PHILADELPHIA -- The Cubs were too good to leave Citizens Bank without a series victory. Right-hander John Lackey ensured they got one Wednesday afternoon in an 8-1 win over the Phillies.
Lackey allowed just three hits and struck out eight in seven scoreless innings while retiring the final 16 batters he faced. Kris Bryant and Ben Zobrist homered as part of a three-run sixth that opened up the game. The Cubs went 5-1 against the rebuilding Phillies this season to improve to 41-17 for the best record in baseball.
"The whole game was set up because John Lackey pitched as well as he did," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "He knows what he's doing out there. He does different things with hitters to really set them up. … There's no way to sit on him. He's very unpredictable and he's very smart."
The Phillies found themselves in trouble early, as right-hander Vince Velasquez left the game after just two pitches because of soreness in his right biceps.
"It started out so awkwardly," Maddon said. "We experienced all four seasons here in Philadelphia, so you had that to contend with. Their pitcher goes out, so everything you planned before the game changes.
"All kinds of weird things happened in the game, so to end up 8-1, I did not see that coming at all."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Troubling signs for Velasquez: The Phillies had concerns about Velasquez's durability before they acquired him from Houston in December, but they hope this injury is not serious. But clearly something was wrong. His fastball registered just 86 and 87 mph on the radar gun, which was a considerable drop from his 95 mph average for the season.
"I'm not concerned at all," Velasquez said. More >
Zobrist snaps slump, scores: Ben Zobrist had been in the midst of an 0-for-18 slump before he singled in the fifth inning. After he advanced to second on a Brett Oberholtzer throwing error, Javier Baez drove him in for the first run of the game. Zobrist broke out in a big way the next inning, launching an Andrew Bailey cutter over the right-center-field wall for his eighth home run of the season. The 18 hitless at-bats amounted to Zobrist's second-longest stretch of the season.
"I thought he was expanding his strike zone a little bit," Maddon said. "Today he did not, if you notice he was laying off some bad pitches today. That's who he is. Even when Zo's not getting hits, he gets on base. He's always contributing somehow."
Lackey makes Phils his lackeys: When Lackey was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the eighth, he hadn't allowed a hit since the second inning. That didn't stop Joe Maddon from giving him the hook after 100 pitches and seven shutout innings, though. Lackey's final pitch fooled Ryan Howard, who attempted to check before becoming the right-hander's eighth and final punchout. The Phillies threatened in the first, but Odubel Herrera was nabbed by Albert Almora to end the inning. After that, the only Phillie to reach base against Lackey was Cody Asche, on a single in the second.
"More than anything, on a day like today, John Lackey was the reason that game turned out as well as it did," Maddon said.
Lackey, 37 years old and in his third season removed from Tommy John surgery, is pitching the best Maddon has seen in the right-hander's 14-year career. His ERA, down to 2.63 after Wednesday's performance, would be the best of his career.
"I've been commanding multiple pitches, getting ahead in counts," Lackey said. "They're playing great defense behind me, which always helps."
Oberholtzer relieves: Oberholtzer warmed up quickly in the top of the first inning and pitched pretty well in relief, allowing just one unearned run in four innings of work. Bailey allowed homers to Bryant and Zobrist in the sixth to give the Cubs a 4-0 lead.
"It's unusual to see a guy at this age, having gone through what he's gone though, actually pitch as good as I've ever seen him. His stuff has not diminished at all, then you combine that with his gall and his knowledge, it's really fun to watch." -- Maddon, on Lackey
"Well, the only good news is we don't have to see the Cubs for the rest of the year." -- Phillies manager Pete Mackanin
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Cubs starters have allowed three earned runs or fewer in each of their last 13 games. They have a 1.55 ERA and 95 strikeouts in 87 innings during that stretch.
ALMORA'S FIRST START
After making his Major League debut on Tuesday night, pinch-hitting and grounding out, Almora made his first MLB start in Wednesday's game, playing left field. Almora recorded his first MLB hit in the eighth inning with a single up the middle that drove home Anthony Rizzo. He also made a laser of a throw to nail Herrera trying to score on a sac fly in the first inning. More >
WHAT'S NEXT Cubs: Chicago has an off-day on Thursday before opening a three-game set in Atlanta at 6:35 p.m. CT on Friday. Jason Hammel (7-1, 2.14 ERA) starts the opening game of the series against Bud Norris (1-7, 5.28 ERA).
Phillies: The Phillies do not play Thursday, but they resume action Friday night in a three-game series against the Nationals at Nationals Park at 7:05 ET. Right-hander Jeremy Hellickson (4-3, 3.80 ERA) pitches the series opener. Right-hander Aaron Nola (5-4, 2.65 ERA) and left-hander Adam Morgan (1-5, 6.70 ERA) pitch Saturday and Sunday, respectively.