The Cubs already felt like they’ve run the gauntlet against elite pitchers, and now here comes White Sox ace Chris Sale flying at them with his funky mechanics and left-handed spin.
After getting shutout by Carlos Rodon and three White Sox relievers in Friday’s 1-0 loss, the Cubs will answer with their $155 million ace on Saturday afternoon at Wrigley Field.
“Sale will bring a nice buzz to the park,” Jon Lester said. “Obviously, his stuff speaks for itself. He’s fun to watch. He’s wiry and asses and elbows going everywhere.”
Sale is 6-foot-6, 180 pounds and one of the most dominant pitchers on the planet. His run of eight straight starts with at least 10 strikeouts ended earlier this week, though he still threw a complete game and beat Mark Buehrle and the Toronto Blue Jays.
Lester is coming into this high-profile matchup with his own sense of momentum. He finally broke his 0-for-66 streak and notched his first big-league hit on Monday night when a line drive bounced off the leg of St. Louis Cardinals right-hander John Lackey.
Lackey is an old friend from their time together with the Boston Red Sox, so Lester could point to the sky like Sammy Sosa after that infield single. Lester’s .031 average will be up on the video board when he faces Sale.
“If I was a betting man,” Lester said, “I probably wouldn’t bet on getting too many hits tomorrow, but I’m not a betting man. We’ll see. Obviously, Sale makes hitters that hit every day look pretty silly, so I would imagine that it should be interesting.”
Sale is 7-4 with a 2.80 ERA and a 0.94 WHIP that ranks fifth in the majors. At the age of 26, he’s already earned four consecutive All-Star selections.
Lester (4-7, 3.48 ERA) took a no-hitter into the seventh inning against the Cardinals – in a 6-0 loss that got ugly late. It’s been an up-and-down first half in the first season of that six-year megadeal.
It’s not staring down the New York Yankees at Fenway Park, but Lester vs. Sale will be entertaining.
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“He chucks the hell out of it,” Lester said. “It’s always fun when you go up against the best and you know you can’t let up too many. Or else we’re going to be in trouble.”
The Cubs have now been shutout eight times this season, and scored only one, two or three runs in 34 more games. That’s almost 50 percent of the schedule so far. They’re still 46-39, in third place in the National League Central and in position to win the second wild card.
“I don’t like to look ahead to the playoff picture or anything like that,” Lester said. “That’s putting the cart before the horse. We got a long ways to go, a lot of baseball (left). We got to play a lot of good teams. This division is very tough.
“You can assess right now: We’ve done pretty well. We’re (seven) games above .500. We’re right in the thick of things (while) having a young team that’s never been through anything like this. It’s a good buzz around here, the guys enjoy coming to the field and playing. We’ve been playing good baseball, and hopefully we continue that.”