How confident would you be if Jon Lester took the mound in his next start against the White Sox with a chance to clinch the division? Hopefully it won’t come to that, but after last night’s 5-0 win over the Pirates, Lester has suddenly emerged as the team’s hottest pitcher just as the season winds to its close.
The crafty left-hander isn’t going to get you 7-8 strikeouts anymore except on rare occasions, but he has mastered the art of pitching to contact and proved last night that he can be just as effective keeping hitters off balance as he was when he was punching out 180-220 batters season after season. Lester has allowed just two earned runs in his last 17 innings pitched and, even better, he has helped himself considerably by not putting guys on base.
He’s allowed 11 hits and just 4 walks during those outings, a nifty 0.88 WHIP for a guy who has been in the 1.2 -1.4 range for most of his Cubs career.
6 IP | 4 H | 0 R
— Marquee Sports Network (@WatchMarquee) September 22, 2020
At this point, Lester has to be considered for a spot in the playoff rotation, especially in the first round where he give David Ross a lefty to counterbalance to Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks. Does Big Jon still have what it takes to start and win a decisive Game 3 at Wrigley Field against the Reds, Cardinals, or Phillies?
One thing is certain, and that’s that Lester always comes up big in meaningful games. Ross will have to have to have confidence in his bullpen, though, because odds are against a complete game when the veteran lefty starts. That said, Lester should give the Cubs a chance to win through six innings at the very least.
He’s likely to pitch like every start is the last of his career, so expect him to be nails every time out in the playoffs. The way this season is playing out, each game he starts going forward should be a big game.
Cubs News & Notes
- After last night’s win, coupled with the Cardinals’ loss to the Royals, the Cubs’ magic number is now down to four.
- Kris Bryant left last night’s game with an apparent oblique injury. Ross said after the game his third baseman is “day-to-day,” but that’s rarely the case with these types of injuries. The team should provide an update today, so there’s no use in speculating before then.
- Bryant has been dealing with nagging injuries all season and is clearly frustrated by his resulting performance.
- Kyle Schwarber had a big game last night, but let’s not pretend he was extra motivated by Ross benching him on Sunday. If anything, the bulky left fielder probably lit a fire under his own ass.
- Javier Báez came up with an innovative way to jump-start Chicago’s stagnant offense,
- José Quintana will take the mound tonight and Ross will have him on a “little bit of a leash.”
- The Cubs currently lack a clear-cut fifth starter, making Quintana’s return a plus for Chicago’s depth.
- The team has shut down Pedro Strop due to a hip injury, so his season is effectively over. Strop had been trying to get into game shape at the team’s alternate site.
- The organization has already started making preparations for the season’s playoff bubble. Once the Cubs return from Pittsburgh, they’ll go into hotel quarantine for as long as their season continues.
- The Cubs are averaging 5.90 runs per game on the road this year, compared to just 3.45 runs at home. That 2.45-run average difference is the largest in baseball this season.
Odds & Sods
The first horseman of the Apocalypse?
— WGN TV News (@WGNNews) September 21, 2020
How About That!
The A’s clinched the AL West last night, the first time they’ve won the division since 2013.
The Cardinals lost 4-1 to the Royals last night, and with a big five-game series against the Brewers coming up, really took a hit to their playoff chances.
The Yankees have allowed 10+ runs in consecutive games for the first time since July 25-26, 2019 vs. the Red Sox.
The Indians’ magic number to clinch a playoff berth is down to one.
The Mariners had played 53 games with 53 different lineups, until last night.
Monday’s Three Stars
- Jacob deGrom – 14 Ks in seven innings of work, allowing just two earned runs on four hits, give him the late lead in the Cy Young race. He still took the loss, however, because he pitches for the Mets.
- Alejandro Kirk – Not sure if the Blue Jays rookie catcher has a nickname yet, but I’ll call him Captain for now. The Captain had a four-hit game with a home run yesterday, the first of his career, and scored three times as the Blue Jays battered the Yankees 11-5.
- Jon Lester – He never disappoints when starting a big game, does he?
Queue the lazy, obligatory, and overplayed “The Final Countdown” by Europe.
Playoff races! Award battles! Unnecessary exclamation points!
The last week of the MLB season is here, and 20 Questions tackles the postseason, MVPs, CYs, draft order, who’s in trouble, playoff format, sneaky-good guys and who I’ll miss seeing in October: https://t.co/4261kv6YGF
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) September 22, 2020
They Said It
- “[Bryant] has just been dealing with a lot this year. Injury-wise, trying to get going, not at 100 percent, you give him a little bit of a break and it seems like something else crops up. Yeah, it’s a frustrating situation for him. I know he wants to be out there and play. Hopefully, we get some good news and he feels OK tomorrow and it’s not something really serious.” – David Ross
- “The name says it all, ‘Kris Bryant.’ This guy is one heckuva player. Whenever he’s in the lineup and he’s up at the plate, I think we all think something good is going to happen.” – Kyle Schwarber
Tuesday Walk Up Song
My Rifle, My Pony & Me by Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson – Worth inclusion here just because it’s the best scene in Rio Bravo but also in honor of Census Cowboy making 2020 just a bit more weird.