Two years ago, Jon Lester and John Lackey were the top two pitchers for the World Series champion Boston Red Sox. They’ll be reunited on Friday, this time as opposing starters in Game 1 of the 2015 National League Division Series between the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals.
Lester takes the hill for the visiting Cubs, who beat the Pittsburgh Pirates in Wednesday’s wild-card game. The St. Louis Cardinals send Lackey to the mound, playing their first playoff game after leading MLB with 100 wins in the regular season.
It was a rough start for Lester in his first season with the Cubs. After landing a six-year, $155-million contract with Chicago in the offseason, the left-hander had a 6.23 ERA in the first month of the season. Since then, he’s pitched to a 2.99 ERA, and he’s allowed two runs or fewer in five of his last six starts.
Lester had trouble in his first introduction to the Cubs-Cardinals rivalry, allowing three runs in just 4.1 innings in a season-opening loss. He performed much better in his next four starts against St. Louis, posting a 2.00 ERA. The Cardinals’ top hitters have been successful against Lester, as Matt Holliday, Matt Carpenter and Jason Heyward are a combined 19-for-47 (.404) against Chicago’s No.2 pitcher.
While Lester is one of the highest-paid pitchers in baseball, no veteran is making less money than Lackey. Because of a clause in his contract, the 36-year-old earned the league minimum $507,500 salary in 2015, and he proved to be one of the best bargains in MLB. After Adam Wainwright went down for most of the year with an injury, Lackey became the ace of the staff, ranking seventh in the NL with a 2.77 ERA. He was terrific in September, and he’s allowed more than three runs just once in the last four months.
Lackey was exceptional in his last start against the Cubs, pitching seven shutout innings at Wrigley Field. This season, he has a 1.25 ERA in 21.2 innings against Chicago. But a few of the Cubs’ players have hit Lackey particularly well, including Chris Coghlan (8-17), Jorge Soler (4-8) and Austin Jackson (5-13).
Even though the Cardinals had MLB’s best record for most of the season, Game 1 is considered to be a tossup at Las Vegas sportsbooks, and the Cubs are small favorites to win the series. St. Louis ended the season with six losses in their last nine games, and Chicago is on a nine-game winning streak.
Start Time: 6:45 p.m. ET
TV Channel: TBS
Online Stream: Watch TBS