With John Lackey just about ready to pitch in a Big Boy Game, the question for the Cubs becomes: When?
With Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks appearing to be at the front of a playoff rotation, that answer could be an if-necessary Game 4 on the road against whatever talented-but-flawed team emerges from the National League’s wild-card free-for-all.
“There’s definitely a plan in place,” Lackey said after Wednesday night’s 9-2 win over the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field.
Theo Epstein’s front office and Joe Maddon’s coaching staff discussed those options during a pregame conference that might have put the playoff rotation into sharper focus. The Cubs then announced Hendricks’ next start would be moved to Monday against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park, the night after Lester faces the St. Louis Cardinals, putting them on track for Oct. 7 and 8 at Wrigley Field.
“We had a primary meeting today,” Maddon said. “We talked about some things. By no means did we settle on anything, but we just laid the groundwork for the discussion among the group.
“There are a lot of really tough decisions there. In your bullpen, how many are you going to keep and who are they going to be? And then the guys coming off the bench — all that stuff is still up in the air a little bit.”
[SHOP CUBS: Get your NL Central champions gear right here]
Lackey needed only 87 pitches to get through seven innings, limiting the Reds to two runs and showing no after-effects from the strained right shoulder that sidelined him from the middle of August until Labor Day weekend, a rare injury for what’s been an exceptionally sturdy rotation.
“I’m still building up a little bit,” Lackey said. “I felt like I got better tonight as far as arm strength and that sort of thing. I should be right on time for when this gets real.”
So far, Lackey (10-8, 3.39 ERA) has been exactly what the Cubs expected when they signed the two-time World Series champion to a two-year, $32 million deal over the winter.
“I definitely feel like I pitched better than my record shows, for sure,” Lackey said. “But there’s usually one guy on the staff that gets that. What are you going to do? Hopefully, I’ll win a couple games when it matters a little bit more.”