Boston Red Sox: Why Jon Lester Holds the Red Sox' Playoff Hopes in His Hands

Sean Delorge@@sdelorgeCorrespondent IIIJune 5, 2012

Jon Lester needs to return to All-Star form.
Jon Lester needs to return to All-Star form.Jim Rogash/Getty Images

The Boston Red Sox lack a true ace right now, and Jon Lester needs to finally take the next step and become the leader of the pitching staff.

If the Red Sox want to win the AL East or even make the playoffs, Lester needs to be a true No. 1 and put the team on his back for the rest of the season.

The offense continues to be one of the best in the league despite being riddled with injuries, but the starting pitching has been the primary reason why the team has struggled in the first third of the season.

Overall, the pitching staff has a 4.53 ERA, the second worst in the AL, and the starting rotation is the biggest problem with a 5.06 ERA.

While Josh Beckett seems to be on the right track, he could fall off the rails at any moment. Felix Doubront seems like he is ready for the big leagues, but he is on an innings limit and is bound to go through a rough patch at some point during the season.

Aside from Beckett and Doubront, Clay Buchholz and Daniel Bard have been awful, and Lester has been unreliable.

The starters are the reason why the Red Sox struggled to eclipse the .500 mark. If they are going to continue to win, they need to at least be average


With question marks throughout the rotation, Lester needs to pitch like an ace

Lester has been part of the problem and needs to pitch like the ace that he is capable of being.

Since 2008, Lester has been a really good pitcher for the Red Sox and at times has been great. However, he has been inconsistent and doesn’t rack up enough innings.

This year with the pitching staff struggling, Lester has needed to step up and has failed to do so.

He has allowed four or more runs in five of his first 11 starts and is averaging just over six innings per start. His ERA is the highest it has been since he entered the majors and his 1.37 WHIP is the highest it has been since his second season.

Lester has the stuff and the build needed to be a true ace. He throws a mid-90’s fastball, a very good cutter that works against lefties and righties, an above-average curveball and a changeup that he mixes in at times.

Stuff has never been the concern, but consistency has.

It is difficult to determine why he is struggling, but he has yet to click with either Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Kelly Shoppach.

The only possibility is that ever since pitching coach John Farrell left, his strikeout numbers and innings per start have gone down. Farrell was also responsible for turning Clay Buchholz into an All-Star and like Lester, Buchholz has struggled without Farrell.


Even though Lester has struggled to start 2012, he needs to finish strong

Excuses aside, the Red Sox need Lester to consistently be a dominant pitcher. They need him to go deep into games and provide relief to the bullpen, and they need him to be the leader of the pitching staff.

At 28 years old, Lester is a veteran. Aside from Josh Beckett, he is the oldest starting pitcher on the roster right now. With all that surrounds Beckett, Lester needs to not only lead by example and excel on the mound, he also needs to take the younger pitchers under his wing and mentor them.

The entire pitching staff seems to all be doing the same thing; they nibble at the corners, resulting in high pitch counts early in their starts. Lester is one of the biggest culprits. If the staff is going to change this habit, he needs to lead the way.

Lester has the stuff needed to attack the strike zone. He doesn’t need to shy away from throwing strikes. While it is still necessary to throw a curveball in the dirt or throw a high fastball to keep hitters honest every once in a while, he should be pounding the strike zone with every batter he faces.

With Clay Buchholz and Daniel Bard struggling, and Felix Doubront on an innings limit, Lester needs to not only pitch better, he needs to be going seven or more innings regularly.

Though Lester is a much better pitcher than Doubront, Lester has only five quality starts while Doubront already has seven and is leading the staff with a 3.75 ERA.

While this is a good sign for Doubront, Lester needs to be the best pitcher on this staff.

If the Red Sox are going to have any chance at making the playoffs, Lester needs to pitch like an ace.