For Cubs, top honor to Lester

Baltimore Sun - - MLB PLAYOFFS - By Paul Skrbina

CHICAGO — Asked whom he would vote for in the Cy Young Award race, Jon Lester or Kyle Hen­dricks, Cubs man­ager Joe Mad­don took the eva­sive way out.

“Rizzo,” he joked of his MVP can­di­date first base­man, An­thony Rizzo.

But Mad­don might have re­vealed his imag­i­nary bal­lot when he re­leased the Cubs’ post­sea­son pitch­ing or­der and Lester’s name was at the top to start Game 1 of the NLDS against the Gi­ants tonight at Wrigley Field.

The vet­eran left-han­der has been strong in the post­sea­son with a 2.85 ERA in 98 ca­reer in­nings. And like the rest of the Cubs staff, Lester has been really good all sea­son. How good? Last year’s Cy Young win­ner, Jake Ar­ri­eta, falls third in line be­hind Lester and Hen­dricks in the be­stof-five se­ries ro­ta­tion. John Lackey is the fourth starter.

While his man­ager wouldn’t choose a win­ner for the tro­phy, Hen­dricks wasn’t shy about say­ing Lester de­served props.

“My opin­ion is him, 100 per­cent,” Hen­dricks said of the Cy Young Award. “He’s had maybe three bad starts all year. From start to fin­ish, he’s been our horse.”

Johnny Cueto, the Gi­ants’ $130 mil­lion man, isn’t a shabby op­tion to start op­po­site Lester, con­sid­er­ing ace Madi­son Bum­gar­ner is not avail­able un­til Game 3 af­ter a dom­i­nat­ing per­for­mance in the wild­card game against the Mets.

Be­sides, dom­i­nate is what Cueto has done to cur­rent Cubs, who are bat­ting .184 with a .525 OPS in 141 at-bats against him.

The right-han­der spent 71⁄ sea­sons fac­ing the Cubs reg­u­larly while with the Reds, whom he helped to the post­sea­son twice be­fore they traded him to the Roy­als last sea­son.

Af­ter help­ing the Roy­als to their first World Se­ries ti­tle since 1985, he signed as a free agent with the Gi­ants, who are go­ing for their fourth ti­tle in seven years.

“I al­ready know them,” Cueto told the San Jose Mer­cury News of the Cubs. “I just have to ... put my pitches where I want and fin­ish what we started.” MadBum: The Gi­ants have base­ball’s big­gest Oc­to­ber star on their side in Madi­son Bum­gar­ner. He has thrown 23 straight score­less in­nings in the post­sea­son and is 6-1 with an 0.79 ERA and three shutouts in his last nine post­sea­son out­ings. He’ll be on reg­u­lar rest in Game 3 and could pitch in re­lief if the se­ries goes five games, as he did in pitch­ing five score­less in­nings to save Game 7 of the 2014 World Se­ries. The Tar­get: When the Cubs won 97 games last year and elim­i­nated the Pi­rates and Car­di­nals in the play­offs be­fore get­ting swept by the Mets, they were the plucky up­starts. Not this time. They showed up for spring train­ing with a new T-shirt slo­gan coined by Joe Mad­don, “Em­brace the Tar­get,” and they couldn’t have worn it any bet­ter dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son. But how well will they wear that tar­get un­der im­mense pres­sure? Clos­ing time: The bullpen that played such a key role in the Gi­ants’ re­cent World Se­ries ti­tles melted down in the sec­ond half. San­ti­ago Casilla tied for the most blown saves in the ma­jors with nine and lost his job. Af­ter strug­gling to find a re­place­ment, Bruce Bochy went to Ser­gio Romo, the closer dur­ing the 2012 ti­tle run. He con­verted all four save op­por­tu­ni­ties in the fi­nal two weeks. AP

CHRIS SWEDA/CHICAGO TRI­BUNE

Cubs vet­eran left-han­der Jon Lester en­ters tonight’s start with a 2.85 ERA in 98 ca­reer post­sea­son in­nings. Game 1: 9 tonight Gi­ants (Cueto 18-5) at Cubs (Lester 19-5), FS1 Game 2: 8 p.m. Satur­day Gi­ants (Sa­mardz­ija 12-11) at Cubs (Hen­dricks 16-8), MLB Game 3: TBA Mon­day Cubs (Ar­ri­eta 18-8) at Gi­ants (Bum­gar­ner 15-9), FS1 or MLB Game 4: TBA Tues­day* Cubs (Lackey 11-8) at Gi­ants (Moore 13-12), FS1 Game 5: TBA Thurs­day* Gi­ants at Cubs, FS1

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