Washington Nationals left-hander Jon Lester returns to Wrigley Field on Monday night to face his former team, the Chicago Cubs, for the first time since departing via free agency this past offseason. Lester, now 37, was key member of the Cubs teams that from 2015 through 2020 racked up five postseason appearances and three NL Central titles and in 2016 won the World Series for the first time in more than 100 years. Lester's signing prior to the 2015 season at a cost of $155 million over six years signaled that the Cubs were serious about winning a championship.
Lester during his Cubs tenure more than justified the investment in his services. Across those six seasons with the Cubs, Lester went 77-44 with a 3.64 ERA (his exact ERA in his nine seasons with the Red Sox) and a 3.22 K/BB ratio. He also racked up 12.9 WAR with the Cubs, twice finished in the top 10 of the NL Cy Young balloting, and authored 2.44 ERA in 10 playoff starts and two relief appearances for Chicago.
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Along the way, he won the 2016 NLCS MVP award. Given Lester's excellence during that 2016 postseason, it's no exaggeration to say the Cubs probably don't win the World Series without him. All of that plus his generosity with beer has made him a legend on the north side of Chicago, and he's very likely in for a warm welcome back by the fans at Wrigley when he takes the mound opposite Adbert Alzolay.
Lester's former teammates were dressing for the occasion:
"I knew as soon as I signed and saw the schedule," Lester said during a recent Zoom call with both Nationals and Cubs reporters. "You pick out certain road trips that are always fun, and obviously that was one that stuck out for me, for a lot of different reasons."
As for his former battery-mate and manager, David Ross, he's hoping for reception befitting Lester's place in Cubs history.
"I hope that the fans give him the welcome back he deserves," Ross said recently. "He means a lot to me. He means a lot to this organization. He's done a lot for (so many) guys in this clubhouse. Fans recognize that. The Cubs nation that I know will be super appreciative and give him the love that he needs. I don't care if it's 20,000 or 20% [capacity]. I sure wish that place was packed for him, [so he could] feel the love that a lot of people have for him."
After the Cubs failed to make a serious bid for his services over the winter, Lester wound up signing a one-year, $5 million deal with the Nats. In three starts this season, he's put up a 2.25 ERA with 10 strikeouts and seven walks in 16 innings. Both the Nationals (16-20) and Cubs (19-20) enter the week in fourth place in their respective divisions.