Despite missing 20th win, Lester looks ahead

Lefty knows it's 'go time' as Cubs begin postseason play Friday

Despite missing 20th win, Lester looks ahead

CINCINNATI -- Jon Lester didn't get his 20th win, but he did make 32 starts for the Cubs, totaled 200 plus innings and finished with a 2.44 ERA. And now it's time for the second season.

Lester took the loss on Saturday as the Cubs dropped a 7-4 decision to the Reds at Great American Ball Park. The lefty served up five runs over five innings in his final regular-season start.

"Two hundred innings is big," Lester said of this season. "Didn't miss a start, and that's what I pride myself on -- that I take the ball every five days. That's something I've tried to do for a long time. This [season] was special on a personal level, just where everything is at and finished. It'll probably go down as one of the better if not best years of my career. Hopefully, there's a couple more to come. Now we have the real business to get down to."

Manager Joe Maddon has yet to announce the Cubs' rotation for the National League Division Series, which starts on Friday (FS1, 9 p.m. ET/8 CT), but Lester was expected to get the call. He has started Game 1 of a playoff series seven times in his career.

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"Now it's go time," Lester said. "This is the real season now. You play 162 to get to now. It'll be completely different when you step on that field Friday with that crowd. I'm sure it'll be electric. This is playoff baseball -- that's when it becomes a lot of fun and every pitch is do or die."

On Saturday, Lester said he felt as if he was rushing his delivery and just couldn't get back on track. In his previous eight starts, he'd given up four earned runs over 56 1/3 innings. He was 10-0 in 13 second-half starts. And he was trying to become the Cubs' first left-handed 20-game winner since Dick Ellsworth won 22 in 1963.

"Jonny's command was not 100 percent," Maddon said. "His stuff was good regarding velocity, but overall, just execution of his pitches was just off a click. It just wasn't wanting to work today. He wasn't physically fine. He's not going to be perfect every time."

Lester needed 26 pitches to get through the second inning, and 31 more in the third. His outing didn't end well. Lester thought he had struck out Eugenio Suarez to end the Reds' fifth, and both he and catcher David Ross headed toward the dugout. But home-plate umpire Tom Hallion had called ball four. Maddon said Hallion later admitted to Ross he missed the call.

Was Lester thinking about possibly setting a career high with a 20th win?

"Yeah -- we're all human," he said. "Any time you come into a situation like that, it's on your mind, especially the last start of the season. I don't think it had any bearing on what happened."

Lester will have plenty of time to figure it out. After Sunday's regular-season finale, the Cubs will take Monday off, then work out for three days in preparation for the NLDS, which opens at Wrigley Field against the winner of the NL Wild Card Game.

Lester, who has made 14 postseason starts, knows what lies ahead.

"I don't want to sound like a [jerk] or anything, but we haven't done anything yet," Lester said. "What it comes down to, this season isn't anything unless we do what we showed up in Spring Training to do and win a World Series. The 100 and whatever wins is great, all the personal stuff is great. This is go time now. Now we have to live up to the expectations and the hype."

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for since 2001. 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.