Cubs

Jake Arrieta takes perfecto into seventh, hits HR as Cubs beat Pirates

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Jake Arrieta takes perfecto into seventh, hits HR as Cubs beat Pirates

We're running out of superlatives to describe Jake Arrieta right now.

The Cubs ace took a perfect game into the seventh inning Sunday night as the Cubs beat the Pirates, 4-0, in front of 40,617 fans at Wrigley Field.

[SHOP: Get your official Cubs postseason gear]

Arrieta gave up a leadoff single to Gregory Polanco in the seventh and hit Andrew McCutchen with a pitch two batters later.

Those were the only two baserunners the Pirates had all night against Arrieta as he finished with 84 pitches in seven shutout innings, striking out nine and lowering his season ERA to 1.82 and WHIP to 0.88.

"I knew the situation I was in. Things were working well," Arrieta said. "All my pitches were pretty sharp. I knew going in it was going to be a pretty good night.

"I had a feel for everything from the get-go and it carried over. I knew there was a chance [at a no-hitter]."

It was Arrieta's league-leading 21st win of the season and 19th straight quality start. The Cubs are now 24-8 (a .750 winning percentage) in games he starts.

Arrieta has a 0.80 ERA since the All-Star Break, the best mark in MLB history.

"I talked about it earlier in the year - I thought there was another level to him," Joe Maddon said. "I think you're seeing that right now."

As if his pitching wasn't enough, Arrieta drilled a solo homer to right field in the second inning Sunday night and then sent another one to the wall in dead center in the sixth inning.

"I got two pitches in the one spot that you shouldn't throw me," he said. "Normally, anything outside of that tiny little area, I'm swinging and missing. I just put a couple good swings together."

Even with Sunday's win, the Cubs sit 4.5 games behind the Pirates in the wild-card race with only a week left, meaning the odds of hosting the one-game playoff in Chicago are very slim. These final seven games don't carry a lot of importance for the Cubs in terms of seeding.

Arrieta has blown past his career high in innings pitched in a season, but he's 29, in good shape and on an absolutely ridiculous run right now.

[MORE CUBS: Maddon plans to juggle rest and winning over final week]

So it'd be awfully tough for manager Joe Maddon and the Cubs to scale back Arrieta's workload significantly right now before he starts the wild-card game in 10 days.

There is no plan for the Cubs to skip Arrieta's final start Friday in Milwaukee.

"He's in a nice little groove," Maddon said before Sunday's contest. "I don't want to interrupt his groove."

Maddon let Arrieta throw 123 pitches in a complete-game shutout against the Brewers last Tuesday.

Arrieta understands there's no need to overdo it right now, saying Saturday he didn't expect his pitch count to go over 100 come Sunday.

[MORE CUBS: Jake Arrieta ready for do-or-die format of one-game playoff]

With the perfect game lost on his 77th pitch against the Pirates, there was no pressure to max out Arrieta, even though he had "no-hitter stuff."

"What's really setting him apart right now is what the ball's doing right in front of the plate into the catcher's mitt. It's very explosive," Maddon said.

"That's why he's been so successful. He's incredible."

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: