Chicago Cubs: John Lackey will be a deciding factor in playoff push

PHOENIX, AZ - AUGUST 11: Starting pitcher John Lackey
PHOENIX, AZ - AUGUST 11: Starting pitcher John Lackey /

John Lackey will be key to the Chicago Cubs’ push for the playoffs, as he has pitched like an ace recently despite being fifth in the starting rotation.

Believe it or not, John Lackey has been tremendous for the Chicago Cubs recently after a disastrous start to the season. In fact, his continued success will be key if the Cubs are to make it back to the postseason.

Try to look past Tuesday’s start, in which he allowed six earned runs in an outing against the Cincinnati Reds. We’re talking big-picture here.

Lackey, 38, struggled in a large chunk of his starts during April, May and June; of these 16 starts, he allowed three or more earned runs in 11 of them. Furthermore, he allowed at least one home run in 14 of these 16 starts.

On a month-by-month basis, Lackey’s earned run average in April, May and June were 5.10, 5.27 and 5.35, respectively. Since the start of July, though, Lackey has turned into a completely different pitcher than earlier this season.

Taking steps to lead the club

In four July starts, Lackey went 3-0 with a 3.27 ERA, surrendering just two home runs. In four August starts, Lackey is 2-0 with a 5.06 ERA, although six of the 12 earned runs he has allowed came Tuesday night. While the sample size is small, Lackey has been far more successful than he was earlier in the season.

One would hope that something has clicked with Lackey, causing him to find the groove that he currently is in. The first half of the 2017 season may have been an anomaly, of course. Regardless, something clearly was off with him that no longer is an issue.

As the team’s fifth starter, Lackey is unlikely to start for the Cubs this postseason (assuming they get there). However, there are plenty of meaningful baseball games left in the season, many of which he will be counted on to perform well in.

Lackey’s continued success is even more important, as he will miss several starts due to arm fatigue. In his absence, the team’s other starters need to pitch well game-in and game-out. If the Cubs are to return to the postseason, their starting rotation must lead the way.

Next: Cubs inching closer to top of power rankings

Since the All Star Break, Cubs starting pitchers are 18-5 with a 3.25 ERA in 35 games (entering Tuesday). If Lackey can continue to deliver ace-like numbers for the team as a fifth starter, the Cubs should be sitting pretty as the regular season comes to a finish.