Cubs

After 23 wins in a row, Cubs finally lose a Jake Arrieta start, and it takes a Dodgers' one-hitter

After 23 wins in a row, Cubs finally lose a Jake Arrieta start, and it takes a Dodgers' one-hitter

Even as Jake Arrieta defends his Cy Young Award, makes a case to start the All-Star Game and keeps the meter running toward a potential $200 million megadeal, he can talk about not quite having the precise feel he wants, that in his mind he can be 9-0 with a 1.72 ERA and still searching. 

The Cubs are surrounded by those enormous expectations, and so much of that involves Arrieta’s evolution into the bearded face of the franchise and one of the best pitchers on the planet. Which makes it a breaking-news alert when the Cubs actually lose when Arrieta pitches.

Until Tuesday night’s 5-0 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers at Wrigley Field, that hadn’t happened in a regular-season game since July 25, 2015, when it only took Cole Hamels throwing a no-hitter for the Philadelphia Phillies.

This time, Scott Kazmir and two Los Angeles relievers combined for a one-hitter. The Dodgers didn’t so much beat Arrieta as they outlasted him, taking advantage of the softer spots in the Cubs bullpen.

“Well, I don’t know if I got outdueled,” said Arrieta, who threw seven scoreless innings to lower his ERA to 1.56. “But Kazmir was good.”

The Cubs had won Arrieta’s last 23 starts, tying the major-league record since 1913, first set by Kris Medlen with the Atlanta Braves between 2010 and 2012. Arrieta is now 20-0 with a 1.01 ERA across his last 24 starts, an unconscious stretch that helped transform the Cubs from a young group learning how to win last summer into a legitimate playoff contender last October and the team with the best record in baseball this year (35-15).

Arrieta ran his pitch count up to 107, ending the possibility to go back out for another inning with three straight two-out walks in the seventh. Arrieta then fired three pitches clocked at 94, 95 and 94 mph, striking out pinch-hitter Justin Turner looking, escaping the bases-loaded jam and causing an eruption from the crowd of 34,681.

“I didn’t want to make a mistake in the middle of the plate,” Arrieta said. “I made some good pitches. Borderline. Didn’t go my way. I pitched around some walks, got into a situation where I had to make a big pitch, and I was able to do so.”

After four Cubs relievers combined to throw seven perfect innings against the Dodgers on Memorial Day, manager Joe Maddon turned the game over to Clayton Richard. The lefty gave up three consecutive singles to the left-handed top of the Los Angeles lineup — Chase Utley, Corey Seager and Adrian Gonzalez — to begin the eighth inning.

Richard walked off the mound without getting an out and the Cubs trailing 1-0. After getting charged with a second run, Richard has now given up eight earned in nine innings this season, and Theo Epstein’s front office will probably have to make upgrading the bullpen a priority at the trade deadline.

“That was the perfect slot for (Richard),” Maddon said, “to attempt to not beat up the rest of your bullpen. It was a tie ballgame. It couldn’t have been lined up any better for him.

“I have a lot of faith in him. We just need to get him more work. But that’s the kind of a moment he’s here for, and it just didn’t happen.”

Arrieta truly burst onto the national scene with that no-hitter at Dodger Stadium on Aug. 30 last year. This time, after a 24-minute rain delay, Gonzalez ended the no-hitter suspense with a two-out single in the first inning. Against Arrieta, the Dodgers (28-25) only managed another Seager single in the third inning.

“Of course, we’ve gotten used to winning when he pitches, but it’s not going to last forever,” Maddon said. “That’s the nature of the game. And he pitched well enough for us to win tonight. But their pitcher was really good, too.”

Kazmir — the All-Star lefty who pitched for Maddon’s 2008 Tampa Bay Rays team that went to the World Series and wound up in independent ball four years later — only allowed a Dexter Fowler single across six innings and finished with seven strikeouts against one walk.

Seager — the 22-year-old shortstop who could become a star at Dodger Stadium — put the game out of reach in the ninth inning when he blasted a three-run homer off Trevor Cahill onto the right-field party deck.

It takes extraordinary circumstances. But Arrieta is, in fact, beatable.

“You play this game long enough, you’re going to lose a game here and there,” Arrieta said. “That’s just kind of part of it. But it was a good streak, and we’ll get started on something else.”

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

MESA, Ariz. — The first thing Kyle Schwarber told his new hitting coach?

"His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.'"

The Cubs hired Chili Davis as the team's new hitting coach for myriad reasons. He's got a great track record from years working with the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics, and that .274/.360/.451 slash line during an illustrious 19-year big league career certainly helps.

But Davis' main immediate task in his new gig will be to help several of the Cubs' key hitters prove Schwarber's assessment correct.

Schwarber had a much-publicized tough go of things in 2017. After he set the world on fire with his rookie campaign in 2015 and returned from what was supposed to be a season-ending knee injury in time to be one of the Cubs' World Series heroes in 2016, he hit just .211 last season, getting sent down to Triple-A Iowa for a stint in the middle of the season. Schwarber still hit 30 home runs, but his 2017 campaign was seen as a failure by a lot of people.

Enter Davis, who now counts Schwarber as one of his most important pupils.

"He's a worker," Davis said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. "Schwarbs, he knows he's a good player. His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.' He said last year was just a fluke year. He said, 'I've never failed in my life.' And he said, 'I'm going to get back to the player that I was.'

"I think he may have — and this is my thought, he didn't say this to me — I think it may have been, he had a big World Series, hit some homers, and I think he tried to focus on being more of a home run type guy as opposed to being a good hitter.

"His focus has changed. I had nothing to do with that, he came in here with that focus that he wants to be a good hitter first and let whatever happens happen. And he's worked on that. The main thing with Kyle is going to be is just maintaining focus."

The physically transformed Schwarber mentioned last week that he's established a good relationship with Davis, in no small part because Schwarber can relate to what Davis went through when he was a player. And to hear Davis tell it, it sounds like he's describing Schwarber's first three years as a big leaguer to a T.

"Telling him my story was important because it was similar," Davis said. "I was a catcher, got to big league camp, and I was thrown in the outfield. And I hated the outfield. ... But I took on the challenge. I made the adjustment, I had a nice first year, then my second year I started spiraling. I started spiraling down, and I remember one of my coaches saying, 'I'm going to have to throw you a parachute just so you can land softly.' I got sent down to Triple-A at the All-Star break for 15 days.

"When I got sent down, I was disappointed, but I was also really happy. I needed to get away from the big league pressure and kind of find myself again. I went home and refocused myself and thought to myself, 'I'm going to come back as Chili.' Because I tried to change, something changed about me the second year.

"And when I did that, I came back the next year and someone tried to change me and I said, 'Pump the breaks a little bit, let me fail my way, and then I'll come to you if I'm failing.' And they understood that, and I had a nice year, a big year and my career took off.

"I'm telling him, 'Hey, let last year go. It happened, it's in the past. Keep working hard, maintain your focus, and you'll be fine.'"

Getting Schwarber right isn't Davis' only task, of course. Despite the Cubs being one of the highest-scoring teams in baseball last season, they had plenty of guys go through subpar seasons. Jason Heyward still has yet to find his offensive game since coming to Chicago as a high-priced free agent. Ben Zobrist was bothered by a wrist injury last season and put up the worst numbers of his career. Addison Russell had trouble staying healthy, as well, and saw his numbers dip from what they were during the World Series season in 2016.

So Davis has plenty of charges to work with. But he likes what he's seen so far.

"They work," Davis said. "They come here to work. I had a group of guys in Boston that were the same last year, and it makes my job easier. They want to get better, they come out every day, they show up, they want to work. They're excited, and I'm excited to be around them.

And what have the Cubs found out about Davis? Just about everyone answers that question the same way: He likes to talk.

"I'm not going to stop talking," he said. "If I stop talking, something's wrong."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

Carmen DeFalco (ESPN 1000) and Jordan Bernfield join Kap on the panel. Anthony Rizzo returns to the Cubs after an emotional weekend home while Tom Ricketts expects another World Series parade. Plus Hall of Famer Andre Dawson joins Kap to talk about his Cubs reunion and how the current crop unsigned free agents compares to his experiences with collusion.