Cubs’ John Lackey at 38: serving up long balls, racking up victories
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No one serves up a bigger, better meatball than Cubs right-hander John Lackey. With a National League-high 29 home runs allowed this season, he has raised the delivery of the delicious hit-me pitch to something of an art form.
He could set the ball on a tee at home plate, but that would be gauche. He could look in at hitters and point the way to Waveland Avenue, but he’s practically doing that anyway.
It’s simple, really: He chucks it, they crush it. But that’s pretty much the only way to a 4.82 ERA, isn’t it?
There’s just no nice way to say it: Lackey isn’t the pitcher he used to be.
But here’s the crazy part: The brusque Texan, who’ll turn 39 the day before the World Series begins, is the best thing the Cubs have going right now.
‘‘Says who?’’ Lackey shot back with a sneer this week.
Says the bottom line, that’s who. Who cares if Lackey surrendered two more homers in his most recent start? So what if he hasn’t thrown more than six innings in a game in more than two months? The dude is 5-0 in five starts since the All-Star break. Would you believe the Cubs haven’t lost a game Lackey has started since June?
Lackey, who has lifted his record to a respectable 10-9, will make his 23rd start of the season Wednesday against the Reds at Wrigley Field. It only seems as though he has been widely criticized before, during and after each of the previous 22.
‘‘Everybody was writing him off,’’ teammate and close pal Jon Lester said. ‘‘Well, guess what? There’s still obviously a lot left in the tank.’’
Nevertheless, there’s basically no chance the Cubs will re-sign Lackey for next season. And with Lester, Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana to lean on, it’s conceivable that the Cubs might not have much use for him if they get to the playoffs.
How does Lackey feel about all the doubts he’s facing at this late stage in his terrific career? When you really peel the onion, mustn’t it be hurtful to him generally to be considered the least important member of the Cubs’ rotation?
‘‘Are you serious?’’ he said.
‘‘Man, I really don’t care what anybody says. What do I have to prove, really? I have three world championships. This is my 16th year in the big leagues. Whatever.’’
A skeptic might point out that Lackey’s ERA is the second-worst of his career and that his major-league-high 2.09 homers allowed per nine innings is more than double his career average. But can we stick to the real point here? The man has earned victories in five consecutive starts for the first time since 2008.
‘‘Pitching is a little bit of luck and, obviously, executing pitches,’’ Lester said. ‘‘When you do miss your location, it’s a matter of [whether] they pop it up or hit it over the fence. I feel like those mistakes have been minimized
‘‘The thing that always bit Lack was the three-run homer; it always happened at the wrong time. That’s not happening now. He just looks good. He looks fluid right now.’’
Lackey’s explanation is a bit, shall we say, shorter.
‘‘There isn’t really anything to it,’’ he said. ‘‘I’m just pitching.’’
And flying ‘‘W’s,’’ one after another. Frankly, what else matters?
Follow me on Twitter @SLGreenberg.