John Lackey trending in the right direction at the right time for Cubs

John Lackey trending in the right direction at the right time for Cubs

Now is as good a time as any for pitchers to start stepping up.

Helping the Cubs make another playoff push, John Lackey turned in one of his best outings of the season, even though his team had nothing to show for it in a 2-0 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers on Friday night at Wrigley Field.

Entering the day, the Cubs were 9-1 in Lackey’s previous 10 starts. Even though the Cubs couldn’t muster any offense against the Brewers, Lackey certainly did his part. That’s encouraging to see, given that the Cubs are already without their hottest pitcher right now in Jake Arrieta.

“I’m feeling strong, I’m feeling a lot better,” Lackey said. “Even at this point last season I was kind of grinding through a shoulder situation around this time last year, so it’s nice to feel good and compete when you’re feeling physically nice.”

The 38-year-old righthander pitched seven innings of two-run ball on four hits, two walks and a homer on Friday. He also recorded nine strikeouts, one shy of his season-high. His only mistake came in the third batter of the game, a two-run blast to Ryan Braun.

After that, Lackey looked sharp.

“I felt really good tonight,” Lackey said. “Really with the week off, I was almost a little too strong in the first inning. Threw too many fastballs, I was up in the zone a little bit, but my arm just felt great. Physically it felt great.

“Then once I kind of settled in and started using everything after that, things started rolling pretty good.”

A free agent at the end of the season, Lackey is showing the Cubs he's giving all he's got. And in a season where the Cubs have been plagued with injuries – including star pitchers Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, and Arrieta – Lackey’s production will surely be a nice boost if the Cubs want to pull away in the NL Central.

Right now, Lackey is doing his part, and it couldn't come at a better time.

If you can't wait for baseball to be back, take a look at the Cubs' spring training schedule


If you can't wait for baseball to be back, take a look at the Cubs' spring training schedule

Set your alarm, there are only three more months till baseball is back.

The Cubs announced their spring training schedule Monday, getting folks all amped up for the 34 exhibition games in February and March.

Spring game action gets started Feb. 23 out in Arizona, with the Cubs taking on the Milwaukee Brewers to kick off Cactus League play. The Cubs' first home spring game at Sloan Park in Mesa comes the next day, Feb. 24.

In addition to a 32-game Cactus League slate, the Cubs will take on the Cleveland Indians in a pair of exhibition games in Las Vegas. That 2016 World Series rematch comes March 17 and 18.

And of course, there will be three meetings with the White Sox, as both Chicago teams play their spring schedule out in Arizona. Those "Cactus Crosstown" games will be played Feb. 27 and March 10 in Mesa and March 16 in Glendale.

Here's the full schedule:

What if Jake Arrieta stays in the NL Central and repeatedly haunts the Cubs?

What if Jake Arrieta stays in the NL Central and repeatedly haunts the Cubs?

Jake Arrieta in a Brewers uniform?

That's not a sight Cubs fans would like to see, but the North Siders' I-94 rivals are apparently keen on trying to add Arrieta, the free-agent pitcher who's been one of the National League's top arms for the past several seasons.

The Cubs have their own decision to make on whether or not they're going to pursue re-signing Arrieta, a guy who over the past three seasons has posted a 2.71 ERA and struck out 589 batters, winning 54 games in 94 starts for a team that won the 2016 World Series and has advanced to three consecutive NL Championship Series.

The downside to losing Arrieta is obvious, as the Cubs would lose a huge part of their formidable starting rotation, but there would be an added downside if Arrieta were to remain in the NL Central and repeatedly haunt his former team.

Given Arrieta's track record, adding him would make sense for any team in the majors, but the Brewers in particular could use a front-of-the-line starting pitcher to boost their chances of besting the Cubs for the Central crown. The Brew Crew staged a surprising threat to do just that in 2017, perhaps proving that their rebuilding effort has yielded fruit ahead of schedule.

But there are questions in that rotation, with Jimmy Nelson expected to miss time next season after having shoulder surgery. Chase Anderson was great last season, and Zach Davies was solid, too. Brewers starters posted an ERA of 4.10 on the season, good for fifth in the NL. The four teams ahead of them, including the Cubs, all made the playoffs. Adding an arm as good as Arrieta's could make the difference in jumping past the Cubs in the Central and getting the Crew to the postseason for the first time since 2011.

And it'd be a plus for the Brewers to make it so Arrieta couldn't shut down their hitters anymore. In 15 career starts against the Crew, Arrieta is 8-4 with a 2.74 ERA. However, they'd surely love to have him call Miller Park home. He's never lost there in five starts, boasting a 2.03 ERA with 30 strikeouts.

There's an argument to be made that Arrieta would be able to seek revenge on the Cubs no matter what team he ends up pitching for, be it an NL team facing off against the Cubs in the playoffs or an American League squad meeting the Cubs in the World Series. After all, as Scott Boras put it, signing Arrieta is a ticket to "Playoffville."

But should Arrieta make the short drive to Wisconsin and set up shop in America's Dairyland, turning the Brewers into a legitimate playoff contender and challenger to the Cubs' grip on the NL Central crown? Well, consider the Cubs-Brewers rivalry cranked up to 11.