Jon Lester falters in seventh as Cubs suffer fourth consecutive loss
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LOS ANGELES – Whether it was David Ross’ absence, the disappearing act by the Cubs’ lineup or some kind of cosmic L.A. vibe, Cubs pitcher Jon Lester doesn’t know what happened to make the bottom fall out of his start in the seventh inning Saturday night.
“I have no idea,” said Lester, who cruised into the seventh before allowing four straight hits and watching a 2-1 lead turn into a 5-2 loss to the Dodgers.
Suddenly, the Cubs have lost four straight games after a 21-5 run and their big free agent horse is heading back to the video for the second time in three starts to figure out if he was doing something wrong he couldn’t pick up in the game.
“I usually don’t watch things when I’m done pitching,” said Lester (8-10), who said the pitches looked the same the second time around. “I was making pitches. Their approach was just a little bit different.
“The good thing is I don’t have to go back to the drawing board. My stuff was there.”
“He had great stuff,” said manager Joe Maddon, who lifted Lester after singles by Carl Crawford and A.J. Ellis, an RBI double by Jose Peraza and two-run single by Andre Ethier. “He wasn’t pummeled. Give them credit for some good situational hitting.”
Just as big was the Cubs’ inability to do more with pedestrian starter Mat Latos – setting the tone in the first, when Dexter Fowler led off with a double, only to be stranded when Kyle Schwarber, Chris Coghlan and Anthony Rizzo all struck out.
The Cubs left nine on in the game, going 0-for-8 with men in scoring position.
“There’s nothing to worry about,” catcher Miguel Montero said. “You’re playing good teams. Unfortunately, we haven’t had that big hit. We’ve had chances, but we haven’t got that big knock to get a couple runners in.
“It puts a lot of pressure on the pitcher and catcher. You can’t really make a mistake.”
The Cubs have scored a total of runs during this four-game skid – three of those low outputs coming against Cy Young winner Jake Peavy, Cy Young contender Madison Bumgarner and three-time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw.
Despite less excuse against Latos on Saturday, Maddon said he’s still not disappointed in the performances.
“I have no issues,” he said. “It’s a West Coast trip. Sometimes they’re difficult, especially for young players that haven’t really done it before. I’ve been through it many a time.
“If your players don’t care, if your players don’t show up, if your players don’t play hard, then you become disappointed. But we haven’t. We just have not gotten on the right end of the stick. We haven’t hit the ball very well on this trip.”
The run support has been a season-long story for Lester (3.59) ERA. He ranks among the bottom four in the National League in run support.
Also an issue all season has been the $155 million left-hander’s inability to throw well to bases, which cost him an early run again Saturday. After Peraza singled to lead off the third, Latos bunted straight back to Lester, who had a play at second but instead ran a few steps toward first and made a long underhand throw there.
Peraza got a big jump and stole third easily on Jimmy Rollins’ strikeout, then was consequently able to score on an infield hit to the hole at short.
It could have been worse, considering the disharmony between Lester and Montero, who was making only his third start behind the plate with Lester. That’s because Lester’s personal catcher, David Ross, is on the Family Medical Emergency List this week.
Montero skipped a throw to second trying to rush to get Scott Van Slyke on a second-inning steal. He had little chance on Peraza in the third. And trying to rush again with Van Slyke sailing into third, his mitt found Crawford’s bat path for a catcher’s interference call in the fourth.
“I really have to rush. There’s not much I can do,” Montero said. “When you know they’re going to go, and you still have to make a perfect throw to maybe throw the guy out, as a catcher you just try to do your best and just try to be as quick as possible.
“Other than that there’s not much I can do.”
When Lester fell behind 2-0 to the next batter, Maddon made a rare non-pitching-change visit to the mound to share some “ideas” about how to handle the runners.
Montero said he was “confused” with some of the signs and directions he was given regarding Lester, who has a long-term rapport with Ross, and a mutual understanding for controlling runners in given situations.
The Cubs got out of the threat in the fourth, and Lester retired the next eight straight, until the seventh.
Bottom line from his perspective was that he was unable to stop the Cubs’ mini-skid despite having his velocity, fastball command, good breaking stuff and “probably the best changeup I’ve had all year.”
“At the end of the day it’s a waste.”