Chicago Cubs: Pitching has stepped up in Jon Lester’s absence

Chicago Cubs (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Chicago Cubs (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

The Chicago Cubs feared their pitching would take a hit when Jon Lester was injured, but they have all stepped up in his absence.

Chicago Cubs pitcher Jon Lester was injured sliding into home plate in the home-opener last week against the Pirates. He pitched just two innings, but the bullpen did a terrific job pitching seven shutout innings. Since then, that has generally been the theme among Cubs pitchers.

Jon Lester has arguably been the Cubs most consistent starter since his was signed in the 2014 offseason. Potentially the best free agent this franchise has ever signed, Lester entered the 2019 season with a 3.32 ERA in a Cubs uniform. He’s been everything the Cubs could have asked from him. So when he walked gingerly back to the dugout last week, fans feared the worst, given the team’s already poor start to the season.

Prior to his injury, Cubs pitching had a combined 6.09 ERA, which was good for second worst in the majors only ahead of the White Sox (via Fangraphs). However, since his injury, the Cubs are the best in baseball with a combined 1.71 ERA with an opponents batting average of just 0.198.

Guys like Yu Darvish and Jose Quintana, who had rough starts to the 2019 season to say the least, have been a big factor in the improved ERA. Darvish carried an 8.10 ERA in 6.2 innings and Quintana had a 10.29 ERA in seven innings of work prior to Lester’s injury. Since then, Quintana has tossed 14 consecutive scoreless innings and Darvish has been mostly solid with a 4.91 ERA in 11 innings.

Cole Hamels also got off to a rough start but has been electric in his last couple starts. He had a 5.73 ERA prior and 1.29 ERA since, allowing on OBA of just 0.176. Kyle Hendricks has been the one wild card of this rotation, producing just marginally better results since Lester’s injury (6.48 ERA prior, 6.00 ERA after). He is historically a slow starter with a career 4.21 ERA in the month of April, but gets better as the season goes on. Hopefully he can right the ship soon.

The bullpen has been getting in on the action as well. I previously mentioned that they had seven shutout innings after Lester was pulled in the home-opener, so there was an immediate improvement there. The Cubs bullpen prior to that day has been dreadful at best posting a 6.92 ERA while blowing a couple games in the process. Since his injury, the bullpen has posted a ridiculous 1.08 ERA, the best in baseball (via Fangraphs).

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It’s really quite remarkable how well this pitching staff and bullpen have stepped up in Jon Lester’s absence. The team could have easily gone in the other direction, especially considering they had a record of just 3-7 at the time. Kyle Hendricks will get a chance to improve his ERA today against the Diamondbacks.