Cubs

Lackey Being Lackey after Cubs win: ‘I’m 38 years old, I’m bothered by a lot of things’

Lackey Being Lackey after Cubs win: ‘I’m 38 years old, I’m bothered by a lot of things’

John Lackey’s press conference after Wednesday’s feel-good win over the Tampa Bay Rays lasted two-plus minutes. Within four questions, the old-school grump confirmed how brittle the Cubs rotation is now and what the clubhouse thinks of Joe Maddon’s decision-making.

Maddon went first in the Wrigley Field interview room and revealed that Lackey has been dealing with pain in his right foot, the plantar fasciitis being one reason why the Cubs reconfigured their starters so Jon Lester would pitch an extra time before the All-Star break. Another being that Lackey will take a 5-9 record and a 5.20 ERA into his extended vacation.

“I got a ways before I got to pitch again,” Lackey said after getting a quality start and the no-decision in a 7-3 comeback victory. “I think I’ll be all right. I’m 38 years old, I’m bothered by a lot of things.”

Like the star manager Lackey once knew before Maddon got famous, doing the grunt work as Mike Scioscia’s bench coach on the 2002 Anaheim Angels team that won the World Series.

Lackey crushed a softball question about Jon Jay, the super-sub who delivered a pinch-hit, game-tying, three-run homer in the sixth inning, driving an Erasmo Ramirez pitch into the left-center field bleachers and showing why he’s so respected among his teammates. 

“He’s been everything we needed this year,” Lackey said. “Honestly, I can’t believe he doesn’t play more.”

With that one-liner, Lackey chuckled and walked out of the room.

One of many strange aspects to this 42-42 start is that Theo Epstein’s front office nailed so many offseason moves, except for the inevitable Brett Anderson breakdown that could leave the Cubs vulnerable if Lackey keeps pitching like a guy who’s 38 years old, Lester and Jake Arrieta collapse after back-to-back playoff runs and Kyle Hendricks (right hand tendinitis) experiences a setback that pushes him into August or later.

But the Cubs focused on bringing in serious professionals with their own World Series rings, players like Jay (.305 average), plus elite setup guy Koji Uehara (2.93 ERA) and All-Star closer Wade Davis (16-for-16 in save chances), who combined to get the last four outs against the Rays (44-42).   

Maddon would probably write it off as Lackey Being Lackey and not feel the need to respond to the passive-aggressive criticism. But the manager nailed the afternoon’s biggest matchup, summoning Uehara with two outs and two runners on and the Cubs clinging to a two-run lead in the eighth inning. Uehara struck out Evan Longoria for the 13th time in 25 career at-bats. 

Whenever he retires and disappears to Texas, Lackey’s to-the-point responses and refreshing honesty will be missed.

Lackey knows this isn’t a jumping-off point for a 42-42 team. Just look at how the shorthanded Cubs hung on to beat the Washington Nationals on the road last week, only to hear Miguel Montero torch Arrieta and lose two games in a row. That ninth-inning rally to salvage the split on getaway day in Washington led to two straight losses to a Cincinnati Reds team that’s now in last place.     

“I don’t think we do the whole ‘Today is the day,’” Lackey said. “It’s a long season. Just stay in your approach, stay in what you do. We got a lot of talent in the room. And hopefully it works out in the end.”

Cubs camp observations: Wrigley's home-field advantage without fans

Cubs camp observations: Wrigley's home-field advantage without fans

Four days into the Cubs’ training camp restart, we’ve only begun to get acquainted with the new normal of baseball rhythms and routines that we can only hope will result in a 2020 season of 60 games.

If the league can fix some of its early testing issues and keep enough players on enough teams healthy enough to start the season, what might come into play for the Cubs and the actual baseball.

Early observations after about a dozen Zoom sessions with team personnel and two intrasquad scrimmages:

NUTS: Home cooked?

The Cubs, who draw so reliably in one of the unique ballparks in the majors, might have more to lose than most teams without fans allowed to attend games when the season starts July 24.

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Just how much of the Confines’ home-field advantage is lost will be a matter of “wait-and-see,” manager David Ross said.

“There’s always an advantage to playing in your own park,” he said Sunday. “You feel more comfortable you woke up in your own bed. You’re not staying in a hotel room, which especially now, where you feel like outside spaces just aren’t comfortable as they used to be, probably [gives] a slight advantage in your city.

