Cubs

No-hitter shows Jake Arrieta fits in perfectly with free-spirited Cubs

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No-hitter shows Jake Arrieta fits in perfectly with free-spirited Cubs

LOS ANGELES — The Elias Sports Bureau doesn’t keep track of this stuff, but Jake Arrieta has to be the first guy in baseball history to throw a no-hitter and get this question at the end of his postgame press conference: “Can we get a shot of the pajamas?”

Or this: “Whole body shot?”

Arrieta stepped off the stage inside Dodger Stadium’s interview room on Sunday night, gave the thumbs-up sign and posed in his gray striped onesie covered in moustaches. Obviously.

It always felt like the Cubs would have a bad loss whenever they tried to do these dress-up trips or rookie hazing (on their way to finishing in last place). But as everyone knows by now, this year, in so many ways, is different.

Arrieta is a new billboard for the Cubs: Supremely confident, uber-talented and not waiting around for the future.

[MORE CUBS: Jake Arrieta gets locked in with Cubs and makes no-hitter history]

You could only imagine how raucous it would be inside that airplane flying some 1,700 miles home from Los Angeles after this 2-0 victory over the Dodgers that elevated the Cubs to 19 games over .500.

At the end of a tough West Coast trip, manager Joe Maddon dressed up in his pajama flight suit and used “Top Gun” as an inspiration: “I Feel the Need — The Need for Sleep.”

But everyone inside the clubhouse looked completely wired after Arrieta’s masterpiece, which included 12 strikeouts against one walk and zero moments where it looked like he would be in trouble.

Miguel Montero — who also caught Edwin Jackson’s no-hitter with the Arizona Diamondbacks against Maddon’s Tampa Bay Rays in 2010 — stood at his locker with a bottle of champagne in hand and didn’t want to stop talking about Arrieta.

“To be honest, every time he goes out, he’s like Felix Hernandez,” Montero said. “There’s a good chance he’s going to throw a no-hitter.

“I told him I was proud of him. He worked his butt off. He works as hard as anybody in the game. That’s his reward right there. Hopefully, there’s more to come.”

[MORE CUBS: Cubs celebrate Jake Arrieta's no-hitter with pajama party]

Arrieta basically called his shot in spring training, saying he should keep putting himself in position to throw no-hitters after last year’s breakthrough season.

Arrieta had a perfect game going against the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field last June until Billy Hamilton singled up the middle. In his next start, Arrieta was four outs away from a no-hitter against the Boston Red Sox and got a standing ovation from the sellout crowd at Fenway Park.

Arrieta almost did it to the Reds again last September, taking a no-hitter into the eighth inning before Matt Szczur just missed making a spectacular catch on a ball Brandon Phillips drove into left-center at Wrigley Field.

“As the game wore on, I kind of tried to use those past experiences to my advantage,” Arrieta said. “Stay calm and maintain the focus on just going out there and trying to execute quality pitch after quality pitch. The defense was really good behind me.”

For all the goofy stunts to help keep the team loose — Simon the Magician, American Legion Week, etc. — the Cubs had already developed a competitive edge on the pitching side before Maddon’s arrival.

[MORE CUBS: Cubs admit Jon Lester has a problem ... now what?]

Arrieta had spent parts of the 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2013 seasons on the Triple-A level before blossoming in Chicago with that trade from the Baltimore Orioles.

“He’s going to enjoy this tonight,” pitching coach Chris Bosio said. “There’s going to be, I’m sure, a big-time party in Chicago and some celebrations going on. But knowing him, Day 2, he’s going to get organized and ready and start preparing for his next start.

“He’s done so well going pitch-to-pitch, preparing start-to-start, he’s become a student of the game.”

Arrieta starts became must-see TV, to the point where no one around the Cubs would be surprised by a night like this, seeing it as a matter of when, not if.

“It’s something that I’ve wanted for a long time,” Arrieta said. “I’ve been close on a couple of occasions. Just fortunate everything aligned tonight and was able to get it done.”

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

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: