Chicago Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio hinted at it on the radio yesterday, and today the team made it official, revealing that lefty Jon Lester will start the opener of the NLCS for the Cubs (Carrie Muskat, Bruce Miles).
The only question, of course, was whether the Cubs would bump Lester back a day and start him on Sunday, keeping Jake Arrieta on normal rest and allowing him to start the first game of the NLCS on Saturday. By going with Lester, then, the Cubs give Arrieta an extra day, and keep the duo in the order they were for the Wild Card Game and NLDS. In theory, Lester would get games one and five, and Arrieta would get games two and six. Other starters and relievers would have to mix and match in the remaining games.
The arguable downsides of the decision are (1) Arrieta would not be able to pitch out of the bullpen in game seven if the series gets that far, and (2) if the Cubs are down in the series, game six is slightly less likely to be played than game five – meaning there’s a chance the Cubs could bow out early while having their top starter make just one appearance.
You could also say that planning on a game seven started by, for example, Kyle Hendricks or Jason Hammel is a risky proposition, but it’s possible the Cubs could have Arrieta start games two and seven. Further, game seven matters only if the Cubs get that far, so let’s worry about the team winning earlier in the series anyway.
Getting Arrieta a little extra rest, and simultaneously not letting Lester sit too many days between starts is all fine by me.
I also don’t get too bothered by this rotation decision because it’s not like Lester isn’t really good, too. Although Arrieta is unquestionably the ace of this team, each of he and Lester were virtually certain to pitch just twice in the NLCS anyway. Flip-flopping them in the rotation doesn’t really help much, then.