I admit freely that my baseball world is focused almost exclusively on the St. Louis Cardinals.
To that extent, I don't really pay much attention to the other teams in Major League Baseball unless they're in direct competition with the Redbirds -- or if they're on the upcoming schedule.
So I was pretty surprised, during the first game of the season, to hear this news about Chicago Cubs $155 million starter Jon Lester's apparent issue with throwing the ball to first base for pick-off attempts.
Apparently, this story broke late last year in American League Circles about the time Lester was traded from the Boston Red Sox to the Oakland Athletics. The gist: He didn't attempt even a single pick-off attempt in 2011. Once a pretty regular holder of runners, something apparently happened a couple of years ago that made him not want to throw to first base AT ALL in attempt to hold a base runner.
Could this be the reason that the Red Sox, free spenders in other areas over the off-season, seemed so disinterested in keeping one of their own heroes?
Being unable to throw to first is a pretty serious issue, especially in the National League where teams are less likely to wait around for a home run ball and more likely to either steal bases or attempt to sacrifice in order to move runners up and into scoring position.
The Cardinals, who haven't been much a base-stealing team threat for a few seasons, swiped four bags during the Sunday night season opener. They also got huge jumps on balls put in play, taking giant leads with little fear that Lester would make a play on them and taking off towards the next station with the left-hander's first move.
Being distracted by runners daring him to do something about their liberal leads also very likely was a factor in Lester's poor Chicago debut. But, as much as he may have been distracted, he still made no effort whatsoever to throw over.
It's unbelievable to see a southpaw, who faces a runner taking a lead from first base, so inept at holding runners on.
The throwing issue apparently extends beyond the pick-off move, too. Early in the game he had a runner on second and got a ground ball right back to the mound. St. Louis outfielder Jason Heyward -- who initially seemed like he had lost his mind by recklessly advancing -- easily made it to third as Lester refused to make the effort to challenge Heyward.
It's odd that he is willing to make a lob to first on a force play but still refuses to throw over for a pick-off attempt. But every now and then a catcher gets the yips and can throw the ball around the infield on a fielding play but can't make the no pressure throw from behind the plate to the pitcher.
Now the word is out on Lester and it can be expected that, until he can prove he can handle the situation, other teams are going to attempt to exploit it. So, either he figures out his issues and does something about it, or he tries to throw to first and can't do it. At that point, it's going to be a base running free-for-all.