With the Cubs already facing plenty of questions with their starting rotation, the last thing they needed was a rough outing from Jon Lester.
Yet that's exactly what happened Thursday.
Lester lasted just four innings, allowing four runs on four hits and four walks as the Cubs dropped the series finale 4-0 to the Los Angeles Dodgers in front of the largest crowd of the season at Wrigley Field (41,498).
Lester got out to a rough start after the second batter of the game - Jimmy Rollins - reached on a bunt base hit. Lester then walked the next two hitters before Howie Kendrick lined a double inside the right-field line.
"Jon didn't have his best day," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "It really came down to fastball command. He just didn't have that going on. And of course, if you don't have that, nothing else plays well off it.
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"That's what I saw. The fastball just wasn't going where he wanted it to go."
"Physically, I felt fine," he said. "Obviously, didn't have great location today. It's hard to pitch when you're Ball 1, Ball 2 all day."
Lester gave up two more runs in a second inning that was marred by home plate umpire Andy Fletcher marching out to the mound and apparently barking at Lester after the southpaw walked a Dodgers hitter.
Catcher David Ross intercepted Fletcher and Maddon eventually came out too and order was restored before too long.
"I didn't know what was going on," Lester said. "I had my back to the whole thing. When I yelled, I guess he thought it was directed at him. I had my head down, wasn't looking at him, wasn't looking at anybody.
"... Obviously I had been struggling with command. I know the strike zone's not gonna be great when you're struggling with command. You kinda almost surprise the umpire when you throw a strike."
Lester settled in after the second, retiring the last six hitters he faced. Still, manager Joe Maddon opted to lift the Cubs ace for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the fourth.
"Everything this year has been an adjustment period," Lester said. "It's a different game over here. There's been times in my career where I've given up four in the first and gotten into the eighth.
"That just doesn't happen here [in the National League]. It's a different game when you don't have the DH."
Lester has now allowed 17 earned runs in five June starts, good for a 5.74 ERA. It looked like he had turned a corner in May (1.76 ERA) after a tough April (6.23 ERA) and the $155-million man had surrendered just two runs in 13.1 innings his last two starts before Thursday, including just one run in 6.1 innings over the weekend in Minnesota.
"I thought he threw really well his last outing," catcher David Ross said. "He pitched great. He hasn't been as consistent as he wanted to be. I think he just had a bad day."
Lester admitted frustration in his inconsistency and said he may be trying to nibble too much in an attempt to make the perfect pitch instead of just attacking the zone and going after hitters.
Following Thursday's start, Lester's season ERA sits at 4.03 to go with a 1.37 WHIP.
"It just comes down to the things I keep preaching and harping on: Fastball location and executing pitching," Lester said. "That's what it comes down to and I'm not doing it consistently enough right now to help this team."
The Cubs have a lot of problems with the back end of their rotation and will need more from Lester if they want to keep the good times rolling late into the season.
Tsuyoshi Wada is working through cramps in his throwing shoulder and the team still doesn't know if he can make his scheduled start Saturday. Meanwhile, Kyle Hendricks has allowed 10 runs in 10 innings his last two starts and carries a 5.88 ERA in June.
The Cubs failed to capitalize on a hot start in the statement series against the Dodgers after they beat Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke on back-to-back nights. Now they head into St. Louis for a three-game series with the Cardinals on a down note.
"Going into [the series], 2-2 sounds nice," Maddon said. "But once you get to that point early, you definitely at least want to win the series.
"So there's both contentment and disappointment involved in that series."