Optimism surrounding Lester after strong start

Optimism surrounding Lester after strong start
August 20, 2013, 12:00 pm
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(AP Photo)

He’s given up two earned runs or less in five of six starts since the All-Star break. He’s pitched into the seventh inning in five of those six starts and has gone at least seven full innings in three of them. Over that time, he’s seen his ERA drop from 4.58 to an almost respectable 4.09. He’s struck out 32 batters while walking only eight.

All of a sudden, Jon Lester, the last mopey reminder of the 2011 collapse, the most disappointing presence in this otherwise inspiring Red Sox season, the man who not so long ago appeared unworthy of a spot in the potential playoff rotation looks poised for a return to greatness!

And OK, calm down, Rich. Just as it was a little hasty to declare Lester’s career dead after a few brutal summer months, it’s insane to throw all our worries out the window after this recent stretch — even with last night’s gem in San Francisco: 8.1 innings, six hits, zero earned runs.

The truth is that despite this resurgence, it won’t take much for Boston to lose their new found confidence in the lefty. If he follows last night’s outing with one or two mediocre starts, the familiar chorus of “Same old Lester! What a bum!” won’t be far behind. The point is that for him to be the Jon Lester that the Sox need him to be, what we’ve seen since the All-Star break should be the expectation, instead of inspiration for blog posts like this. 

However, for now, for the first time in a long time, Lester’s spot in the rotation represents something other than overwhelming frustration and disappointment. There’s optimism. That’s a start. And with Clay Buchholz, you have to imagine, gearing up for a return sometime in early September, the Sox initial blueprint for success — “ride those two arms, and let the rest take care of itself” — may be coming back into focus. We can at least start to talk about it as a realistic possibility, which is more than you could have hoped for in mid-July.

But for everything we hope to have learned from Lester’s last six starts, it’s the next five that will tell the story, and ultimately determine how we remember the lefty’s 2013 regular season.

Looking ahead (and obviously this is subject to change, but this is the schedule for now), Lester’s next start will come on Sunday Night Baseball at Chavez Ravine against the Dodgers (the hottest team in baseball). He’ll get a break the following outing with a home start against the struggling White Sox, but after that he’ll take the mound at Yankee Stadium, at Tropicana Field against the Rays, and finally back at Fenway against the Orioles.

That’s four of five starts against quality teams with playoff aspirations, with the last three coming against AL East rivals at a time when the pennant race will be in full bloom and the division potentially tighter than a baby tee on Bartolo Colon.

That’s when we’ll get the real answers to the questions surrounding Jon Lester’s season. But for now, at least there’s reason to look forward to the process.

Follow me on Twitter: @rich_levine