Cubs

After 23 wins in a row, Cubs finally lose a Jake Arrieta start, and it takes a Dodgers' one-hitter

After 23 wins in a row, Cubs finally lose a Jake Arrieta start, and it takes a Dodgers' one-hitter

Even as Jake Arrieta defends his Cy Young Award, makes a case to start the All-Star Game and keeps the meter running toward a potential $200 million megadeal, he can talk about not quite having the precise feel he wants, that in his mind he can be 9-0 with a 1.72 ERA and still searching. 

The Cubs are surrounded by those enormous expectations, and so much of that involves Arrieta’s evolution into the bearded face of the franchise and one of the best pitchers on the planet. Which makes it a breaking-news alert when the Cubs actually lose when Arrieta pitches.

Until Tuesday night’s 5-0 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers at Wrigley Field, that hadn’t happened in a regular-season game since July 25, 2015, when it only took Cole Hamels throwing a no-hitter for the Philadelphia Phillies.

This time, Scott Kazmir and two Los Angeles relievers combined for a one-hitter. The Dodgers didn’t so much beat Arrieta as they outlasted him, taking advantage of the softer spots in the Cubs bullpen.

“Well, I don’t know if I got outdueled,” said Arrieta, who threw seven scoreless innings to lower his ERA to 1.56. “But Kazmir was good.”

The Cubs had won Arrieta’s last 23 starts, tying the major-league record since 1913, first set by Kris Medlen with the Atlanta Braves between 2010 and 2012. Arrieta is now 20-0 with a 1.01 ERA across his last 24 starts, an unconscious stretch that helped transform the Cubs from a young group learning how to win last summer into a legitimate playoff contender last October and the team with the best record in baseball this year (35-15).

Arrieta ran his pitch count up to 107, ending the possibility to go back out for another inning with three straight two-out walks in the seventh. Arrieta then fired three pitches clocked at 94, 95 and 94 mph, striking out pinch-hitter Justin Turner looking, escaping the bases-loaded jam and causing an eruption from the crowd of 34,681.

“I didn’t want to make a mistake in the middle of the plate,” Arrieta said. “I made some good pitches. Borderline. Didn’t go my way. I pitched around some walks, got into a situation where I had to make a big pitch, and I was able to do so.”

After four Cubs relievers combined to throw seven perfect innings against the Dodgers on Memorial Day, manager Joe Maddon turned the game over to Clayton Richard. The lefty gave up three consecutive singles to the left-handed top of the Los Angeles lineup — Chase Utley, Corey Seager and Adrian Gonzalez — to begin the eighth inning.

Richard walked off the mound without getting an out and the Cubs trailing 1-0. After getting charged with a second run, Richard has now given up eight earned in nine innings this season, and Theo Epstein’s front office will probably have to make upgrading the bullpen a priority at the trade deadline.

“That was the perfect slot for (Richard),” Maddon said, “to attempt to not beat up the rest of your bullpen. It was a tie ballgame. It couldn’t have been lined up any better for him.

“I have a lot of faith in him. We just need to get him more work. But that’s the kind of a moment he’s here for, and it just didn’t happen.”

Arrieta truly burst onto the national scene with that no-hitter at Dodger Stadium on Aug. 30 last year. This time, after a 24-minute rain delay, Gonzalez ended the no-hitter suspense with a two-out single in the first inning. Against Arrieta, the Dodgers (28-25) only managed another Seager single in the third inning.

“Of course, we’ve gotten used to winning when he pitches, but it’s not going to last forever,” Maddon said. “That’s the nature of the game. And he pitched well enough for us to win tonight. But their pitcher was really good, too.”

Kazmir — the All-Star lefty who pitched for Maddon’s 2008 Tampa Bay Rays team that went to the World Series and wound up in independent ball four years later — only allowed a Dexter Fowler single across six innings and finished with seven strikeouts against one walk.

Seager — the 22-year-old shortstop who could become a star at Dodger Stadium — put the game out of reach in the ninth inning when he blasted a three-run homer off Trevor Cahill onto the right-field party deck.

It takes extraordinary circumstances. But Arrieta is, in fact, beatable.

“You play this game long enough, you’re going to lose a game here and there,” Arrieta said. “That’s just kind of part of it. But it was a good streak, and we’ll get started on something else.”

Cubs offense appears to be heating up at the right time

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USA TODAY

Cubs offense appears to be heating up at the right time

The Cubs are nearing the end of a brutal stretch where they have reported to the ball park 30 days in a row. Naturally, as that stretch is nearing its end, the offense seems to be catching fire. 

After scoring just 15 runs in their previous seven games, the Cubs have scored a combined 14 runs in two games on 21 hits. They scored nine runs on Tuesday alone, beating the Diamondbacks 9-1 in Arizona.

Scoring nine runs in one game is a great sign, but the fact that the entire starting lineup is contributing is an even better one. Every player in Tuesday's starting lineup got at least one hit, minus starting pitcher Mike Montgomery. 

Daniel Murphy entered Tuesday hitting .191 in September that included a 3-for-26 stretch dating back to Sept. 8. Tuesday, he went 2-for-3 with a leadoff single and a two-run home run.

Javier Báez was in an 8-for-30 "slump" entering Tuesday that dated back to Sept. 8. He hit a two-run home run in the first inning, his second home run in as many days. Kris Bryant hit safely for the third straight game, while Ian Happ hit an RBI double from the ninth spot in the batting order.

Baby steps, people.

Jason Heyward made his first start since Aug. 30 on Tuesday, hitting a double and scoring on an RBI double by Happ. While Heyward exited after two at-bats, it was likely to not push him too hard as he comes back from a hamstring injury.

Heyward's return is important due to his defense, but also because of his .276 batting average and respectable .743 OPS. Adding him to the lineup, no matter where he hits, is only a good thing for the Cubs' offense. 

Willson Contreras is just 1-for-9 this series, but he has been driving the ball with authority. After posting a 19.6 percent hard contact rate in August (his lowest over an entire month all season), he has posted a 32 percent hard contact rate this month (entering Tuesday's game), according to Fangraphs.

With 11 games to go, the Cubs now hold a 3.5 game lead over the Brewers for first place in the NL Central. Their magic number to win the division dropped to 8 following Tuesday's win and the Brewers 3-1 loss to the Reds.

Talks of fatigue have surrounded the Cubs recently due to their current 30-day stretch without a day off. The fact that the offense has scored as much as it has this series is quite ironic; perhaps the team sees the light at the end of the tunnel? 

Fatigue or not, the Cubs have to like they way the offense is trending as the regular season comes to a close. 

Brandon Morrow ruled out for the year as Cubs dealt another big blow to bullpen

Brandon Morrow ruled out for the year as Cubs dealt another big blow to bullpen

Brandon Morrow won't be riding in to save the day for the Cubs bullpen this October.

Theo Epstein ruled the closer out for the year Tuesday evening, saying Morrow just couldn't make it all the way back from a bone bruise.

"Every time he pitched, it got worse," Epstein said, according to MLB.com's Carrie Muskat.

Morrow hasn't pitched since before the All-Star break while battling the bone bruise in his forearm.

The Cubs gave him as much time as possible to recover and then he tried to ramp up his rehab over the last couple weeks in an effort to make it back for the postseason. 

He threw off a mound twice last week and then faced live hitters in a sim game Saturday that supposedly went well with the hope of being activated either sometime this week in Arizona or over the weekend on the South Side for the Cubs-White Sox series.

This leaves the Cubs in a serious hole in the bullpen for October, a time when relievers become some of the most important players on the roster.

With Pedro Strop's hamstring injury he suffered last Thursday in Washington D.C., the Cubs are down their top two relief pitchers for the final two weeks of the regular season and will be down at least Morrow in the playoffs. 

Strop said Monday he hoped to be able to return to the Cubs over the final weekend of the regular season (Sept. 28-30), but there is still a lot up in the air with his timeline. 

The Cubs are now left with a bullpen that includes Steve Cishek, Justin Wilson, Carl Edwards Jr. and Jesse Chavez plus a bunch of question marks.

[RELATED — Jesse Chavez has emerged as the most important pitcher in Cubs bullpen]

Will Dillon Maples be able to carve out a role in the October bullpen? What about Jorge De La Rosa or Jaime Garcia? 

The next 13 days will be telling.

Morrow has a long history of injuries over his career - making only 91 appearances (21 starts) and pitching 180.1 innings over the last five seasons entering 2018. He emerged as a dynamic piece of the Dodgers bullpen last October and appeared in each game of the World Series against the Astros.

This is the second pitcher the Cubs have ruled out for the season with a bone bruise, as Yu Darvish also had to be shut down due to a bone bruise in his elbow. Darvish had a debridement procedure on his elbow last week and is supposed to be ready to go for spring training 2019.