Jon Lester has shown his value as a major leaguer for most of his career, but the final two months of the 2013 season could change where he fits into the Boston Red Sox's plan for the young lefty.
Lester has been as wishy-washy as any major league starter could be in the 2013 season. He has had some stellar outings and has also had some real clunkers, specifically his 4.1 inning performance against the Arizona Diamondbacks when he gave up six runs on 11 hits and striking out six. It was his second start in his last three outings without issuing a walk.
Since May 15, Lester stands at 4-4 with a 5.74 ERA (not including Thursday's start against the Kansas City Royals). He started the season 6-0 with an ERA under 3.00.
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The 29-year-old has had success in the past, but he has failed to remain consistently good in 2013. He has pitched well for stretches at times, but then he has a start that is an absolute dud with at least five or six runs allowed in five or six innings of work.
Lester has received some confidence with the addition of manager John Farrell, but he continues to go back to his overuse of the cut fastball from time to time.
In his previous two starts before the terrible outing against the Diamondbacks, Lester had two outings against the Tampa Bay Rays and Baltimore Orioles that went really well. He combined for 13.1 innings and only two runs on 11 hits. He struck out 16 and walked two with a 2-0 record.
This may not be his 2012 season when he went 9-14 with a 4.82 ERA, but it is a far cry from his 2010 season when the lefty was in the Cy Young race with a 19-9 record and a solid 3.25. In 2010, he also eclipsed the 200-innings mark for the third straight year and struck out a career-high 225 batters.
Lester has shown some signs of the 2010 pitcher in several starts this season, but he has also shown some of the pitcher that arrived in 2012. He has allowed four or more runs in nine of his 23 starts and two runs or less in nine of those starts as well.
The Red Sox have had multiple contributions to this starting staff, including another veteran in Jake Peavy, who gives the Sox a chance to win on a nightly basis.
However, if Lester continues to struggle, then he might be on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoff rotation. With the likes of Peavy, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz (if healthy) and even Felix Doubront making contributions, Lester needs to shine down the stretch to even have a fighting chance at the final spot in that rotation.
There may be plenty of games left in the season for the Red Sox, but only 20 percent of those will be started by the lefty. Lester needs to pitch with conviction over the next two months in order to regain some of the confidence he had earlier this season and right after the All-Star break.
Otherwise, the Red Sox will look towards another option when it comes to the postseason.
All stats provided by Baseball Reference.