Cubs

Cubs: Jake Arrieta gets one more shot to make Cy Young case

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Cubs: Jake Arrieta gets one more shot to make Cy Young case

CINCINNATI – Jake Arrieta has meant so much to the Cubs that he should be in the National League MVP discussion and not just a Cy Young Award frontrunner.

With a questionable rotation and as many as four rookies in the everyday lineup, the Cubs have won 75 percent of Arrieta’s starts (24-8), making the leap from fringe wild-card team to 94-win contender during his second-half transformation.

Arrieta (21-6, 1.82 ERA) will get the chance to make a final impression on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America voters on Friday against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park (7:10 p.m./CSN).

[MORE: What if Cubs had traded for Jonathan Papelbon?]

Arrieta has made 19 consecutive quality starts, going 15-1 with a 0.89 ERA. He’s hit as many homers (two) as he’s given up (two) during that stretch. His 0.80 ERA since the All-Star break would be the lowest in major-league history.

Arrieta – a great talker and a deep thinker – might be preparing his acceptance speech if not for the Los Angeles Dodgers and their 1-2 punch.

Zack Greinke is 18-3 and leads the majors in ERA (1.68) and WHIP (0.85). Clayton Kershaw (16-7, 2.16 ERA) – the reigning Cy Young/MVP winner – leads the majors in innings (229) and strikeouts (294).

“I know what (Greinke’s) doing,” Arrieta said. “He’s pitched at a super-high level his whole career. The same thing with Kershaw. It’s fun to see, because you have such a great deal of respect for Kershaw and Greinke. You understand how difficult it is to do what they’ve done for such a long period of time. It’s been a great year for those guys, absolutely.”

This will be a final tune-up for Arrieta before next week’s wild-card game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, with the Cubs planning to limit their ace to around 85 or 95 pitches before unleashing him in the playoffs.

[NBC SHOP: Get your Cubs postseason gear right here]

Whatever happens, Greinke and Kershaw will get the chance to answer, making their final starts on Saturday and Sunday against the San Diego Padres at Dodger Stadium, with a division title already won.

And Arrieta is envisioning a much bigger prize – a World Series ring.

“The individual awards are nice,” Arrieta said. “But when you’re a part of a group of guys like this, and you’re able to win for the team and perform at a high level to propel your team forward (into) a playoff environment, that’s more meaningful to me, because that’s an experience that we’ll all receive together as a group.

“Those types of things are rare. Not a lot of people get to be in an environment like this even once in their career. So that’s what I want all of us to take advantage of and really, really focus on.”

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

MESA, Ariz. — “That’s last year, don’t want to talk about that.”

In other words, Addison Russell is so over 2017.

The Cubs shortstop went through a lot last year. He dealt with injuries that affected his foot and shoulder. He had a well-documented off-the-field issue involving an accusation of domestic abuse, which sparked an investigation by Major League Baseball. And then came the trade speculation.

The hot stove season rarely leaves any player completely out of online trade discussion. But after Theo Epstein admitted there was a possibility the Cubs could trade away one or more young position players to bolster the starting rotation, well, Russell’s name came up.

And he saw it.

“There was a lot of trade talk,” Russell said Saturday. “My initial thoughts were, I hope it doesn’t happen, but wherever I go, I’m going to try to bring what I bring to the table here. It’s a good thing that it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m happy being in a Cubs uniform, I want to be in a Cubs uniform, for sure. But there was some talk out there. If I got traded, then I got traded, but that’s not the case.”

No, it’s not, as the Cubs solved those pitching questions with free-agent spending, bringing in Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood to replace the departed Jake Arrieta and John Lackey. It means Russell, along with oft-discussed names like Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ and Javy Baez, are all still Cubs.

While the outside world might have expected one of those guys to be moved in some sort of blockbuster trade for Chris Archer or some other All-Star arm, the Cubs’ young core remains intact, another reason why they’re as much a favorite to win the World Series as any team out there.

“I’m really not surprised. The core is still here. Who would want to break that up? It’s a beautiful thing,” Russell said. “Javy and I in the middle. Schwarber, sometimes playing catcher but mainly outfield. And then (Kris Bryant) over there in the hot corner, and of course (Anthony) Rizzo at first. You’ve got a Gold Glover in right field (Jason Heyward). It’s really hard to break that up.

“When you do break that down on paper, we’ve got a lineup that could stack up with the best.”

This winter has been about moving on for Russell, who said he’s spent months working to strengthen his foot and shoulder after they limited him to 110 games last season, the fewest he played in his first three big league campaigns.

And so for Russell, the formula for returning to his 2016 levels of offensive aptitude isn’t a difficult one: stay on the field.

“Especially with the injuries, I definitely wanted to showcase some more of my talent last year than I displayed,” Russell said. “So going into this year, it’s mainly just keeping a good mental — just staying level headed. And also staying healthy and producing and being out there on the field.

“Next step for me, really just staying out there on the field. I really want to see what I can do as far as helping the team if I can stay healthy for a full season. I think if I just stay out there on the field, I’m going to produce.”

While the decrease in being on the field meant lower numbers from a “counting” standpoint — the drop from 21 homers in 2016 to 12 last year, the drop from 95 RBIs to 43 can in part be attributed to the lower number of games — certain rate stats looked different, too. His on-base percentage dropped from .321 in 2016 to .304 last year.

Russell also struggled during the postseason, picking up just six hits in 36 plate appearances in series against the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers. He struck out 13 times in 10 postseason games.

Of course, he wasn’t alone. That World Series hangover was team-wide throughout the first half of the season. And even though the Cubs scored 824 runs during the regular season, the second most in the National League and the fourth most in baseball, plenty of guys had their offensive struggles: Schwarber, Heyward and Ben Zobrist, to name a few.

“You can’t take anything for granted. So whenever you win a World Series or you do something good, you just have to live in the moment,” Russell said. “It was a tough season last year because we were coming off winning the World Series and the World Series hangover and all that. This year, we had a couple months off, a couple extra weeks off, and I think a lot of guys took advantage of that. I know I did. And now that we’re here in spring training, we’re going to get back at it.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

Jon Lester has arrived at Cubs camp, and he’s pleased with the new-look rotation full of potential aces. Kelly Crull and Vinnie Duber discuss the 5-man unit, and where Mike Montgomery fits into the Cubs’ plans.

Plus, Kelly and Vinnie talk Jason Heyward and Kyle Schwarber, along with the continuing free agent stalemate surrounding Jake Arrieta.

Listen to the full Cubs Talk Podcast right here: