Cubs-Padres preview

SAN DIEGO -- The season's first meeting between the San Diego Padres and the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field in early May produced one of the biggest surprises of the season.

The Padres swept a doubleheader to take the series. Going into the May 11 doubleheader, the Cubs had won seven straight games -- including the series opener against the Padres -- and 11 of 12 while getting off to a 24-6 start. The Padres were 13-20 and last in the National League West.

And the Padres swept the Cubs by 7-4 and 1-0 scores, results that effectively changed nothing

Some 90 games later, the Cubs are still the run-away leaders of the National League Central. And the Padres are 18 games under .500 having just taken three of four from the Arizona Diamondbacks in a head-to-head battle to avoid the NL West basement.

Now the Cubs come to Petco Park -- also known during these visits as "Wrigley Field West" -- for three games non-impactful games.

But they promise to be fun for fans of both the Padres and the uprooted Cubs fans of the San Diego area. And there are plenty of them.

"The first time I came back here with the Padres it felt and sounded like we were the home team," said former Padres first baseman Anthony Rizzo.

But there will be a first Monday night in the opener of the three-game series.

Cubs' left-hander John Lester -- who was the winning pitcher back on May 10 in the opener of the Padres-Cubs series at Wrigley Field -- will be making his first career start at Petco Park.

Monday's start will complete the stadium cycle for Lester, as Petco Park is the only active major league ballpark Lester hasn't appeared.

The ballpark won't be the only thing new to Lester Monday night. The Padres will have at least five different starters.

There will be one familiar player on the opposing team; Padres right-hander Edwin Jackson is a former teammate of Lester.

Lester is 13-4 on the season. He has the seventh-best ERA in the NL (2.86) and is 10th in opponents' batting average (.218) and 10th in strikeouts (146). Perhaps more important going into Monday night is the fact that Lester has the second-best night ERA (2.49) in the NL, and that he is left-handed.

With left-handed rookie hitters in their regular starting lineup, the Padres have struggled recently against southpaw starters.

Jackson, meanwhile, is 3-2 with a 5.15 ERA as a Padre, although he has taken a no-hitter into at least the fifth inning in two of his six starts with San Diego.

One impressive run did end for Chicago on Sunday afternoon in Colorado where starter Cole Hamels was tagged with the loss. Cubs starters had won 12 straight decisions while posting a 1.50 ERA in their previous 18 starts in August.

"I don't compete with our other pitchers," said Lester, who has not allowed more than four earned runs in any of his last four starts. "It would be great if they all did better than me.

"No one wants to be the loose link in the chain. And our offense has been really good to us. It makes our lives easier as pitchers."