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? White Sox? Manny Machado mum on Chicago possibilities as both sides of town dream of his World Series impact

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USA TODAY

Cubs? White Sox? Manny Machado mum on Chicago possibilities as both sides of town dream of his World Series impact

What’s Manny Machado’s favorite pizza place? What’s his favorite bar on Rush Street? Does he want to shoot the puck at the Blackhawks game? Maybe drive a Red Line train? Headline Lollapalooza?

Heck, is there anything that can get this guy to Chicago?

Sadly, Machado has no opinion on Chicago, at least no opinion he'd like to share. He talks as though he’s experienced nothing but the tarmac at O’Hare and the inside of the visitor’s clubhouse at Guaranteed Rate Field.

“To be honest, nothing,” Machado said when one of the multitude of media members asked him what he thought about the city ahead of his Baltimore Orioles’ game against the White Sox on Monday night. “I go from my (hotel) room to the ballpark to play baseball. I try to keep it simple, my life is simple. I don’t really do too much other than come here and play.”

Sorry, Cubs and White Sox fans. No inside info to better the offer.

Both sides of town are entranced by Machado Mania. The North Side wants him to arrive via trade and help deliver another World Series championship in 2018. The South Side wants him to ink a monster free-agent deal and deliver a whole bunch of World Series championships as the new face of the rebuild.

But no matter whether you want the MVP candidate in blue pinstripes or 1983 throwbacks, he made no indication he’s thinking about his next team when he spoke Monday.

“That’s out of my hands. I can’t control that,” he said. “I’ve got to go out and win some games, do as much as I can for my ball club.

“I’m here to play baseball. Obviously you’ve got to answer these questions, but at the end of the day none of that matters. I’m here to win some games with my ball club, win some here with the Orioles, and play well at the same time.

“I’m not getting distracted by any of this, and all this talk, it’s rumors. They’re all rumors and talks. At the end of the day, I’ve got to go out there and perform and win games for this ball club.”

For the Cubs, rumors of a Machado pursuit would come at a seemingly steep cost. With almost nothing to deal away from the farm system, an Orioles team looking to jumpstart a rebuilding effort of their own would likely require Addison Russell as a centerpiece of any trade offer. Would Theo Epstein’s front office be willing to part with Russell, who they always speak so highly of, who is still just 24 years old and who remains under team control through the 2021 season? Just for a few months of Machado, who is by no means a guarantee to stick around on a free-agent deal?

The Cubs’ title chase this season would figure to be better served by getting two of their recent pitching acquisitions to turn in more consistently good performances. If Jose Quintana and Yu Darvish can right their respective ships, the Cubs might not need to worry about blowing up their core to add an MVP candidate to an already menacing lineup featuring multiple All Stars. But there’s no doubt about it: Any team that adds Machado to the mix is going to improve its chances of hoisting a trophy this October.

Unlike a pursuit of a player during free agency, it’s the Orioles the Cubs need to convince to seal a deal, not Machado, and even with Russell as the main piece, the Cubs’ package might not be the best one out there. But Machado, despite his comments, has likely heard a little bit of what it’s like to play on the North Side from the guy he calls his cousin, Albert Almora Jr.

“As kids growing up we played together,” Machado said. “When we were playing in his backyard growing up, we always dreamed about playing together some day in the big leagues and putting on the same big league uniform and be on the same field, win a World Series together, that’s every kid’s dream.”

Meanwhile, the White Sox are, as they’re doing in every facet of their existence at the moment, playing a long game when it comes to Machado or any big-name free-agent-to-be. Reports dating back to last winter say they’re expected to be one of the many teams vying to sign Machado to what’s sure to be a gargantuan contract when he joins Bryce Harper, Josh Donaldson and a host of other superstars in free agency this winter.

