There’s a thin line between belief and hope, and the Red Sox are teetering on the edge.
Right now, hope obviously exists. In fact, after last night’s 2-1 victory over Max Scherzer and the Tigers, it’s stronger than ever. I’m not sure how anyone can watch this team on a regular basis and think, “Eh, there’s no hope.” Of course there is. With less than a month left on the season, I can say with confidence that the Red Sox are World Series contenders. Another title is most definitely within the realm of possibility.
But do you believe?
That’s the next level. It’s your answer to the question: Will the Sox win the World Series?
And it’s a simple yes or no.
If I had to rank the teams right now, I’d probably have the Tigers as my World Series favorites. I’d have the Dodgers at No. 2. Then, in third, the Sox. So for now, I guess my answer is no. I think that the Red Sox can win the World Series, but I don’t believe that they will.
However, with every start, Jon Lester is doing his best to change that.
To be honest, I’m not sure if I ever officially gave up hope on Lester. If you’d asked back in June, at the low point of his season, I never thought that his game was entirely irreparable. After all, he never stopped providing those flashes of greatness. We knew that the real Jon Lester was in there somewhere. Hell, for the first six weeks of the season, he was one of the best pitchers in baseball.
On May 15, after nine starts, Lester was 6-0 with a 2.72 ERA, 50 strikeouts and only 15 walks. At the time, everyone thought that he was cured. It was as easy as John Farrell. Lester and Clay Buchholz were poised to lead this team to the top! That is, until they weren’t.
While Buchholz’s body fell apart off the field, Lester’s game did the same on the mound.
He went 0-2 in his final three starts of May, giving up at least four runs in each of them. In June, Lester was horrendous, sporting a 7.62 ERA over five starts. And perhaps more troubling than his performance was the fact that he didn’t have any answers for it.
“It was just terrible,” he said on June 12, after being shelled in Tampa. “I did a terrible job of helping our bullpen out, a terrible job of keeping the ball down in the zone. The list goes on. It's solely on me.”
Lester was better in July (2-2 in five starts, with a 3.13 ERA), but he was inconsistent. Maybe there was hope, but you couldn’t believe in him. How could you? It was still so obvious that something wasn’t right.
Part of that was (and still is) a product of 2011. You can argue that, thanks to John Lackey’s amazing comeback, Jon Lester is the only member of the Red Sox who still carries the burden of that collapse. He’s the only one yet to really breakthrough and win back the fans. And over the course of this season, that burden seemed to take a toll. You had to wonder if both sides my benefit from a change of scenery.
But whatever. Right now, that’s conversation’s moot, because Jon Lester is back on track. He’s 3-1 with a 1.60 ERA over his last four starts. He hasn’t given up a home run since August 2. Last night, he took the mound against the best lineup in the American League, opposite the best pitcher in the American League, and delivered his most inspiring performance since before the collapse.
Obviously, the stat line looks great. Lester went seven innings and gave up only one run, while striking out nine and walking zero against the Tigers. But more than that, there was something about his presence on the mound. A confidence (the way he attacked Miguel Cabrera with two outs and the bases loaded) and an attitude (the way he screamed off John Farrell after taking a screamer to the torso) that we’ve maybe never seen from Lester. It’s like he’s finally harnessed that burden of 2011, and all the crap that’s come his way over the last few years, and found away to unleash it on his opponent. And the prospect of that Lester leading the way through September and into October is enough to make any fan truly start to believe in this team’s chances to win it all.
But first, you have to believe in Jon Lester. And right now, that’s the most important question: Is this for real? Is he for real?
I don’t have the answer. Obviously, like with the Sox, hope is at an all time high. There’s reason to believe that Lester’s finally figured it out. That he can keep this going for two more months help take the Sox to that next level.
But, like with the Sox, it will probably take a little more time, at least one more month, before anyone is ready to truly believe that this Jon Lester is here to stay.
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