Arrieta struts his ace stuff as Cubs go for the Giants' 'jugular'


Arrieta struts his ace stuff as Cubs go for the Giants' 'jugular'

Talk about going for the jugular.

After the Cubs' third straight win over the San Francisco Giants Saturday evening, manager Joe Maddon preached the importance of never being satisfied and going for the 'jugular.'

The Cubs did just that Sunday behind another ace performance from Jake Arrieta, finishing off the defending World Series Champions with a 2-0 win to complete the four-game sweep in front of 39,939 fans at Wrigley Field.

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"They're really good. That's what makes this such an impressive four games," Maddon said. "The fact that we played against such a good team.

"And they do have a heart of a champion. You see how they battled in that last inning. I've always respected that."

Every fan was on their feet for the ninth inning, as Cubs unofficial closer Hector Rondon loaded the bases with nobody out.

But with the intensity cranked up to 11, Rondon struck out Hector Sanchez, Angel Pagan and Gregor Blanco in succession to escape the jam and pick up his 19th save of the season.



Are these young Cubs ready to win on a bigger stage as they make their playoff push?

"I think we have been ready," Arrieta said. "It's just a matter of figuring out, necessarily, how to do that. How to close out a series when we have things in our favor.

"I feel like, in the past at times, we maybe let a game like that slip away. Which, from time to time over 162 games, that's going to happen. But at this point in the season, where we're at, who's in front of us, the games we have remaining, if you have the opportunity, you've gotta close those out.

"Hector was able to bear down. ... That was just an incredible job by him not to let the magnitude of the situation get to him and continue to make good pitches."

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Almost 164,000 fans came out for a playoff-esque atmosphere on Chicago's North Side to watch an inexperienced Cubs team prove they belong in the playoff race this season.

The Cubs have won 10 of 11 and are now 3.5 games up on the Giants in the race for the second National League wild card.

To a man, the Cubs stayed on message after the game, stressing the need to focus on one day at a time and not get too caught up in any sort of statement made from this series.

"I'm not really into statements," Arrieta said. "I think we're just playing really good baseball. We're good at turning the page now. Not worried about yesterday or the series before. Each game is big for us.

"Because of the division we're in, the two teams that are ahead of us, we know they're not slowing down and we don't intend to, either.

"So what we have to do now is to continue to make it difficult for the guys ahead of us. Continue to show that we're going to put pressure on and not let up."

After allowing a two-out infield single to Matt Duffy in the eighth inning, Arrieta walked off the field to a deafening ovation from the crowd. Justin Grimm came on and immediately allowed a single to Buster Posey before Hunter Pence flew out deep to the warning track in center field to end the threat.

Arrieta said it was the best ovation he's heard from the crowd since his near no-hitter against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park last season.

"It's a special feeling," he said. "That's why you play this game, for moments like that. I'm sure we're going to be fortunate enough to be in those types of situations even more often as the season continues to progress.

"It's kind of a position where you're speechless. You just try to enjoy it and take it in as much as you can."

Arrieta finished with six strikeouts, allowing only four hits and two walks in 7.2 innings.

The Cubs have won seven of Arrieta's last eight starts and he's surrendered just 10 earned runs in 73.1 innings since June 21, good for a 1.23 ERA.

Arrieta showed off his pitching prowess in back-to-back innings, striking out the side in the fifth and then pitching to contact and escaping the sixth with only six pitches thrown.

Even at 103 pitches and laboring through the seventh, Arrieta hit for himself (and struck out) and then came back out for the eighth inning. He finished with 117 pitches, his second-highest total of the season (he threw 122 pitches in a complete game in Minnesota June 21).

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Arrieta even contributed to the offense, legging out a stand-up triple in the second inning and coming around to score on Addison Russell's sacrifice fly.

Arrieta said he was thinking three all the way out of the box.

"Yeah, I dunno," Arrieta said, shrugging. "Just put a good swing on it, I guess. Giving some of my teammates a hard time, telling them I got more pop than they do and that I can hit it into the wind.

"[Bryant's] got all this pop and Rizzo and they're hitting fly balls to shallow right and I go, 'It's not that hard.'

"Anything I can contribute on the offensive side is a bonus."

Arrieta was so good, he was getting praise from the starting catchers from both teams (Miguel Montero and Posey).

"He was OK..." Montero said to laughs. "He was outstanding. He was filthy. All his pitches were perfect. Sometimes, he just did a little bit too much; that's where he would get out of control.

"But other than that, you can't ask for more. Buster told me that he was one of the nastiest right-handers that he ever faced. I told him, 'He's fun to catch.'"

A reporter asked Arrieta what the key has been to his dominance over the last 10 starts.

Arrieta leaned back in his chair, wiped his arm with a towel and answered simply:

"Locked in."

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


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.