Jon Lester showed yesterday that he is the best pitcher right now on Boston's staff and might be the best left-handed starter in the majors. His complete-game, 6-2 win over the Twins was a dominant performance. A performance that reflects the fact that, with 101 starts, Lester has a better win percentage (.719) that any pitcher ever with 100 or more starts. And he's only 26 years old.
Lester's outing was phenomenal. He allowed just one run on six hits (the second came from a Pedroia error in the ninth). He struck out nine batters and walked none. Those nine strikeouts gave him 63 on the year, third best in the AL. He threw first-pitch strikes to a ridiculous 28 batters out of 32 total (87.5%). All together, 73.7% of his pitches were thrown for strikes. And his groundball/flyball ratio was 2/1 (12 and 6), which helped lead to Boston turning two double plays.
But most important was that Lester, along with Buchholz, basically gave the bullpen two nights off. In two nights, the bullpen only had one guy come out for one inning of work. That is a big deal as the Sox now hit the road again for games in Philly and Tampa.
Lester was helped by the hitting of Kevin Youkilis. He went 2-4, including a three-run blast to deep center that broke the game open (4-0) in the third inning. Youk is quietly assembling a top-notch season once again. He is first in the AL in walks (33) and runs scored (34), second in OBP (.459) and OPS (1.053), and sixth in slugging (.593). He is pretty much the hardest "out" in the AL right now along with Justin Morneau.
Really, the only thing that was bad for the Sox last night was David Ortiz blasting everything around him. I think he has some valid points to make. Two games into the season, two games, people were saying he was done and needed to be benched/traded/fired. And that is nuts. But at the same time, he complained about getting pinch-hit for later in the season. Well, if you're hitting .143 for the month of April, you're going to get hit for now and again. And that will stop once you have proven you are swinging the bat. Papi has proven that and I don't think Tito will be pinch-hitting for Papi any time soon. But after that, I would be very surprised if Papi is in a Boston uniform come 2011.
Tito has a tough job right now, placating a lot of veterans who are on their way out. Some are keeping quiet (Varitek), some are making suggestions about mutually beneficial decisions (Lowell) and some are holding court (Papi). This isn't the happy-go-lucky locker room of 2004. There is more dissension than there has been for a while. That it is still as muted as it is says a lot about Tito's abilities not only as a manager on the field, but behind-the-scenes as well.
The Sox hit the road for six games, starting tonight in Philly. John Lackey faces Cole Hamels. Both guys are under-performing right now relative to their overall talent. Hopefully, Lackey gets back on track against a NL team tonight.