Cubs

Chris Bosio breaks down what’s going on with Jake Arrieta in Cubs season with no rhythm

Chris Bosio breaks down what’s going on with Jake Arrieta in Cubs season with no rhythm

The Cubs can’t pinpoint the root cause that led to this system-wide breakdown. It’s not just one element of the defending champs that can be isolated and fixed. Everything’s connected.

But the World Series formula — pitching and defense working in concert while a deep, explosive lineup eased the pressure on everyone — won’t be replicated without Jake Arrieta operating near peak efficiency.

This cut on Arrieta’s right thumb is another X-factor for a pitcher who — just like Kyle Hendricks — relies so much on feel and the ability to manipulate a baseball in different ways. For Arrieta, it can be traced back to a blister issue in spring training, which might explain some of his inconsistencies, from his unique, harder-to-maintain mechanics to the downtick in velocity that super-agent Scott Boras disputed in a free-agent year.

As much as manager Joe Maddon tries to deflect the health questions — reclassifying the tendinitis Hendricks has been feeling in his right hand as a “real injury” after a recent setback — it doesn’t mean the Cubs are in good shape just because they aren’t announcing dates for Tommy John surgeries and the National League Central is such a bad division.

“All I know is that Jake Arrieta was there when we needed him the most, when it meant the most,” pitching coach Chris Bosio said. “There were a lot of questions about Jake going down the stretch, remember, through August and September (last year). Welcome to being a major-league player. It’s not going to be perfect.”

Arrieta beating the Cleveland Indians twice on the road in last year’s World Series is a source of optimism and will be part of the Boras Corp. binder this winter. But watching the 32-33 Cubs is becoming a daily reminder that there are no push-button starts to the season.

Players aren’t guaranteed to perform like robots, with Major League Baseball digging into Addison Russell’s personal life being the most jarring example of the unchartered waters the Cubs are in now. Even logical, well-meaning plans — like holding back pitchers in the Cactus League to preserve their arms after playing into November — have consequences. April almost became an extension of spring training for a rotation with a 4.66 ERA and 24 quality starts through 65 games.

Maybe PNC Park — the site of his 2015 wild-card masterpiece — will bring out the best in Arrieta during Saturday night’s start against the Pittsburgh Pirates. But the Cubs can’t rely only on muscle memory and been-there, done-that confidence.

“Looking back, here’s a guy who’s had thumb issues going all the way back to spring training this year,” Bosio said. “When you can’t feel the ball, when you can’t command the ball because of a blister or a cut, you’re not on a regular program. I’m not one to cast blame. I’m more one to try to find out why.

“Now he’s got a cut in the same spot on the same thumb. This is what I mean about little things. Little things keep popping up. And with Jake, it’s just trying to get him on a regular throwing program. This is the second turn in a row now where he hasn’t been on a regular throwing program because he’s trying to heal a cut on really the most important part of his body.

“This is where he gains his feel. When you can’t feel the ball, how are you going to command the ball? So you can talk about this or that. To me, it really boils down to that.”

Arrieta has a 4.68 ERA that’s worse than the league average, though the Cubs clearly aren’t playing defense on the same historic level. He’s gone longer than six innings just once in 13 starts, but circumstances sometimes dictate that in the NL.

Arrieta’s groundball percentage (42.5) is almost 14 points lower than what it had been during his 2015 Cy Young Award campaign. His strikeout-to-walk ratio (79:23 through 73 innings) and track record of durability are certainly encouraging signs.

Arrieta’s already given up 11 home runs — that didn’t happen until Aug. 18 last year — at a time when MLB might shatter the single-season record for homers. 

“You’re trying to find: ‘What am I supposed to do in between?’” Bosio said. “And then here comes a side (throwing session) where they don’t want you to pick the ball up, because the trainers want it to heal, and now you’re not getting your regular work in. You get on the mound and you (try to) find your release point.”

Bosio is a physical presence when he walks through the clubhouse or out to the mound. He has credibility and stature after throwing more than 1,700 innings in The Show and helping develop Arrieta and Hendricks into frontline starters. He uses common sense and one-liners to make his points. 

Bosio is a realist who completely understands how hard this game is, from the physical demands to the emotional toll. Friday’s not-surprising news: World Series MVP Ben Zobrist going on the 10-day disabled list with a sore left wrist. The Cubs still began the day only 2.5 games out of first place.

“It’s been one of those seasons,” Bosio said, “where with injury guys can’t get in rhythm, whether they’re hitting, they’re pitching or they’re fielding. If I was going to assess our team – and assess our rotation, because it all goes hand in hand – that’s what I would point to. Luckily for us, this division right now is still up in the air. Nobody has jumped out.

“Let the race begin and may the best team win.”

MLBPA's Tony Clark: Players reject pay concessions, want to 'get back to work'

MLBPA's Tony Clark: Players reject pay concessions, want to 'get back to work'

Economic negotiations between MLB and the players association seem to be at a standstill.

After a conference call between the MLBPA executive board and more than 100 players on Thursday, the union stood its ground against additional salary reductions.

“In this time of unprecedented suffering at home and abroad,” MLBPA executive director Tony Clark said Thursday in a union release, “Players want nothing more than to get back to work and provide baseball fans with the game we all love. But we cannot do this alone.”  

The owners had proposed an 82-game season and salary cuts on a sliding scale, with the highest-paid players taking the largest cuts. In a counterproposal earlier this week, the players association suggested a 114-game season, with expanded playoffs in 2020 and 2021. The plan allowed for some salary deferrals in the case of a cancelled postseason, partially addressing the owners’ fears of a second wave of COVID-19 wiping out lucrative postseason TV deals. The players dismissed the idea of additional pay cuts, on top of the prorated salaries they agreed to in March.

“Earlier this week, Major League Baseball communicated its intention to schedule a dramatically shortened 2020 season unless Players negotiate salary concessions,” Clark continued. “The concessions being sought are in addition to billions in Player salary reductions that have already been agreed upon.”

Clark is referring to language in the March agreement that owners reportedly believe gives commissioner Rob Manfred the power to set the schedule for the 2020 season if the players and owners cannot reach an agreement. ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported on Monday that the league was considering a regular season of about 50 games, during which players would be entitled to their full prorated salaries.

“The overwhelming consensus of the Board,” Clark said, “is that Players are ready to report, ready to get back on the field, and they are willing to do so under unprecedented conditions that could affect the health and safety of not just themselves, but their families as well. The league’s demand for additional concessions was resoundingly rejected.”

While negotiations between MLB and the players association slowed to a stalemate, both the NHL and NBA made progress toward returning to play Thursday. The NHL and its players union agreed to a 24-team playoff format for the 2020 postseason. The NBA Board of Governors approved a 22-team plan to restart the season in Orlando.

Return-to-play negotiations: How Rob Manfred and Adam Silver's roles differ

Return-to-play negotiations: How Rob Manfred and Adam Silver's roles differ

If the NBA, steadily plodding forward, is the tortoise in the race to restart sports, MLB is the hare, zigzagging across the road.

On Thursday, the NBA approved a competitive format to restart the season, during a contentious week for MLB negotiations. According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the National Basketball Players Association’s team player representatives have a conference call scheduled for Friday to approve the proposal. There are more details to hammer out between the league and its players union for a comprehensive resumption plan. But for now, it seems the tortoise is gaining on the hare.

Compare the NBA’s progress to the baseball news this week: In response to the owners’ 82-game proposal that included pay cuts on a sliding scale, the players countered with a 114-game plan without additional pay cuts.

Then, the owners reportedly turned their attentions to the March agreement, which they reportedly believe gives commissioner Rob Manfred the power to set the 2020 schedule if the two sides can’t reach an agreement. The threat of a 50-game season went on full display in the media.

That move – the owners using Manfred as leverage – reveals an important distinction between the roles of the commissioners in return-to-play negotiations.

There are several reasons that negotiations have gone so differently for MLB and the NBA, including how much of the season had been played before the coronavirus shutdown, and the leagues’ unique structures and histories. Those are important. But the relationships Manfred and NBA commissioner Adams Silver have built with the players in their respective leagues have also played a significant role.

Silver, while by no means perfect, has been the commissioner of the NBA’s player empowerment era. He set the tone less than three months into the job, when he banned former Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life from any association with the Clippers or NBA. Audio of Sterling making racist remarks to his girlfriend had recently surfaced.

Manfred, on the other hand, has overseen a flattening of player salaries over the past five years, despite revenue growth. He also received criticism from several players during Spring Training for his handling of the Astros sign-stealing scandal.

So, it’s no surprise that Silver was the commissioner who sought consultation from players throughout the process of drafting a return-to-play proposal.

“In this way,” ESPN’s Brian Windhorst wrote this week, “the union has, in some respects, voted along the way.”

If the dramatic clash between MLB and its players association is any indication, the same was not true in baseball.

Three weeks ago, Manfred held a conference call with MLB owners to approve a return-to-play proposal. Since then, negotiations have covered a wide range of topics: health and safety, length of season, player salaries, deferrals. The union described the league’s first economic proposal as “extremely disappointing.” MLB rejected the players’ 114-game plan.

The NBA Board of Governors’ vote wasn’t held until Thursday. But at least this week, NBA’s view of the finish line appeared clearer than MLB’s.