CHICAGO -- If John Lackey is scowling, it's a good day on the mound for the right-hander, and the Cubs know that.
"That's who he is," manager Joe Maddon said about Lackey, who helped the Cubs beat the Angels, 5-1, on Tuesday. "He's always been that guy. He's not going to be out there smiling and he's going to be upset with the umpires, he's going to be upset with his manager, he's going to be upset with teammates on occasion, but that's who he is. When you know that, it's OK."
Lackey's teammates know to give him space.
"He definitely has to have some emotion there," Chicago's Ben Zobrist said. "That emotion carries over to the rest of the team, too. You have to be on your toes. He's one of the biggest competitors on the team."
Lackey struck out six and scattered three hits, including a solo homer by Kole Calhoun, over eight innings for the win. Right-handed hitters went 0-for-18, and are batting .195 against Lackey for the season.
It's part of a good trend. Cubs starting pitchers now have a 2.42 ERA in 23 games since the All-Star break.
"He was really good," Maddon said of Lackey, whom he has known since their days together with the Angels. "Even the home run, you don't care about that, that's how he pitches -- he's aggressive. He went after the guy, and he hits a home run. No big deal.
"I thought he had an exceptional slider tonight and a good changeup," Maddon said. "I thought that's why he was able to pitch deep in the game."
Give Willson Contreras credit for the good mix of pitches -- as well as hitting a solo home run and throwing out a baserunner. Lackey didn't shake off the rookie catcher much in the outing.
"He got thrown into a tough spot, for sure, with some veteran guys in a playoff race, and I think he's handled it well," Lackey said of Contreras, promoted from Triple-A Iowa in June. "He's talented. It's just a matter of time until he figures out that side of the game. He's getting way better. He made a great throw for me tonight, he hit a homer. [Game calling is] the last step, and sometimes it takes awhile, but he's been really good for us."
And Lackey smiled when he said that.
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.