The Dodgers' Kike Hernandez hit Jon Lester's second pitch of the game into the left-field bleachers Tuesday night.
That wasn't a good beginning, but Lester was outstanding after that. He allowed just three other hits, just two other Dodgers got past first base, and he retired the last 15 hitters he faced, with six of the nine innings going 1-2-3. Then there was this:
Kris Bryant's two-run homer into the shrubbery in center field gave the Cubs a 2-1 win over the Dodgers Wednesday evening, and a chance to win yet another series. The Cubs moved back to their season high of 21 games over .500, even while the team's offense has stalled in this set. They have just 12 hits and four runs in the three games played so far, but that's been enough to win two of three.
The other big story in this game was the murmur that went through the crowd (and probably you, even if you were watching alone) when Hector Rondon didn't warm up in the eighth inning for what seemed like an obvious save opportunity. Lester, scheduled to lead off the bottom of the eighth and at 102 pitches, was similarly an obvious pinch-hit candidate, with Tommy La Stella ready on the bench and the Cubs in need of an insurance run.
But Lester batted, and Rondon was in the dugout, not even in the bullpen. Pedro Strop and Justin Grimm loosened up while the Cubs got their only baserunner after the third inning on a single by Jason Heyward. It was revealed after the game that Rondon was not available due to back stiffness. Hopefully, that's only a one-day issue.
Lester came out for the ninth to a loud ovation, and set to work. He got Justin Turner and Corey Seager to ground to Addison Russell at shortstop, then struck out Howie Kendrick. As has seemed commonplace this year, David Ross had to throw Kendrick out at first base, and after he did so, Lester had his first complete game of 2016, second as a Cub and first at Wrigley Field. Here are Lester's postgame comments:
We've had so many amazing outings from Cubs starters this year. Here are some fun facts about Lester's performance:
Jon Lester: first #Cubs lefty with a Complete Game and NO Walks since Steve Wilson (10 K, 0 BB) 7/15/1990 vs Dodgers— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) June 2, 2016
And, about the collective starting rotation:
#Cubs starting pitching this season:— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) June 2, 2016
29-10, 2.38 ERA (!!), 325.1 IP, 231 Hits, 306 K, .201 Opp BA, 0.996 WHIP (!!)
Those exclamation marks only begin to describe the amazing performance of this Cubs rotation. While many Cubs fans focus on Jake Arrieta's excellent start, Lester is on pace to have the best year of his career. His 1.9 bWAR ranks ninth among all National League pitchers.
Beyond his pitching, Lester also fielded his position flawlessly Wednesday night. I realize it's become sort of a meme to criticize Lester's defense, so I thought I'd mention that he fielded two comebackers and flipped them perfectly to Anthony Rizzo, and also covered first base well on a grounder to Rizzo. Baby steps, right?
Even with their offensive drought the last three games (just four runs), the Cubs continue to rank second in the N.L. in runs scored (277, to the Cardinals' 293) and at +129, their run differential continues to lap the field (the Red Sox are second at +76 and the Nationals second in the N.L. at +61).
The Cubs go for the series win in just a few hours, at 1:20 p.m. CT. Kyle Hendricks will face Dodgers rookie Julio Urias . The game preview will post at 11:30 a.m. CT.