Lester gets Game 1 start as Cubs set NLDS rotation

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CINCINNATI, OH - OCTOBER 01: Jon Lester #34 of the Chicago Cubs pitches in the first inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park on October 1, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

The Cubs made their four-man playoff rotation official on Tuesday, with no surprises.

Whether they face the Mets or the Giants, Cy Young candidate Jon Lester (19-5) starts Game 1 for the Cubs at 8:15 p.m. Friday, with major-league ERA leader Kyle Hendricks (16-8) starting Game 2 on Saturday night.

Opening Day starter Jake Arrieta (18-8) is scheduled for Game 3 on Monday in New York or San Francisco, with 20-start playoff veteran John Lackey (11-8) in Game 4 if necessary.

Jason Hammel (15-10), who was scratched from his final start of the season because of elbow tightness, is out of the rotation and likely off the first-round playoff roster – despite faring well in two innings of a simulated game Tuesday.

“A lot of it’s just been based on recent productivity,” manager Joe Maddon said of the rotation decisions, “the fact that Jon’s just nailed it. Kyle’s nailed it. But they’ve also been very good at home, where Jake’s always also been good on the road, and I think John Lackey doesn’t care where he pitches.”

Lester was 10-2 with a 1.74 ERA at Wrigley Field this year; Hendricks, 9-2, 1.32.

The Giants and Mets play Wednesday in the NL wild-card game, with the

winner advancing to play the Cubs.

Lester likely would face the Giants’ Johnny Cueto if the Giants win. Reports from New York Tuesday night said the Mets were leaning toward rookie right-hander Robert Gsellman (4-2) – who made his big-league debut Aug. 23 – in Game 1, with veteran Bartolo Colon pitching Game 2.

Either way, the Cubs say they like their chances with the National League’s pitcher of the month for both June and September, opening his 11th career postseason series Friday night

“Jon Lester this time of year when he’s feeling good about himself, he always embraces the moment and good things tend to happen,” said team president Theo Epstein, who drafted Lester in Boston before signing him in Chicago as a free agent before last season.

“He really does rise to the occasion,” Epstein said. “Everything locks in and he tends to execute at a really high level.”

Simulated pitching staff?

The Cubs had Arrieta, Lackey and Hammel each throw two innings of their simulated game Tuesday at Wrigley Field.

Six members of the projected seven-man bullpen also pitched an inning each: lefty Mike Montgomery, right-handers Justin Grimm, Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards Jr. and Hector Rondon, and closer Aroldis Chapman.

The other projected reliever, lefty Travis Wood, got the game off after leading the staff with 77 appearances this year. Maddon said Wood (4-0, 2.95 this season) was fine.

Notes: Outfielder Jorge Soler, who returned Sunday from a sore right side, loaded up on at-bats during the simulated game without apparent issue. “He’s definitely part of the conversation to make this roster as long as he’s well,” Maddon said. … CarlEdwards Jr., who took a shot off his shin during Sunday’s season finale in Cincinnati, looked fine Tuesday. “There’s no residual effect,” Maddon said. … Maddon had his pre-playoff team meeting Tuesday, the last of his three planned meeting of the season (also start of spring training and at All-Star break). “The one thing that I really wanted to get across is you have to understand this: Something’s going to go bad. Something’s going to go wrong. And it happens to everybody. But it’s how you react to that moment that sets you apart. We’ve always talked about that, and re-emphasized that today.”


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