Cubs

Jake Arrieta dominates, leads Cubs to sixth straight win

Jake Arrieta dominates, leads Cubs to sixth straight win

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) NL Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta isn't quite satisfied he's recovered his dominant stuff after a pedestrian July.

He didn't look far off Saturday. Arrieta pitched eight innings of three-hit ball to get his first victory in over a month and the Chicago Cubs beat the Oakland Athletics 4-0.

"Really close," Arrieta said when asked if he's back to full strength.

Arrieta (13-5) was 0-3 in his previous five starts and 1-4 since ending a 20-decision winning streak on June 22. He struck out four and walked one on 108 pitches.

"Emphasis (is) on sinking the ball down, middle down in the strike zone and forcing action early on," Arrieta said. "Not worrying about strikeouts. Those will come in big situations. Maybe guy on third, a guy on second base, no outs, less than two, punchouts are more important. I'm trying to get through the middle innings."

The NL Central-leading Cubs have won six straight and 16 of 22, and they moved a season-best 27 games over .500 for a second time this season. They gave the A's their seventh loss in eight games.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Ben Zobrist's two-out two-run single off former A's teammate Sonny Gray broke a scoreless tie in the top of the third.

"I'm watching them out there from the very first pitch ... they're engaged, they're present-tense, ready to go," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "The guys are very confident right now, and the pitching permits this all to happen. You can't get hot without good pitching and our starters have been fantastic."

"We're firing on all cylinders right now," Arrieta said. "Does that mean we won't lose three in a row? Who knows? It doesn't matter to us. We want to come out tomorrow and keep the momentum on our side."

Gray (5-11) left after five innings with soreness in the extensor muscle in his right forearm. He allowed two runs on five hits.

He first felt the injury after striking out Dexter Fowler with a curveball in the top of the fourth.

"I was trying to go back out there for the sixth," Gray said. "I told them after the fourth I had a little bit of an issue come up and when I went back out for the fifth it kind of felt the same.

"They kind of decided to shut it down there. I lobbied to go back out there. It obviously wasn't going to happen."

The injury is the latest setback in a disastrous season for the 26-year-old right-hander, who's already been on the disabled list with a right shoulder injury. Gray, a 2015 All-Star who last season finished third in AL Cy Young balloting, had the highest ERA in the majors (5.84) going into Saturday.

Zobrist and Addison Russell had two hits each for the Cubs.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

 

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.”