Jon Lester has five All-Star selections, three World Series rings and one of the most productive careers among active pitchers.
What he doesn’t have eight starts into a very short, challenging season is much confidence left at a time the Cubs could use it most from the big left-hander.
Actually, what the Cubs need most from him is more innings and fewer runs — and a lot fewer feet on the fly balls that are getting slammed off his trademark cutter.
“You guys have seen the line scores. There’s not much confidence behind that right there,” said Lester, who couldn’t get past the first out of the fourth inning in Sunday’s 7-3 loss to the Cardinals — the Cubs’ third straight loss to their fast-closing rivals, who moved to just 1 1/2 games behind the first-place Cubs.
“I try to take positives out of every five days, but there’s not many,” said Lester, who has a 9.26 ERA over his last five starts, allowing eight homers in that span — after opening the season at 1.06 with one allowed in his first three.
“It’s very frustrating,” he said. “And when the frustration comes in, obviously there’s not a lot of confidence. So I’ll continue to work.”
Lester, 36, already was coming off his worst season as a Cub as he entered the final year of a six-year contract, with questions to answer and acknowledging something to prove to himself.
“He just doesn’t look like himself out there right now, the guy that I’ve known for a long time,” said manager David Ross, Lester’s former personal catcher — who needs his friend more than ever to at least rediscover enough effectiveness to become a reliable third starter, if not the playoff-caliber starter he has been throughout a 15-year career.
The Cubs are just 10-15 since a 13-3 start, with the group performance of the starting rotation representing the most dramatic difference within those two stretches.
Right now the Cubs’ rotation consists of a Cy Young candidate on a career-best roll in Yu Darvish, an effective second in Kyle Hendricks, two starters on the injured list and nothing but questions after that.
Lester not only represents the biggest question within the group, but the best hope for the Cubs of finding an answer.
“I pride myself on work and pitching innings and keeping my team in the ballgame, and that obviously, frankly, is not the story right now,” said Lester, who has typically bounced back quickly from rough, shorter stretches like this.
But asked what gives him confidence he’ll do that this time, the answer eluded him.
“Obviously, with the short season, everything’s magnified even more,” he said. “I don’t know where the confidence will come from.”