Cubs

Jake Arrieta emerges as October star and gets locked in for Cubs-Cardinals

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Jake Arrieta emerges as October star and gets locked in for Cubs-Cardinals

Jake Arrieta has emerged as a star this October, drawing comparisons to Joe Namath and Madison Bumgarner, making the Cubs believe he could become their answer to the 1969 New York Jets or last year’s San Francisco Giants.

The Cubs understood they had to split the first two games at Busch Stadium to give themselves a chance in this best-of-five National League division series against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Mission accomplished. Arrieta didn’t need to make any guarantees during Sunday’s news conference inside a cleaned-out storage room in the bowels of Wrigley Field. The Cubs can already hear the first-pitch roar for Monday’s Game 3 at The Friendly Confines.

“We’re pretty pumped about it,” pitcher Kyle Hendricks said. “You can feel it in the clubhouse right now. There’s some energy. There’s some buzz. Having Jake on the hill? Man, I wouldn't want to have any other guy in the world right now.”

Michael Wacha made his first All-Star team this year – and was the 2013 NLCS MVP – yet he is still being viewed as The Other Pitcher.

[MORE: Cubs put the pressure back on Cardinals with Jake Arrieta up next]

Because the Cubs are undefeated in Arrieta’s last 14 starts, his 0.75 ERA after the All-Star break is the lowest in major-league history and he made it look so easy during last week’s complete-game shutout of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the wild-card game.

“I’m confident in my ability to go out there (and) give us an outing that’s good enough to win the game,” Arrieta said. “Obviously on their side, Wacha has got the ability to be pretty darned good on the mound himself. You know, I just intend to keep us in the game, regardless of the circumstances, whatever comes up.

“But I like my chances to go out there and win us a ballgame.”

A reporter pointed out that Arrieta lost six times this year, including May 7 at Busch Stadium, and asked if he had any particular memories from that game.

“I don’t remember anything about it,” Arrieta said, his eyes darting around the room for the next question.

The Cubs are still guaranteed nothing with Arrieta on the mound.

[RELATED: Cubs reaping the benefits of Manny Ramirez's influence on Jorge Soler]

Clayton Kershaw – a three-time Cy Young Award winner and last year’s NL MVP – is 1-6 with a 4.99 ERA in 12 career playoff games for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

David Price – a five-time All-Star who had gone 9-1 with a 2.30 ERA since getting traded to the Toronto Blue Jays – gave up five runs and lost Game 1 to the Texas Rangers in their American League division series.

“Your weaknesses and your mistakes are exposed at a level maybe slightly above where they would be in the regular season,” Arrieta said. “Everybody’s attention to detail, everybody’s focus is at such a high level that when those little mistakes are made, the opposing lineups are able to capitalize on it.

“A lot of the times (with) David and Clayton, their stuff is so tremendous that they’ll get away with mistakes. But it’s a little bit different in October. It seems like (everybody’s) mentality is in that sweet spot (where) they’re not really fazed by anything.

“Sometimes it happens with momentum changes in the game, the atmosphere, the crowd noise. But everybody is pretty locked in at this point in the season. And that’s why the good teams still remain.

“You really, really got to be on top of your game to have success.”

[NBC SHOP: Buy a Jake Arrieta jersey]

When the Cubs acquired a Triple-A pitcher from the Baltimore Orioles in the middle of the 2013 season, no one thought Scott Feldman would become the answer to a trivia question or Arrieta would be mentioned in the same breath as the best pitchers on the planet.

“I’ve been through a lot in my career,” Arrieta said. “The failure that I’ve gone through makes me really appreciate the moments of success much more. I’ve had some pretty dark times in this game in my career. But I was dedicated to getting over the hump, to putting in the time, the effort, making any adjustments necessary to get to this point.

“I don’t think anything bothers me anymore.”

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

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USA TODAY

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.”