Cubs manager Joe Maddon predicted before Sunday’s game everyone was finally going to see how good Jon Lester can be.
That premonition didn’t fulfill itself, though, as Lester lasted just 5 1/3 innings and the Cubs fell to San Diego, 5-2, in front of 29,113 fans at Wrigley Field.
Lester allowed three runs on six hits with two walks and four strikeouts, throwing 97 pitches before being lifted for Brian Schlitter in the sixth. Through three starts — a small sample size, of course — Lester has a 6.89 ERA and has yet to throw more than six innings.
The Cubs jumped out to an early 2-0 lead thanks to some spotty defense from San Diego in the first. Dexter Fowler led off the inning with a single and advanced to second when right fielder Matt Kemp couldn’t cleanly field the ball, and he came around to score on Jorge Soler’s single.
The inning continued when first baseman Yangervis Solarte dropped a throw, allowing Starlin Castro to reach and Chris Coghlan to drive in Soler.
Will Middlebrooks blasted a two-run equalizing home run in the second, an inning which featured Lester — who’s struggled this year throwing the ball to first base — fielding a sharp comebacker and lobbing his glove, with the ball in it, to Anthony Rizzo for an out.
"I mean obviously that isn’t something you draw up. I was more surprised that I caught the ball more than anything," Lester said. "And then we you go to grab it and it’s not there. I thought I missed it or knocked it down or something.
It was the mad scramble there to figure out what was going on and obviously it happens in a matter of seconds. I would have liked to get the double play, but we’ll settle for the out. I never had to do that before but an out’s an out and I’ll take it any way I can."
Lester began the sixth by walking Kemp and giving up a single to Derek Norris. He retired Middlebrooks and was pulled for Schlitter, who got Jedd Gyorko to fly out before Will Venable jammed an 0-2 fastball into center for the go-ahead single.
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The Cubs’ offense floundered after its strong start against former North Sider Andrew Cashner, only reaching base once — a Kris Bryant double in the fifth — between the third and eighth innings.
Solarte ripped a two-run home run off right-hander Jason Motte in the seventh to give the Padres some breathing room. With two out in the ninth, Chris Denorfia chopped an infield single and Fowler bunted for a hit off Joaquin Benoit to put the tying run at the plate, but Soler struck out to end the game.