So I roll into the office this morning, right on time as usual (give or take 15 minutes), only to be welcomed by this comment by one of my charming co-workers:
"What's the matter with your guy Lester?"
Now, as you probably assumed given our usual baseball-centric topics around here, we're not talking about Stick-'Em-encased former Raiders cornerback Lester Hayes, Celtics short-timer Lester Hudson, or this dummy.
"My guy," as you probably know if you're familiar with this neighborhood, is Jon Lester, the Red Sox' remarkable lefthander and my pick to win the American League Cy Young Award this season. (In part because reigning Cy winner Zack Greinke is clearly doomed to go 7-9 with a 1.86 ERA for the pathetic Royals, but still.).
The genesis of the snarky greeting -- which was good-natured if not entirely tongue-in-cheek -- comes from Lester's two less-than-stellar starts in the new season.
Last Tuesday against the Yankees, he labored through five innings, allowing four runs on five hits and three walks while ending up with a no-decision in Boston's 6-4 loss.
Yesterday, in his second start, it was more of the same: His command wasn't sharp and he struggled to spot his fastball, allowing nine hits and four runs in five innings as the Twins christened sparkling Target Field with a 5-2 victory.
It was hardly the version of Jon Lester we'd hoped to see to begin the season; losing to the likes of Yankees great Carl Pavano is always frustrating. But the middling results of the 26-year-old potential ace-among-aces might be worrisome if it weren't so predictable. Lester is always like this in April.
In fact, the juxtaposition of his typical performance in the season's first month compared to how he typically performs during the remaining months of the season is stunning.
In 14 starts during his career in March/April, Lester is 2-5 with a 5.08 ERA and a 1.59 WHIP in 79.2 innings; basically, he's Nate Robertson.
He's not spectacular in May either -- a 5-4 record and a 4.40 ERA in 12 starts -- but he's as good as it gets through the summer. In 31 career starts in June and July, he's 18-3 with a 2.82 ERA and 173 strikeouts in 201.1 innings. Overall, Lester 42-17 -- a .712 winning percentage -- but he's even better from June through October:
How does 35-8 sound?
The best is yet to come this season. And it will. No pitcher will benefit from the upgraded defense more -- Adrian Beltre will be his new best pal -- and Lester is entirely capable of duplicating his torrid run from June 1 forward last year, when he went 12-3 with a 2.31 ERA and 163 strikeouts in 144 innings.
Also, I refuse to believe it is coincidence that his most similar pitcher through age 25 is none other than Johan Santana. Lester, whom the Red Sox refused to part with in a deal for the two-time Cy Young-winning Santana after the 2007 season, is now the superior pitcher. What's that they say about the best deals?
I'm keeping the faith, and it will be rewarded. My guy Jon Lester will be the best pitcher in the American League this season -- whether he overcomes his traditional hiccups during the season's early weeks sooner than usual or not. Just you wait and see.
About Touching All The Bases
Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.