Jon Lester validated his reputation as one of baseball's more durable arms by making 32 starts for the fourth consecutive season in 2017, but he was one of several Cubs to experience a World Series hangover. After submitting no worse than a 3.34 ERA and 1.12 WHIP over the previous three seasons, Lester saw those marks jump to 4.33 and 1.32, respectively, representing his worst showings since 2012. Lester wasn't a victim of bad luck either, as his walk and home-run rates climbed while he lost a tick of velocity on his fastball and cutter, his primary pitches. Now 34 years old and with no injury cited as the reason behind his demise, Lester may need to get creative with his sequencing to mask his diminishing stuff and retain status as a viable top-of-the-rotation arm. Even if he's unable to do that, Lester should remain a quality source of counting stats since the lost velocity didn't prevent him from lifting his swinging-strike rate to 10.9%, the second-highest percentage of his career.
Lester said last weekend that he's in full health and feels as good as ever entering spring training, Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune reports. Lester had a down year in 2017. A bout of shoulder fatigue at the latter end of August landed him on the disabled list, although he was able to return for the postseason. With the injury behind him, Lester didn't alter his offseason training regimen when preparing for the 2018 campaign. He'll aim to bounce back after 2017's disappointing showing, which culminated in a 4.33 ERA and 1.32 WHIP that he'd built over 32 starts (180.2 innings).
Lester will be on the mound for Game 6 of the NLCS against the Dodgers on Saturday, if the Cubs can extend the series with a win Thursday, Carrie Muskat of MLB.com reports. Lester will not be available in relief Thursday while he preps for a potential Game 6 outing. This start would come on five days of rest for the left-hander, and he will likely go up against Rich Hill yet again, if the matchup comes to fruition. During Sunday's Game 2 start, Lester allowed one earned run off three hits and five walks, while striking out a pair in 4.2 innings.
Lester will start Game 2 of the NLCS against the Dodgers, David Vassegh of AM 570 in Los Angeles reports. It'll be a pair of veteran lefties matching up in Game 2 with the Dodgers turning to Rich Hill against Lester. He allowed one run over 6.0 innings in his first start of the postseason against the Nationals and chipped in 3.2 innings in relief in Game 4. Lester has a career 2.57 ERA in the postseason.
Lester will start Game 2 of the NLDS against the Nationals on Saturday, Jesse Rogers of ESPN.com reports. Lester had a strong finish to the season and will look to carry that momentum into the postseason. He went 4-1 across his last five starts, over which he posted a 3.62 ERA. Apart from one rough outing in which he was knocked around for seven runs over a brief 4.1 innings, Lester didn't allow more than two runs in any of the aforementioned starts.
Lester (13-8) earned the win over the Reds on Saturday, allowing four hits while striking out seven over five scoreless innings. He did not issue a walk. The lefty got a couple favorable calls on the outside of the plate early on, but regardless, this was a strong showing against a good offense -- one which got to Lester for seven runs the last time they faced him. It was just what the Cubs wanted to see from Lester heading into the postseason. However, it's still uncertain where he will slot into the NLDS rotation.