The optimistic numbers John Lackey posted over the past two seasons to earn him a two-year deal with the Chicago Cubs came almost entirely because of success at Busch Stadium, and the reason he didn’t get another start there last postseason was in part because he struggled at Wrigley Field in the NLDS.
Answers as to whether that home advantage travels north with him to Chicago will start to come Wednesday night against the Cincinnati Reds as the right-hander makes his home debut with his new club.
After being traded from Boston to St. Louis at the 2014 trade deadline, Lackey went 18-13 with a 3.13 ERA in 47 starts with the Cardinals, including four playoff assignments. At Busch, he was 13-4 with a 1.91 ERA, .241 opponent batting average, 1.80 walks and 0.58 home runs per nine innings. Away – including three starts at Wrigley – he was 5-9 with a 4.69 ERA, .279 OBA, 2.58 walks and 1.36 homers.
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The last of those was a Game 4 no-decision in a 6-4 loss at Wrigley on Oct. 13 that sent the Cubs to the NLCS with the now-37-year-old giving up four runs and four hits in three innings.
The trend held true in his first start with the Cubs as Lackey gave up six runs and eight hits in six innings of Thursday’s 14-6 win in Arizona. Lackey settled down for three clean innings after giving up six in the first three and escaped with the win.
"I kept giving the lead back in the first couple innings, which wasn’t ideal," Lackey told MLB’s official website. "Then I started mixing things up and got in a little groove later on in the game. You definitely know with our offense, you don’t have to be perfect, but I’d like to be better than that."
He has been against the Reds, going 3-2 with a 2.75 ERA in nine career starts with Devin Mesoraco (1 for 10), Brandon Phillips (5 for 27) and Jay Bruce (5 for 23) struggling.
Manager Joe Maddon has a theory that has nothing to do with the mound he throws from or the uniform he wears. Lackey didn’t pitch in 2012 after undergoing Tommy John surgery, and 2015 marked possibly his best season ever with a career-best 2.77 ERA in 218 innings.
"I’m really seeing a renaissance," Maddon said. "I think this is the third year (since the surgery), and watching him the last couple years, I was really impressed with the arm stroke and command of his pitches. I watched him closely this spring and I liked everything about the way he threw the baseball."
A renaissance is exactly what Alfredo Simon needs after a one-year stint in Detroit resulted in his worst season. He’s back in Cincinnati where he thrived from 2012-14, and he opened the year with a no-decision in Friday’s 6-5 home loss to Pittsburgh. The right-hander surrendered two runs – one earned – and five hits in five innings.
He’s 3-0 with a 1.10 ERA in five starts against the Cubs and has held 2016 Chicago addition Jason Heyward to 1 for 8.
The Cubs (6-1) are out to win their third series to start the season after opening their home schedule with Monday’s 5-3 win. Chicago had just three hits but Addison Russell connected on a three-run homer in the eighth inning to push the Cubs ahead.
Reds starter Brandon Finnegan had a no-hitter going for 6 2-3 innings, but the bullpen recorded three runs, two hits, two walks and a hit batter in 1 1-3. Cincinnati (5-2) can hang both of its losses on the bullpen.
"We really struggled with the first batter for each pitcher, a walk, a two-strike hit and a three-run homer for the first batters that our bullpens faced," manager Bryan Price said. "They’ll be better."
Chicago has won four straight against the Reds and 17 of 23 dating to the last series of 2014.