Machado’s production has made him the object of White Sox fans’ affections for some time, and the dream of seeing him join all the young talent in this rebuilding effort and leading the South Siders in their next pursuit of a title is still alive and well in their minds. The White Sox will have the financial ability to pay the high price for Machado, if they choose — a price, it should be noted, that come winter will be only measured in money and not players, as a midseason trade during this campaign would be. Obviously the biggest selling point is their bright future, where he could anchor a lineup that also features Eloy Jimenez, Yoan Moncada and Luis Robert. Pair that with a boatload of cash, and maybe it’s enough to edge out the rest of what’s expected to be a very competitive market.

The White Sox, too, have an apparent void at third base (or shortstop, should they do some maneuvering on the left side of the infield) moving forward after Jake Burger, last year’s first-round pick, twice tore the same Achilles tendon this year. While there’s still time needed to tell where exactly the White Sox will have major league holes to fill, penciling names into a 2020 lineup leaves most pencilers with a question mark at third base. Machado would fit nicely there, and the apparent need could provide more drive for the White Sox to get something done this winter. There will be other options, of course, should they miss out on Machado. Donaldson this winter and Nolan Arenado the following are two other alluring names. Be it Machado, it would be the kind of statement signing that signals that the rebuilding effort is ready to transition into the contention phase, much like the Cubs did with Jon Lester.

And like the Cubs, the White Sox have their own Machado friend to make a convincing pitch. Nicky Delmonico played alongside Machado (and Harper, for that matter) on a Team USA squad back in 2009.

“It was really cool. I got to play with Harper for two years and Machado (for one),” Delmonico said last week. “Just to be around that type of talent, it was a lot of fun.

“It was pretty special. We had a lot of guys who are doing well at the big league level. It was like a big family.

“You’re with each other every day. It’s like what I compare to the minor leagues. You’re playing every day in that short amount of time. So you got to know that person pretty well. And to play with those guys, it was a lot of fun.”

And Welington Castillo, too, got to know Machado when they were teammates last year in Baltimore.

“He’s special, honestly,” Castillo said. “I had the opportunity to play with him last year in the (World Baseball Classic) and then for a year with the Orioles. It’s nice to play with him in the same lineup and spend time with him. He’s an awesome player and an awesome person. I think that’s why everybody is talking about him. Everybody sees because he’s been showing them every year, what he can do.

“Who wouldn’t want to have a guy like him?”

If Machado has received any PR training through this process, he put it to good use Monday. Nothing he said indicated any preference to join either of this city’s teams either this season or next. He didn’t say the word “Cubs” once, and judging by his response to the lone question asked specifically about the White Sox, it doesn’t sound like the South Side rebuild is the talk of the Orioles’ clubhouse.

That, though, will likely do nothing to dampen enthusiasm on either side of town that Machado could soon call this city home, nor does it mean Machado wouldn't be jazzed about joining a championship contender this season or a franchise with a bright future next season.

But until a deal is made this summer or this winter — or both — it’s all just speculation. Until then, Machado’s going to try to beat one of Chicago’s teams four times this week, either as a preview of what could be or a display of opportunity lost.

Reds pitcher Amir Garrett apparently held a grudge against Javy Baez for a year

Reds pitcher Amir Garrett apparently held a grudge against Javy Baez for a year

Baseball players don't forget grudges. Javy Baez and Reds pitcher Amir Garrett gave an example of that on Saturday.

Garrett struck out Baez in the seventh inning of the first game of the Cubs-Reds doubleheader. Garrett showed some excitement with the strikeout and then said something to Baez. They both started jawing at each other and suddenly the benches cleared.

At first glance, it looked like Garrett was a bit too excited to get a strikeout with no one on base. Turns out Baez had his own bit of swag for Garrett last year (Friday was the one-year anniversary) in the form of a grand slam at Wrigley Field.

This time Garrett got Baez and wanted to even things up a bit.

Things didn't get too feisty despite the benches clearing, but Anthony Rizzo did rush to Baez's side at some speed. This could be a matchup to keep an eye out for in the future.