EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 29, 2013

Lester makes case for MVP

On Pro Baseball
Christopher Smith

---- — Red Sox fans have longed to hear it .... Jon Lester is king of the hill again.

David Ortiz has been a monster this World Series and the favorite to win the MVP, batting .733. But my pick for Most Valuable Player of the 2013 Fall Classic thus far is ace Jon Lester.

Lester pitched brilliantly last night, leading the Red Sox, 3-1, over the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 5 of the World Series at St. Louis’ Busch Stadium.

The once forgotten lefty was as good as he has ever been. His cutter was cutting, his fastball had life, he wore a bulldog face and he saved the Red Sox’ taxed bullpen with 7.2 dominant innings.

Lester allowed just one run on four hits and no walks while striking out seven Cardinals batters to earn the victory.

The Red Sox grabbed a 3-2 series lead and head to Boston for Games 6 and 7 just one victory away from a World Series title.

In his two World Series starts this fall, Lester has allowed just one run in 15.1 innings and won both games.

Who would have ever thought he was capable of this brilliance back in 2012 when Lester — with a pouty and depressed face — posted a career-worst ERA (4.82)?

Who would have thought he was capable of this dominance this June when he posted a 7.62 ERA in five starts and the opposition batted a robust .328 with a .409 on-base percentage, .603 slugging percentage and 1.013 OPS against him?

Maybe the best thing ever for Lester’s career was the trade of Josh Beckett, who seemed to have a bad influence not only on Lester but also a few other Red Sox starters as well.

Without Beckett here this year, Lester — except for his poor June — has returned to his old form and become the leader of the starting staff. He never took that role before, always appearing as more of a follower.

“It’s a good group,” Red Sox reliever Andrew Miller said about the starters. “Things have kind of changed. He (Lester) certainly sets a heck of an example. Does everything the right way. He works hard. It’s not luck or just talent that gets him this far, so he certainly sets the tone. And I think they all kind of feed off each other.

“He’s been awesome,” Miller added about Lester. “He’s been awesome on every level you can come up with.”

Lester is 4-1 with a 1.56 ERA and 0.95 WHIP in five starts this postseason.

He has a 2.11 ERA in 13 postseason appearances, including 11 starts. He also is 3-0 with a 0.43 ERA in three career World Series starts (21.0 innings).

Lester has put himself in an elite class with some of the best big-game pitchers over the past decade and a half.

The lefty is right up there with Curt Schilling who had a 2.23 ERA in 19 career postseason outings (all starts). He is right up there with Cliff Lee who has a 2.52 ERA in 11 postseason outings (all starts).

He has been even better than Pedro Martinez, who posted a 3.40 playoff ERA with the Red Sox in 13 outings (11 starts). Lester also is tied with Martinez for the most postseason starts in club history (11).

Lester also has better overall playoff numbers than Josh Beckett (3.07 ERA in 14 outings, 13 starts). And this postseason, the Red Sox southpaw nearly has matched Beckett’s historic 2007 postseason (4-0, 1.20 ERA, 0.70 WHIP in four starts).

There were debates on Boston’s local sports radio stations this summer when Lester was struggling, whether the Red Sox would pick up his $13 million team option for next season.

Not only will the Red Sox pick that up, but Lester (taking into account his career postseason numbers and his six straight seasons of 31 or more starts) is making a strong case for a huge contract as he approaches free agency following the 2014 season.

“Shoot, how many times has he thrown 200 innings,” Miller said. “He’s a workhorse. He’s a guy that goes out there and pitches deep in every game and gives you a chance to win every game. It’s not always going to be your day, but he really just gives us a chance to win every night.”

Meanwhile, Ortiz has written himself in the history books in a big way this World Series, too. With his 3-for-4 performance yesterday, Ortiz joined Babe Ruth, Johnny Lindell and Barry Bonds as only the fourth hitter to reach base at least three times in four straight games in a World Series.

Ortiz’s .733 batting average this World Series is the second best average in a single Fall Classic behind only Billy Hatcher’s .750 mark in 1990.

Follow Christopher Smith on Twitter @SmittyOnMLB