Like rest of Cubs, Jake Arrieta will judge his year in October

Like rest of Cubs, Jake Arrieta will judge his year in October

SAN FRANCISCO – Dissecting his regular season again would be a waste of time for Jake Arrieta: “It just doesn’t matter anymore.”

Arrieta might be the best interview in the Cubs clubhouse, someone who will listen to any question, make direct eye contact and speak in full paragraphs. But even he knows this isn’t the time to think big picture, understanding his whole year will ultimately be judged in October, the way it will be for this entire team.

The Cubs are handing Arrieta a 2-0 lead over the San Francisco Giants in this best-of-five National League Division Series, giving him the chance to beat Madison Bumgarner and end their season on Monday night at AT&T Park.

Arrieta hasn’t trolled Giants fans on Twitter, the way he prepared for last year’s wild-card game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park. And Arrieta couldn’t top his answer to this year’s question about a first-round opponent – “Who gives a s---?” – by simply saying of Bumgarner: “He’s really good, but he’s beatable.”

“It’s going to be a great game, but I’m not like licking my lips because Bumgarner’s on the other side,” Arrieta said. “You know you have to be near the top of your game to win that game. But I got to face one through eight (in that lineup). That’s really my big concern, not who’s on the mound.”

Arrieta didn’t bring his Cy Young Award up to the podium inside AT&T Park’s interview room before Sunday’s optional workout. But it still follows him, the images from last year’s breakthrough performance, the onesie no-hitter at Dodger Stadium, silencing the blackout crowd during the wild-card game, really, one of the greatest pitching runs of all-time.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

“Everybody’s been over-scrutinizing him based on what he had done last year,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s had a great season. It’s not maybe as great as last year was, but it’s hard to replicate that.

“I don’t think Jake is cowered by any situation. We have a lot of confidence in him. I think he projected last year exactly what he’s all about. He’s done it this year, too. Again, it’s just hard to maintain the level of excellence that he had last year.”

If becoming the Game 3 starter bruised Arrieta’s ego, he didn’t show it, and he’s raved about watching Jon Lester reestablish himself as an ace, as well as the emergence of Kyle Hendricks as a Cy Young Award contender.

Arrieta ranked among the NL leaders in wins (18/tied for third), ERA (3.10/10th) and opponents’ OPS (.583/second), all signs of dominance. He also had a midseason downturn (4.88 ERA in July) and an inconsistent finish (4.60 ERA in September).  

“From a numbers perspective, I would have liked to maybe be a little bit better,” Arrieta said. “But at the same time, (I) took the ball every five days and had a lot of great things throughout the season to be excited about.

“I’ve prepared the same way from start to finish. I really like the process and trust the stuff moving forward. I know that it’s more than good enough to have a lot of success for this team in the postseason.”

At this time last year, Arrieta gave the Cubs the invincible feeling the Giants have with Bumgarner, a three-time World Series champion. Which Jake shows up for Arrieta vs. Bumgarner could define this series and the rest of October.

“He’s a guy who really seems to shine brightest in the postseason when the games matter the most,” Arrieta said. “We have got a challenge ahead of us. But we put ourselves in a really good position, obviously, by taking care of business at home with the opportunity to close the series out in three games and get back to Chicago and prepare.

“We have a pretty potent offense that he has to try and neutralize. It's going to be a good one.”

Scouting the Cubs' competition: Can anybody dethrone the Dodgers?


Scouting the Cubs' competition: Can anybody dethrone the Dodgers?

The expectations couldn't be any higher for the 2018 Chicago Cubs. 

It's 2016 all over again. The goal isn't just a trip to the playoffs or another NL pennant. It's World Series or bust for this group of North Siders.

With that, let's take a look at all of the teams that could stand in the way of the Cubs getting back to the Fall Classic:

Los Angeles Dodgers

2017 record: 104-58, 1st place in NL West

Offseason additions: Matt Kemp, Scott Alexander, Brian Schlitter (former Cub still in the league), Pat Venditte (switch-pitcher), Hamlet Marte (only included because his name is "Hamlet")

Offseason departures: Yu Darvish, Brandon Morrow, Tony Watson, Adrian Gonzalez, Curtis Granderson, Andre Ethier, Franklin Gutierrez, Scott Van Slyke, Brandon McCarthy, Luis Avilan, Scott Kazmir

X-factor: Chris Taylor/Alex Wood

Cheating a bit here and going with two guys.

Wood has been a very good and very underrated pitcher for his entire career, but he also has struggled to stay healthy. He made just 27 appearances (25 starts) last season and has pitched more than 172 innings in a season just once (2015).

Wood has a career 3.20 ERA and led the league in winning percentage last season after going 16-3. We all know Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher on the planet (again, when healthy), but if Wood can take the ball every fifth day, it takes so much pressure off Kershaw and makes the Dodgers that much more formidable.

Taylor came from out of absolutely nowhere last year to turn in a heck of a season - .288/.354/.496 slash line, 21 HR, 72 RBI, 85 R, 17 SB - and sat atop the Dodgers order as they marched all the way to Game 7 of the World Series. 

The power was a huge surprise, but he's always had speed, hit for a high average and drawn walks, so if the power plays again, he's a huge weapon, especially with Justin Turner down with a wrist injury now. And the power actually looks legit after a swing and philosophy change.

Projected lineup

1. Chris Taylor - CF
2. Corey Seager - SS
3. Cody Bellinger - 1B
4. Yasiel Puig - RF
5. Yasmani Grandal - C
6. Joc Pederson - LF
7. Logan Forsythe - 3B
8. Chase Utley - 2B

Projected rotation

1. Clayton Kershaw
2. Alex Wood
3. Kenta Maeda
4. Rich Hill
5. Hyun-jin Ryu


Turner's broken wrist is a huge blow to the Dodgers before the season has even begun, especially when he's suddenly like the best right-handed hitter on the planet not named Mike Trout or Kris Bryant. 

Turner was always a solid utility player for the Mets but not much of a hitter (.696 OPS in 301 games with the Mets). In L.A., however, Turner has an .881 OPS in four years, including an incredible .945 OPS in 2017.

He's the anchor of their lineup and any time he misses is a big loss. But this Dodgers team is so talented around him that they'll be fine getting into the playoffs. Turner was bound to miss time anyways - he's played in more than 130 games in a season just once in his career.

The only thing that could slow this team down would be more injuries, especially if Kershaw's balky back rears its ugly head again. 

This may be the most talented roster in the National League (once Turner returns), so even in an NL West where four teams may be competing for the division title, the Dodgers should take the cake once again.

But will they have enough left in the tank to get past the Cubs or Nationals to represent the NL in the World Series once again?

Prediction: 1st in NL West

Complete opposition research

Los Angeles Dodgers
San Francisco Giants
Arizona Diamondbacks
Colorado Rockies
San Diego Padres

Here are the sharp holiday and special event uniforms that the Cubs will be rocking this season


Here are the sharp holiday and special event uniforms that the Cubs will be rocking this season

MLB will once again commemorate several holidays and special events during the 2018 season.

Monday, the league revealed the uniforms teams will don on Jackie Robinson Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day, and during Memorial Day weekend and Independence Day weekend.

The Cubs' regular uniforms are great, of course, but their special event uniforms are solid as well. Take a look:

Not too shabby, eh? In addition to the special caps and jerseys, MLB teams will be rocking unique socks and patches for each occasion. A complete collection of the uniforms can be found here.