As Cubs set sights on playoffs, count out John Lackey at your own risk

As Cubs set sights on playoffs, count out John Lackey at your own risk

There's a chill in the air around Chicago, the leaves are starting to change color and fans are beginning to discuss the world of "magic numbers."

The Cubs rattled off their fifth straight win Friday, leaning on John Lackey's big performance to take them one step closer to a postseason berth for the third straight year.

Lackey has seemingly been counted out several times this year as a 38-year-old pitcher in the twilight of his career.

But the Cubs are now 9-1 in his last 10 starts after he threw seven shutout innings in a 2-0 victory over the Atlanta Braves in front of 37,280 fans at Wrigley Field.

It was Lackey's second start of at least seven shutout innings this season. The rest of the Cubs starters have combined for three such outings.

"He was really good," Joe Maddon said. "He was making pitches, his velocity stayed up the whole time. Wasn't really threatened. When he struck out Freddie [Freeman in the first inning], that really told me a lot because you normally don't see him look [silly] on any pitch, so I thought, 'something's goin' on here.'"

Maddon admitted Lackey could've gone out for the eighth inning given the tall right-hander needed only 83 pitches to get through seven, but his spot in the batting order came up with a runner on second base in a tight ballgame in the bottom of the seventh and the Cubs manager opted for a pinch-hitter.

Lackey is a flyball pitcher who has given up the second-most homers in baseball this season (32), but his style was perfectly suited for the environment Friday with the wind blowing straight in off the lake at 17 mph.

Lackey and veteran catcher Alex Avila played to the conditions, knowing they can pump the zone with strikes with less fear of a ball soaring into the bleachers.

"If the wind's blowing in here, you use it," Lackey said.

Last October, Lackey was on a short leash, making only one start in each series as the Cubs marched their way to a championship.

This year, if the Cubs are able to make the playoffs again, how will they line up their rotation? Where would Lackey and his 140 career postseason innings fit in?

Jake Arrieta is looking like his Cy Young self again, Kyle Hendricks is healthy and finding his groove, Jon Lester returns from the disabled list Saturday and Jose Quintana is a frontline starter even if he hasn't completely pitched like one in a Cubs uniform. Even swingman Mike Montgomery has proven he is a very capable starting pitcher. But as Maddon said before Friday's game, baseball has a cruel way of answering questions of surplus on a roster.

It's easy for fans and writers to start ruminating about the postseason rotation, but it's too soon for the Cubs coaching staff or front office to worry about it.

It's most certainly too soon for a 38-year-old starting pitcher that may have just begun the final regular season month of his career:

"I just work here."

Willson Contreras' bat-flip game is already in midseason form

Willson Contreras' bat-flip game is already in midseason form

The MLB regular season is still 13 days away, but Willson Contreras is ready for the swings to count.

The Cubs catcher hit an absolute bomb of a homer Friday afternoon off White Sox pitcher Reynaldo Lopez, but it wasn't just a homer.

Contreras put an exclamation mark on the dinger (his third of the spring and the second this week) with an A+ bat flip:

I'm not sure what's more majestic: The 450-foot shot or the 45-foot bat-flip.

Either way, Contreras is ready for those 2018 NL MVP votes.

Cubs opposition research: It's an even year, so count on a Giants comeback


Cubs opposition research: It's an even year, so count on a Giants comeback

The expectations couldn't be any higher for the 2018 Chicago Cubs. 

It's 2016 all over again. The goal isn't just a trip to the playoffs or another NL pennant. It's World Series or bust for this group of North Siders.

With that, let's take a look at all of the teams that could stand in the way of the Cubs getting back to the Fall Classic:

San Francisco Giants

2017 record: 64-98, last place in NL West

Offseason additions: Andrew McCutchen, Evan Longoria, Austin Jackson, Gregor Blanco, Tony Watson, Julian Fernandez

Offseason departures: Michael Morse, Matt Cain, Matt Moore, Denard Span, Kyle Crick, Christian Arroyo

X-factor: Brandon Belt

The trades for Longoria and McCutchen are going to get all the attention, but the Giants are sort of acquiring Belt, too. 

Their sweet-swining lefty first baseman only appeared in 104 games in 2017, missing the last few weeks of the season with a bad concussion. When he was on the field, he led the team in both homers (18) and walks (66) despite just 451 plate appearances. 

Belt has turned into one of the most patient hitters in the game and if he is able to stay healthy for a full season, would slot in perfectly in the 2-hole ahead of McCutchen, Longoria and Buster Posey. 

Projected lineup

1. Joe Panik - 2B
2. Brandon Belt - 1B
3. Andrew McCutchen - RF
4. Buster Posey - C
5. Evan Longoria - 3B
6. Hunter Pence - LF
7. Brandon Crawford - SS
8. Austin Jackson - CF

Projected rotation

1. Madison Bumgarner
2. Johnny Cueto
3. Jeff Samardzija
4. Ty Blach
5. Chris Stratton


The Giants tied for the worst record in Major League Baseball in 2017, surprising many around the league. Absolutely nothing went right for the team, from a lack of power on the field (Belt missed a third of the season and still led the team in homers), injuries (Bumgarner only made 17 starts) and general ineffectiveness (Mark Melancon).

But the Giants are a team that excels in even years, though the Cubs may have broken that juju by knocking San Fran out of the NLDS in 2016.

Still, between the return to health of key players and some big moves that improved the lineup, this team is primed for a return to form.

Watson is a nice piece at the back end of the bullpen and bet on a rebound from Melancon, who was one of the best late-inning relievers in the game from 2013-16 (1.80 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 147 saves).

Expect more out of the rotation with Bumgarner and Cueto a dynamic 1-2 punch. Cubs fans are familiar with what Samardzija can do if he gets on a role, too.

It seems crazy to pick the Giants to finish higher than the Diamondbacks, but they still have the same core of players from the championship years and have a much-improved roster.

Prediction: Second place in NL West, wild-card team

Complete opposition research

San Diego Padres
Colorado Rockies
Arizona Diamondbacks
San Franciso Giants