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Cubs look for 2-0 lead with Lester starting

WASHINGTON -- Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon has his team in the postseason for the third year in a row. And that had not happened for the Cubs since skipper Frank Chance took Chicago to the World Series each year from 1906-08.

But several current members of the Cubs admit this year had a different feel, after the team won the World Series for the first time in 108 years last fall. Then again that elusive title and the experience it provided may mean little right now.

"I don't know about an advantage. It is all about who shows up and plays and who does the little things right," said Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward. "Experience, yeah, is a great thing to have. But we still have to play."

The Cubs will send Jon Lester (13-8, 4.33 ERA) to the mound on Saturday in Game 2 of the National League Division Series in Washington, with Chicago looking for a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series.

The Nationals will counter with lefty Gio Gonzalez (15-9, 2.96). Ace Max Scherzer (16-6, 2.51) is dealing with a hamstring issue and is slated to start Game 3 on Monday in Chicago after he left his last start on Sept. 28 in the fourth inning.

The Cubs, after a slow start this season, are the first World Series champion to win their division the next season with at least 90 victories since the 2009 Philadelphia Phillies went 93-69 to take the National League East title. Washington outfielder Jayson Werth was on that Phillies team.

"We have to take advantage of the opportunity we have," said Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant, who had a key RBI hit Friday in the Cubs' 3-0 win in Game 1. "We are not always going to be this young. We are here for a reason. We want to win the whole thing."

Gonzalez is 3-3 with a 3.06 ERA in 10 career games (all starts) against Chicago and has allowed 44 hits in 61 2/3 innings. Gonzalez has fanned 63 batters and given up 24 walks and three homers to the Cubs. He last beat them in 2014 when he was 2-0 against the Cubs.

Gonzalez is 0-1 against the Cubs this year, although he gave up just one run and two hits over six innings in that one start.

"Yes, I get very fortunate when I get to see a lineup like that, and I get to see our pitching staff and guys and how they approach it and this and that," Gonzalez said before Friday's game. "But still that's a lineup that can do magic one through nine, so you have to respect it, whoever they put out there."

Gonzalez lost his final two starts of the regular season, allowing nine runs and 12 hits over 9 1/3 innings.

Washington manager Dusty Baker said the club wanted to be cautious with Scherzer, who won the National League Cy Young Award last year.

"It was determined that we would be better if we waited till Game 3," Baker said.

Lester has not beaten the Nationals since 2009, but he is 2-1 with a 2.79 ERA in six career starts against Washington. He was 0-0 in two starts against the Nationals this season with a 2.84 ERA in 12 2/3 innings.

"It's a really, really strong lineup," Lester said. "I was talking to (former pitcher Ryan) Dempster on the way over here and I think the thing that guys forget sometimes, especially when you're pitching against a good lineup, is just like you get through the (Bryce) Harpers, the (Daniel) Murphys and the (Ryan) Zimmermans and you're like, 'OK, I've got a break.' And then you look up and you've got (Anthony) Rendon, (Matt) Wieters, so on, so forth."

Lester won his final two starts of the regular season, allowing just one run over 11 innings in those games.

Lester had trouble holding on runners, and that could be an issue as Washington leadoff man Trea Turner was third in the National League in steals this year. Plus the Nationals hit 215 homers this year while the Cubs hit 223.

"We all know, obviously, they can hit the ball out of the ballpark at a high rate," Lester said.

Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo had a pair of RBI hits on Friday.

"We have been through pretty much every scenario," Rizzo said of the playoffs in 2015 and 2016.

The Cubs are trying to be the first repeat champions since the New York Yankees from 1998 to 2000.

"We know what we are capable of," Heyward said.

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