TORONTO -- So, before you succumb to the temptation to pick up the phone and agree with your favorite radio talk-show host ranting about what’s wrong with Jon Lester, a four-time loser before the end of April, make yourself look smart with a little homework.
Actually, we’re only too happy to help.
Last April, through his first half-dozen starts, Lester was 4-0.
This April, through six starts, his record is 2-4.
Last April, through six starts, Lester had a 3.11 ERA, pitching 37 2/3 innings, allowing 13 earned runs while striking out 33 and walking 12.
This April, through six starts, Lester has a 3.10 ERA, pitching 40 2/3 innings, allowing 14 earned runs while striking out 43 and walking eight.
So, what’s the big difference, you ask? Well, besides the fact that his BABIP is almost 100 percentage points higher this season, which suggests a drop in good fortune, there’s a more obvious answer:
Runs scored by the Sox in Lester’s first six starts in 2013: 42
Runs scored by the Sox in Lester’s first six starts in 2014: 13.
Maybe Lester is not quite the bum some people would have you believe.
Neither is Lester the first victim of lousy run support (See John Lackey, 2013).
But maybe you can understand why the Red Sox left-hander allowed his frustration to show when he rearranged a few things in the visitors’ dugout after leaving Sunday’s 7-1 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays, having just given up a couple of runs in the seventh inning to break up a close game.
“They took probably four or five good swings against him today in 120 pitches thrown,’’ Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “If he's going to execute all 120 exactly where he intends to go, you’re probably looking at a complete shutdown. Jon Lester has thrown the ball very well.’’
Lester was down, 2-1, in a duel with Jays knuckleballer R.A. Dickey when Edwin Encarnacion fought back from an 0-and-2 count, Lester leaving a cutter over the plate that Encarnacion launched over Will Middlebrooks’ head for a double. Brett Lawrie, who had homered in the second to tie the score at 1, followed with another double to left to score Encarnacion. Then Lawrie moved to third on a fly ball and scored on Moises Sierra’s chopper to the left of the mound.
“I had no play, even if I had fielded it cleanly,’’ Lester said of the chopper. “I couldn’t square my shoulders.’’
A yield of four runs wasn’t going to cut it Sunday. The Jays had scored their second run in the third when Melky Cabrera reached out and cue-balled an outside fastball down the right-field line for an RBI double.
The Sox, who had beaten Dickey twice last season, scoring 12 runs in 12 2/3 innings, were rendered helpless by his knuckler Sunday, stringing together three two-out singles in the second for their only run, the last hit a bloop by Jackie Bradley Jr.
Bradley had a chance in the seventh to put the Sox in the lead when he came to the plate after Xander Bogaerts’ double off Dickey put runners on second and third with one out. But reliever Steve Delabar induced Bradley to pop out and got David Ross on a fly out to center.
This being his eighth season, Lester isn’t about to point fingers at his offense.
“I can’t control it,’’ he said of the absence of run support. “I don’t get to hit. If I did, it would probably be worse. I know these guys are busting their butts. Dickey really threw the ball well today, and sometimes you have to tip your hat to the other side.
“I felt like we had chances. Like I said, I let it get out of hand in the seventh. I felt I threw the ball better than the four runs up there. I gave up two hits down the line on pretty good pitches. I can deal with mistakes. I just hate making good pitches that get rewarded with hits.’’
And while he flared briefly in the dugout Sunday, Lester said he still can see the bigger picture for what it is. He has gone at least 6 2/3 innings in five of his six starts. He has kept the Sox close in every start but one.
“I think you always have to stay positive, always have to look at the positive,’’ he said. “Any time you sit there and beat your head against the wall on some negative things -- I can’t control wins, I can’t control losses, I can only control what I do those five days and the preparation I have in between pitches.
“That’s all I can control. I’m going to keep chucking the ball and see what happens.’’