Cards draw another tough lefty in Cubs' Lester

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The St. Louis Cardinals were held to just four hits, including three over eight shutout innings by Cole Hamels, in Friday afternoon's 3-1 loss to the Chicago Cubs. And hits don't figure to be any easier to come by on Saturday night at Wrigley Field.

Left-hander Jon Lester (4-4, 3.32 ERA) will start for the Cubs and will be opposed by right-hander Jack Flaherty (4-3, 3.76), who is 1-2 with a 3.70 ERA in six games and five career starts against Chicago.

Lester is 7-5 with a 2.85 ERA in 18 career starts against the Cardinals. And despite a ho-hum 2-2 record, he has been especially effective in six starts at Wrigley Field this season, with a 1.76 ERA with 32 strikeouts and four walks allowed in 30 2/3 innings.

Lester comes in off an impressive 8-1 victory over the visiting Los Angeles Angels on Monday afternoon during which he allowed one run on four hits and a walk over seven innings while striking six. But he'll have a big challenge trying to top the performance of Hamels, who struck out 10 and allowed just one runner to reach second base in Friday's series opener.

"You can talk about us not being able to do much offensively, but some days you just have to say, 'Man, that's some pitching right there,'" St. Louis manager Mike Shildt told reporters after the game. "That was as good as anybody has thrown the ball against us all year. He was in control, in command, everything. Changeup, just putting it where he wanted to. He had all his ingredients working. That's a tough recipe to beat. ... You tip your hat and move on."

The Cubs rank third in the National League in team ERA (3.83) and manager Joe Maddon believes his starting rotation of Hamels, Lester, Kyle Hendricks (6-4, 3.16), Jose Quintana (4-5, 3.77) and Yu Darvish (2-3, 4.88) is a major reason his team enters Saturday night's game at top of the NL Central standings.

"All of our guys, if you look at them all, legitimately nobody is a five starter, and nobody is a four starter," Maddon said. "I believe the starting pitching, that's the engine that's going to drive the vehicle.

"Outstanding performance by (Hamels). That's what he's capable of doing. All these guys, Lester, him, all our starters, (getting) good counts (and) they'll be pitching deep into every game."

Here's the scary part for NL Central foes: before Friday's win the Cubs introduced Craig Kimbrel, who has a 1.91 career ERA to go along with 333 saves and an average of 14.7 strikeouts per nine innings, as the newest piece to their bullpen. Kimbrel, who helped lead the Red Sox to the 2018 World Series championship, signed a three-year contract worth a guaranteed $43 million.

Kimbrel will throw a bullpen session Saturday at Wrigley Field before flying to Arizona to continue his workouts at the team's complex. The Cubs have optioned him to Triple-A Iowa while he continues his buildup program which is expected to last about two weeks.

"We've sat down, we've put a game plan together," Kimbrel said. "But at the end of the day, it's based how I recover, how I get ready. This isn't about getting back on the field as fast as I can. This is about being the best I can be in October and down the stretch and doing what I came here to do for this team."

--Field Level Media