A lot has happened since May 15.
The Bruins defeated both the Rangers and Penguins en route to a Stanley Cup berth, the Patriots signed Tim Tebow and the Celtics reportedly could face life without Doc Rivers. The Red Sox, meanwhile, have continued rolling for the most part, although something that hasn’t happened since that date should have them a bit concerned.
May 15 marks the last time that Jon Lester won a game. The left-hander has gone 0-4 with a 7.20 ERA in six starts since that date, with the latest defeat coming against the Orioles on Sunday. Lester surrendered five earned runs on nine hits while throwing 106 pitches (75 strikes) over five innings in the losing effort, and the loss dropped Boston’s record against Baltimore this season to 2-5.
Lester’s struggles are difficult to explain, mostly because of how sensational he pitched early on this season. The lefty went 6-0 with a 2.72 ERA in his first nine starts of 2013, and it looked as if both him and Clay Buchholz would never lose again. Lester not only fell in his 10th start of the year; he hasn’t gotten back up.
Lester recorded 50 strikeouts and 15 walks in his first nine stats for a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 3.33 — well above his career mark and in line to give him his best figure since 2009, when he posted a 3.52 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Over his last six starts, Lester has 30 strikeouts to 18 walks, which equates to a 1.67 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
That 1.67 figure comes despite Lester striking out eight without yielding a walk on Sunday. In fact, Lester’s command was pretty good against the Orioles. He located all four of his pitches, and he got hitters to swing and miss. He was certainly much better overall than he was in his last start, during which he walked a career-high seven batters while surrendering seven runs in an 8-3 loss to the Rays on Tuesday.
“I got back to being me,” Lester said. “That last start we tried to do some things that we normally don’t and that got me into trouble early on.”
Lester even insisted after Sunday’s loss that his cutter and four-pitch command were as good as they’ve been all season. Unfortunately for the Red Sox, the lefty was victimized by four broken-bat hits, and the Orioles benefited from an aggressive approach at the plate. It really looked as if the O’s anticipated that Lester was going to pound the strike zone.
From that standpoint, you’ve got to tip your cap to the Orioles for a job well done and recognize that Lester showed improvement in many areas. The end result still isn’t what Lester wanted or what the Red Sox needed, though, and that’s something that must change, especially with Buchholz battling a neck issue and the bullpen seeing an increased workload of late.
“Obviously this team counts on me to throw innings and I haven’t done that,” Lester said. “It’s nobody else’s fault but me. I’ve got to do a better job of getting deeper into games, however it is, whatever you have to do to get deeper into the game.”
One particular area plaguing Lester is his ability to keep the ball in the ballpark. He issued a career-high 25 long balls last season, which played a huge role in him stumbling through the worst year of his big league career. Lester seemed to solve the issue early on this season, going his first four starts without surrendering a home run, but he’s now given up homers in each of his last three starts.
Lester was the model of consistency for a four-year stretch before 2012 spiraled out of control. The 29-year-old recognizes that he needs to be that consistent hurler this season for the Red Sox to stay atop the American League East.
“The last month has been a little bit of a grind, and it flat comes down to doing a better job,” Lester said. “No matter what the situation is, what the game is, who we’re playing, I’ve got to get deeper. That’s the bottom line.”
The Red Sox have managed to overcome Lester’s rut thus far. After dropping three of four to the Orioles and watching Lester suffer another defeat, however, it’s clear that things might start changing if the lefty doesn’t turn May 15 into just another day on the calendar.