Cubs

Amid rain and PED media storm, Jake Arrieta’s next no-hit bid will wait another day

Amid rain and PED media storm, Jake Arrieta’s next no-hit bid will wait another day

Cubs fans hoping to see back-to-back no-hitters from Jake Arrieta will have to wait until Thursday afternoon at Wrigley Field, where every start is becoming a chance to witness history.

As heavy rain fell on the North Side, the Cubs postponed Wednesday night’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers without setting a makeup date. Arrieta will now get a full week of rest after no-hitting the Cincinnati Reds in another dominant performance that raised questions about whether or not performance-enhancing drugs helped fuel his transformation into a Cy Young Award winner. 

Arrieta, who clearly enjoys the spotlight and this new level of fame, even responded to ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith on Twitter, promising to laugh off all the media hot takes and whispers from opposing players after his pronounced struggles with the Baltimore Orioles (20-25, 5.46 ERA) and Triple-A shuttles between 2010 and 2013.   

More ESPN talking heads appeared Wednesday afternoon on the muted clubhouse TVs, with an Arrieta segment framed by the question: “Flattered by PED accusations?” 

“I don’t have any doubt that he’s clean,” said David Ross, who caught Arrieta’s no-hitter at Great American Ball Park. “I’ve seen his workouts and how hard he works, so there’s no doubt in my mind. People are going to speculate. That’s part of life. I don’t put too much stock in what (other) people think.

“I don’t care – I’m worried about this group in here. That’s all we can worry about. I can’t worry about outside influences. There are teams trying to beat us. We got to take care of ourselves. If we start worrying about other people, then we got problems.”

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There are many theories supporting Arrieta’s late-blooming career, from the differences between Baltimore’s rigid pitching philosophy and The Cubs Way, to snowballing confidence in a new city, to a Pilates routine and plant-based diet, to finding a work/life balance at the age of 30.  

This unbelievable run – the Cubs have won Arrieta’s last 17 regular-season starts – also coincides with a Major League Baseball drug-testing policy that might be the toughest in professional sports.

“I remember being in Baltimore and talking with a lot of the other guys about how we can rid the game of people that are trying to cheat,” said Arrieta, who’s now a players’ union representative. “I feel like a lot of steps have been taken in the right direction to kind of eliminate all that. Because if I’m doing it the right way, I expect everybody to.”

Arrieta is now the fourth reigning Cy Young Award winner to throw a no-hitter, joining an elite list that includes Sandy Koufax (1964), Bob Gibson (1971) and Clayton Kershaw (2014). Arrieta is 20-1 with a 0.86 ERA and 33 walks against 173 strikeouts in his last 24 regular-season starts, putting the Cubs on his broad shoulders and carrying them into World Series contention. 

“When you see it every day, and (watch) the way he goes about his business, you come to expect it,” Ross said. “So it’s not shocking to us in here, because he wants to be great and he prepares himself to be great.” 

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

There are plenty of intriguing Cubs storylines to monitor this offseason from their potential pursuit of the big free agents to any other changes that may come to the coaching staff or roster after a disappointing finish to the 2018 campaign.

But there's one question simmering under the radar in Cubs circles when it comes to this winter: How will the team solve the shortstop conundrum?

Just a few years ago, the Cubs had "too many" shortstops. Now, there are several different factors at play here that makes it a convoluted mess.

First: What will the Cubs do with Addison Russell? The embattled shortstop is in the midst of a suspension for domestic violence that will keep him off an MLB diamond for at least the first month of 2019.

Has Russell already played his last game with the Cubs? Will they trade him or send him packing in any other fashion this winter?

Theo Epstein mentioned several times he felt the organization needs to show support to the victim in the matter (Russell's ex-wife, Melisa) but also support for Russell. Does that mean they would keep him a part of the team at least through the early part of 2019?

Either way, Russell's days in Chicago are numbered and his play on the field took another big step back in 2018 as he fought through a hand injury and experienced a major dip in power. With his performance on the field and the off-field issues, it will be hard to justify a contract worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million in his second year of arbitration (prorated, with a month's worth of pay taken out for the suspension).

Even if Russell is on the roster in 2019, Javy Baez is unquestionably the shortstop for at least the first month while Russell is on suspension. 

But what about beyond Baez if the Cubs want to give him a breather or disaster strikes and he's forced to miss time with an injury?

At the moment, there's nothing but question marks on the current Cubs shortstop depth chart throughout the entire organization and they're certainly going to need other options at the most important defensive position (outside of pitcher/catcher). 

There's David Bote, who subbed in for Baez at short once in September when Baez needed a break and Russell was on the disabled list. But while Bote's defense at third base and second base has opened eyes around the Cubs, he has only played 45 games at short across seven minor-league seasons, including 15 games in 2018. There's also the offensive question marks with the rookie, who hit just .176 with a .559 OPS and 40 strikeouts in 108 at-bats after that epic ultimate grand slam on Aug. 12.

The Cubs' other current shortstop options include Mike Freeman (a 31-year-old career minor-leaguer), Ben Zobrist (who will be 38 in 2019 and has played all of 13 innings at shortstop since 2014), Ryan Court (a 30-year-old career minor leaguer) and Chesny Young (a 26-year-old minor-leaguer who has posted a .616 OPS in 201 Triple-A games).

Maybe Joe Maddon would actually deploy Kris Bryant at shortstop in case of emergency like a Baez injury ("necessity is the mother of invention," as Maddon loves to say), but that seems a lot more like a fun talking point than a legit option at this current juncture.

So even if Russell sticks around, there's no way the Cubs can go into the first month of the season with just Baez and Bote as the only shortstop options on a team that with World Series or bust expectations.

The Cubs will need to acquire some shortstop depth this winter in some capacity, whether it's adding to the Triple-A Iowa roster or getting a veteran who can also back up other positions. Right now, the free agent pool of potential shortstops is pretty slim beyond Manny Machado.

Epstein always says he and his front office look to try to mitigate risk and analyze where things could go wrong to sink the Cubs' season and through that lense, shortstop is suddenly right up there behind adding more bullpen help this winter.

Podcast: In light of recent hitting coach turmoil, who’s to blame for Cubs offensive struggles?

cubs_podcast_offense_slid.jpg
USA TODAY

Podcast: In light of recent hitting coach turmoil, who’s to blame for Cubs offensive struggles?

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, David Kaplan, Kelly Crull, Luke Stuckmeyer and Tony Andracki discuss the comments Chili Davis made after being fired as Cubs hitting coach, ask if the Cubs struggles on offense were Davis' fault or the players and what Anthony Iapoce will be walking into as he tries to gets the team back on track a the plate.

 

Listen to the entire podcast here, or in the embedded player below: