As Cubs set sights on playoffs, count out John Lackey at your own risk

As Cubs set sights on playoffs, count out John Lackey at your own risk

There's a chill in the air around Chicago, the leaves are starting to change color and fans are beginning to discuss the world of "magic numbers."

The Cubs rattled off their fifth straight win Friday, leaning on John Lackey's big performance to take them one step closer to a postseason berth for the third straight year.

Lackey has seemingly been counted out several times this year as a 38-year-old pitcher in the twilight of his career.

But the Cubs are now 9-1 in his last 10 starts after he threw seven shutout innings in a 2-0 victory over the Atlanta Braves in front of 37,280 fans at Wrigley Field.

It was Lackey's second start of at least seven shutout innings this season. The rest of the Cubs starters have combined for three such outings.

"He was really good," Joe Maddon said. "He was making pitches, his velocity stayed up the whole time. Wasn't really threatened. When he struck out Freddie [Freeman in the first inning], that really told me a lot because you normally don't see him look [silly] on any pitch, so I thought, 'something's goin' on here.'"

Maddon admitted Lackey could've gone out for the eighth inning given the tall right-hander needed only 83 pitches to get through seven, but his spot in the batting order came up with a runner on second base in a tight ballgame in the bottom of the seventh and the Cubs manager opted for a pinch-hitter.

Lackey is a flyball pitcher who has given up the second-most homers in baseball this season (32), but his style was perfectly suited for the environment Friday with the wind blowing straight in off the lake at 17 mph.

Lackey and veteran catcher Alex Avila played to the conditions, knowing they can pump the zone with strikes with less fear of a ball soaring into the bleachers.

"If the wind's blowing in here, you use it," Lackey said.

Last October, Lackey was on a short leash, making only one start in each series as the Cubs marched their way to a championship.

This year, if the Cubs are able to make the playoffs again, how will they line up their rotation? Where would Lackey and his 140 career postseason innings fit in?

Jake Arrieta is looking like his Cy Young self again, Kyle Hendricks is healthy and finding his groove, Jon Lester returns from the disabled list Saturday and Jose Quintana is a frontline starter even if he hasn't completely pitched like one in a Cubs uniform. Even swingman Mike Montgomery has proven he is a very capable starting pitcher. But as Maddon said before Friday's game, baseball has a cruel way of answering questions of surplus on a roster.

It's easy for fans and writers to start ruminating about the postseason rotation, but it's too soon for the Cubs coaching staff or front office to worry about it.

It's most certainly too soon for a 38-year-old starting pitcher that may have just begun the final regular season month of his career:

"I just work here."

Cubs Talk Podcast: Covering the MLB All-Star Game from the media’s perspective


Cubs Talk Podcast: Covering the MLB All-Star Game from the media’s perspective

NBC Sports Chicago’s own Kelly Crull and videographer Scott Changnon recalled what All-Star week in the nations capitol was like from their point of view.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:


Cubs, Bears, Bulls among the top 25 wealthiest sports teams in the world


Cubs, Bears, Bulls among the top 25 wealthiest sports teams in the world

What Chicago sports team is worth the most money in 2018?

As reported by Kurt Badenhausen in a Forbes article about the 50 richest teams around the globe, the Cubs are the most valuable organization in the Windy City.

Chicago’s North Side baseball team ranks as the 16th wealthiest team in the world, valued at $2.9 billion, an 8 percent increase from 2017. The Cubs are the third-most affluent franchise in Major League Baseball, behind the New York Yankees ($4 billion) and the Los Angeles Dodgers ($3 billion).

This year, the baseball club owned by the Ricketts family surpassed the wealth of the Boston Red Sox ($2.8 billion), who the Cubs were ranked behind last season at $2.68 billion. In the span of a year, the North Siders gained two spots in the top 50 from 18 to 16 on the list.

What could be the reason for this increase?

Could it be that the Cubs are in first place in the NL Central? Or could it be the incredible performances from players like Jon Lester and Javy Baez?

Whatever the reason is for the Cubs’ prosperity, the team is doing something right.

The club also surpassed the Bears on the list this year. In 2017 the Bears (worth $2.7 billion last year) were tied with the Red Sox as the 16th most valuable sports team on Earth. The McCaskey-owned football team has fallen to a tie at 17 with the San Francisco Giants, both valued at $2.85 billion in 2018. The Bears even increased by 6 percent in the last year, making the Cubs’ jump seem greater.

The Bulls, owned by Jerry Reinsdorf, are the last team from Chicago to make the cut. They stand at 23 in the top 50, tied with the Denver Broncos. Both franchises are worth $2.6 billion. Chicago’s NBA team even fell a spot from 2017, but they still increased their value by 4 percent (worth $2.5 billion last year).

The Bears are the seventh richest team in the NFL, while the Bulls are fourth wealthiest in the NBA.