Cubs

Cardinals Game 4 starter John Lackey: Past experience is irrelevant

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Cardinals Game 4 starter John Lackey: Past experience is irrelevant

John Lackey’s elimination-game experience has apparently taught him he has no need for chit chat.

St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny announced late Monday night that the veteran pitcher would make his fourth career start with his team facing postseason elimination as Lackey faces the Cubs in Game 4 of the National League Divisional Series on Tuesday afternoon. With the Cardinals on the brink of elimination after an 8-6 loss Monday to the Cubs in Game 3, Matheny is opting for Lackey only three days after he last pitched. Friday’s Game 1 victor, Lackey is 1-1 with a 2.89 ERA in his three previous elimination-game starts. But the veteran insists none of his experience means anything.

“What I’ve done in the past has nothing to do with tomorrow,” Lackey said. “No need to get all dramatic. There’s no time for that. It’s time to go to work.

[MORE: Jake Arrieta is human against Cardinals, but Cubs are that good]

“The past has nothing to do with tomorrow. Gotta go out and do it again.”

Lackey is correct: the past means little. He hasn’t been in a similar spot in almost six years. Many of the current Cubs hitters were still in their late teens when Lackey earned a no-decision in 6 2/3 innings (three runs allowed) against the New York Yankees as the Los Angeles Angels staved off elimination in Game 5 of the 2009 American League Championship Series.

But teammate Jason Heyward said it’s Lackey’s experience in those contests that has St. Louis confident it can rally from its 2-1 series deficit. After all, Lackey lifted the Angels to a Game 7 victory with five strong innings in the 2002 World Series. He also pitched well but took the loss after allowing two runs in seven innings in Game 4 of the 2008 ALDS.

“I’m confident in all of our pitchers,” Heyward said. “And I like Lack because he’s had a lot of experience doing this in the postseason, in season and we’re going to have fun doing this behind him.”

Lackey not only dominated the Cubs with 7 1/3 two-hit innings on Friday, he’s been one of Matheny’s go-to guys in a very strong rotation this season. He finished the regular season 13-10 with a 2.77 ERA in 33 starts. The veteran’s efficient effort Monday — he threw 86 pitches — made Matheny’s decision an easy one.

[MORE: Joe Maddon's playoff vision for Cubs comes to life at Wrigley]

“He's proven it all season long, guy we go to in big situations and (Tuesday) is a big situation and he's ready to go on short rest, and we were able to get him out a little bit earlier than what he's been accustomed to,” Matheny said. “He's had enough rest, and it's time to go.”

Lackey agrees as he noted that pitch counts “are out the window this time of year.” The right-hander would prefer the series was already over but reluctantly agreed he appreciates the opportunity to pitch in big spots.

“I don’t have time to think about all that right now, I’m trying to get ready and win a baseball game,” Lackey said. “I want to win championships. I want to be on a good team. Got a chance here still and want to try to keep it moving.”

Feeding off their defense, Cubs starting to feel those 2016 vibes

Feeding off their defense, Cubs starting to feel those 2016 vibes

A year ago, the Cubs were struggling to float above .500, sitting 1.5 games behind the first-place Brewers.

Two years ago, the Cubs were10.5 games up on the second-place Cardinals in the division and already in cruise control to the postseason.

As they entered a weekend series in Cincinnati at 42-29 and in a tie for first place, the Cubs are feeling quite a bit more like 2016 than 2017.

The major reason? Energy, as Joe Maddon pointed out over the weekend.

That energy shows up most often on defense.

The 2016 Cubs put up maybe the best defensive season in baseball history while last year they truly looked hungover.

After a big of a slow start to 2018, the Cubs are feelin' more of that '16 swag.

If you watched either of the wins against the Los Angeles Dodgers this week at Wrigley Field, it's clear to see why: the defense.

"I like the defense," Maddon said of his team last week. "I'm into the defense. There's a tightness about the group. There's a closeness about the group. Not saying last year wasn't like that, but this group is definitely trending more in the '16 direction regarding interacting.

"If anything — and the one thing that makes me extremely pleased — would be the continuation of the defense. We've fed so much off our defense in '16. We've been doing that more recently again. We do so much good out there, then we come in and it gets kinda electric in the dugout. I'd like to see that trend continue on defense."

The Cubs scored only 2 runs in 10 innings in the second game against the Dodgers Tuesday night and managed just 4 runs in the finale Wednesday. Yet their gloves helped hold the Dodgers to only 1 run combined between the two games.

Wednesday's game was a defensive clinic, with Jason Heyward throwing out Chris Taylor at home plate with an incredible tag by Willson Contreras while Javy Baez, Albert Almora Jr., Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber all hit the ground to make sprawling/diving plays.

"[Almora] comes in and dives for one and I'm just like, 'OK, I'm done clapping for you guys,'" Jon Lester, Wednesday's winning pitcher, joked. "It's expected now that these guys make these plays. It's fun on our end. It's the, 'Here, hit it. Our guys are really good out there and they're gonna run it down.'"

The Heyward throw, in particular, jacked the team up. 

Maddon compared it to a grand slam with how much energy it provided the Cubs. Almora said he momentarily lost his voice because he was screaming so much at the play.

There was also Baez making plays in the hole at shortstop, then switching over to second base and turning a ridiculous unassisted double play on a liner in the 8th inning.

"That's what we're capable of doing," Maddon said. "In the past, when we've won on a high level, we've played outstanding defense. It never gets old to watch that kind of baseball."

The Cubs are back to forcing opposing hitters to jog off the field, shaking their head in frustration and disbelief.

"It could be so dispiriting to the other side when you make plays like that," Maddon said. "And also it's buoyant to your pitchers. So there's all kinds of good stuff goin' on there."

A lot of that is the play of the outfield, with Almora back to himself after a down 2017 season and Schwarber turning into a plus-rated defensive outfield.

After finishing 19th in baseball in outfield assists last season, the Cubs are currently tied for 6th with 14 outfield assists this year.

Schwarber has 7 alone, which is already as many as he tallied in the entire 2017 season.

"I feel like they'll learn quickly on Schwarber, if they haven't yet," Heyward said. "You gotta earn that respect. You gotta earn that sense of caution from the third base coach.

"But please keep running on me in those situations. I want it to happen."

Brandon Morrow has a healthy sense of humor about his pants-related injury

Brandon Morrow has a healthy sense of humor about his pants-related injury

Brandon Morrow's body may not be healthy, but his sense of humor sure isn't on the disabled list.

The Cubs closer had to go on the DL Wednesday after he injured his back changing out of his pants early Monday morning when the Cubs returned home to Chicago after a Sunday night game in St. Louis.

The story made national rounds, not only in the baseball world, but resonating with non-sports fans, as well. After all, it's not every day a guy who gets paid millions for his athletic endeavors injures himself on a mundane every day activity.

But it's all good, because even Morrow can find the humor in the situation, Tweeting this out Thursday afternoon:

Morrow's back tightened up on him and didn't loosen up enough the next two days, making him unavailable for the Cubs doubleheader Tuesday at Wrigley Field.

The team decided to put him on the shelf Wednesday morning so an already-gassed bullpen wouldn't have more pressure during this stretch of 14 games in 13 days.

The Cubs are in Cincinnati this weekend for a four-game series with the Reds. Morrow is eligible to return from the DL next Wednesday in Los Angeles as the Cubs once again take on the Dodgers — Morrow's old team.

The 33-year-old pitcher is 16-for-17 in save chances this year while posting a 1.59 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 25 strikeouts in 22.2 innings. He's only given up a run in 2 of his 26 outings as a Cub.