LOS ANGELES – The Cubs will have Jake Arrieta starring in “Sunday Night Baseball” at Dodger Stadium, their best hope to end this four-game losing streak and leave the West Coast with some stretch-run momentum.
Jon Lester couldn’t do it on Saturday night, cruising along until the Dodgers ambushed him in the seventh inning of a 5-2 loss that seemed to come out of nowhere.
If Lester (8-10, 3.59 ERA) and Arrieta (16-6, 2.22) starts aren’t must-wins at the end of August, those games are weighted differently with all the questions about the other 60 percent of the rotation, how that stresses the bullpen and what happens to a young lineup that is feeling the growing pains and hasn’t experienced a September like this before.
“The season’s a rollercoaster,” Lester said. “The good seasons are the ones that you’re able to minimize the ups and downs. You don’t want that rollercoaster falling off and going way down and then riding the high back up.
“If you can kind of keep it to where it’s just those little bumps and those little ups and downs – and minimize your losing streaks and maximize your winning streaks – that usually means at the end of the year you’re in a good place.”
Lester can explain the big picture, but he had a harder time dissecting what went wrong in the seventh inning with a 2-1 lead against the bottom of the Los Angeles lineup.
The Dodgers knocked out four consecutive hits, tying the game with Jose Peraza’s first career double and taking the lead with Andre Ethier’s two-run single up the middle.
A crowd of 51,697 got loud. Lester walked off the mound toward the dugout with his head down and Jay-Z blasting from the stadium’s sound system.
“I have no idea,” said Lester, who was charged with five runs. “I don’t know if they changed their approach or what, but it seemed like they were more willing to take the ball the other way that last inning. I guess we did a bad job of recognizing that (fast enough). I usually don’t watch (video) when I’m done pitching, but I went back and watched it. I was making pitches.
“I had really good location on my heater, both sides of the plate. Good cutter. Probably the best changeup I’ve had all year. At the end of the day, it’s a waste.”
Lester threw to Miguel Montero with personal catcher David Ross on the family medical emergency list, and there are definitely issues with the $155 million lefty trying to control the running game, stuff that matters in October.
But look at the offense: After getting schooled by Madison Bumgarner and Clayton Kershaw, the Cubs needed a Mat Latos balk to score one of their two runs.
For more than $300 million, the Dodgers don’t have much of a pitching staff beyond Kershaw, Zack Greinke and closer Kenley Jansen, but the Cubs couldn’t capitalize.
Los Angeles reliever Jim Johnson loaded the bases in the eighth by hitting Kris Bryant and Montero back-to-back before getting Addison Russell to ground into an inning-ending double play. The Cubs (73-55) finished with 11 strikeouts, going 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position and leaving nine men on base.
“It’s nothing to worry about,” Montero said. “You’re playing good teams. Unfortunately, we haven’t had that big hit to kind of get us (started). We’ve had chances, but we haven’t got that big knock to get a couple runners in.
“It puts a lot of pressure on the pitcher and the catcher. You can’t really make a mistake.”
At least from a second-wild-card point of view, the Cubs didn’t lose any ground against the San Francisco Giants, who are still 4.5 games back with their 6-0 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals.
“If your players don’t care, if your players don’t show up, if your players don’t play hard, then you become disappointed,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Our guys care and they’re good and we’ll be fine.”