LOS ANGELES — The Dodgers will try for their fifth consecutive postseason victory on Sunday night, but will have their work cut out for them, with Jon Lester on the mound for the Cubs in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series at Dodger Stadium.
Lester has been everything Chicago wanted and more since signing a six-year, $155 million contract before the 2015 season, averaging 196 innings and 195 strikeouts per season while posting a 123 ERA+ through the first half of the deal. He has started five Games 1 in the postseason in his three years in Chicago, and 10 in his career.
The veteran left-hander has more postseason innings (143⅓) than any other active pitcher, and Sunday will be his 21st start in the playoffs. He has a 2.57 career postseason ERA, with 122 strikeouts and 34 walks.
“I think it's nine times, nine postseasons for me,” Lester said Saturday. “So the more you get to playing, the more you experience, the more different atmospheres you get to be in. Travel, all that stuff, you just kind of get used to it and figure it out.”
Against the Dodgers, Lester has a 3.29 ERA in 54⅔ career innings, including the postseason. Since the start of 2016, Lester owns a 2.41 ERA against the Dodgers, though after allowing just four total runs in five starts against them LA finally got to Lester for six runs in their last meeting, on May 28 at Dodger Stadium.
The Dodgers tagged Lester for two home runs in 3⅓ innings in that game, matching his total allowed to them in his first eight starts against them.
Lester also had a 5.17 ERA in his last 15 starts of the season. He was sidelined briefly in early September with lat tightness and shoulder fatigue, but since returning from the disabled list he has allowed two or fewer runs in four of his five starts.
“Coming off his injury he's gotten progressively better,” Joe Maddon said. “This time of the year these kind of battle-tested guys, under these circumstances, they look for these moments.”
Lester is technically pitching on three days rest on Sunday, though his last outing was in relief, a 3⅔-inning outing in Game 4 of the NLDS against the Nationals on Wednesday during which he threw 55 pitches.
Similarly, the Dodgers faced nemesis Robbie Ray in Game 2 of the NLDS, on two days rest after he threw 34 pitches in 2⅓ innings in relief in the NL wild card game for Arizona. Ray was wild and ineffective against the Dodgers, throwing three wild pitches and walking four, and couldn’t get out of the fifth inning.
Lester has two career starts on short rest, allowing four runs in five innings in 2008, and giving up two runs in six innings in 2011, both with Boston. He also threw three innings of relief in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, on two days rest.
Lester downplayed his relief outing.
“I'm not worried about it. It's kind of just work in between. Just got to do it in the game as opposed to on the side,” he said. “I don't think it's a problem. This time of year you have to adjust and figure it out.”
Kiké Hernandez is 4-for-17 (.235) against Lester in his career, though three of his hits were for extra-bases — two home runs and a triple — giving him a .706 slugging percentage and with three walks a .350 on-base percentage as well.
Justin Turner is 1-for-20 (.050) with a walk and five strikeouts against Lester. The hit was a single in Game 5 of the 2016 NLCS. Corey Seager, out for the series with a back sprain, is 7-for-17 (.412) with a double and a walk against Lester.
Game 2 particulars
Time: 4:38 p.m. PT
TV: TBS (Brian Anderson, Ron Darling, Sam Ryan)
Online: TBS.com and the Watch TBS app
Local radio: AM 570 (Charley Steiner, Rick Monday)
National radio: ESPN Radio (Dan Shulman, Aaron Boone)