Having managed against him for years, Joe Maddon said he knew the Chicago Cubs would have a promising chance to get to the postseason when Jon Lester put pen to paper on a lucrative contract.
While he's been overtaken by Jake Arrieta as the Cubs' ace this season, Lester has provided enough quality outings to send the club to its first playoff appearance in seven years.
The left-hander will try to provide another in his final scheduled outing of the regular season Wednesday night against the scuffling and potentially depleted Cincinnati Reds.
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The Cubs (92-65) signaled that their rebuilding was over when they inked Lester (10-12, 3.43 ERA) to a six-year, $155 million deal in December.
"His particular signing indicated to us and to the fanbase, this is definitely possible. You need that kind of presence, particularly in your pitching staff, to get to this kind of moment," Maddon said. "Jonny has definitely elevated us this season."
Lester was the opening day starter but has been supplanted as the Cubs' No. 1 pitcher by Arrieta, a 21-game winner who is set to pitch in the team's wild-card game next Wednesday. That contest appears likely to be played in Pittsburgh but hosting isn't out of the picture just yet as the Cubs trail the Pirates by three games with five remaining.
Lester's ERA is nearly a run higher than last season's career-best 2.46, but he has recorded quality starts in 20 of his 31 outings. He yielded two runs in seven innings Friday against Pittsburgh but was outdueled by Gerrit Cole in a 3-2 loss, his second in a row.
Lester gave up one run in seven innings in his most recent start against Cincinnati (63-94) but Chicago needed 11 innings for a 2-1 victory. He has no record and a 4.74 ERA in three career matchups, all this season, but the Cubs have won each game.
The Reds have dropped 10 in a row after a 4-1 defeat in Tuesday's series opener. Only Ivan De Jesus Jr.'s RBI groundout in the ninth following an Austin Jackson error kept the Cubs from a third consecutive shutout.
Todd Frazier left with a strained right Achilles as the Reds clinched their longest skid since an 11-gamer in June 1998. Manager Bryan Price had no update on the slugger after the game.
Joey Votto has reached base in 46 consecutive games, the longest streak in the majors this season, and two shy of tying Pete Rose's franchise-record from 1978. Price, though, said the first baseman is dealing with a muscular issue around his shoulder.
Votto is 2 for 9 against Lester and is batting .444 with four homers in his last 10 games versus the Cubs.
"He really wants to play. It's not about the streak," Price said. "It's about going out there and grinding it out and finishing out the season. We'll see how he is (Wednesday)."
Anthony DeSclafani will try to help his club avoid another loss by improving on his 1.88 ERA in four matchups with the Chicago this season. The right-hander, though, has just one win in those games, a 3-2 victory April 14.
DeSclafani is 0-2 with a 7.59 ERA in his last two outings and matched a career high by allowing seven runs in 6 1-3 innings Friday in a 12-5 loss to the New York Mets.
Kris Bryant is 4 for 9 against the Reds rookie while Anthony Rizzo is 0 for 14, his most hitless at-bats against any pitcher.