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Cardinals sign former Cubs P Jon Lester before trade deadline

Jon Lester, Cubs, Cardinals

The St. Louis Cardinals — who acquired Dexter Fowler a few years ago, shortly after the outfielder won the 2016 World Series with the Chicago Cubs — have now signed another member of that 2016 championship team from Chicago. The Redbirds signed Jon Lester just under the wire at the MLB trade deadline in a deal with the Washington Nationals.

The level of impact the Cardinals are likely to gain from this trade is small. Lester is past his prime as a pitcher, having soared with the Boston Red Sox and Cubs in a distinguished MLB career. Now he doesn’t have nearly as much fuel in the tank.

The Cardinals made this move even though Lester has a 5.02 ERA this season, pitching 75 1/3 innings in 16 starts. You can do the quick math and see that’s under five innings per start. Lester’s last four starts indicate that he can still beat bad teams but can’t beat good ones. He didn’t get more than 10 outs in two disastrous outings against the Giants and Padres, two N.L. West powerhouses. He did shut out the Marlins in seven innings, and he contained the Orioles in a five-inning performance in his most recent start on July 24.

If the Cardinals are going to make a playoff push, their path will likely need to run through the N.L. Central, since the Padres, Giants, and Los Angeles Dodgers — as a trio — are almost certain to provide the two teams in the National League Wild Card Game.

It is true that the Padres are only 15 games over .500 while the Central-leading Milwaukee Brewers are 19 over .500, but the Cardinals will play the Brewers a lot more than they will play the Padres the rest of the way. With two full months left in the season, St. Louis is unlikely to make a charge, but we have seen the Redbirds get hot late in a season before and create an interesting late-September stretch run.

Jon Lester in a Cardinals uniform will seem very weird. Cubs fans certainly won’t like it… but St. Louis and Chicago fans can agree that beating the Brewers is something to aspire to. We’ll see if Lester can handle the Brew Crew and other Central teams late in the year.

In case you’re wondering: The Cardinals and Lester visit Wrigley Field to face the Cubs on Sept. 24.

Also noteworthy: The Cardinals’ last 14 games of the season are all against the Cubs and Brewers. If they can enter that 14-game stretch four games out of first place — meaning that they will have gained 5.5 games on Milwaukee in the next 7.5 weeks — they will have a chance to play their way into the division lead. We’ll see if they and Lester can give themselves that opportunity.