Playoff rotation order in flux as Jon Lester makes key start Monday

MILWAUKEE — Don’t assume Jon Lester’s postseason pedigree and big-game reputation is a free pass to the front of the Cubs’ playoff rotation for a likely first-round matchup against the Washington Nationals.

The Cubs’ Opening Day starter has struggled in four starts since returning from lat tightness and shoulder fatigue last month. And without a return to his typical form in starts Monday and, presumably, Saturday, where he slots in October is anything but automatic.

“It is a tough one,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Kyle Hendricks is pitching as well as anybody on this team and among the best in the league.”

Jake Arrieta, who returned strong from a hamstring injury Thursday and pitches again Tuesday, could be in line for Game 1, with Hendricks (2.34 ERA last 12 starts) in the mix for one of the first two games.

Jon Lester

And then there’s left-hander Jose Quintana, who pitched a three-hit shutout Sunday to put the Cubs on the brink of the division title.

The Cubs figure to get the Nationals in the first round, and Lester has good numbers against most of their tougher hitters.

“I really anticipate better,” Maddon said of Lester’s assignment Monday  in St. Louis. “He has had to work through coming off his injury. Physically he’s well. There’s nothing unwell about him. As long as he’s well and healthy, he’s going to be fine.”

All of which adds an extra layer of significance to the final week of games, perhaps none more significant than Lester on Monday.

“Let’s just play this out, when it comes down to that moment to really evaluate what we want to do,” Maddon said. “Hopefully, we get to the playoffs and when you get there, then you make your best guesses based on who you’re going to play — that could also be part of it.”

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