Jake Arrieta and a Cubs playoff rotation look a little shaky as clinch party waits another day

Jake Arrieta and a Cubs playoff rotation look a little shaky as clinch party waits another day

ST. LOUIS – “Woof,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said when asked how comfortable he feels about this rotation heading into the playoffs compared to last year’s World Series group. “Let’s (see) Jonny Lester getting back to normalcy and that Jake (Arrieta) is well.”

Popping champagne bottles and toasting another National League Central title is still only a matter of time. But what are the Cubs going to do once they get there and have to game plan for an explosive Washington Nationals lineup and match zeroes in a five-game series where Max Scherzer can start twice?

Not trying to be a buzzkill here, but Arrieta didn’t erase all the doubts after Tuesday night’s 8-7 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium, admitting that the right hamstring he strained on Labor Day is still not 100 percent and lingering as a potential glitch in his carefully wired mechanics.

“I’ve had to adjust a couple things in my delivery,” Arrieta said. “It’s still there a little bit. But I’m fine. I’m plenty healthy enough to go out there and compete and pitch at a high level. I just wasn’t able to do that tonight, unfortunately.”

Arrieta – whose transformation into a Cy Young Award winner really started the run of clinch parties in 2015 – couldn’t get it done this time. The magic number remained stuck at one with the Milwaukee Brewers closing out a 7-6 win over the Cincinnati Reds at Miller Park, where Arrieta looked sharp five days ago against a playoff contender in his first start in 18 days.  

Arrieta watched St. Louis leadoff guy/old college buddy Matt Carpenter launch his fifth pitch over the center-field wall. That first inning came unglued when Mike Freeman – a bench player starting at shortstop with Javier Baez resting his sore right knee and Addison Russell taking a scheduled day off – committed an error that led to two unearned runs.

As the Cardinals desperately try to stay alive for the second wild-card spot – now 2.5 games behind the Colorado Rockies with the Brewers still in front of them – Tommy Pham launched a 92-mph Arrieta pitch 426 feet into the second-deck, left-field seats in “Big Mac Land” for a two-run homer in the second inning.

Already capped by a conservative pitch count, Arrieta got pulled after 67 for a pinch-hitter in a bases-loaded situation in the fourth inning, a reality check before the Cubs can party in a visiting clubhouse covered in plastic.     

“I don’t have the drive that I do at 100 percent, but it’s still plenty enough to be effective,” Arrieta said. “The velocity’s really good tonight. Stuff’s not an issue.”

This comes at a time when Lester is searching for answers (4.79 ERA since the All-Star break) and trying to get into rhythm after spending two-plus weeks on the disabled list with left lat tightness/general shoulder fatigue. Maddon also sees Kyle Hendricks “throwing the ball as good as I’ve seen him” and Jose Quintana thriving amid the pennant-race pressure.   

But the playoff rotation could revolve around Arrieta, the NL pitcher of the month for August and perhaps the best pitcher on the free-agent market this winter. Before Game 1 in Washington, the Cubs are planning to start Arrieta in Game 162 on Sunday against the Reds in what could be his final start at Wrigley Field.

“You’re just trying to get to October,” Arrieta said. “And then the guys that we have can pitch in big games in October. They have done that for a long time. Regardless of what the regular-season stats are, we’ve got three, four-plus guys that can go out there and pitch really well in October. I think we’ve shown that in the past.

“But, yeah, we still got to get there. We need one more win. And we’ll figure that out after that.”

Scouting the Cubs' competition: Can anybody dethrone the Dodgers?


Scouting the Cubs' competition: Can anybody dethrone the Dodgers?

The expectations couldn't be any higher for the 2018 Chicago Cubs. 

It's 2016 all over again. The goal isn't just a trip to the playoffs or another NL pennant. It's World Series or bust for this group of North Siders.

With that, let's take a look at all of the teams that could stand in the way of the Cubs getting back to the Fall Classic:

Los Angeles Dodgers

2017 record: 104-58, 1st place in NL West

Offseason additions: Matt Kemp, Scott Alexander, Brian Schlitter (former Cub still in the league), Pat Venditte (switch-pitcher), Hamlet Marte (only included because his name is "Hamlet")

Offseason departures: Yu Darvish, Brandon Morrow, Tony Watson, Adrian Gonzalez, Curtis Granderson, Andre Ethier, Franklin Gutierrez, Scott Van Slyke, Brandon McCarthy, Luis Avilan, Scott Kazmir

X-factor: Chris Taylor/Alex Wood

Cheating a bit here and going with two guys.

Wood has been a very good and very underrated pitcher for his entire career, but he also has struggled to stay healthy. He made just 27 appearances (25 starts) last season and has pitched more than 172 innings in a season just once (2015).

Wood has a career 3.20 ERA and led the league in winning percentage last season after going 16-3. We all know Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher on the planet (again, when healthy), but if Wood can take the ball every fifth day, it takes so much pressure off Kershaw and makes the Dodgers that much more formidable.

Taylor came from out of absolutely nowhere last year to turn in a heck of a season - .288/.354/.496 slash line, 21 HR, 72 RBI, 85 R, 17 SB - and sat atop the Dodgers order as they marched all the way to Game 7 of the World Series. 

The power was a huge surprise, but he's always had speed, hit for a high average and drawn walks, so if the power plays again, he's a huge weapon, especially with Justin Turner down with a wrist injury now. And the power actually looks legit after a swing and philosophy change.

Projected lineup

1. Chris Taylor - CF
2. Corey Seager - SS
3. Cody Bellinger - 1B
4. Yasiel Puig - RF
5. Yasmani Grandal - C
6. Joc Pederson - LF
7. Logan Forsythe - 3B
8. Chase Utley - 2B

Projected rotation

1. Clayton Kershaw
2. Alex Wood
3. Kenta Maeda
4. Rich Hill
5. Hyun-jin Ryu


Turner's broken wrist is a huge blow to the Dodgers before the season has even begun, especially when he's suddenly like the best right-handed hitter on the planet not named Mike Trout or Kris Bryant. 

Turner was always a solid utility player for the Mets but not much of a hitter (.696 OPS in 301 games with the Mets). In L.A., however, Turner has an .881 OPS in four years, including an incredible .945 OPS in 2017.

He's the anchor of their lineup and any time he misses is a big loss. But this Dodgers team is so talented around him that they'll be fine getting into the playoffs. Turner was bound to miss time anyways - he's played in more than 130 games in a season just once in his career.

The only thing that could slow this team down would be more injuries, especially if Kershaw's balky back rears its ugly head again. 

This may be the most talented roster in the National League (once Turner returns), so even in an NL West where four teams may be competing for the division title, the Dodgers should take the cake once again.

But will they have enough left in the tank to get past the Cubs or Nationals to represent the NL in the World Series once again?

Prediction: 1st in NL West

Complete opposition research

Los Angeles Dodgers
San Francisco Giants
Arizona Diamondbacks
Colorado Rockies
San Diego Padres

Here are the sharp holiday and special event uniforms that the Cubs will be rocking this season


Here are the sharp holiday and special event uniforms that the Cubs will be rocking this season

MLB will once again commemorate several holidays and special events during the 2018 season.

Monday, the league revealed the uniforms teams will don on Jackie Robinson Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day, and during Memorial Day weekend and Independence Day weekend.

The Cubs' regular uniforms are great, of course, but their special event uniforms are solid as well. Take a look:

Not too shabby, eh? In addition to the special caps and jerseys, MLB teams will be rocking unique socks and patches for each occasion. A complete collection of the uniforms can be found here.