With all of the talk about the Cubs’ four pitchers with at least 15 wins, John Lackey is still lurking about.
Lackey took the ball Wednesday night and got himself into double digits in victories as the Cubs beat the hapless Cincinnati Reds 9-2 at Wrigley Field.
The victory improved Lackey’s record to 10-8, and he joined rotation mates Jon Lester (18 wins), Jake Arrieta (17) Jason Hammel (15) and Kyle Hendricks (15) in double-figure wins.
The Cubs signed the 37-year-old Lackey to a two-year, free-agent deal last December, and early this season manager Joe Maddon called him the “linchpin” of the rotation because of his spot in the middle, his experience and his bulldog mentality.
Lackey began the season 3-0, but the victory total climbed more slowly as the season wore on, and he spent time on the disabled list from mid-August until early September because of a shoulder strain.
“The fact that he’s working on his 10th win doesn’t indicate how well he’s pitched,” Maddon said. “We just haven’t been able to get him any runs lately. He’s been good. Then we went through that period where he had to skip him based on an injury. But I think he’s been as consistent as anybody out there.
“We’ve just not scored him enough runs to put him in that 12-, 13-plus win column right now. He has been that good, and he does create a stir among the rest of the group, which is a good thing. I’ve always talked about I love his edge, and it’s apparent right now.”
Lackey worked 7 innings against the Reds, giving up 5 hits and 2 runs. He lowered his ERA from 3.42 to 3.39.
“I’ve only had a couple of games since coming off the DL, so building up a little bit,” he said. “I felt like I got better tonight as far as arm strength and that sort of thing. It should be right on time for when this gets real.”
You have to figure the Cubs will go with Lester, Hendricks and Arrieta in the first three games of the division series. Maddon will have an interesting decision to make between Lackey and Hammel for a possible fourth game.
Lackey has plenty of playoff experience, going back to 2002, when he pitched in the American League division series, championship series and World Series for the Angels, getting credit for the victory in Game 7 of the World Series.
“We had a primary meeting today,” Maddon said. “We talked about some things. By no means did we settle on anything. But we just laid the groundwork for the discussion among the group. There’s a lot of really tough decisions there.”
The Cubs took a 2-0 lead in the first on RBI singles by Ben Zobrist and Javier Baez. Lackey gave up a pair in the second, but the Cubs scored single runs in the third, fourth and fifth innings before breaking it open in the sixth and seventh.
Kris Bryant hit his 38th homer of the season in the seventh, a 2-run drive to left field that gave him 99 RBI for the season, matching last year’s total.