Ian Happ plays center and leads off the penultimate game of the season, followed by Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo. Willson Contreras cleans up, Kyle Schwarber is fifth, and Addison Russell is sixth.
The suddenly not-bad Jason Heyward hits in his familiar seventh spot, while Javy Baez bats eighth and plays second. With the exception of the leadoff spot, this looks a lot like a playoff lineup.
Jon Lester will be taking the mound for the final time in the regular season, though this start is more important in terms of the postseason. He’s been less than great for much of the season, in particular since three starts prior to his DL stint, so another meh performance could ensure that he’s pushed back to at least Game 3 of the NLDS.
I’m of the mind that Kyle Hendricks should make the first start in Washington and that Jose Quintana should follow him, but Lester could move into one of those spots with a strong showing. Both Hendo and Q have been stronger on the road, though, and I think Lester could benefit from the additional rest.
Despite their overall poor performance, the Reds present a solid lineup against which Lester can ply his trade. I’m looking for him to get back to locating the fastball on the fringes and to be willing to attack righties inside. Though his velocity was some of the best we’ve seen when he last took the bump (91.7 mph), that famous command was decidedly lacking.
Honestly, this isn’t even as much a matter of the stat line as it is how Lester looks. It’s unlikely that he goes deep into the game regardless, but a clean start would be a big confidence booster.
Facing the Cubs will be 23-year-old Jackson Stephens, who may actually be the father of Friday’s starter. This will be the rookie’s fourth start and second against the Cubs, who tagged him for a pair of homers is his MLB debut on July 1. He’s allowed at least one dinger in each of his starts, a trend I fully expect to continue this afternoon.
Stephens has a decent four-seam/sinker fastball combo that he throws for about 60 percent of his pitches. The four-seam tends to stay up and over the plate a bit and leads to a lot of fly balls. His slider and curve generate a decent number of swings and misses, but he’s also lost feel for them at various times.
Stephens is a strike-thrower, which may not bode well for him against a Cubs lineup that is likely going to be aggressive at the plate. The blackjack-playing Bryzzo Bros. will be looking to do damage in what will surely be limited action as they cruise into the playoffs. It’s unfortunate that the Reds don’t offer much in the way of a challenge relative to what the Cubs will see from the Nats, but getting some live AB’s will do these guys well.
First pitch is 3:05 CT on CSN Chicago, look for me in the bleachers.
Here is today's #Cubs starting lineup.
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) September 30, 2017