The first four questions/statements during Jon Lester’s postgame media session involved the yips, how the Milwaukee Brewers stole five bases against him.
Even though the Cubs are now 17 games over .500, riding their $155 million ace into legitimate playoff contention and smashing realistic expectations for this year’s team.
Lester still started trending on Twitter during Thursday afternoon’s 9-2 victory over Milwaukee.
“At the end of the day, I gave up less than the other team,” Lester said inside Wrigley Field’s interview room/dungeon. “It is what it is. There are things that I need to improve on. But at the end of the day, we win. That’s all that matters.”
Until Lester’s second start in a Cubs uniform – on April 13 against the Cincinnati Reds – he had gone almost two full years since his last pickoff move.
Lester didn't bother again until this throw over to first base sailed wide right past Anthony Rizzo, allowing Jean Segura to cruise to second base in the third inning. Segura then easily stole third base while Lester stood on the mound holding onto the ball. Ryan Braun and Khris Davis combined to steal three more bases during that inning, though the last-place Brewers could only manufacture one run from that sequence.
“We all know what’s going on here,” Lester said. “Just got to do a better job.”
The Cubs felt very comfortable investing all that money in the second half of Lester’s career. He doesn’t get defensive or pretend like this isn’t an issue. He’s accountable, reliable and a two-time World Series champion with the Boston Red Sox.
Lester – who has a reputation for being a strong finisher and a big-game pitcher – had thrown at least seven innings in each of his last seven starts. This time, the lefty gave up two runs across six innings and finished with 10 strikeouts.
Let’s not completely lose sight of the big picture: Lester is 8-8 with a 3.21 ERA and in position to throw 200 innings for the seventh time in the last eight seasons.
The Cubs believe there are ways to work around this with Lester’s swing-and-miss stuff, strategic pitchouts, varying times to home plate and personal catcher David Ross, an excellent defender with a strong arm who threw Segura out at third base in the fifth inning.
Lester also said he wouldn’t scrap the idea of throwing over to first base again this season.
“You just keep working at it – you don’t make a big deal about it,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He just needs to worry about getting the hitters out and let David take care of all that stuff.
“I’m really not worried about it right now. I thought Milwaukee’s game plan was a good one, but we were still able to keep them down.”
[NBC SHOP: Gear up for the stretch run, Cubs fans!]
This is the what-if scenario for the Cubs down the road: The Kansas City Royals highlighted the problem by running wild during last year’s wild-card game. As the hired gun, Lester got a no-decision, the Oakland A’s lost in 12 innings and the Royals wound up going to the World Series.
“To be able to maintain that focus between him and home plate is the most important thing,” Maddon said. “I don’t want to make a big deal out of the other side of it. There are times where it could be an issue or be bothersome.
“Overall, he’s able to (put up good) numbers in spite of not wanting to throw to first base, so I have no qualms about that. But I also believe there’s going to be one moment he’s going to have that epiphany where all of a sudden it makes sense to him and you’re going to see him be able to do it more readily.”