Slumping Lester rocked as Chicago Cubs fall to Nationals

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jon Lester reacts as he wipes his face after Washington Nationals' Ryan Zimmerman hit a two-run home run during the first inning of a baseball game Saturday, Aug. 11, 2018, in Chicago.

    Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jon Lester reacts as he wipes his face after Washington Nationals' Ryan Zimmerman hit a two-run home run during the first inning of a baseball game Saturday, Aug. 11, 2018, in Chicago.

 
 
Updated 8/11/2018 7:47 PM

If you believe in the numbers, the warning signs have been there for some time.

Jon Lester doesn't put much stock into the advanced metrics of baseball, but one thing is certain: He is in a certifiable slump.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Things got only worse Saturday in a 9-4 loss to the Washington Nationals at Wrigley Field.

Lester, the ace of the Chicago Cubs' pitching staff, lasted only 3⅔ innings, giving up 10 hits and 9 runs (8 earned), as his record fell to 12-5 and his ERA rose from 3.44 to 3.89.

He allowed 3 home runs, 2 to Ryan Zimmerman, who chased him in the Nationals' 6-run fourth inning with a 3-run shot.

Over his last 9 starts, Lester has an ERA of 7.51. After a 4-0 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers on June 20, Lester's record stood at 9-2 with a 2.10 ERA.

"I'm not worried about it," he said before amending. "I shouldn't say that. I don't want to take away from today. Today was pretty bad as far a the results. This is the ebbs and flows of the season. Unfortunately I'm pretty down right now as far as where I've been pitching and giving innings. My start day hasn't been great. I need to pick that part up.

"I've been through it before. I've come out the other end just fine. I've got to keep working. Unfortunately in this game, it's results driven, and when you're not getting results, you want to immediately run to something. You want to run to you're tipping (pitches), you're going to run to mechanical or you're going to run to whatever.

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"Sometimes it's really nothing. It's about a little bit of luck, a little bit of something here and there to give you that break."

Even back in June, Lester's peripheral numbers suggested that he was getting some luck with batted balls being caught. As the statistical site FanGraphs pointed out back then, the gap between Lester's 2.10 ERA and his 4.19 fielding independent pitching (FIP) was historically high.

FIP is scaled to ERA, and it takes out defense as it focuses on things the pitcher has control over: walks, strikeouts and home runs.

The Cubs have one of the most advanced metrics operations in the game, but manager Joe Maddon said his "geeks" (as he calls them) have not come to him waving any red flags about Lester.

"No, not at all," Maddon said. "I've heard different things about the ball being hit hard and all that stuff. That happens to everybody. No, none of our guys have come to me and said he's not doing this or he's doing that. I've not heard that from anybody."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

In fact, Maddon says Lester looks the same to him from the dugout.

"Again, I'm seeing the same stuff, I am, from the side," he said. "His fastball got hit today. I don't know yet if it was a function of location, execution of the pitch. When I watch from the side, I don't see anything differently.

"So it's something we'd have to talk to Hick (pitching coach Jim Hickey) and to Borz (catching/strategy coach Mike Borzello) and Lester (bullpen coach Strode) about.

"But from the naked eye on the sidelines, I don't see a whole lot different. If a guy is injured or there's a dramatic drop-off in something, of course I'm more concerned. But I'm not seeing that. So I've got to ask the right questions and see if we're able to figure it out."

About the only bright spot on the day for the Cubs was that Anthony Rizzo collected his 1,000th career hit, a single in the third inning. It was Rizzo's 982nd hit as a Cub, and the crowd of 41,320 gave him a nice ovation.

"You can't ever take that for granted," Rizzo said of the mark. "I've been fortunate enough to pretty much stay healthy my entire career so far. Obviously it's a nice milestone, but I'd like to pick up a 'W' today as well."

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