Dave Roberts

Dodgers look like the perfect landing spot for Jake Arrieta

jake_arrieta_perfect_fit_for_dodgers_slide.jpg
USA TODAY

Dodgers look like the perfect landing spot for Jake Arrieta

Super-agent Scott Boras already has the metaphor ready for Jake Arrieta, trying to sell his client as an updated version of Jon Lester, someone with big-game experience, proven durability and the presence to energize an entire clubhouse.   

“He’s a big squirrel,” Boras said. “He has a lot of nuts in his tree.”

That’s exactly what the Los Angeles Dodgers need now after their super-team broke down against the Houston Astros. Losing a World Series Game 7 could create a new sense of urgency and push even the most analytical organization outside its comfort zone.  

You didn’t need to be sitting in the Boras Corporation’s front-row seats at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday night to see what could be coming next. One year after the Cubs finally won the World Series, Arrieta is now a free agent with the perfect landing spot already cleared in Los Angeles.  

Watching Yu Darvish get 10 outs combined in two World Series losses reinforced the perception that Arrieta is the best starting pitcher on the open market and the Dodgers whiffed by not signing Max Scherzer three years ago or trading for Justin Verlander last winter or this summer.

The Dodgers built a 104-win team with a lot of mix-and-match pieces, layering depth and versatility into the roster, elements that kept showing up across a 162-game season.

But there are lingering questions about Clayton Kershaw’s playoff performances – 7-7 with a 4.35 ERA in 122 career innings – and the three-time Cy Young Award winner can opt out of the final two years of his $215 million contract after the 2018 season.     

The Dodgers didn’t let Rich Hill go longer than five innings in any of his four playoff starts this year, allowing him to only face 18 or 19 hitters each time. Kenta Maeda didn’t get nearly as much exposure to lineups, reinventing himself as a bullpen weapon this October.

The Dodgers paid roughly $37 million to Brandon McCarthy, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Scott Kazmir this season and got almost 220 innings combined and zero playoff starts out of those investments. Julio Urias, the elite pitching prospect once compared to Fernando Valenzuela, underwent season-ending surgery on his left shoulder in June.   

Arrieta is already playoff-tested after dominating the Pittsburgh Pirates with a complete-game shutout in the 2015 National League wild-card game, beating the Cleveland Indians twice on the road during last year’s World Series and putting up a 3.08 ERA in nine postseason starts.

Arrieta will be 32 next season, but Boras will point to his relatively low pitching odometer (1,161 career big-league innings) and how that compares to Scherzer when he signed his seven-year, $210 million megadeal with the Washington Nationals (almost 1,240 innings).   

A sprawling Los Angeles front office saturated with Big Data should appreciate Arrieta’s numbers across the last four seasons when compared to all major-league pitchers: third in ERA (2.67) and batting average against (.201); tied for fifth in WAR (18.5) and soft-contact percentage (22); and sixth in WHIP (1.03).

Five years in a row, the Dodgers have won the NL West, a division that featured two other playoff teams this year (the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies) and a franchise that has won three World Series titles since 2010 (the San Francisco Giants).

Arrieta would help the Dodgers stay ahead in that arms race and could be the missing piece for October. It’s not 108 years, but the Dodgers haven’t won a World Series since 1988, or the year Kershaw was born. That sense of history would appeal to Arrieta’s ego and sense of purpose.

So would iconic Dodger Stadium, an ideal pitching environment where Arrieta threw a no-hitter on national TV during his 2015 Cy Young Award campaign and walked into the postgame press conference wearing a onesie covered in moustaches.

Arrieta is someone who dropped into Second City improv classes, posed nude for ESPN the Magazine’s body issue, developed his own Pilates/nutrition program and lives in Austin, Texas, during the offseason. Think Hollywood opportunities and the Southern California lifestyle might be more attractive than, say, living in St. Louis for the next five seasons and playing under The Cardinal Way?  

The Dodgers also have a core of 20-something hitters – Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, Chris Taylor, Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson, Enrique Hernandez, Austin Barnes – to go with widely respected manager Dave Roberts and All-Star closer Kenley Jansen.    

After splitting the last two NL Championship Series – while also looking like contenders for years to come – imagine Arrieta returning to Wrigley Field next October in Dodger blue.   

Record-setting futility and the 5 biggest things from Cubs-Dodgers Game 3

ian_happ_cubs_5_things_nlcs_game_3_slide.jpg
USA TODAY

Record-setting futility and the 5 biggest things from Cubs-Dodgers Game 3

The Los Angeles Dodgers are looking more and more like the 2016 Cubs.

But even the team that will live forever in baseball history didn't go up 3-0 on any opponent last fall.

The Dodgers continued to outplay the Cubs in every single facet of the game Tuesday night, stunning the Wrigley Field faithful and defending champs with a 6-1 victory.

In other words:

Deja vu?

At this point, it would be impossible to ignore the parallels to 2015.

The Cubs are now one game away from getting swept out of the NLCS at Wrigley Field. Just like when they ran into the New York Mets' power pitching two years ago.

The Dodgers have run out Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill and Yu Darvish to mystify the Cubs while Alex Wood — who led baseball in winning percentage with a 16-3 record in the regular season — awaits for Game 4 Wednesday.

The Cubs offense has disappeared and they're getting upstaged by a team that led MLB with 104 wins.

What is it with these Taylors?

Dude, guys named Taylor absolutely kill the Cubs now, apparently.

After Michael A. Taylor nearly singlehandedly willed the Nationals past the Cubs in the NLDS, Chris Taylor is doing much the same thing with these Dodgers.

Chris Taylor wasn't a part of this series last fall and is making up for lost time this week. He has a run in every game of the series to go along with five hits, including a solo homer in Game 1 and a homer and an RBI triple in Game 3 Tuesday night.

Taylor came out of nowhere this year, bursting onto the scene with an .850 OPS, 21 homers, 17 stolen bases and 85 runs and he's been a difference-maker in this series.

All the right moves

Dave Roberts has pushed all the right buttons so far in this series.

After utilizing his bullpen in a perfect fashion the first two games in LA, Roberts then inserted veteran Andre Ethier and young centerfielder Joc Pederson into the lineup against right-handed Kyle Hendricks.

Ethier homered on the first pitch he saw Tuesday night, silencing the 41,871 fans at Wrigley Field after they just watched Kyle Schwarber stake their team to a 1-0 lead just a few minutes before.

Pederson led the fifth inning off with a double and came around to score the Dodgers' third run on Taylor's triple. Pederson's presence also pushed Taylor to shortstop, and we already know how that one worked out for Roberts and Co.

Roberts even, inexplicably, pulled back pinch-hitter Curtis Granderson and let Yu Darvish hit with the bases loaded and two outs in a tight ballgame in the top of the sixth and then watched as the pitcher with four career hits and one career walk stared at four straight balls from Carl Edwards Jr. to force in a run.

It's been quite a long time since something like that happened:

Walking the walk

To piggy-back off that Darvish base on balls, Cubs relievers have set a new record for postseason futility:

The number 23 holds a special place in the hearts of Chicagoans, but that is not the number they want to see here.

The Cubs bullpen that was among the game's best in the first half has flipped the script the last few months, unable to find any stability.

Remember, the Cubs were already looking pretty solid before they went out and added Justin Wilson at the trade deadline. To that point, Wilson had been one of the top relievers in baseball and there was a lot of talk about how great he'd look in the team's October 'pen.

Wilson isn't even active for this NLCS, though it's not like it mattered much.

(Not) talking the talk

The Cubs absolutely needed Bryzzo to step up if they were going to get back to the World Series for the second straight year.

