If the Cubs had to win one game, which pitcher would you start?
The popular choice is Jake Arrieta, who is so hot, you’d be wise to shake his hand with an oven mitt. He has won six of his last seven decisions and watched his earned-run average drop from 3.40 to 2.50 in that span. A no-brainer, right?
But one of the big reasons the Cubs signed Jon Lester to a mega-millions contract in the offseason is exactly the situation we’re discussing. In the postseason, he is 6-4 with a 2.57 ERA. He has especially shined in the World Series, going 3-0 with a 0.43 ERA in three starts. He seems to live for these moments.
Arrieta, who came to the Cubs in 2013 after spending 3 1/2 seasons in Baltimore, has never pitched in the offseason. It’s something to keep in mind if you have to choose a starter for a pressure-filled, do-or-die game.
I’d pick Lester. It probably defies analytical explanation, but he simply pitches better when it matters. Maybe he knows how to control his heart rate in tense moments. Maybe his need to come out on top is turbocharged. I don’t know. But there’s a track record here that can’t be ignored.
True, he struggled in his one postseason start last season, giving up six earned runs in 7 1/3 innings. But he helped Oakland get to that point by going 6-4 with a 2.35 ERA after being dealt by Boston.
If you’re Cubs manager Joe Maddon, you thank your lucky stars, both of them, for having choices.