By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — The Cubs resetting their rotation for postseason didn’t seem to impact veteran right-hander John Lackey on Wednesday evening.
The 37-year-old Lackey threw seven innings, allowing just five hits and two runs, earning his 10th victory in a 9-2 victory over the Reds at Wrigley Field. The victory was the team’s 97th of the season, tying the 2015 club for wins.
Seemingly just rounding back into shape after a stint on the disabled list with shoulder soreness, Lackey is a likely candidate to pitch Game 4 of the NLDS. Of course, such a scenario will only happen if that game is necessary in the best-of- five series.
Lackey gave up two runs in the second inning, then settled in and pitched five shutout frames.
“I only had a couple of games since coming off the DL,” Lackey said after throwing 87 economical pitches. “I am still building up a little bit. I thought I got better as far as arm strength tonight. I should be right on time when this gets real.”
When executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer signed Lackey to a two-year, $32-million deal last offseason, they did so with their sights set on October. Lackey has won two World Series clinchers in his career.
“He is a guy who competes,” said Cubs catcher Miguel Montero, who chipped in three hits and three RBIs on Wednesday. “He always grinds it. Even when he makes a mistake, he has conviction to every pitch. He just competes on every pitch.”
Manager Joe Maddon and company aren’t sharing the timetable or rotation for the playoffs just yet, though the baseball brass met on Wednesday to set preliminary plans. It would be hard to conceive a playoff rotation without Lackey in it. That’s saying a lot considering the fact that everyone else on the starting staff has 15 or more wins.
Lackey was leading the team in innings pitched before he went on the DL in mid-August. He missed 19 games while on the shelf.
“I definitely feel I have pitched better than my record,” Lackey said. “There is usually one guy on a staff that gets that. What you hope you can do is win a couple of more games and manage it a little more”
Maddon certainly liked what he saw from Lackey.
“I thought he just kept getting better,” Maddon said. “I thought the tempo got better as well as the quality of his pitches. By the time we took him out, I thought he was throwing his best. He definitely could have gone deeper into that game.”
The Cubs, who moved to 97-55, are now 42 games over .500 for the first time since finished 98-46 in 1945. The club’s all-time record of 80 games over .500 was accomplished in 1906, one year before their first of back-to-back championships.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.