The Cubs didn’t offer John Lackey much run support for most of the game, but it didn’t matter.
Another gem by Lackey guided the Cubs to a 6-0 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks in the series opener on Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field.
Lackey fanned nine batters and only allowed five hits and two walks in 6.2 innings pitched. He received a standing ovation from the Wrigley crowd of 38,813 when he was pulled.
Lackey improved his record to 6-2 on the season and led the Cubs to their ninth win in their last 10 games, enhancing their league-leading record to 38-15.
Right now, the Cubs have all five starters – a group that has the best ERA among starting pitchers – contributing on a daily basis.
Manager Joe Maddon called Lackey the “linchpin” of the Cubs’ starting five.
“I’m good with that," Lackey said of Maddon's comment. "I take a lot of pride on being someone you can count on."
The team’s 2.33 ERA by their starting pitchers this season is lower than 72 of the 110 Cy Young-winning seasons in MLB history, according to CSN's Chris Kamka.
"I’ve seen some pretty good starting pitching, but this is really, really good," Maddon said. "Each one goes out there and you feel pretty good about them getting pretty deep into the game.
"They’re hitting their spots. It’s been fun to watch.”
In Lackey’s last seven starts, all of them have been quality ones. His stat line during that time: 49.2 IP, 29 H, 10 ER, 13 BB, 49 K, 1.81 ERA, 0.85 WHIP.
“I’m a guy that kind of gets better as things go along," Lackey said. "Hopefully we keep doing that."
Much like the Diamondbacks, the Cubs didn’t generate any offense in the first six innings of the game. The Cubs only registered four hits – the same amount as the opposition until that point.
It wasn’t until the bottom of the sixth inning that got the Cubs on the board first.
Anthony Rizzo hit a two-out double that scored Jason Heyward from first, picking up his 39th RBI of the season.
Lackey returned to the mound to start the seventh.
After retiring the first two batters, Lackey walked Chris Owings and then gave up a single to Yasmany Tomas on his 100th pitch of the day.
Maddon admitted it was tough to pull the veteran since he hadn't allowed a run all game, but that wasn't his indicator.
"I love John in that moment as much as anybody, but it was 100 pitches – a little bit warm out there, etc. – so I just thought it was the right thing to do," Maddon said. "Happened to work."
Adam Warren came in to relieve the Lackey to record the final out of the seventh. Pedro Strop pitched a perfect eighth.
In the bottom of the eighth, the Cubs' bats came alive. They added some insurance runs, beginning with a two-out, two-run double from Addison Russell, who entered the game in the top of the inning on defense.
Later in the inning, Javier Baez smacked a two-run double to center field and came around to score on an error to give the Cubs a 6-0 lead. In the last two games, Baez has five RBIs.
Maddon said Hector Rondon (back stiffness) was available to pitch in the game, but elected not to after a save situation became out of reach. Justin Grimm came in to cap off the ninth, and secure the win.