Plenty of Chicago Cubs fans are thinking it, but I’ll go ahead and say it. Joe Maddon needs to go with John Lackey in Game 3–especially if it’s a possible series clincher–over Jake Arrieta.
The Chicago Cubs rotation entering the National League Division Series is intriguing. First, it looks nothing like what you had in your head at the beginning of the year. Don’t lie. Most had Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester and John Lackey as the top three. It’s okay, no one blames you. It appears that Joe Maddon has his first two starters set. So what about game three in whatever city we’re playing in? Should it be clear cut that it’s Arrieta’s turn to take the ball?
I no longer think that’s the case. It’s very difficult to say an 18-game winner should start game three, but I’m saying it. Even more so if the Cubs are on the cusp of winning the NLDS. Maddon has to hand the ball to Lackey. The main reason being you know what he’s going to give you. Right now, Arrieta’s performance is anybody’s guess. He’s 2-3 in his last five outings and it would have been six losses had the Cubs not rallied to beat the Pirates in 13 innings on August 29.
Now, I’m talking about Arrieta here like he’s been awful. On the contrary, he’s 18-8. He set the bar ENTIRELY too high last year, and most of us still have a hard time accepting some of his outings. But in his last six starts, he’s posted a 5.30 ERA while allowing five home runs and 14 walks in 35 2/3 innings. It’s been the combination of the home runs and walks that have hurt Arrieta. He’s not as crisp as we’ve seen him. Can he be? Of course, but what if he’s not?
This is why we got “the Cowboy”
The other side of this coin is Lackey. The Cubs signed him for this reason. To have another quality arm for the playoffs. He may only be 11-8, but it’s actually been one of Lackey’s best seasons in his career. And if you want to look at “what have you done for me lately?” In his last eight games, he 3-1 (The Cubs are 6-2 in those games), while posting a 2.44 ERA. He’s not likely to shut a team down. But you’re going to get at least five to six innings from Lackey while allowing two or three runs.
These aren’t flashy numbers. But unlike last year when we had to have that Wild Card game in Pittsburgh–and Arrieta delivered–a lockdown performance might not be necessary for this one. If the Cubs are up 2-0, God willing, outside of Arrieta there isn’t a better guy to put on the mound in that game than Lackey.
Lackey has closed out two World Series with quality starts in clinchers. Back in 2002 with the Anaheim Angels as a rookie against the San Francisco Giants. And then with the Boston Red Sox in Game 6 against the St. Louis Cardinals in 2013. Arrieta can very well close out the NLDS if it comes to him. But Lackey is trending up right now, and this is why he’s here.
Experience trumps talent?
I don’t want anyone to feel like I’m trying to take anything away from Arrieta. He’s won 40 games in the last two seasons. Not many pitchers can “struggle” and do that. He’s had some strong outings (7 IP, 0 ER vs STL on Sept. 23), but followed that with a terrible start against the Pirates in which he allowed seven runs on 10 hits in just five innings of work. Which Arrieta are we going to get?
Arrieta is going to pitch in the playoffs this year for the Cubs. And I have faith he’s going to get the job done, just like he did in Pittsburgh last year. He went in confident to that game. I haven’t seen that confidence as of late–at least not enough of it. Joe, if you’re reading this–Lackey in Game 3. #FlytheW