MLB.com Columnist

Phil Rogers

Cubs count on 3 wise men for 'big-boy games'

Arrieta, Lackey, Lester likely give Chicago the edge in LA

Cubs count on 3 wise men for 'big-boy games'

LOS ANGELES -- Sometimes it's almost too easy to clip and save a strong quote, but here goes anyway.

At the start of the summer, after losing the opener of a four-game series against the Mets in New York, John Lackey corrected a reporter who implied that it was a significant series because it was a rematch of the 2015 National League Championship Series.

NLCS Game 3: Tonight at 8 p.m. ET/7 p.m. CT on FS1

"It's June, who cares?" Lackey said. "Big-boy games are totally different."

Game Date Matchup Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 15 CHC 8, LAD 4 video
Gm 2 Oct. 16 LAD 1, CHC 0 video
Gm 3 Oct. 18 LAD 6, CHC 0 video
Gm 4 Oct. 19 CHC 10, LAD 2 video
Gm 5 Oct. 20 CHC 8, LAD 4 video
Gm 6 Oct. 22 CHC 5, LAD 0 video

Big-boy games, huh?

Well, here they are for the Cubs and their celebrated starting pitchers.

The best-of-seven series is tied 1-1 after a combined two-hitter from Clayton Kershaw and Kenley Jansen on Sunday.

Jake Arrieta, Lackey and Jon Lester give the Cubs an advantage over the Dodgers in Games 3-5, assuming you believe pitchers control games more than noisy fans or familiarity with the ballpark. Ben Zobrist is among teammates who trust in the veterans' ability and experience.

"It's big," Zobrist said. "Those guys have been in these situations before. Guys like Lackey, Lester, Jake, they're seasoned at these big games. I don't think the big situation bothers them at all. They really look forward to the opportunity."

Failure is not an option for the Cubs as they continue their search for baseball's holy grail. If they don't win at least two of the next three games, bad things could happen.

Kershaw, who has worked overtime in October, will be rested and ready to eliminate the Cubs in Game 6, if the Dodgers get within a win of the World Series. That's the scenario that will be keeping Cubs fans up at night until it's no longer in play.

After 108 years of waiting for happy endings, it's understandable fans would be anxious. But Arrieta, Lackey and Lester are capable of writing an entirely different script -- one where the Dodgers could be forced to use Kershaw to get them to a seventh game or even be used on short rest in Game 5 to get the series back to Wrigley Field.

This is how you like to have your starters lined up for October.

"To have three big guys like that, to come in and control the game is huge," Cubs shortstop Addison Russell said. "Playing behind them is phenomenal. I like the way they work, the way they go after hitters. The team has a lot of confidence in them."

Lester's solid outing in Game 1

Arrieta, Lackey and Lester aren't as decorated as the Braves' vaunted collection of Maddux, Smoltz and Glavine, but they are the kind of veterans who helped the Yankees rack up four championships in five years from 1996-2000.

Andy Pettitte was there for every October in that era, but the rotation around him was a revolving cast of worldly pitchers, including Jimmy Key, David Cone, David Wells, Orlando Hernandez and Roger Clemens. They knew how to prepare and execute in October.

Arrieta's five-hit shutout at Pittsburgh in the NL Wild Card Game last year is the Cubs' biggest postseason win since the immortal Orval Overall got the final out in the 1908 World Series.

Lackey won Game 7 of the 2002 Series as a rookie for the Angels, and he will be making his 22nd career postseason start, tying Whitey Ford for sixth all-time. Lester pitched the Series clincher for the Red Sox over the Rockies in 2007, as a 23-year-old returning from cancer treatment, and won four games for Boston in the '13 playoffs, including two victories over Cardinals icon Adam Wainwright in the World Series.

These guys combined to go 48-21 with a 2.95 ERA this season and have worked 24 innings in the postseason with a 2.25 ERA.

They're healthy and unusually rested for this point in the season. Manager Joe Maddon tapered their regular-season workloads to set them up for four or five more starts.

Arrieta won the NL Cy Young Award last season and has gone 40-14 with a 2.39 ERA the past two seasons. He threw a no-hitter at Dodger Stadium in 2015 and stared down Madison Bumgarner his last time out. Arrieta even hit a three-run homer off Bumgarner in that NL Division Series matchup.

Statcast: Arrieta's three-run HR

Lackey wasn't pleased to be lifted for a pinch-hitter in the fifth inning of Game 4 of the NLDS at San Francisco. He's never been the big-hat, no-cattle type, so look for him to rise to the occasion Wednesday in Game 4 of the NLCS. Lester allowed only one run in 14 innings in his starts against the Dodgers and Giants, and he remains on the roll you need from your No. 1 starter (10-2, 1.34 ERA in 14 starts since July 29).

Arrieta faces Dodgers lefty Rich Hill in Game 3, and there's no question he'll be ready to go.

"Jake was walking around the clubhouse today saying, 'I wish we were playing today,'" Zobrist said. "He's just excited to get back out on the bump. That's how all those guys are. They relish the opportunity to do something for the team every fifth day. The postseason is nothing different, except maybe a few extra days [off]."

And a lot more big-boy games.

Phil Rogers is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.