Cubs

Cubs: Jake Arrieta trolling Pirates fans is ‘all in good fun’

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Cubs: Jake Arrieta trolling Pirates fans is ‘all in good fun’

PITTSBURGH — During the middle of this dream season, a reporter asked Jake Arrieta why he even bothers to go on social media: “I like to talk s--- to people.”

Hey, why stop now? The Cubs kept telling everyone “#WeAreGood,” and they wound up with 97 wins and the third-best record in baseball.

Arrieta trolled Pittsburgh Pirates fans on Twitter, saying he wanted it “LOUD” on Wednesday night at PNC Park and telling them the blackout atmosphere “doesn’t matter” in the National League wild-card game.

[MORE CUBS: How Jake Arrieta transformed himself into the Cubs ace]

The back-and-forth responses led to the first question on Tuesday afternoon during Arrieta’s news conference.

“It’s a big part of the fan-player interaction,” Arrieta said calmly, sitting on stage inside the interview room. “It’s all in good fun. I don’t mean anything negative towards anybody. It’s kind of the buildup to the game. You’ve got two very passionate fan bases.

“It is all in good fun. There’s nothing meant in a negative aspect there. I think it’s just kind of a unique way to start interaction within the fan bases.”

Arrieta is such a good talker and a thoughtful player that it doesn’t sound like bulletin-board material when he says things so matter-of-factly.

Arrieta has definitely backed it up this year, leading the majors with 22 wins, finishing with the lowest ERA (0.75) after the All-Star break in big-league history and possibly winning a Cy Young Award.

The Pirates won 98 games and earned their third straight postseason appearance, but they managed to score only three earned runs in 36 innings against Arrieta, who’s never thrown a playoff pitch before.

“I don’t necessarily think it’s much different,” Arrieta said. “It’s the same preparation. It’s a team that I am comfortable with analyzing, scouting and pitching against. It’s an extremely balanced group of guys in that order who can make a lot of things happen. And I feel confident that I can neutralize a lot of their power, a lot of their speed guys, with different sequences.

“You know, I intend to have some pretty good success tomorrow.”

[MORE CUBS: How the Cubs built a World Series contender]

It’s that kind of confidence that propelled Arrieta from being a Triple-A-ish guy with the Baltimore Orioles to the hottest pitcher on the planet.

“From Day 1, I knew I could pitch like this my whole career,” Arrieta said. “I did it in college. I did it in the minor leagues. I did it in the big leagues, at times. I knew there were some adjustments in there — mentally and physically — that needed to be made.

“I knew once I was able to kind of get over that hump that things would eventually work themselves out. The work ethic was there. I had to cut some things out. I was trying to do too much. Just so many variables in there that needed to be rearranged, some taken out.

“But, yeah, I knew that I would be here one day.”

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Who was Theo Epstein’s first draft pick with the Cubs?

The answer to that trivia question will always and forever be Albert Almora Jr. picked sixth overall in the 2012 amateur draft.

In some ways, the young outfielder from Florida became the forgotten man in the stable of can’t-miss prospects that Epstein and top lieutenants Jed Hoyer and Jason MacLeod amassed since their arrival over six years ago. While players such as Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ zoomed through the minor leagues on their way to the majors, Almora took a different path – one that included seven different stops over parts of five developmental seasons before he broke into the big leagues during the 2016 season.

But Almora’s road to the majors began years before he was selected by the Cubs, when he began playing for Team USA as a 13-year-old. Over the next several years, Almora played for the Red, White & Blue seven times, his final appearance coming in 2015. The seven appearances are the most in the history of USA Baseball, and Almora recognizes the impact his time with the national squad had on his playing career.

“[It was] one of the best experiences of my life," he said. "Every year I had something special to play with, unbelievable guys, went to crazy places, and out of those six years, five of them came with a gold medal so that was pretty special as well. Also, that helped me in my baseball life, how to experience things and learn from those type of experiences.

“I’m a Cubbie and that’s what’s on my chest right now, but Team USA will always have a special place in my heart.”

While Almora carries those national team experiences with him every day, his main focus coming into the 2018 season is becoming a consistent difference-maker. Almora made only 65 starts during the 2017 campaign, and 63 percent of his at-bats last year came against left-handed pitching, against which he hit a robust .342. That led to a platoon role in a crowded outfield, with Jason Heyward, Kyle Schwarber, Jon Jay, Ian Happ and Ben Zobrist all taking turns on the merry-go-round. But with the departure of Jay, Almora believes his time is near.

“I have the most confidence in myself that I can play every day, but I try not to think about that kind of stuff because it’s out of my control," Almora said. "All I control is like last year what I did; whenever I was given an opportunity, I tried to do my best and help the team win.”

Almora’s ultimate role on the 2018 Cubs remains to be seen, but there’s no question that Theo’s first Cubs pick will earn whatever role he ends up with, and the foundation of Almora’s journey to Clark and Addison was laid many summers ago during his time with Team USA.

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

News broke to Willson Contreras that the league will be limiting mound visits this upcoming season, and the Cubs catcher —notorious for his frequent visits to the rubber — is not having it.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If you have to go again and pay the price for my team, I will," he said.

The new rules rolled out Tuesday will limit six visits —any time a manager, coach or player visits the mound — per nine innings. But, communication between a player and a pitcher that does not require them moving from their position does not count as a visit.When a team is out of visits, it's the umpire's discretion to allow an extra trip to the mound.

But despite the new rules, Contreras is willing to do what's best for the team.

“There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? They cannot say anything about that. If you’re going to fine me about the [seventh] mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”