CHICAGO — Joe Maddon knows if the Chicago Cubs are going to make a push for another World Series championship, they are going to have to find a way to pull out some tight victories.
John Lackey gave the Cubs more than enough to do just that on Friday.
Lackey threw seven shutout innings and retired the final 16 hitters he faced as the Cubs won their fifth straight game and improved to a season-best 14 games over .500 with a 2-0 victory over the Atlanta Braves.
Lackey (11-10) surrendered just three hits, and didn’t allow a baserunner after giving up back-to-back singles with two outs in the second inning. Lackey struck out five without a walk to help extend the Cubs’ winning streak.
“He was good — he was really good,” Maddon said of Lackey. “He was making pitches, his velocity stayed up the whole time and he wasn’t really threatened.”
The Cubs made his effort stand up.
The Cubs tallied single runs in the third and fourth innings to stake Lackey to a lead. Kyle Schwarber beat out an infield single with two outs in the third inning, which allowed Javier Baez to score from second base as he slid around the tag of catcher Kurt Suzuki to give Chicago a 1-0 lead.
Ian Happ’s RBI single in the fourth extended the Cubs’ lead to 2-0. Happ’s hit scored Anthony Rizzo, who doubled to lead off the inning.
The way Lackey was rolling, it proved to be more than enough. And with the wind blowing in at 17 mph, the combination of Lackey and the Wrigley Field elements kept the Braves from putting anything together.
“That doesn’t happen all the time around here so it was a good day to pitch,” Lackey said. “If (the wind) is blowing in here, you use it.”
The Cubs loaded the bases with one out in the eighth inning after three consecutive walks, but reliever Rex Brothers struck out Alex Avila and Jason Heyward to end the threat.
Lackey cruised after the second inning and retired the Braves in order over his final five innings.
Atlanta was unable to provide any run support for Mike Foltynewicz (10-11), who took the loss after he gave up five hits and allowed the two runs over 6 1/3 innings while walking three and striking out two.
The Braves have now lost the right-hander’s last five starts following an 11-game stretch when Atlanta went 10-1 when Foltynewicz took the mound.
“I think he’s back to kind of what I saw prior to the few outings in a row that kind got away from him,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “I thought he hung in there and kept competing and kept getting back in the strike zone…his stuff was good.”
After being blanked by Lackey, the Braves registered their first hit since the second inning when Rio Ruiz led off the eighth inning with a double off of reliever Pedro Strop. Ruiz, who was called up from Triple-A Gwinnett on Friday, went 2-for-3 for the Braves.
But Strop got Dansby Swanson and pinch hitter Lane Adams to ground out before Brian Duensing closed out the inning. Wade Davis notched his 28th save with a scoreless ninth inning.
“We just couldn’t get anything going (offensively),” Snitker said.
Lackey’s dominance continued the roll that Cubs starters have been on lately. Entering the final month of the regular season with the Cubs on a five-game winning streak, Lackey understands the importance of keeping things moving in the right direction if the Cubs are again going to make some postseason noise.
“You definitely feel like what you’ve been working for is around the corner,” Lackey said. “But you’ve got to keep working, got to keep pushing because we’re obviously not there yet.”
NOTES: Braves RHP Jason Motte was placed on the 10-day disabled list Friday with a strained right oblique. …Atlanta RHP Max Fried will make his major league debut Sunday against the Cubs in the place of RHP R.A. Dickey, whom the Braves didn’t want to pitch on short rest after throwing 121 pitches in his last start. …Cubs RHP Justin Grimm was activated off the 10-day disabled list on Friday after he had been sidelined with an infection in his right index finger. Grimm returns after making two rehab appearances at Triple-A Iowa. …C Victor Caratini was recalled from Triple-A Iowa and begins his third major-league stint with the Cubs. …The Cubs selected the contracts of INF Mike Freeman and RHP Dillon Maples from Triple-A Iowa before Friday’s game. To make room, RHP Seth Frankoff and RHP Jose Rosario were designated for assignment.