Master of routine, Lester ready for Game 1

Master of routine, Lester ready for Game 1

CHICAGO -- The key to Jon Lester's success? It may be his routine.

"It's interesting to see veterans, guys who've been around for 10-plus years, how they do things very similar and extremely different," Jake Arrieta said of Lester, who will start Game 1 of the National League Division Series on Friday (FS1, 9 p.m. ET/8 CT) against the Giants.

"Watching his bullpen routine and his flat-ground routine, he's got it broken down into a science how he structures his day, what he likes to do two hours before his start and three hours before a start," Arrieta said. "We notice those things and that's obviously why he's had so much success and why he's done it for such a long time."

Game Date Matchup Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 7 CHC 1, SF 0 video
Gm 2 Oct. 8 CHC 5, SF 2 video
Gm 3 Oct. 10 SF 6, CHC, 5 (13) video
Gm 4 Oct. 11 CHC 6, SF 5 video

Lester, 32, who matched his career high in wins this season with 19, got the Game 1 assignment because he deserved it, manager Joe Maddon said. The lefty finished with a 2.44 ERA, second in the Major Leagues to his teammate, Kyle Hendricks.

"He's earned the right to be this guy," Maddon said.

It also helps that Lester has made Wrigley Field his home turf, posting a 10-2 record and 1.74 ERA at home, including a complete-game victory over the Giants on Sept. 2. However, he struggled on May 21 in San Francisco, giving up five runs over 2 2/3 innings in a loss.

"Each start is unique," Cubs catcher David Ross said. "There's different approaches from the other team. They came in with a different game plan, different from the time we played them in San Francisco."

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Ross is another part of Lester's routine and knows the pitcher better than anyone, having caught him in Boston and now in Chicago for two seasons. The catcher jokingly calls the pitcher "Sideburns."

"The biggest thing is I know what Rossy is bringing tomorrow, he knows what I'm going to bring and I think we have a way of communicating to where we can talk each other off a ledge if we need to or pump each other up if we need to," Lester said. "It's a good working relationship and, like I've said before, he knows how to push my buttons and I know how to push his and we try to get the best out of each other. We'll try to ride that wave again tomorrow."

The two know the expectations surrounding the Cubs, who head into the postseason as the favorites to end their long championship drought. Lester said a lot of players get in trouble in the postseason if they change their approach and become scared. A fastball down and away works in May just as it does in October, he said.

"But if you throw that fastball down and away timid, it's not going to work too well," Lester said. "You have to take the same mindset, the same preparation -- that's why I said before, I run to my routine, I run to that. That's kind of my fallback. I know that's kind of the consistent thing in my life as far as the baseball life. So I know what to do and I know if I'm prepared and I'm ready to go come 8 o'clock tomorrow -- let's get it on and see what happens."

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.