Just Sayin’: Jon Lester is the one guy Cubs can’t survive shoddy start without

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Jon Lester doing Jon Lester things. | Nick Wass/AP Photo

Jon Lester is the best pitcher in the Cubs’ starting rotation.

But don’t just take it from me.

“Jon is the best of the starting rotation,” catcher Willson Contreras said.


It’s called confirmation bias, and I have a serious case of it when it comes to where the 35-year-old left-hander fits into the pecking order of this Cubs team. In my view, there’s only one way to view it: that Lester pecks at the very top — among pitchers, among everyone.

The guy with the strained left hamstring just might be the one guy the Cubs can’t survive this shoddy start to the season without.

So, yeah, it’s concerning that Lester likely is headed for the injured list and could miss multiple starts. Then again, he has started more than 30 games in each of the last 11 seasons, including four straight with the Cubs. No one in baseball has been more durable.

Put me down as not that worried.

Lester injured himself Monday while running the bases after ripping the key double in a victorious home opener. A day later, he tweeted: “Sometimes when you have elite speed these things can happen.” You know, speaking of not being worried.

But getting back to my aforementioned confirmation bias: I did my version of a statistical “deep dive” to discover just how crucial Lester is to the Cubs’ winning. As always, my evidence is crude, rudimentary and, one can only assume, in no way impressive to seamheads who sleep with pocket protectors under their pillows and fantasize about fantasy lineups.

Get this, though: The Cubs are 86-44 in games started by Lester in the four seasons (plus three 2019 starts) since his 2015 free-agent arrival. That’s a .662 winning percentage that, played out over the course of a 162-game season, would give a team a record of 107-55.

Comparison No. 1: The Cubs were 76-43 (.639) in games started by Jake Arrieta over his four full seasons as a starter. Very good, but less than Lesterian.

Even better, the Cubs were 67-29 in games started by Lester from 2016 to 2018. Over 162 games, that .698 winning percentage translates to a team record of 113-49.

Comparison No. 2: The Nationals were 67-31 in games started by the great Max Scherzer from 2016 to 2018. And all Scherzer did in that span was win the Cy Young award twice and finish second in the voting the other year.

Lester doesn’t have the pure talent of teammate Yu Darvish, whose teams, by the way, went a modest 50-42 in games he started in his only three full seasons (2012, 2013 and 2017) in the big leagues. Lester can’t run the ball up there quite as fast as fellow 35-year-old Cole Hamels can. He doesn’t keep hitters as off-balance as Kyle Hendricks does when Hendricks is locked in.


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But all Lester does is win. Actually, that’s the wrong way to put it. The right way: All the Cubs do when Lester takes the mound is win.

Yes, the Cubs need Darvish to plug in and operate like a real, live pitcher starting Wednesday against the Pirates. They need Hendricks to get it going again. They need Kris Bryant to hit again. They need their bullpen to rise from the ashes.

But what they arguably need most of all is Lester being Lester. Without him starting his customary 30-plus games this season, chances are the whole house of cards comes crashing down.


Raise your hand if you had both Chicago baseball teams sitting at 3-7 nearly two weeks into the season.


Never mind, then.

• The White Sox were 3-3 after six games in 2018, then spent every remaining day of the season with a sub-.500 record. Is there any chance the 2019 Sox — losers of four straight after another 3-3 start — aren’t in for the very same fate?

Tell you what, just forget that question, too.

• Will Sox right fielder Daniel Palka — off to an 0-for-23 start at the plate — ever get his first hit? And will he be playing for Class AAA Charlotte when he does?

• Better bet to return to the playoffs next season: Jeremy Colliton’s Blackhawks or Joel Quenneville’s Panthers?


• Don’t look now, but Lovie Smith and Illinois are starting to make some real noise in recruiting.

Then again, stop me if you’ve heard that before.

• Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter batted the ball straight out from under Texas Tech’s Davide Moretti’s right hand. It was as clear a basketball play as one could conjure. Deep into overtime, the Red Raiders should have retained possession with a chance to tie or take the lead in Monday’s NCAA Tournament title game.

But instant replay came to the rescue and ruined everything. Then again, that’s pretty much what instant replay does in all sports.

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