Chicago Cubs needed a big win and Jon Lester, of course, delivered

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

With a chance to push their lead in the division to a full game, the Chicago Cubs needed a strong start on Thursday night. And veteran Jon Lester delivered.

Over the course of his 13-year Major League career, Chicago Cubs left-hander has come up in some big moments. Naturally, Cubs fans remember some particular ones – perhaps his relief appearance in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series? But on Thursday night, he turned in another gritty outing that’s he’s come to epitomize – in a game his team desperately needed.

Heading into the final weekend of the season, the Cubs and Brewers are locked in a dead heat for the National League Central. And, with Milwaukee enjoying an off-day before one final three-game homestand against the Detroit Tigers, Chicago had a prime opportunity – boost their lead in the division to one full game.

Why is this so significant? I mean, it’s not like a one game lead is anything to write home about. Except, well, this time, it is.

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The Cubs and Brewers have three games left in the season. After Chicago’s win on Thursday night, that one game separates the two teams. With a one-game lead, Chicago can afford to lose a game this weekend (even if Milwaukee sweeps Detroit) and remain tied for first place. That would prompt a Game 163 on Monday, with the winner advancing to the NLDS and the loser hosting the Wild Card Game on Tuesday.

Of course, the Cubs have no intentions of playing a Game 163 or appearing in their first Wild Card Game since Jake Arrieta‘s masterful 2015 showing against the Pittsburgh Pirates. But, if that’s how the cards are dealt, it will be none other than Jon Lester toeing the rubber come Tuesday.

The right guy for any big job

In his last couple of outings, Lester hasn’t had his best stuff. He’s struggled with his secondary arsenal and has worked out of some particularly tight jams early in ballgames. That was the case again Thursday, but, simply put, he made it work.

The 34-year-old southpaw gutted his way through six scoreless frames, working around four walks in the process. That marks the second-most free passes he’s issued in a game this season. But, if you look back, him getting the job done is becoming a bit of trend – regardless of how he feels about his stuff on any given day.

The postseason starts next week - are you ready?

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Going back to Aug. 16, Lester has made eight starts. The Cubs have won seven of them. He’s pitched to a sterling 1.71 ERA across 47 1/3 innings. Opponents have hit .260 against him, so Lester isn’t mowing guys down. But he’s become such a pitcher (as opposed to a thrower), he knows how to work around baserunners and limit the damage better than pretty much anyone else on the staff.

Despite the win, though, Lester made one thing clear: neither he nor his teammates are satisfied with simply making the postseason. Expectations have changed – for the better.

Next. Cubs bullpen running on fumes with days to go. dark

"“We’ve made the playoffs, and nobody in the clubhouse is satisfied with that,” Lester said. “I don’t think that’s an arrogance — we all expect to win the division. That’s not a knock on the other teams in our division. We feel that’s one of our goals. Hopefully, that comes to fruition this weekend, and we’ll celebrate then.”"

On Thursday night, Lester got them one step closer to that celebration.