Boston Red Sox Need Jon Lester to Regain Ace Status

By Jonathan Cullen
Jon Lester
Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Is this as good as he gets?

Jon Lester’s odd season for the Boston Red Sox continues after being the winning pitcher Thursday night with another shaky performance. It has been like that for Lester in his first season under new manager John Farrell.

At the start of this season, it had looked like Farrell and new pitching coach Juan Nieves had been able to get Lester back in his groove, letting the lefty get off to a 6-0 start this season. It was the type of performance that made me think that the Red Sox should get to the All Star break and maybe bring up the thought of extending Lester.

Since that 6-0 start, Lester had been decidedly mediocre. At a time when the Red Sox need him to be the staff ace, he has been just another guy. With the injuries to Clay Buchholz and Joel Hanrahan, Boston has really needed Lester to become the ace of the staff.

Instead, Lester has settled back into being an inconsistent No. 3 starter, not at all what the Red Sox need. In looking at Lester’s 2013 numbers, the 7-4 record hides the 4.57 ERA and the 1.365 WHIP going into his most recent start against the Toronto Blue Jays.

The scary part about Lester’s 2013 numbers is that they are almost a direct copy of 2012, the worst season of Lester’s career. Is it time to worry that this is a good as it gets with Lester?

For a pitcher with a 92-52 career record, it is hard to look at him anymore as a potential ace of a pitching staff. That ace label seems to sit with the ever brittle Buchholz. It is also easy to understand that the Red Sox may have had some of the same concerns this offseason when Lester’s name was first mentioned in trade rumors.

For whatever reason, Lester hasn’t been the same pitcher as he was through the 2011 season and he may never be that pitcher again. Will the Red Sox seriously consider declining Lester’s 2014 contract option for $13 million?

It sounds silly on the surface, but if the Red Sox have to do the unthinkable this summer and trade for an elite starter like Cliff Lee, they might decide having Lester make $13 million as a number three starter is not the best investment moving forward, especially with all of the young starting pitching coming through the system.

The 29-year-old Lester should be in the prime of his career right now and yet he looks like he might be showing signs of serious decline. For an ace pitcher, Lester has pitched seven innings or more in only six of his 16 starts this season.

It is simply not good enough.  The Red Sox look like they will be in a dogfight in the American League East for the entire season. For the Red Sox to make the playoffs, Lester will have to go from the pitcher saying all of the right things, while producing mediocre results, to becoming the reliable ace of the staff again.

The question is simply whether Lester can be that pitcher again, so far the results have been mixed.

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