THE CUBTOBER DIARY: Confidence comes from from the Cubs’ starter

CHICAGO, IL - AUGUST 11: Starting pitcher Jon Lester #34 of the Chicago Cubs looks for the signs before throwing against the Washington Nationals at Wrigley Field on August 11, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

CHICAGO – Just like that, the season comes down to a final game, and October is only two days old.

This happened because the Cubs couldn’t get the job done in their National League Central Tiebreaker against the Brewers on Monday. Milwaukee pitching silenced the Cubs’ bats in a 3-1 victory that sends them to the National League Division Series, while their opponents suddenly face elimination.

Getting a little nervous, Cubs fans? We’ll here’s someone to settle you down: Jon Lester.

The veteran lefty is going to get the call against the Rockies Tuesday night at Wrigley Field in a “Win or Go Home” Wild Card contest just after 7 PM. He’ll be opposed by Kyle Freeland of the Rockies, who is 17-7 with a 2.85 ERA, but he will be making his first playoff start.

That’s far from the case for Lester, who takes the mound tonight for his 26th playoff game of his career, and his 12th since joining the Cubs in 2015.

During those games – 21 of which have been starts – Lester has a 9-7 record but more impressively sports a 2.55 ERA. In 14 1/3 innings of work in the 2017 playoffs, Lester allowed just three earned runs in 14 1/2 innings as he started a pair of games and appeared in relief in Game 4 of the National League Division Series against the Nationals at Wrigley Field.

“I don’t know if there is anybody better in the big leagues in a situation like this,” said Cubs infielder Daniel Murphy, who faced Lester in the 2015 playoffs with the Mets and the 2017 postseason with the Nationals.

This will be the fourth time Lester has pitched in a “Win or Go Home” game in his playoff career and his second with the Cubs, although this will be his first start. In Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, Lester appeared in relief of Kyle Hendricks in the fifth inning and pitched into the eighth, allowing just one earned run while striking out four with just a walk.

With the Red Sox, Lester allowed three runs in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series in a loss to the Rays in 2008. As a member of the Athletics, Lester started the one-game Wild Card playoff game against the Royals in Kansas City, where he was charged with six runs in 7 1/3 innings in a 9-8 loss.

Yet those defeats are distant memories for Cubs’ players, many of whom weren’t even in the league when they occurred. They’re focused on the Lester with the Cubs now – and lately he’s been very good. During the month of September, Lester was 4-1 with a 1.52 ERA, shaking off a shaky few months after the All-Star Break to help the Cubs back to the postseason for a franchise-record fourth-straight season.

Maybe that’s why the Cubs were quite confident in their chances despite being involved in a “Win or Go Home” game right off the bat in the 2018 playoffs.

“It’s Jonny Lester, he’s pitched in a few big games before, he’s got a resume,” said Anthony Rizzo of Lester. “We’ll be leaning on him hard, we’ve got to score him some runs so he can settle in.”

Should they do that, the Cubs will have a great shot to keep their postseason going beyond just one game.