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Cautiously Pessimistic: What Should Be the Boston Red Sox’s Pragmatic Approach to Jon Lester?

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COMMENTARY | We have all heard of the term "cautiously optimistic." Essentially, it means that we expect good results but realize the opposite may occur.

With Jon Lester, the more pragmatic approach should be to expect horrible results but realize the opposite may occur. An example always helps to clarify the definition; that example would be Jon Lester's performance against the San Diego Padres on July 3.

In the first inning, Jon Lester gave up 1 ER on 3 hits and threw 32 pitches. This was perfectly in line with the cautious pessimism regarding Jon Lester. Afterward, however, Jon Lester looked very good. In summary, he threw 102 pitches over 7 complete innings and held the San Diego Padres to the 1 run. So, the opposite occurred of what one should have expected.

Of course, the Padres helped Lester a bit. They abandoned the strategy of being patient and became aggressive early in counts. Lester threw only 32 pitches in innings 2-4 and 38 pitches in innings 5-7. Of the 20 batters faced after the first inning, only 4 took more than 5 pitches. One might argue that this turnaround was the result of Lester throwing more strikes, but that argument leads nowhere. Overall, 71 of Lester's 102 pitches were for strikes (~ 70 %). In the first inning, 24 of 32 pitches (75%) were strikes. For the remainder of his outing, 47/70 pitches were strikes (~ 59 %). The Padres took some poor swings, simple as that.

Let's not get overly excited about Mr. Lester. The San Diego Padres are not the Baltimore Orioles or Detroit Tigers. As a team, they are hitting .246 and rank amongst the lower third of major league offenses (20th of 30 teams in runs scored at 3.99 per game). More impressive was Edinson Volquez, who, with his 5.50 ERA entering the game, mostly shut down the major league's top offensive team. He pitched 6 innings, gave up only 1 ER and threw 104 pitches.

So what explains two mediocre pitchers having very successful nights, with nearly identical lines? Did both pitchers begin a reversal of their pitching trend on July 3? Or is it that batters' unfamiliarity with the pitchers helps to explain such stellar performances? When considering that only two Padres players (Chris Denorfia and Carlos Quentin) had faced Lester before last Wednesday and were a combined 1-for-14, and that only 3 Red Sox players (Ellsbury, Pedroia and Victorino) had faced Volquez before Wednesday night and were 8-for-20, the newness factor cannot be dismissed in helping both pitchers.

Whose performance on July 3 was worth getting excited, dare I say cautiously optimistic, about? Matt Garza. There are three reasons:

1.) Garza faced a more productive lineup than Lester; one likely to be a playoff team in 2013.

2.) He faced batters that had seen him plenty over their careers.

3.) He is likely to be traded.

Against the Oakland A's, the AL's 6th most prolific offense with 4.64 runs scored per game, Matt Garza threw 114 pitches over 8 innings and gave up 1 ER. This was not an isolated event. In Matt Garza's previous three starts, he gave up a total of 2 runs over 22 innings pitched. The opponents (Milwaukee, Houston, New York Mets) were also not offensive juggernauts, but if we want to get excited about Jon Lester against the San Diego Padres, then equal excitement would have to be given to Garza's numbers.

Oakland batters' familiarity with Matt Garza never helped them. The A's starting lineup was 10-for-49 (.204) prior to July 3. Now they're 14-for-80 (.175).

Lastly, according to Connor Moylan of SB Nation, the Red Sox are one of many teams looking to make the trade for Garza. His days in Chicago are numbered and the one team with a need, and tons to offer, is your very own Boston Red Sox.

Oakland batters against Jon Lester are 9-for-42 (.214), not very different than they were against Garza on July 2. On July 14, will they have the same paltry batting percentage against Lester as they do against Garza? If cautious pessimism still proves to be the proper stance regarding Jon Lester after Saturday's game against the A's, don't be surprised if this most recent West Coast swing is the final one for Jon Lester in a Red Sox uniform.

We'll see.

Patrick Bernier is a freelance writer who has been following the Boston Red Sox for 25 years.

You can follow Patrick on Twitter @PatrickBern7.

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