Saturday, June 18, 2016

Lester brings dominant stretch into tilt vs. Bucs

Cubs left-hander Jon Lester has been in top form in his past four starts, and he'll look for more of the same against Jonathon Niese and the Pirates on Saturday at Wrigley Field.
Lester is 4-0 with a 0.59 ERA over those four outings, pushing his season record to 8-3 with a 1.89 ERA, the third-best ERA in the Majors. He has done it thanks, in part, to impeccable command. Lester hasn't walked a batter in his last three starts, making him the first Cubs pitcher since Greg Maddux in 2005 to go three straight outings in the same season without yielding a walk.
The Pirates will counter with left-hander Niese, who gave up a season-high eight runs (five earned) over 5 1/3 innings in his last start Sunday against the Cardinals. Niese has already taken one loss against the Cubs last season, surrendering six runs in five innings during a 7-1 loss at PNC Park on May 3.
With a win on Friday, the Cubs lead the season series against the Pirates, 6-1, and have a 13-game lead in the standings over their division rivals. It's mid-June. Do the Cubs have to pretend it's a close race?
"No, because we don't like playing these guys as much as they don't like playing us," Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. "We want to beat them every time, no matter what. We've got St. Louis coming in after this. We want to beat up on the teams in our division."
Three things to know about this game
• Lester is 3-3 with a 1.52 ERA in his career against the Pirates.
• Kris Bryant and Jason Heyward should be back in the starting lineup for the Cubs after not starting Friday's series opener. Heyward got a scheduled day off and Bryant was dealing with a stomach flu but was still available off the bench.
• Pirates left fielder Starling Marte could return to the lineup on Saturday. He was sidelined Friday for the second straight day after taking a one-hopper off his face during Wednesday's game in New York. Marte has been one of Pittsburgh's few hot hitters lately, batting .474 (9-for-19) over the last week.

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