CINCINNATI – Jon Lester says he speaks for the entire clubhouse when he offers to trade it all in – the individual numbers, All-Star selections, Cy Young honors, MVP hardware – for a World Series ring with the Cubs.
The Cubs are trying to have it all, 100-plus wins, the awards season, all those off-the-field endorsement deals and so much extroverted personality that it draws the attention of baseball’s fun police. But Lester understands October is where this team will ultimately be remembered.
“I don’t want to sound like an a--hole or anything, but we haven’t really done anything yet,” Lester said after the Cincinnati Reds denied him his 20th win on Saturday at Great American Ball Park.
“Amen!” might be the response from anyone sick of the coronations from the national media and tired of Joe Maddon’s “Embrace The Target” act. Their first-round opponent will feel that way, whether it’s the New York Mets, San Francisco Giants or St. Louis Cardinals. But five words summed up Lester’s attitude after this 7-4 loss: “Flush it down the toilet.”
That’s essentially how the Cubs have handled everything this year, from all the magazine covers to getting everyone’s best shot between the lines to a rabid fan base that follows them all across the country to what could have been a season-devastating injury to Kyle Schwarber.
That’s why Lester isn’t concerned about the rust accumulating during the two-plus weeks since the Cubs clinched the National League Central title, or the four days off after Sunday’s regular-season finale in Cincinnati.
“The big thing with this team is we’re just consistent,” Lester said. “We show up every day ready to play. I think that’s huge, especially with the young group that we have. That’s hard to do. That’s a hard thing to learn at a young age.
“It’s hard to show up every day ready to go – and these guys do it. They have short memories, which I think makes us really good. And we have guys that want to win.
“But really when it comes down to it, this season isn’t anything unless we do what we showed up to spring training to do – win a World Series.”
That’s why the Cubs handed Lester a six-year, $155 million contract, and the big-game lefty with two World Series rings from his time with the Boston Red Sox has so far lived up to those ace expectations in the second season of that megadeal, going 19-5 with a 2.44 ERA.
Whether or not an ugly last start dents Lester’s Cy Young chances – the Reds scratched him for five runs in five innings and stole three bases off him and personal catcher David Ross, highlighting what could be a running-wild issue in October – he still reached the number that he believes defines the true value of a starting pitcher.
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Lester surpassed 200 innings for the eighth time in his career, feeling strong enough to start Game 1 on Oct. 7 and help carry the Cubs through what they expect will be three playoff series.
“This is the real season now,” Lester said. “You play 162 to get to now. Yeah, it will be completely different when you step on that field come Friday with that crowd. Whoever we’re playing, I’m sure it will be electric.
“That’s when it becomes a lot of fun – every pitch is do or die.”
The Cubs are the NL’s most talented team, with enough hooks to capture casual fans and maybe help grow a stagnant sport. The Ricketts family and Theo Epstein’s crew have The Plan to be good for a long time. But this team will be judged in October.
“The hundred-and-whatever wins are great,” Lester said. “All the personal stuff is great. This is go time now. Now we got to really kind of live up to the expectations and the hype.”