(Jon Lester photo courtesy Jon Durr/USA TODAY Sports)
This is the full preview(s) as seen on the Winners and Whiners and Stat Salt websites. The confidence rating for all picks on a scale from 1 to 5 is in parentheses.
Note: The 5/5 does NOT represent the best overall pick of the day’s games when there are multiple games, simply the best pick(s) from each individual game.
When and Where: Saturday, Sept. 8, Miller Park, Milwaukee, Wisc., 2:10 p.m. EDT.
The challenge of claiming a playoff spot for the Chicago Cubs has become significantly tougher with Javy Baez absent for the forseeable future as they wrap up a key four-game series against the Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday.
The results of a Saturday MRI taken on Baez’s left thumb revealed a hairline fracture that could sideline him for the remainder of the regular season. The 2018 runner-up for NL MVP was hitting .281 with 29 homers and 85 RBIs, leaving a sizable hole in the lineup for the final three weeks.
“It’s really unfortunate. Javy’s the heart of this team,” catcher Wilson Contreras said prior to Saturday night’s game to the club’s official website. “We’re going to miss him a lot, but like somebody said, ‘One steps out, one steps in.’ Of course, we’re going to miss him and hopefully he recovers really soon.”
Maddon turning to Lester to be hammer in series finale
Cubs manager Joe Maddon has opted to flip Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks in his rotation for the series finale, moving Lester (12-9, 4.19 ERA) up and pushing Hendricks back to start their series against San Diego on Monday.
Lester is looking to win his third consecutive start and fourth in his last five, having limited opponents to one run in 11 innings in his back-to-back victories. The left-hander scattered six hits and four walks in six shutout innings Tuesday, working out of three bases-loaded jams while striking out nine in Chicago’s 6-1 victory over Seattle.
Maddon is turning to Lester because he has been lights-out against the Brewers this year, conceding only an unearned run over 13 2-3 innings while winning one of two starts. Lester, though, had nothing to show for seven shutout innings at Miller Park on July 27 as his bullpen blew a two-run lead in an eventual 5-3, 10-inning defeat.
The southpaw is 5-3 with a 2.10 ERA in 11 career matchups with Milwaukee and is 2-0 with a 1.63 ERA in three starts at Miller Park, where he carries a 13-inning shutout streak into this contest.
Houser looking to be more efficient in hunt for third straight win
Adrian Houser (6-5, 3.45) has a 1.63 ERA during a five-start unbeaten run, winning two of those contests while striking out 28 in 27 2-3 innings. The right-hander, though, has failed to get through six innings in his last three starts and did not last five Monday against Houston.
With Brewers manager Craig Counsell managing to win every game, he has used a quick hook more often recently. That was the case for Houser on Monday versus Houston after the Astros made the right-hander throw 96 pitches in 4 1-3 innings as he exited with the score tied 1-1 before Milwaukee eventually lost 3-2 in 10 innings.
Houser’s lone start versus Chicago after three relief appearances was one to forget as he was tagged for four runs and nine hits — including solo homers by Jason Heyward and Kyle Schwarber — in five innings of a 7-2 loss at Wrigley Field on Aug. 4.
Houser’s only other mistake in five career relief outings spanning 7 2-3 innings versus Chicago was a two-run homer by Kris Bryant in a 4-1 Brewers loss May 12.
The Brewers are:
- 2-7 in Houser’s last nine starts.
- 2-6 in their last eight games vs. left-handed starters.
- 2-6 in their last eight games vs. Lester.
The Cubs are:
- 35-15 in their last 50 during game 4 of a series.
- 7-2 in Lester’s last nine Sunday starts.
- 35-16 in Lester’s last 51 starts vs. NL Central teams.
Brewers UNDER 4.5 runs (-125)
While the Cubs’ offense will be impacted by Baez’s absence, the belief is Lester will show the veteran poise needed to keep this game low-scoring and competitive. He is pitching on normal rest and coming off back-to-back sharp outings in addition to dominating Milwaukee.
Cubs ML (+111)
While Baez’s loss is a huge one for the Cubs, the play is to take the pitcher who has years of crunch-time experience with so much at stake versus the pitcher still finding his way in the rotation. Lester’s form against Milwaukee and overall makes him too good to pass up.
UNDER 4.5 runs first 5 innings (-105)
A confidence pick in Lester, aided somewhat by the fact Brewers manager Craig Counsell will play this game to win and have a quick hook on Houser if he gets into trouble in a tight game. The under is 5-1-1 in Houser’s last seven starts and hit in Lester’s last five on the road.
UNDER 8.5 runs (-105)
Much like Saturday’s contest, starting pitching form matters. Lester has made life miserable for the Brewers in his two starts, and while Houser has not done the same to the Cubs, he has at least been effective.
Lester has been a beast on the road, helping the under go 5-0-1 in his last six starts outside Wrigley and 3-0-1 in his last four versus division rivals. The under was also 6-1-1 in Chicago’s last eight overall and on a five-game run with Lester on the bump versus the Brewers.
Cubs +0.5 runs first 5 innings (-136)
A conservative confidence pick in Lester given his form versus the Brewers. Chicago is 4-3-2 at the midway point in its games in Milwaukee this season and 4-1-3 in its last eight on the road. The Brewers are 2-0-3 at the five-inning mark in Houser’s last starts and have yielded two or fewer runs in all of them.
UNDER 3 runs first 3 innings (-155)
The teams have played to three or fewer runs in the first three innings in four of their last six matchups. With Lester on form and Houser a solid battler early, the expectation is for a second straight low-scoring game early.