Cubs

Cubs: Jake Arrieta ready for do-or-die format of one-game playoff

arrieta_ready_for_one-game_playoff_slide.jpg

Cubs: Jake Arrieta ready for do-or-die format of one-game playoff

Don't be surprised if Jake Arrieta comes out throwing a knuckleball Sunday.

Arrieta's start against the Pirates comes 10 days before he figures to square off with this team again in the one-game wild-card playoff.

So the Cubs ace was joking he might try to mix things up with a knuckleball or a new changeup or wacky sequence of pitches or something.

"It's a chess match, really," Arrieta said. "They've seen what I throw. They know what I throw. But the sequences are things that I constantly change and switch up."

[RELATED - Cubs party at Wrigley and celebrate their return to the playoffs]

Arrieta probably won't actually throw a knuckleball, but with the Cubs locking up a playoff spot and sitting 5.5 games behind the Pirates for homefield advantage in the wild-card game, Sunday's matchup doesn't exactly jump off the page in terms of importance.

The Cubs are on pace for around 95 wins, but their season will still come down to a winner-take-all game (probably in Pittsburgh).

That's just fine by Arrieta and his 1.88 ERA.

"A lot of hard work's paid off as a team to be in this situation," he said. "Not many teams get to move on and play into October.

"And even though it's a one-game, do-or-die type of scenario, it's what we have to deal with. So we'll deal with that. We'll prepare for that situation and be ready for it when it comes."

The Cubs are 23-8 (a .742 winning percentage) when Arrieta starts as he's made a serious case for the NL Cy Young Award.

He reveled in the Cubs' postseason celebration on Wrigley Field Saturday afternoon, responding to fans' "Arrieta! Arrieta!" chants by spraying champagne into the crowd gathered behind the home dugout.

Arrieta and his major-league leading 20 victories are a major reason why the Cubs could celebrate a playoff berth with more than a week left in the regular season.

But he's also blown past his career high in innings in a season and he's still penciled in for two starts before the wild-card game.

Arrieta is in fantastic shape and his conditioning is off the charts, but he still understands the need to take it easy. He acknowledged his pitch count probably won't climb much over 100 Sunday night.

[SHOP: Get your official Cubs postseason gear]

"No reason to change anything now," Arrieta said. "At this point in the season, I'll take a day or two off throwing throughout the week and honing some things and continuing to work on flexibility. I'll have a good side session and kind of shut it down at that point.

"Just be ready for start day, knowing that this time of year is to save some bullets and be out there helping."

Arrieta has emerged as one of the top pitchers in the game, thanks in large part to an incredible work ethic and a desire to never get complacent and always be searching for ways to improve.

He's taking that same mindset into the Cubs clinching a playoff berth.

"Obviously we're not popping bottles or losing our minds," Arrieta said before Saturday's game. "We know we're in now. We still have some business to take care of.

"We'd like to finish the regular season with our guys healthy, everybody's legs under them, everybody feeling good about October baseball and we'll go from there."

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

0222-lester-bryant-hickey.jpg
KELLY CRULL

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

Spring training baseball games are up around the bend, but before the boys of summer get into organized action, two of the team’s new coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey sit down with Kelly Crull.

Plus, Vinnie Duber joins Kelly to discuss these baseball conversations including the memorable first words of Kyle Schwarber to Chili Davis, “I don’t suck!"

Listen to the full episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

MESA, Ariz. — We know Willson Contreras doesn’t like baseball’s new pace-of-play rules.

He isn’t the only one.

“I think it’s a terrible idea. I think it’s all terrible,” Jon Lester said last week at spring training, before the specifics of the new rules were even announced. “The beautiful thing about our sport is there’s no time.”

Big surprise coming from the Cubs’ resident old-schooler.

The new rules limit teams to six mound visits per every nine-inning game, with exceptions for pitching changes, between batters, injuries and after the announcement of a pinch hitter. Teams get an extra mound visit for every extra inning in extra-inning games. Also, commercial breaks between innings have been cut by 20 seconds.

That’s it. But it’s caused a bit of an uproar.

Contreras made headlines Tuesday when he told reporters that he’ll willingly break those rules if he needs to in order to put his team in a better position to win.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If I have to pay the price for my team, I will,” Contreras said. “There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? … You have to go out there. They cannot say anything about that. It’s my team, and we just care about winning. And if they’re going to fine me about the No. 7 mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”

Talking about pace-of-play rule changes last week, Cubs manager Joe Maddon said his team would adapt to any new rules. In Chicago baseball’s other Arizona camp, a similar tune of adaptation was being sung.

“Obviously as players we’ve got to make adjustments to whatever rules they want to implement,” White Sox pitcher James Shields said. “This is a game of adjustments, we’re going to have to make adjustments as we go. We’re going to have to figure out logistics of the thing, and I would imagine in spring training we’re going to be talking about it more and more as we go so we don’t mess it up.”

There was general consensus that mound visits are a valuable thing. So what happens if a pitcher and catcher need to communicate but are forced to do it from 60 feet, six inches away?

“Sign language,” White Sox catching prospect Zack Collins joked. “I guess you have to just get on the same page in the dugout and hope that nothing goes wrong if you’re out of visits.”

In the end, here’s the question that needs answering: Are baseball games really too long?

On one hand, as Lester argued, you know what you’re signing up for when you watch a baseball game, be it in the stands at a ballpark or on TV. No one should be shocked when a game rolls on for more than three hours.

But shock and fans' levels of commitment or just pure apathy are two different things. And sometimes it’s a tough ask for fans to dedicate four hours of their day 162 times a year. So there’s a very good reason baseball is trying to make the game go faster, to keep people from leaving the stands or flipping the TV to another channel.

Unsurprisingly, Lester would rather keep things the way they are.

“To be honest with you, the fans know what they’re getting themselves into when they go to a game,” Lester said. “It’s going to be a three-hour game. You may have a game that’s two hours, two hours and 15 minutes. Great, awesome. You may have a game that’s four hours. That’s the beautiful part of it.

“I get the mound visit thing. But what people that aren’t in the game don’t understand is that there’s so much technology in the game, there’s so many cameras on the field, that every stadium now has a camera on the catcher’s crotch. So they know signs before you even get there. Now we’ve got Apple Watches, now we’ve got people being accused of sitting in a tunnel (stealing signs). So there’s reasons behind the mound visit. He’s not just coming out there asking what time I’m going to dinner or, ‘Hey, how you feeling?’ There’s reasons behind everything, and I think if you take those away, it takes away the beauty of the baseball game.

“Every game has a flow, and I feel like that’s what makes it special. If you want to go to a timed event, go to a timed event. I’m sorry I’m old-school about it, but baseball’s been played the same way for a long time. And now we’re trying to add time to it. We’re missing something somewhere.”

Whether limiting the number of mound visits creates a significant dent in this problem remains to be seen. But excuse the players if they’re skeptical.

“We’ve got instant replay, we’ve got all kinds of different stuff going on. I don’t think (limiting) the mound visits are going to be the key factor to speeding this game up,” Shields said. “Some pitchers take too long, and some hitters take too long. It’s combination of a bunch of stuff.

“I know they’re trying to speed the game up a little bit. I think overall, the game’s going as fast as it possibly could. You’ve got commercials and things like that. TV has a lot to do with it. There’s a bunch of different combinations of things. But as a player, we’ve got to make an adjustment.”