But Bryant had just two harmless singles in Game 3 while Rizzo added a single in four trips to the plate. That hit broke an 0-for-16 stretch from Rizzo since he had that epic "Respect Me!" rant in Game 3 of the NLDS. 

But, it's not like anybody else is hitting much either.

Kyle Schwarber's home run in the first inning was the Cubs' only offense and they are now 0-4 this postseason when hitting a homer in a game. That's also the third straight game in which the Cubs jumped the Dodgers with an early homer and yet find themselves one game away from starting their winter earlier than desired.

Part of the Cubs' inability to add on is their complete befuddlement by the LA bullpen, setting a new record by going 0-for-26 against Dodger relievers to start the series:

All told, the Cubs are in a "sub-optimal" position right now, to borrow a phrase from Maddon.

But hey, there was always last year.

Cubs hoping Leonys Martin can have Dave Roberts-like impact down the stretch

Cubs hoping Leonys Martin can have Dave Roberts-like impact down the stretch

While the baseball world was focused on Justin Verlander relocating to Houston, the Cubs went out and got themselves a 2017 version of Dave Roberts.

Theo Epstein's front office acquired outfielder Leonys Martin from the Seattle Mariners Thursday before the waiver trade deadline expired.

It was an under-the-radar move, but Cubs GM Jed Hoyer admitted they were thinking along the lines of Roberts in 2004, when the Boston Red Sox went out and acquired the speedy outfielder who wound up stealing one of the most important bases in baseball history against the New York Yankees as part of the ALCS comeback.

Martin is a similar mold — a guy who has speed (114 career stolen bases in the big leagues) and can play exceptional defense all around the outfield.

For more recent examples, think 2015 when the Cubs acquired Quintin Berry for a pinch-running role and Austin Jackson (who also came from the Mariners in an August waiver deal) as outfield depth. 

Berry wound up stealing two bases for the Cubs in eight regular season games, but did not appear in the postseason. Jackson played 29 games in the final month of the 2015 regular season before seeing action in five playoff contests.

"Joe [Maddon] always asks us for a guy that could steal a base, that could play outfield defense in September and hopefully we can play well enough to play in October," Hoyer said. "Martin provides that — good baserunner, good basestealer, good outfield defender. 

"I don't love the 40-man rules in September, but if we're gonna play by these rules, having a guy that can pinch-run late in a game and steal a base or is more likely to score from second on a hit or something like that, it is really valuable.

"Our roster has a lot of strengths and that's not one of them this year. So he fills a hole that we have."

Martin has been around a little while, playing his entire career in the AL West prior to his first game in Chicago Saturday. He was a top prospect coming through the Texas Rangers system around the same time as Pedro Strop, ranking as high as No. 79 by Baseball America prior to 2012.

The 29-year-old played in 143 games for the Mariners last year, hitting 15 homers and stealing 24 bases with a .684 OPS. He's been a stellar defender over his career, with 47 Defensive Runs Saved in seven years, including 5 in 2017 while playing only 30 games (15 games in center field, 15 in right).

Martin said he was slightly surprised by the trade to the Cubs and has talked to Maddon and Co. about his role and expectations prior to his first game at Wrigley Field Saturday.

"He said be ready for anything and I will be," Martin said.

Martin made a lasting impression with the Cubs late last summer when he lined a double to left-center at Wrigley Field off newly-acquired Chicago closer Aroldis Chapman. The Cubs were leading 1-0 at the time, but Martin drove in two runs and wound up scoring a third off Chapman's wild pitch as the Mariners went on to win 4-1.

"The thought process there was to get speed off the bench and the ancillary beneift there is the fact that he's very good on defense and he's got a great arm," Maddon said. "Seeing him back in the day with the Rangers when I was with the Rays, he hurt us in the playoffs and the latter part of the season.

"Last year, he had that bullet in the left-centerfield gap off Chappy when he first showed up. There's some solid ability there and a lot of energy, which I kind of like. I think he fits perfectly."