Eyeing Cubs' rotation in playoffs, David Ross lauds Jon Lester's experience: 'His game upticks'

Lester has a 2.51 ERA in 26 appearances in the playoffs in his career.

(670 The Score) The first two slots in the Cubs’ pitching rotation for the playoffs seem pretty straightforward.

Right-hander Yu Darvish and right-hander Kyle Hendricks have had splendid seasons. Darvish is a Cy Young candidate who sports a 2.22 ERA. While Hendricks hasn’t made headlines in quite the same way, he has posted a 2.93 ERA and carries a track record of playoff success. Whether it’s Darvish-Hendricks or Hendricks-Darvish, those two are expected to start the first two games in some order in the best-of-three wild-card round series.

Beyond them, whom would the Cubs turn to in a potential win-or-go-home Game 3? That’s where more intrigue lies. Veteran left-hander Jon Lester is stating his case for that spot. After a woeful four-start stretch in late August and early September, Lester has responded with three strong outings. His latest came in the Cubs’ 5-0 win against the Pirates on Monday evening, when he threw six scoreless innings of four-hit ball.

Judging from manager David Ross’ words, Lester is in line to be the Cubs’ No. 3 starter in the playoffs. Because Ross emphasized that a successful track record in the playoffs is a crucial element in his decision-making.

“Oh yeah, oh yeah,” Ross said when asked on the Laurence Holmes Show if Lester’s playoff history is a big factor in his decision. “I trust guys that have been out (there). Listen, the playoffs are a different beast. You’re not sticking a rookie out on the mound and expecting them to just handle the moment in the postseason. It’s a different animal. Jon’s a guy that has shown that his game even upticks when he steps out there in the postseason. So yeah, I take that into consideration for sure.”

Lester has a 2.51 ERA in 26 career playoff appearances, including 22 starts. He has thrown 154 innings in the playoffs.

“It’s about the presence on the mound – it’s slowing the heartbeat, slowing the thoughts, being able to process your thoughts, process your ability to execute pitches in a high-stressful moment,” Ross said.

“You have to be able to harness that energy and use it for good. And Jon has done that over and over again, and it takes him to the next level. And that’s the difference-maker to me between great postseason players and the ones where the expectations are always there, they have great regular-season numbers because it’s just an everyday grind and then you get to the postseason, and sometimes you see those guys who struggle in the postseason, that haven’t been there that much, try to do too much and forget how to have your at-bat or execute the pitch or just continue to take it one pitch at a time whether you’re in the box or on the mound. Jon does a great job of that, and he’s done that for a long time.”