Only one day removed from tiebreaker shenanigans, the two losers from Games 163 will face off tonight in the National League Wild Card game. The stakes were pretty high yesterday but, even in a loss, they were guaranteed one more game.
Not so tonight. The loser is going home, and it’s going to be absolute heartbreak for whichever team suffers that fate.
For the Rockies, they spent much of early September first in the NL West, before relenting briefly. Thereafter, they ran up a winning streak of eight games to regain the lead, losing only once in nine days, seemingly getting hot at exactly the right moment. Problem was, that one loss allowed the Dodgers to tie up the division and force an extra game. The Rockies traveled from Denver to Los Angeles for Game 163 and lost, forcing them into this Wild Card situation. Now, they’ll travel directly from Los Angeles to Chicago to play a winner-take-all in the Friendly Confines.
Just brutal scheduling for the Rox.
For the Cubs, they spent, basically, the entire second half of the season as the leader in the NL Central. They took the lead on July 14th, even pushing their advantage to five games in early September. However, a 19-7 September from the Brewers bested a 16-12 month for the Cubs, and they found themselves tied after 162 full games. They welcomed the Brewers to town for the tiebreaker, but could manage only three hits and one run, ceding their 2018 NL Central crown for good.
The Rockies will send Kyle Freeland to the mound tonight. He’s quite easily been the Rockies best starter in 2018, pitching 202.1 innings of 2.85 ERA ball. He’s improved in nearly every way over his 2017 rookie campaign that started strongly but fizzled out over the season’s final two months. Beating the Cubs in the “postseason” at Wrigley on national television would certainly raise his profile.
The Cubs get Jon Lester, who is no stranger to the stage or this particular reading audience. Results-wise, Lester has bounced back from a 4.33 ERA 2017, easily his worst season as a Cub (0.7 bWAR in 32 starts). He posted a 3.32 ERA this season, but the peripheral numbers don’t look much different and are in some ways actually worse. His 7.4 K/9 is the worst he’s posted since 2012, when he was still pitching in Boston. His 4.39 FIP, then, is actually worse than his 2017 number.
In his career, Lester has thrown 148 postseason innings, including 35.2 World Series innings (1.79 ERA). Interestingly enough, though, he’s only pitched in one Wild Card game, back when he was a member of the Oakland Athletics. That game, if you’ll remember, was the crazy 12 inning affair between the A’s and the Royals. Lester was the A’s starter that night and pitched into the 8th inning, where he recorded only one out and then watched as Luke Gregerson allowed all of his inherited runners to score. In all, it was 6 ER night for Lester as the A’s eventually fell.