Saturday, June 13, 2009

Lester thriving against game's best lineups

Loyal readers may recall the way this blog carried the banner for the "Jon Lester will come around" campaign based on his strikeout numbers and the way the ground balls he was inducing always seemed to find a hole.

Why should we stop now?

Lester struck out 11 Phillies in seven two-hit innings on Friday, failing to earn his sixth win only because Ramon Ramirez surrendered a game-tying home run to Ryan Howard in the ninth inning. (It was the third home run allowed since Wednesday by Ramirez, who had allowed only one home run all season before that.)

Even better, it was yet another dominating outing against a quality lineup.

Here's the thing about what Lester has done this season: He's not just beating up on bad lineups. In fact, he's had to face some of the toughest lineups in baseball. Here's a look at the lineups he's had to face through his first 13 starts, ranked by OPS:

1. Yankees (2): 3.46 ERA, 17 K, 5 BB
2. Rays (2): 12.54 ERA, 11 K, 3 BB
4. Phillies: 1.29 ERA, 11 K, 2 BB
5. Rangers: 1.00 ERA, 11 K, 2 BB
6. Blue Jays (2): 1.46 ERA, 16 K, 5 BB
7. Twins: 7.50 ERA, 4 K, 3 BB

Nine of his 13 starts have come against teams with an OPS of .775 or better. The only team with an OPS that high that he hasn't faced, of course, is his own team. (The Red Sox rank No. 3 in the major leagues in OPS, slotted right between the Rays and Phillies.)

In the sensational run he's now on -- he has a 1.23 ERA and 34 strikeouts in his last 22 innings pitched -- he's shut down the Blue Jays, the Rangers, and the Phillies. Imagine what he'll do when he gets to face some lineups that aren't nearly as good:

June 18: Florida (ranked 24th in OPS)
June 24: Washington (12th)
June 29: Baltimore (15th)

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