Cubs

Cubs ready for October with Jake Arrieta possibly clinching Cy Young Award

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Cubs ready for October with Jake Arrieta possibly clinching Cy Young Award

MILWAUKEE – Bring it on. There’s no other way to interpret Jake Arrieta’s game face and body language now, looking like he’s ready to put the Cubs on his broad shoulders and lead them through October.

Arrieta dominated the Milwaukee Brewers during Friday night’s 6-1 victory at Miller Park, cruising through six scoreless innings in his final tune-up before the National League’s wild-card game and possibly locking up a Cy Young Award.

“I’m definitely prepared, obviously confident,” Arrieta said. “Everything’s where it needs to be.”

[MORE: Maddon’s playoff message to Cubs and Schwarber's role in wild-card game] 

Arrieta finished an unbelievable regular season with 22 wins, a 1.77 ERA and 236 strikeouts in 229 innings. Fair or not, the Pittsburgh Pirates could win almost 100 games and have their entire year come down to nine innings against a Cy Young winner.        

“If that did not clinch his award, I don’t know what would,” manager Joe Maddon said after watching Arrieta limit the Brewers to two singles, finishing with seven strikeouts against zero walks. “Right there, that had to be the clincher.”

Maddon pulled Arrieta after 72 pitches, knowing there will be bigger moments ahead for his 95-win team. But what a finishing kick for Arrieta, who hasn’t allowed a run in his last 22 innings and closed with 20 straight quality starts, going 16-1 with a 0.86 ERA.

“That would be cool,” Arrieta said of his Cy Young chances. “When the season’s over, we’ll think about that a little more. But obviously Wednesday is the most important thing for everybody here. And that’s where I’m going to keep my focus for now.”

The Los Angeles Dodgers have their own devastating 1-2 punch, and we’ll see how Zack Greinke (18-3, 1.68 ERA, 0.85 WHIP) and Clayton Kershaw (16-7, 2.16 ERA, almost 300 strikeouts) respond this weekend against the San Diego Padres.

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

But Arrieta’s 0.75 ERA after the All-Star break will be the lowest in major-league history. He did this for a playoff contender in baseball’s toughest division and threw that no-hitter at Dodger Stadium in front of a national-television audience.

“I can’t tell you I expected all of this,” said Maddon, who guided the Tampa Bay Rays at a time when Arrieta struggled to establish himself as a major-league pitcher with the Baltimore Orioles.

“From a distance, I saw the potential in the past. The way the season started out, he wasn’t really nailing it down like he could. But then all of a sudden…”

The Cubs have scored a grand total of four runs in Arrieta’s six losses. The last team to beat “Snake” was the Philadelphia Phillies on July 25 – the day Cole Hamels threw a no-hitter at Wrigley Field.  

“His stuff is different,” Maddon said. “Just the way the fastball moves. (It’s) the velocity combined with movement and then the other pitches. The slider. I love his curveball, which he doesn’t even throw that often, and now the changeup has been introduced.

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

“My point in the beginning of the year was (he) had all these different weapons that he didn’t know how to use in particular moments.

“He’s figured out how to only break the other goodies out when it’s necessary.”

At some point this offseason, back home in Austin, Texas, Arrieta will try to wrap his mind around what just happened, but really he’s just getting started now.

“We don’t have time for that yet,” Arrieta said. “Enjoy the win tonight and start getting ready for Pittsburgh on Wednesday.”

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

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USA TODAY

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: