A buzz is back at Wrigley Field, with MLB Network and ESPN setting up here on back-to-back nights to showcase two of the National League’s X-factor teams.
By now, the Cubs have heard enough about the New York Mets and all their young power arms, but they better get used to the attention if Jake Arrieta keeps pitching like this.
Arrieta upstaged Noah Syndergaard’s big-league debut on Tuesday night, facing the minimum through seven innings and leading the Cubs to a 6-1 victory that underlined all their potential.
After collecting all these young power hitters, importing veterans with World Series rings and hiring a star manager, the Cubs are turning the corner in their multiyear rebuild.
“Once you taste it, once you get that blood in the water, man, you want some more,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Once you get to the playoffs, there’s nothing else that satisfies you going into a season. You got to get there the first time. You got to learn how to do it.
“And once you learn how to do it, nothing — nothing — satisfies you during that baseball season, unless you get back to the dance. It’s pretty simple, man. I use the term: ‘A mind once stretched has a very difficult time going back to its original form.’”
Syndergaard is 6-foot-6 and 240 pounds with a “Thor” nickname and bright blond hair flowing out from his cap. The Mets made Syndergaard the centerpiece in a trade with the Toronto Blue Jays after R.A. Dickey’s 2012 Cy Young Award-winning season.
Almost seven months later, the Cubs flipped one-year rental Scott Feldman in a deal with the Baltimore Orioles that involved Arrieta, who had been stuck in neutral at the Triple-A level.
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Arrieta never got quite as high as Syndergaard (No. 11 heading into this season) on the Baseball America lists, but he had been a well-regarded prospect who wound up needing a change of scenery.
At the age of 29, Arrieta (4-3, 3.00 ERA) continues to blossom into a frontline starter. He delivered eight strong innings, limiting the Mets to one run on three hits in a dominant 10-strikeout performance.
“We knew it was going to be a tight game,” Arrieta said. “(Syndergaard) was electric. We kind of knew what we were up against. He came out strong.
“That was a great team victory, from start to finish.”
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The Cubs knocked out Syndergaard in the sixth inning after 103 pitches. Starlin Castro — the All-Star shortstop linked to the Mets in so much trade speculation — hammered a Syndergaard slider into the left-field corner for an RBI double that easily scored Jorge Soler from first base.
The next batter, Chris Coghlan, launched a 96 mph fastball into the under-construction bleachers in right field for a two-run homer as the Cubs (17-15) wore out the first-place Mets (20-13) and continued to imagine the possibilities.
“Once you’ve stretched the mind, man, it’s tough to not be in that playoff situation on an annual basis,” Maddon said. “Our guys got to taste it, feel it, understand it, and then you really crave it. That’s when good things happen.”