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Cubs offense, Jon Lester mirror each other's inconsistency

CHICAGO -- There are similarities between Chicago Cubs starter Jon Lester and his team's offense as it's currently going. There have been moments of excellence in the first half of the season, which have ultimately been overshadowed by poor performances.

Consider: As bad as the Cubs offense feels, they've scored five or more runs in five of 11 games this month. That's not bad in this era of dominant pitching. But in the other six games they've scored a total of seven runs. Half good, half bad.

That's also one way to describe Lester's first half. He's had his good moments, but after losing 5-1 to the White Sox on Saturday his record is 4-8, which includes six straight decisions ending with a loss. But between those decisions, the Cubs also won three games he started -- 2-0, 4-1 and 2-1.

"There's some good in there, there's been some bad," Lester said after Saturday's game. "There's a little bit of everything. I'll be the first one to tell you guys I haven't thrown the ball the best that I've been able to in the past. Some spurts here and there."

It's a great way to describe his latest start. Lester said he made few mistakes -- two of them came on the first two hitters of the game. But over the next five innings we saw "good Lester." The Sox could do nothing against him.

"I went back and looked at it," Lester said. "I made three mistakes. Somehow I make three mistakes and give up five runs. With no walks, so it's a tough one."

A Kris Bryant error at third base helped the final three runs cross the plate in the seventh inning, bringing Lester's first half of the season to a close.

"I think I've thrown the ball better than how things have transpired over the past five starts," he said. "At the end of the day it doesn't matter, it's still a loss."

We can focus on his 3.59 ERA and $155 million contract and we can say he has to do better -- in fact he does -- but no matter what a pitcher is or isn't doing on the mound, when a team hasn't scored a run in nearly four starts while he's been in the game, how can you focus on anything else?

"There is an overall team frustration," Lester said. "We all accept blames at different times. I don't like to single out anybody or a side of the (game)."

That brings us to the offense, which can look woefully bad at times. Going against White Sox starter Chris Sale is probably the wrong time to judge an offense, but the Cubs have looked weak against many pitchers over the past couple of months. June saw the same kind of up-and-down results we're seeing now.

"We've seen young hitters that have seen good pitching," Maddon said. "We are a swing-and-miss team. That's part of our DNA right now.

"They've gotten the better of us but I'm not discouraged in the least."

Maybe the Cubs should feel good about themselves as they struck out "only" 10 times against Sale on Saturday. He's done worse to better attacks. But what can the Cubs do except try again on Sunday and then take a respite during the All-Star break? Their magician friend from Las Vegas can do a lot of tricks but finding clutch hits isn't one of them. Some want Maddon to make changes to the lineup, but he prefers a more simple approach.

"You like to put people in motion like we did yesterday (Friday)," he stated. "It didn't work."

A strike ‘em out, throw ‘em out sequence killed Maddon's attempt to jump start the offense on Friday. On Saturday, though, Sale took matters into his own hands. While many around town might be panicking about the streaky nature of the team right now, don't count the manager as one of them.

"I don't get caught up in that bandwagon jumping up and down stuff," Maddon said. "It's a long season. We're playing wonderfully. I anticipate that to continue."

Like Lester's good moments in the first half, there are times when you have to remember the Cubs are above .500 and holding onto a wild-card spot. No, they haven't extended past nine games above .500 -- thank a ninth-inning loss to the Cardinals for that -- but they've never slumped for long. That includes Lester and the team.

"Really good May, a terrible June, but I think I've been OK since then," he said.

Maddon added: "We played the Cardinals really good this week. Yesterday (Friday) was a fantastic game. Today was a good game for many innings, then we had a mistake.

"I'm not worried about that (offense) at all. You're facing good pitching."

When the consistency kicks in for the Cubs' high-priced free agent acquisition as well as their young offense, maybe that's when things really take off. Until then, hold on for a bumpy ride.

"I'm not worried," Maddon reiterated.

He might be the only one.