Jon Lester is pitching the way the Chicago Cubs hoped after signing him in the offseason, though his turn in the rotation might cost the team its hottest bat.
With Kyle Schwarber likely on the bench, Lester looks to continue his strong stretch as the host Cubs seek their fifth win in seven games Friday against the suddenly resurgent Philadelphia Phillies.
Lester had a 4.25 ERA in his first 12 starts with Chicago (51-43), but the left-hander has posted a 1.97 mark over his last seven.
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Lester (5-8, 3.37 ERA) snapped a personal six-game losing streak Saturday when he allowed two singles over 7 1-3 innings with seven strikeouts in a 4-0 win at Atlanta. He took a no-hitter into the eighth after a single in the first was later changed to an error on Kris Bryant.
"I thought he did a great job of pitching to a hitter's strengths, as well as a hitter's weaknesses when he needed to," catcher David Ross said. "Whatever I asked him to do, he did it."
Ross is likely to get another start as Lester's personal backstop, leaving Schwarber out of the lineup unless manager Joe Maddon wants to take a chance on starting him in the outfield. After playing 36 minor league games there last season, the rookie hasn't played in the outfield this season.
Schwarber is 10 for 22 with two home runs in seven games since getting recalled from Triple-A Iowa.
The Cubs could certainly use his bat, ranking near the bottom of the majors with a .239 average. They earned a split of a four-game series in Cincinnati by rallying for Wednesday's 6-5 win after dropping the first game of a doubleheader 9-1.
Now Chicago looks to keep its hold on the NL's second wild-card spot as it opens a three-game set against Philadelphia (34-63). Lester has gone 4-0 with a 1.59 ERA in five career starts against the Phillies.
Ryan Howard, Jeff Francoeur and Carlos Ruiz are a combined 3 for 37 in the matchup. Howard is also just 3 for 30 with nine strikeouts over his last eight games versus Chicago.
After losing a team-record 62 games before the All-Star break, the Phillies opened the second half with a 5-1 homestand. One of baseball's lowest-scoring teams at 3.45 runs per game, Philadelphia showed some life by scoring five or more in four of the six.
''They're playing with energy and playing to win games,'' interim manager Pete Mackanin said.
Ben Revere and Domonic Brown had three hits apiece in Wednesday's 5-4, 10-inning win over Tampa Bay. Revere is hitting .395 over his last 13 games, while Brown has gone 6 for 10 in his past three.
Maikel Franco is expected to return after not starting the past two due to an elbow injury. The rookie third baseman is second on the team with 10 homers and 35 RBIs.
Jerome Williams (3-7, 6.43) will make his first start since June 16 because of a hamstring injury. The right-hander, 0-5 with an 8.72 ERA in seven road starts, takes the mound for the first time at Wrigley.
Starlin Castro has gone 7 for 60 (.117) over his last 16 games, but he's hit .407 with three home runs, six doubles and 11 RBIs in 15 career home meetings with Philadelphia.
The Cubs have dropped seven of their last 10 against the Phillies at Wrigley.