As the left-hander prepares to face the visiting Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday night with the Cubs in the hunt for a playoff spot, Lester is hoping to be a catalyst himself.
Lester (13-10, 4.59 ERA) earned one of the wilder victories in his career on Friday. After yielding four first-inning runs to the Pittsburgh Pirates, he watched in appreciation as his teammates rallied for five runs in the bottom half, including home runs from Nicholas Castellanos, Willson Contreras and Nico Hoerner.
"Oh man, that's huge," Lester said.
Not unlike Chicago's offensive contributions. Although he allowed seven runs -- four earned -- in five innings, Lester notched the third victory in his past four starts thanks to a Cubs attack that produced 17 runs.
With Tuesday's loss to the Reds, Chicago (82-69) fell into a tie with the Milwaukee Brewers for the second National League wild-card spot, as Milwaukee defeated the San Diego Padres earlier Tuesday. Both Chicago and Milwaukee are 1 1/2 games behind the Washington Nationals for the top wild-card spot.
They're also both two games behind the first-place St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central.
As the Cubs vie for a fifth straight postseason berth, their veteran core knows they must maintain an even keel, circumstances notwithstanding.
"We're all trying too hard sometimes," Lester said. "I'm guilty of it. I think everybody in the clubhouse is guilty of it. You want to win the game before the game's even played. That's part of the grind of playing 162 games. You get into those funks sometimes. I think a game like (Friday) can help guys loosen up a little bit."
The Reds (71-81) officially were eliminated from playoff contention with Monday's 8-2 loss to the Cubs. Another defeat would assure the club of its sixth consecutive losing season.
"For me, it's all about making the postseason," Reds manager David Bell said. "That's now next year, but part of the process is playing well the rest of the way this year."
Bell appreciated the way the Reds rebounded and fought to take the middle game of the three-game set on Tuesday.
"For our team in general, not only playing here, but playing in so many close games against really good teams all year long, the record isn't where we want it in those close games," Bell said. "But having that experience, we needed that, and we've gotten a lot of it."
Right-hander Tyler Mahle is set to get the start for the Reds as he aims to solidify a spot in the 2020 starting rotation. Mahle is 0-1 with a 6.43 ERA in three starts since returning from Triple-A Louisville.
Lester is 7-2 with a 4.00 ERA in 18 career starts against Cincinnati, but is 0-1 with a 5.06 ERA in two starts covering 10 2/3 innings this season.
Mahle is 2-1 with a 4.18 ERA in four career starts against the Cubs. He took a no-decision in his lone start against Chicago this season after allowing six runs on nine hits -- including three homers -- in five innings.
--Field Level Media