Levine: More Than Ever, Cubs Need The Best Of John Lackey

By Bruce Levine–

LOS ANGELES (CBS) — Trailing 2-1 in the best-of-seven National League Championship Series, the Cubs turn to 37-year-old right-hander John Lackey against the Dodgers on Wednesday night. He has the dubious task of helping his club back on its collective feet in a Game 4 that Chicago badly needs.

Lackey will be making his 22nd postseason start, which leads all active pitchers. has the most postseason starts of any active pitcher in baseball. His 24 playoff appearances to date have been spread out over 15 seasons and four teams — the Angels, Red Sox, Cardinals and Cubs. A gritty veteran, Lackey embraces these big moments.

“John has not changed at all,” said Cubs manager Joe Maddon, who was a coach of the Angels in 2002 during Lackey’s rookie year. “He is in better shape now than back than. He takes better care of himself. Stuff-wise, it’s really similar. If you had gun readings, they would be about the same. I thought back then he had more of a natural cut to his fastball. His big pitch now is the slurve, 82-83 mph. He has gotten better with his change-up over the years.”

The Dodgers will likely have seven left-handed hitters in their lineup to counter Lackey, who has a career 3.22 ERA in the playoffs but had a short start in Game 4 of the NLDS, allowing three runs in four innings.

“You can look at two different ways,” Maddon said. “You can approach them all the same way. The thing you consider is changing things up a bit, from hitter to hitter. You know the guy on deck is watching how you work the guy in the box. You have got to change sequences and that sort of thing. You do pick a guy in each lineup that is hot recently (to pitch around). You might pitch around some people.”

Maddon warned that Lackey will be in his usual mood Wednesday — yelling, grumbling and surly.

“The day he pitches, man, he’s a different cat,” Maddon said. “The players know there is no messing around the day he pitches. They know how he is and how he can be. He will hold people accountable to the moment when he is out there. A lot of our young guys will have been helped as pros by being out there behind him.”

Lackey is a direct when questioned, part of his all-business approach. The teammates who take the time end up loving his Texas humor and support.

“We love when John is on the mound,” catcher Miguel Montero said. “He has our attention and certainly is the going to go after hitters in his own way.”

Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.

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