Lester leads Cubs with another strong start

Impressed with young club's energy, ace allows two runs over seven innings

Lester leads Cubs with another strong start

CHICAGO -- Jon Lester didn't total double-digit strikeouts -- in fact, he didn't have an offspeed pitch -- but he was effective on Friday, and Cubs manager Joe Maddon isn't surprised one bit.

Lester won his third in a row in the Cubs' 7-3 victory over the Giants, and now has thrown at least seven innings in seven in a row.

"Right now, he's turning into the metronome that he is," Maddon said. "You're going to see those kind of performances and it doesn't surprise me. I've seen it -- from the wrong side in the past."

With the win, the Cubs have won eight of their past nine games, and the starters have gone 6-0 in that stretch, giving up 14 earned runs over 55 2/3 innings (2.26 ERA).

But what Lester may be best at is guiding the young Cubs as they battle for a postseason spot. With the win, Chicago has a 1 1/2-game lead over San Francisco in the National League Wild Card standings.

"That's how you learn," Lester said. "You get put on the stage and put against good teams and you have to figure out ways to win. [The Giants] never give up. They keep grinding and keep working at-bats whether they're up seven runs or down seven. ... [The Cubs] are learning on the job, and it's a hard thing to do."

Lester on win over Giants

The Cubs started four rookies Friday, and they will continue to go with the kids. It helps pump up the veterans like Lester.

"Guys have energy, guys have excitement to be in this position," Lester said. "I think sometimes you can get complacent by doing it every single year and being with the same guys and going through the motions in August and September, and 'We'll be there when we get there.'

"For a group of guys who have never done it, you've got that excitement of every single day, we've got a chance. Once you get there, it's just a matter of who's the hottest team. It's not who's the best team. You get some good pitching going, some timely hitting, and all of a sudden you look up and you're in the World Series."

That's a concept that hasn't occurred at Wrigley Field since 1945.

"These guys -- it's been impressive to see the transformation as they come up from prospects to everyday big leaguers, and now we're in this little push," Lester said. "Seeing them learn has been fun."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.