Cubs, Lester face Dodgers, Kershaw in series finale

LOS ANGELES -- The law of averages reveals that the staff aces for the Cubs and Dodgers would meet at least once in the last decade, or since Los Angeles' Clayton Kershaw made his major league debut in 2008 -- two years later than Chicago's Jon Lester.

But they haven't, which adds spine-tingling anticipation to the finale of their three-game series Sunday at Dodger Stadium when they finally work from the same mound in a game. As heavyweight matchups go, this is the biggest in 2017.

Lester has three World Series rings, finished in the top three in Cy Young voting three times, was last year's National League Championship Series MVP (versus the Dodgers) and has 149 career victories. Kershaw has won the Cy Young award three times, has 133 career wins and pitched three times in Los Angeles' NL Division series win against the Nationals, once in relief to clinch the series that sent the Dodgers to the NLCS against the Cubs.

So the anticipation is warranted. Lester, 3-2 with a 3.19 ERA this season, pitched the Cubs' first complete game of the season against the Giants on Tuesday. He's faced the Dodgers six times in the regular season, with a 2-2 record and 2.82 ERA. He's allowed four hits or fewer in five of those starts, and one run or fewer in four. He also pitched twice against the Dodgers in the NLCS in 2016 with the Cubs winning both (Games 1 and 5), throwing 13 total innings with nine hits and two runs.

Kershaw is 7-2 this season with a 2.01 ERA, league-leading 0.82 WHIP and .198 opponent batting average. He pitched nine innings, allowing three hits and striking out 10 in a no-decision against the Cardinals on Tuesday in a game that went 13 innings. Kershaw is 5-3 with a 2.18 ERA in eight career starts against the Cubs, allowing 43 hits and 13 walks while striking out 68 in 53 2/3 innings. He allowed three runs or fewer in all eight starts.

He faced the Cubs twice in the 2017 NLCS, allowing two hits and no runs in a 1-0 win in Game 2, and then being touched for four runs in the Game 6 clincher, at that moment the biggest game in Cubs history since it put them in the World Series for the first time since 1945.

Some Dodger fans will always wonder "what if?" about that series. Manager Dave Roberts, with the NLCS tied 2-2, chose not to use Kershaw on three days rest in Game 5 versus Lester.

Lester's complete game Tuesday was the 15th of his career. In the Cubs' home opener this season against the Dodgers when the World Series flag was raised, he allowed one run in six innings in an eventual 3-2 Cubs victory.

"Not too shabby right?" Lester joked after the win against the Giants, his 12th at Wrigley in his last 16 home outings. "I think the complete game now is few and far between, so there's always that gratification to go out there and finish it and walk off and shake everybody's hand as they go off the field."

"That's classic stuff. He just kept getting better," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "He's a real thoroughbred starting pitcher and he's starting to feel it."

Lester did not have a three-ball count and he needed only 99 pitches and a mere 2:05 on the clock for the win.

Kershaw has been brilliant all season, walking eight batters in 10 starts. He's allowed two runs or fewer eight times. He's also allowing himself to step back from his usual desire to pitch to exhaustion, accepting Roberts' desire to keep him fresh, use the deep Dodgers' bullpen and maintain his health a season after missing time with a back injury.

"I understand where they're coming from," Kershaw told the L.A. Times this week. "I feel like everything (Roberts) is trying to do is benefiting everybody."

"There are going to be times when I'll lean on him," Roberts said. "But I'm cognizant of trying to manage him the right way."

Kershaw shrugs off all of the statistical accolades he's compiling.

"I'm not worried about the career stuff," Kershaw said. "Eventually, you'll get to look back on it all. But hopefully I'm right in the middle of all that stuff."

As for his 0.86 WHIP? "Well, one bad outing, and that will go right back up."
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