“There’s no substitute for fans,” he added. “There’s probably a slight advantage, but I don’t know if it’s as great as it used to be.”

What Ross didn’t mention were the rooftops across Waveland and Sheffield, which are planning to operate at 25-percent capacity when games start, suggesting at least a few hundred fans within cheering and booing distance.

“You’re going to hear them loud and clear, too,” pitcher Tyler Chatwood said. “I promise you that.”

BOLTS: Taking the fifth

All you need to know about Alec Mills’ ability to adjust and immediately step into an important role is what he did in an emergency start against the first-place Cardinals at Wrigley last year with the Cubs a half-game out and barely a week left in the season.

He hadn’t started anywhere in a month — and that was in the minors. But the guy who pitched out of the bullpen just three times in the four intervening weeks, pitched two outs deep into the fifth inning that day and didn’t allow a run (the bullpen took care of that, in a loss).

No wonder when Ross talks about Mills replacing the injured Jose Quintana (thumb) in the rotation, he says, “I’ve got a ton of confidence.”

He’s not the only one. “I’ve always had the mindset of doing whatever I can to stay ready and help in any way,” said Mills after pitching a strong three innings in a simulated game Sunday. “Obviously, with an unfortunate injury like this, I think it’s just even more heightened.

“I’m ready to do whatever, whether it needs to be maybe a start here or there, a couple more starts, long guy out of the pen — just whatever I need to do I pride myself on being ready to do that.”

CHATTER: The mask at hand

“It’s a little different. You leave the house with a phone, your keys, your wallet and your mask.”

—Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo on his and his teammates’ new daily normal.

“Everybody is thinking about it, but we try to get here and understand this is our safe zone and we’re trying to create that [within] the things that we’re going to do on and off the field.”

—Ross on players weighing the risk of playing during the pandemic against the safety precautions and protocols the team has built in and around its Wrigley Field bubble.

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2020 Cubs schedule features six games against White Sox: 'It’s exciting, right?'

2020 Cubs schedule features six games against White Sox: 'It’s exciting, right?'

Imagine it’s late September. The Cubs have already hosted the White Sox for three unforgettable games at Wrigley Field — fans packed the rooftops (at 25 percent capacity) around the ballpark. Now, it’s time to head to the South Side for the final series of the season, rife with playoff implications.

If the coronavirus pandemic doesn’t derail the 2020 MLB season, that scene very well could become a reality.

The Cubs regular season schedule, which MLB released Monday, features six Crosstown Classic games. The first of two series between the Chicago teams runs Aug. 21-23 at Wrigley Field. The second is penciled in for Sept. 25-27 at Guaranteed Rate Field. Both three-game series include Friday and Saturday evening games, and end with a Sunday afternoon game.

The Crosstown rivalry consumes 1/10 of the Cubs schedule this shortened season.

“It’s exciting, right?” Cubs manager David Ross said.

And quite convenient. That’s the point of a regionally-based schedule, which has the Cubs facing only NL Central and AL Central teams. While trying to limit the spread of COVID-19, that convenience becomes especially important.

“We get to sleep in our own beds at night,” Ross said of the Crosstown Classic. “We can set up things where if we need to we can work out here and drive over like you would in an Arizona spring training. There’s a lot of options that we have for us that we can do with an in-town team. I feel like that’s definitely a luxury.”

Some of those same advantages apply to the Cubs’ games at Milwaukee as well. As is the case with all their division rivals, the Cubs are scheduled to play the Brewers 10 times, including opening day at Wrigley Field on July 24.

As for their mid-September series at Milwaukee: “Players have the ability to drive up day of the game, drive back afterwards or get a car back,” Ross said. “There’s a lot of freedom and comfort in sleeping in your own bed, especially in the scenarios we’re in this year.”

The Cubs’ setup with the White Sox is mirrored over in Missouri between the Cardinals and Royals; they will also play each other six times. The Cubs will play three or four games against each of the four other teams in the AL Central. The White Sox are expected to be a stauncher opponent than the Royals, automatically giving the Cubs a tougher route through their interleague schedule.

But that’s a small price to pay for six rivalry games in Chicago.