BALTIMORE – Jake Arrieta didn’t throw a baseball while relaxing at home in Austin, Texas, during an All-Star break the Cubs absolutely needed.
Walking the streets of Baltimore this weekend triggered memories, seeing where he used to live (when he wasn’t getting shuttled back to Triple-A), eating at one of his favorite restaurants, interacting with old Orioles teammates and appreciating the classic look and feel of Camden Yards.
Jose Quintana arriving here on Friday pointed to the Cubs filling a big hole in their 2018, 2019 and 2020 rotations and moving in another direction once Arrieta becomes a free agent after this season.
All these forces – decompressing from an all-consuming game, reminders of the struggling pitcher a Cy Young Award winner used to be and the dominos falling from the Quintana trade with the White Sox – made it seem like a good time to think about Arrieta’s future and how this could be his last chance to make history (again) with the Cubs.
“If I have to leave, I don’t want to leave without another ring,” Arrieta said after Saturday night’s 10-3 win set Quintana up for the sweep on Sunday afternoon.
The Cubs have scored 19 runs in their first two games after the All-Star break, but any sustained momentum will revolve around starting pitching. Arrieta kept an American League lineup off-balance for 6.2 innings in a steamy, hitter-friendly park, mixing in his cutter and changeup while limiting the Orioles to two runs (one earned) in the kind of controlled, efficient performance the Cubs desperately need if they are going to break out of their 45-45 pattern and make up those 5.5 games against the Milwaukee Brewers and Colorado Rockies in the division and wild-card races.
It doesn’t even have to be the Bob Gibson/Sandy Koufax/Dwight Gooden/Randy Johnson-esque push that catapulted the 2015 Cubs and transformed the franchise’s identity. It won’t be Max Scherzer money. But super-agent Scott Boras will get Arrieta paid for his raw stuff, durability, big-game performances and good clubhouse reputation.
“I would love to stay,” Arrieta said. “That would be cool. But if it doesn’t work out, that’s the nature of professional sports.
“We’re all on the same page here. Regardless of how we played the first half, that’s the end goal – to get back to the playoffs and then just have the chance to roll the dice and see what happens in October. And hopefully we get to play in November.”
Arrieta (9-7, 4.17 ERA) is starting to look more and more like the guy who beat the Cleveland Indians twice on the road during last year’s World Series. The thing is, Arrieta always thought he was The Man, even when he couldn’t stick in Baltimore.
“I joke with my friends,” Arrieta said. “I kind of tell them how I think I’m going to finish the second half. I don’t know if I’ll verbalize that to you guys, but I’m very confident.
“We didn’t perform the way we would like – all the way around – (in the first half). We expect better things from ourselves as a team overall. That’s the competitive nature of all these guys in this clubhouse. We want to get back to where we were last year. We want to get to the playoffs and have a shot to play into November again. It’s still within reach.”