Clayton Kershaw was the opposition. The Cubs came in having dropped the first two games of the series to start their six-game road trip and facing one of this generation’s best pitchers, a daunting task to say the least. But having Lester on the mound, the sometimes ace of the Chicago Cubs, gave some reason for hope. The Cubs were 25-23 coming in and the Dodgers were 30-20. About 10 days earlier, the Dodgers had started to catch fire and had won eight out of 10 coming into the game.

The game started well for the Cubs with Willson Contreras breaking up a scoreless tie with a solo homer leading off the top of the second inning. In the bottom half of the inning, Enrique Hernandez lead off with a walk and Austin Barnes followed with a single. Cody Bellinger then launched a home run, his 10th of the season, making it 3-1 (-.224 WPA from the home run alone). Jon bounced back and retired the next three in order to stop the bleeding. The damage was done though, the Cubs had a 57% chance of winning by WPA after the top of the second and a 73% chance of losing after the bottom.

The Cubs threatened in the top of the third but left the bases loaded. Corey Seager lead off the bottom of the third with a single, one out later Yasiel Puig added a single and then Kiké Hernandez followed with a three-run homer of his own (-.137), his fourth of the season.

In the top of the fourth, the Cubs got a solo shot from Javier Baez and a two-run homer from Anthony Rizzo and the score was 6-4. The Cubs stranded another baserunner, but could do no further damage. Lester went back out for the bottom of the fourth, but after retiring the first batter of the inning, he allowed a single and a walk and that was it.

Jon Lester threw 3⅓ innings and allowed seven hits including two home runs, two walks and six earned runs. Sadly, it would not be Jon’s worst performance of the year and we’ll be revisiting another of those performances in two weeks. By WPA, this outing was worth -.434.

There would be no heroics for the Cubs in this one as they went on to lose 9-4 to a very good Dodgers team that was hot at the time. The Cubs would go on to lose the following three games of the road trip in what was one of the lowest points of the season.

Jon Lester was never quite right at any point in 2017. We have to hope that he’ll bounce back in 2018 and be the leader of the pitching staff that he’s been in the past. A third straight appearance in the NLCS means that he threw a lot of innings again this year. He threw 180⅔ innings in the regular season and then 14⅓ more in the post season. Still, at 195 innings total, it was the lowest number of innings he’s thrown since 2011. I’m confident that he’ll be primed and ready to go for the 2018 season.