Lester faces Gonzalez in Washington; Hill vs. Ray in Los Angeles
By Manny Randhawa
Facing an 0-2 deficit during any postseason series makes for a difficult road ahead, but that's especially the case in a best-of-five Division Series. Only seven teams have reeled off three consecutive wins to complete a series comeback.
So, today's pair of National League Division Series presented by T-Mobile games are crucial, as the Cubs look to take a 2-0 series lead over the Nationals and the Dodgers aim to do the same against the D-backs.
The Cubs got a stellar performance from Game 1 starter Kyle Hendricks on Friday in Washington, as the right-hander tossed seven scoreless innings in a 3-0 Chicago victory. In Game 2 on Saturday (5:30 p.m. ET on TBS), veteran left-hander Jon Lester will take the mound against a formidable Nationals lineup.
Lester (13-8, 4.33 ERA) had some rough starts from the beginning of August through Sept. 20, posting a 6.81 ERA over eight outings. But over his final two starts of the regular season, he gave up just one run in 11 innings (0.82 ERA), with 11 strikeouts and two walks. He also has an impressive postseason resume -- a 2.63 ERA in 22 career playoff outings (19 starts), including a co-MVP performance in last year's NL Championship Series.
"The more you play in these situations, the more you can kind of separate all the stuff that's going along with it and just go and worry about what your job is that day," Lester said.
Lester's counterpart will be another southpaw, Washington's Gio Gonzalez. Gonzalez (15-9, 2.96 ERA) seeks to follow up one of the best regular seasons of his career with success in October. The left-hander has a 3.93 ERA in four career playoff starts.
In Gonzalez's only regular-season start against the Cubs on June 26, he gave up one run over six innings. But in two starts against Chicago in 2016, Gonzalez allowed eight runs over 12 innings (6.00 ERA).
"That's a lineup that can do magic, 1 through 9, so you have to respect it, whoever they put out there," Gonzalez said. "I just want to prepare myself and try and take one hitter at a time."
The Cubs' offense was sparked by sluggers Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo on Friday, with a Bryant RBI single opening the scoring and Rizzo contributing an RBI single and RBI double. Bryant had been a combined 2-for-11 in his previous four games, and Rizzo was 2-for-21 in his previous seven. If those two get hot, Chicago could head home to Wrigley Field with a commanding 2-0 series lead.
Manager Joe Maddon is expected to load his lineup with right-handed hitters, given that right-handers slashed .226/.310/.370 against Gonzalez this season, while lefties hit only .183/.251/.256 against him.
Collectively, the Nationals hit better against left-handers than right-handers this season, slashing .275/.331/.456 against southpaws. Bryce Harper (.802 OPS), Daniel Murphy (.823), Anthony Rendon (1.131) and Ryan Zimmerman (1.039), in particular, had success vs. lefties.
In the nightcap, the Dodgers' offense looks to stay hot against the D-backs in Game 2 of the NLDS at Dodger Stadium (9 p.m. ET on TBS). Left-hander Rich Hill (12-8, 3.32 ERA) takes the ball for Los Angeles, while left-hander Robbie Ray (15-5, 2.89) starts for Arizona.
Hill posted a 2.77 ERA in 14 home starts this season, and was very good in September, posting a 1.86 ERA, striking out 40 and walking only eight in 29 innings over five starts. Outside of an Aug. 29 outing in which he was hit hard by the D-backs for six runs in 3 2/3 innings, Hill's ERA in three starts against Arizona this season was 2.81 (five runs in 16 innings).
"Their lineup and the way that they go about their business is extremely professional, and that's what makes a team, a special team," Hill said of the D-backs. "It's going to be a very difficult road to complete this task that we want to at the end of the day. But it still comes back to that consistency of effort and playing with a certain level of intensity."
Ray tossed 2 1/3 innings of relief in the D-backs' victory over the Rockies in the NL Wild Card Game on Wednesday, throwing 34 pitches. The 26-year-old lefty was actually tougher on right-handed batters this season than left-handed: righties slashed .195/.297/.354, whereas lefties slashed .216/.260/.362. In five starts against the Dodgers, he gave up eight earned runs in 31 2/3 innings (2.27 ERA).
"I feel great," Ray said. "I wouldn't lie to [manager Torey Lovullo]. I wouldn't give this team anything but 100 percent of myself. I feel like that would be cheating me, and cheating the team. So I feel 100 percent, and I feel ready to go."
The Dodgers' offense in Game 1 was led by Justin Turner, who homered and matched a franchise postseason record with five RBIs, raising his career postseason batting average to .383 (23-for-60). Turner feasted on left-handers this season, slashing .380/.477/.704 with 11 homers in 172 plate appearances.
Although they're down a game in a short series, the D-backs understand what needs to be done.
"We have been very resilient," Lovullo said. "We've had some tough losses, and, you know, this is playoff baseball. We know that we're built for moments like this. We've been battle-tested all year long. But it's one game. It was a tough day for us. ... I know this team is going to regroup and be ready for a tough game [Saturday]."
Manny Randhawa is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver. Follow him on Twitter at @MannyOnMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.