Cubs

Why Cubs can't take Jake Arrieta’s brilliance for granted

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Why Cubs can't take Jake Arrieta’s brilliance for granted

ST. LOUIS – When the Cubs returned home to Wrigley Field after Jake Arrieta’s second no-hitter, veteran catcher/media go-to guy David Ross stood in front of his locker and listened to a question about whether or not he had seen anything like this before. 

Surrounded by reporters in the new state-of-the-art clubhouse, Ross immediately cited two other examples he witnessed up close during a big-league career now in its 15th and final season: Kris Medlen and Eric Gagne.  

This is not at all suggesting that Arrieta is heading toward Tommy John surgery or a performance-enhancing drugs scandal or a steep drop off the cliff. But Medlen’s narrow window of greatness and Gagne’s game-over flameout shows the Cubs can’t take Arrieta’s brilliance for granted.  

Arrieta proved he’s not a cyborg on Wednesday afternoon at Busch Stadium, even as the Cubs hung on for a 9-8 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals and won his 23rd consecutive regular-season start.   

Since 1913, only three other pitchers had seen their teams win 22 straight starts, according to STATS Inc.: Carl Hubbell (New York Giants, 1936-37); Whitey Ford (New York Yankees, 1950-53); and Medlen’s 23-start run with Ross and the Atlanta Braves between 2010 and 2012.    

“I don’t take it for granted,” Ross said. “When you look at the daily performance, you see him just carrying you as a team. You can’t take that for granted, because you realize it’s special. It almost adds a little bit to your energy level, because you’re expecting great things from him and you don’t want to let him down as a teammate. 

“You’re like: ‘I’d better bring my A-game, because this is our stud and he’s doing some special things and I want him to keep doing these special things.’ We don’t ever want to think that one of our guys have a chink in the armor. You just want them to keep rolling.”

Medlen appeared in only two games for the Braves in 2011 and underwent a second Tommy John procedure on his right elbow in 2014. He earned a World Series ring with the Kansas City Royals last year and is now on the disabled list with rotator cuff inflammation.    

Ross also caught Gagne during the 2003 season where the Los Angeles Dodgers closer went 55-for-55 in save chances and won the National League Cy Young Award, part of a run where he converted 84 consecutive saves. 

Gagne needed the Tommy John reconstruction of his right elbow in the middle of the 2005 season, bounced around to three different teams, showed up in the Mitchell Report (featuring a due-diligence e-mail from Theo Epstein to a Boston Red Sox scout) and later admitted to using human growth hormone.     

Again, this is simply a reminder to appreciate what you’re watching here. 

This was the first time Arrieta allowed a regular-season run in the first inning since May 29, 2015 against the Royals, according to Comcast Sportsnet Chicago stats guru Christopher Kamka, and the first time he allowed four runs in a regular-season game since June 16, 2015, or Kyle Schwarber’s big-league debut.   

“I’m not a big numbers guy, but I watch how he makes really good major-league hitters who get paid a lot of money (look),” Ross said. “He makes them look not very hitter-ish. I just read the swings – and the takes even. 

“Guys are taking fastballs down and away with two strikes like it surprises them. And I know that’s what 90 percent of us are looking for when you get two strikes, just trying to make some contact. The ball explodes out of his hand because he hides it so well.”

Which made it jarring to see Arrieta give up his first home run in more than six weeks when Randal Grichuk drove a ball over the right-center field fence and into the St. Louis bullpen in the second inning. Pitching coach Chris Bosio quickly visited the mound during a stoppage in the fourth inning. Left-handed reliever Travis Wood warmed up in the bullpen during the fifth inning.

Arrieta escaped that bases-loaded jam when third baseman Tommy La Stella made a diving stop to his right on a Grichuk groundball and threw to second base for the third out. That was it for Arrieta, who threw 93 pitches and watched his ERA soar from 1.29 to 1.72.

“I walk to the park a lot, so you hear people talking,” Ross said. “It’s funny. It makes me laugh when you’re at a restaurant or something and you hear them talking about: ‘Yeah, Arrieta’s going today, maybe he’ll throw a no-hitter.’ It’s not that easy, people! 

“But you feel that energy in the atmosphere. And you know the other team is going to bring their best, because they understand they’re facing one of the best in the game, if not the best.”      

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: