No excuses for John Lackey in Cubs' latest loss

NEW YORK -- There was no spinning this one for Chicago Cubs starter John Lackey after he gave up three more home runs in a 6-1 loss to the New York Mets on Monday night. Nor did his manager try to tell a different story. Lackey didn’t have it and his ERA paid for it, but more importantly, the Cubs lost their ninth consecutive road game and once again fell below .500.

Big-game Lackey was anything but.

“I definitely didn’t feel great today,” Lackey said afterward. “Kind of battled through it. Left a couple pitches over the plate. Need to pitch better.”

Citi Field doesn’t exactly provide fond memories for the Cubs -- not when you consider the Mets’ sweep of Chicago in the 2015 playoffs. Last year’s regular-season series also resulted in a sweep for the home team. Back then, the Cubs were rolling through the National League and were in the midst of their only slump, due to fatigue, as they neared the All-Star break.

This time around, the Cubs have no double-digit lead in the division to fall back on, so when Lackey gets hit hard, as he often has this season, it stings that much more.

“You definitely have better starts than others,” he said. “Stuff wasn’t great today. Left some balls over the plate, and I paid for it.”

His manager used even fewer words than Lackey to sum up his five-inning, four-run performance.

“He didn’t have it tonight,” Joe Maddon said. “He just didn’t.”

It’s gotten to the point where Maddon actually was pleased he got five innings out of the 38-year-old, though the three home runs given up were nothing to write home about. That’s 19 long balls on the season surrendered by Lackey after he served up just 23 home runs all of last year. Unlike some other nights, again, there was no spin from the Cubs' dugout.

“I’ve given up a bunch of homers. I need to do a better job of keeping the ball in the yard, for sure,” Lackey said simply.

So everyone admits there is a problem, but no one is quite sure if there is a solution for an ERA that stands at 5.26. And if you’re thinking about replacing Lackey in the rotation, you'd better think again, as the Cubs already have two pitchers dealing with minor ailments in Jake Arrieta (thumb) and Kyle Hendricks (tendinitis), and Eddie Butler still is no sure thing as their No. 5. And no, the two pitchers they selected in the first round of the MLB draft Monday night can’t get to New York in time for the series. They’ll need some seasoning, though some fans might figure the Cubs can’t do worse.

In a moment of frustration for Lackey -- he’s had a few over the years -- he didn’t back up his manager when asked about any changes to his approach for Monday. Before the loss, Maddon indicated Lackey might try some new things. Lackey said he didn’t know what Maddon was talking about, which summed up another frustrating night.

“Joe doesn’t have much to do with the pitching,” Lackey quipped. “I don’t know what he’s talking about there.”