ST. LOUIS -- In 1938, Cubs right-hander Bill Lee led the Major Leagues with a 2.66 ERA, and teammate Charlie Root was second at 2.86. On Wednesday afternoon, Jon Lester threw eight scoreless innings in the Cubs' 7-0 win over the Cardinals at Busch Stadium to move up to second in the Majors behind teammate Kyle Hendricks, and the Cubs could have another pair of elite pitchers finish on top of the leaderboard.
Lester now has a 2.40 ERA -- Hendricks is first at 2.03 -- and the lefty joined another teammate, Jake Arrieta, on top of the National League ranks with 17 wins. Why do the Cubs have the best record in the Major Leagues? Just look at the rotation.
When Joe Maddon was with the Rays, he had to deal with Lester in the American League East. The Cubs' manager is very happy to have the left-hander on his side now.
"When I saw him with the Red Sox really well, I might have seen 95, 96 [mph] sometimes," Maddon said. "That's the only difference, is maybe the velocity hasn't topped out. He was throwing 94 [mph] today.
"I also believe what I'm seeing now is much better command of everything that he's doing. He was always a command kind of guy. I think he's got a better understanding of what he's got and how to work with it now. I believe he can throw a strike whenever he wants to, and when he throws outside of the zone, it's because he wants to throw outside of the zone."
Lester walked one and struck out eight, giving up three hits, all of which were singles. The Cardinals never had a runner in scoring position. In his past nine games, all quality starts, Lester is 7-0 with a 1.02 ERA, striking out 61 over 61 2/3 innings.
And that's not all. Lester added an RBI single in the third and made a nifty defensive play to get Kolten Wong out and end the eighth.
"You see my at-bats -- I just try to have good at-bats," said Lester, who now has hit safely in three of his past four games against the Cardinals. "[Carlos Martínez] elevated a changeup to me that I was able to hit far enough where we could get a run in. Obviously, I'm the last person you expect to drive in a run. We'll take it."
The Cardinals were stymied.
"He was on," St. Louis' Brandon Moss said. "He had the sinker and the cutter working, he was throwing to both sides of the plate. If you can imagine being in a rocking chair doing this back and forth every at-bat trying to pick a side and pick a direction -- when he's on like that, that's why he is one of the best."
Lester is two wins shy of matching his career high of 19, set in 2010 with the Red Sox.
"This is the guy I'm used to seeing," catcher David Ross said. "This is the guy who can really pitch and knows what he wants to do."
Arrieta won the NL Cy Young Award last year. Who wins it this year between Hendricks and Lester? Ross didn't bite.
"I like all our guys," Ross said. "I think both of those guys have been doing a phenomenal job. I think it'd be pretty cool to have two guys back-to-back years win a Cy Young from the same staff."