Cubs

Joe Maddon doesn’t see Brewers struggling to handle Jimmy Nelson’s season-ending injury

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USA TODAY

Joe Maddon doesn’t see Brewers struggling to handle Jimmy Nelson’s season-ending injury

The Milwaukee Brewers will leave Chicago with at least a series victory following Saturday’s 15-2 drubbing of the Cubs, but that success will have come at a cost.

Ace right-hander Jimmy Nelson will miss the remainder of the 2017 season after suffering a right rotator cuff strain and partial anterior labrum tear while diving back into first base during Milwaukee’s 2-0 win Friday night. The 28-year-old has, statistically, been far and away the Brewers’ best player this year, totaling 4.9 WAR thanks to a 3.49 ERA and 3.03 FIP compiled over 29 starts (the Brewers’ next best player is third baseman Travis Shaw, who has 3 WAR).

“That’s a tough break for them,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s pretty much at the top of his game right now. Been watching that improve on an annual basis. They’re definitely gonna miss him.”

The Brewers, at least on Saturday, didn’t seem adversely affected by Nelson’s injury, battering Mike Montgomery and Justin Grimm during an eight-run third inning and cruising to a win that cut the Cubs’ lead in the National League Central to three games. Of course, the Brewers didn’t have to replace Nelson in their rotation on Saturday, but will next week — and how they handle having to start someone less likely to succeed than Nelson could be key in a close playoff race.

Maddon, though, wasn’t about to shovel dirt on the Brewers after they lost such a important piece to their playoff push.

“It could galvanize as much as it can be like ‘oh woe is us,’” Maddon said. “Sometimes it can be galvanizing, there’s no question. It depends on the replacement, who picks him up and if that guy fits in well. Long term … you look into the playoffs it can be much more difficult because he is that good. It’s hard to tell.

“They seem like they have a good thing going on over there in the clubhouse so I wouldn’t bet too heavily that its gonna have any kind of negative drag on them.”

If you can't wait for baseball to be back, take a look at the Cubs' spring training schedule

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USA TODAY

If you can't wait for baseball to be back, take a look at the Cubs' spring training schedule

Set your alarm, there are only three more months till baseball is back.

The Cubs announced their spring training schedule Monday, getting folks all amped up for the 34 exhibition games in February and March.

Spring game action gets started Feb. 23 out in Arizona, with the Cubs taking on the Milwaukee Brewers to kick off Cactus League play. The Cubs' first home spring game at Sloan Park in Mesa comes the next day, Feb. 24.

In addition to a 32-game Cactus League slate, the Cubs will take on the Cleveland Indians in a pair of exhibition games in Las Vegas. That 2016 World Series rematch comes March 17 and 18.

And of course, there will be three meetings with the White Sox, as both Chicago teams play their spring schedule out in Arizona. Those "Cactus Crosstown" games will be played Feb. 27 and March 10 in Mesa and March 16 in Glendale.

Here's the full schedule:

What if Jake Arrieta stays in the NL Central and repeatedly haunts the Cubs?

What if Jake Arrieta stays in the NL Central and repeatedly haunts the Cubs?

Jake Arrieta in a Brewers uniform?

That's not a sight Cubs fans would like to see, but the North Siders' I-94 rivals are apparently keen on trying to add Arrieta, the free-agent pitcher who's been one of the National League's top arms for the past several seasons.

The Cubs have their own decision to make on whether or not they're going to pursue re-signing Arrieta, a guy who over the past three seasons has posted a 2.71 ERA and struck out 589 batters, winning 54 games in 94 starts for a team that won the 2016 World Series and has advanced to three consecutive NL Championship Series.

The downside to losing Arrieta is obvious, as the Cubs would lose a huge part of their formidable starting rotation, but there would be an added downside if Arrieta were to remain in the NL Central and repeatedly haunt his former team.

Given Arrieta's track record, adding him would make sense for any team in the majors, but the Brewers in particular could use a front-of-the-line starting pitcher to boost their chances of besting the Cubs for the Central crown. The Brew Crew staged a surprising threat to do just that in 2017, perhaps proving that their rebuilding effort has yielded fruit ahead of schedule.

But there are questions in that rotation, with Jimmy Nelson expected to miss time next season after having shoulder surgery. Chase Anderson was great last season, and Zach Davies was solid, too. Brewers starters posted an ERA of 4.10 on the season, good for fifth in the NL. The four teams ahead of them, including the Cubs, all made the playoffs. Adding an arm as good as Arrieta's could make the difference in jumping past the Cubs in the Central and getting the Crew to the postseason for the first time since 2011.

And it'd be a plus for the Brewers to make it so Arrieta couldn't shut down their hitters anymore. In 15 career starts against the Crew, Arrieta is 8-4 with a 2.74 ERA. However, they'd surely love to have him call Miller Park home. He's never lost there in five starts, boasting a 2.03 ERA with 30 strikeouts.

There's an argument to be made that Arrieta would be able to seek revenge on the Cubs no matter what team he ends up pitching for, be it an NL team facing off against the Cubs in the playoffs or an American League squad meeting the Cubs in the World Series. After all, as Scott Boras put it, signing Arrieta is a ticket to "Playoffville."

But should Arrieta make the short drive to Wisconsin and set up shop in America's Dairyland, turning the Brewers into a legitimate playoff contender and challenger to the Cubs' grip on the NL Central crown? Well, consider the Cubs-Brewers rivalry cranked up to 11.