John Lackey didn’t add the qualifier “except for tonight” when asked about the differences he’s seen in the Cubs team that returned to Wrigley Field after an 0-for-6 West Coast trip.
“We’ve pitched a lot better,” Lackey said after Wednesday’s 6-5 loss to the Miami Marlins snapped a five-game winning streak where the Cubs started to look more like the defending World Series champs. “It’s not like we’ve been scoring a ton.”
Lackey Being Lackey can mean a lot of different things. His Coors Field masterpiece last month looks more like the mile-high outlier. Putting up seven scoreless innings and 10 strikeouts against a strong Colorado Rockies team – Montreal Expos-era Pedro Martinez is the only other visiting pitcher to do that – became a talking point for Cubs officials when asked about an up-and-down rotation and a guy who’s 38 years old with almost 3,000 innings on his odometer.
But it’s also hard to think of a more accomplished No. 4 starter or another available pitcher with the same insanely competitive streak and playoff experience. The Cleveland Indians already showed how you could get to the 10th inning of a World Series Game 7 with a thin rotation and a powerful, dynamic bullpen.
That will become part of the backdrop after the amateur draft, when the Cubs begin to sharpen their focus on the July 31 trade deadline. Until then, there will be nights like this for Lackey, who gave up five runs in six innings and now has a 5.12 ERA.
“John knows what he’s doing out there,” manager Joe Maddon said. “John’s not afraid to challenge hitters. Sometimes it works for him. Sometimes it works against him.”
Lackey watched J.T. Realmuto and Marcell Ozuna crush a hanging changeup and a 91-mph fastball into the left- and center-field bleachers in the fourth and fifth innings. Bronson Arroyo – a comeback story with the Cincinnati Reds – is the only National League pitcher who has given up more homers than Lackey (16) this season.
Opponents are hitting .270 against Lackey with an .833 OPS that ranks 72nd out of 85 qualified big-league pitchers. Last week’s no-decision in a 3-2 win over the St. Louis Cardinals is the only other time this year that Lackey has lasted more than six innings.
Lackey – a pitcher who gets by with guts, command and game plans – mostly regretted the two-run, first-pitch, fourth-inning single he gave up to J.T. Riddle, Miami’s No. 8 hitter.
“With the pitcher coming up, I wasn’t even really trying to throw a strike there,” Lackey said. “I was trying to throw a chase slider in and hung that pitch a little bit. That’s definitely probably the difference in the game there. If I manage the game a little bit better in that one inning, it probably shouldn’t have killed us.”