Command an issue for Jake Arrieta as Cubs throttled by Brewers

Command an issue for Jake Arrieta as Cubs throttled by Brewers

The party’s over. For now.

Ryan Braun launched two homers and five RBI and Chris Carter had a grand slam in the Milwaukee Brewers' 11-3 victory over the Cubs on Saturday afternoon at Wrigley Field.

Jake Arrieta threw six innings, four hits, four runs (three earned), four walks and five strikeouts on 102 pitches. He recorded the loss and is 17-7 on the season with a 2.96 ERA.

Arrieta had a solid outing through five innings but started to struggle in the sixth, which he believed changed the game. 

"Really the turning point for me in that game was the two-run homer to Braun," Arrieta said. "(I) go out in the sixth with a two-run lead, wasn’t able to get out of that unscathed, I think there were three or four base runners. And then after the homer, was able to get three outs. Just poor execution. I don’t think we were at our best today."

The Cubs pitcher has a 4.15 ERA in September and has now walked 21 batters over 37 1/3 innings in his last six starts. Command was an issue again for Arrieta, who entered the inning around 60 pitches, but he's not too concerned with it.

"Just need to find that comfort with the sinker in the strike zone first pitch, and then after that it opens up a lot of doors," Arrieta said. "We’re working on it. It has a lot to do with the guy who’s in the box. Just the execution needs to be better early in the count to prevent guys from taking pitches and getting into 2-1, 3-1 counts.

"I just need to tighten that up moving forward. (I) got a couple starts left before October, just to prepare for that."

Arrieta also threw his 15th wild pitch of the season, which leads the National League after throwing only six all of last year.

"We missed locations on several locations and give them credit they did not miss the baseball," said manager Joe Maddon. "That’s what I saw. Jake did not have his typical command. The first home run to Braun you could see how badly he wanted to do one thing and ended up doing something differently."

The Cubs started things off in the first with Kris Bryant’s RBI triple. Chris Coghlan followed with a two-run homer to make it 3-0 early.

The Cubs had many opportunities after that, but failed to score. They left five men on with runners in scoring position.

Perhaps their best opportunity came in the fourth, when the Cubs’ first three men reached on two singles and a walk to start the inning. But Matt Szczur struck out and Munenori Kawasaki grounded into a double play.

In the fourth, Scooter Gennett’s RBI double cut the Cubs’ lead within one, but Braun crushed the first of his two-run homers of the day to give the Brewers their first lead of the game at 4-3.

C.J. Edwards — who had allowed just one homer in his 34-career big league appearances — allowed two in the seventh. Braun homered for the second time, and two batters later, Domingo Santana crushed a solo shot to make it 7-3. Braun finished with three hits, two homers and five RBI.

"We had other opportunities to tie or go ahead. But it was a really good ballgame up until they got those three runs against C.J. and I felt really good about him in that particular moment," Maddon said. "Moving forward that’s what you have to be able to do is execute in big moments. And we normally do. I cannot denigrate our group. Our group has been really good at executing pitches in big moments. We just didn’t do it today." 

Spencer Patton allowed two walks and a hit-by-pitch in the ninth. Carter took full advantage by hitting a grand slam off the left field scoreboard to seal the deal.

The Cubs are 7-2 against the Brewers this season at home. 

Maddon gave his regulars their second consecutive day off after his team clinched the NL Central on Thursday but said they will have a normal lineup on Sunday.

Arrieta has a couple starts left and would like to reach 20 wins, calling it the "benchmark" of starting pitchers. But he's also content with where things stand right now.

"Yeah, 20 is great, but at the same time the position I’m in with our team is more rewarding," Arrieta said. "It stinks to lose the game and to get the loss and to let the lead slip away the way I let it, but at the end of the day, come out here tomorrow, learn from it and get back to work."

19 for '19: What does Yu Darvish have in store for Year 2?

19 for '19: What does Yu Darvish have in store for Year 2?

We're running down the top 19 questions surrounding the Cubs heading into Opening Day 2019.

Next up: What can the Cubs expect from Yu Darvish?

Yu Darvish's inaugural season in Chicago obviously didn't go well. But despite a minor blister issue, Year 2 seems to be off to a much better start.

Darvish has been different this spring - from his physical shape (he's added more muscle) to his health to his confidence and comfortability.

He said he now feels like part of the family in the clubhouse and has been holding court with reporters without a translator, even cracking jokes on the regular. He was confident enough in his English skills last year to interact with teammates and understand the media questions he was asked without a translation, but he still responded in Japanese, which created some miscommunication at times.

The blister issue Darvish had a few days ago caused Cubdom to hold their breath momentarily, but it doesn't appear to be anything serious and he may not even miss a start because of it. The forearm bone bruise is completely gone and Darvish had a procedure to clean up his elbow right before the offseason started, so he should enter 2019 as close to 100 percent as somebody with a blister on their pitching hand can be.

He also doesn't have to answer any questions about his performance in the World Series or try to determine if he was tipping pitches - two issues he had to discuss last spring coming off a couple of nightmare outings in the 2017 Fall Classic.

On top of that, there's something to an increase in comfortability in Year 2 of a megadeal, which Jon Lester has talked about in detail the last few seasons. Lester admitted he was pressing in his first year with the Cubs, trying to live up to his big contract and the lofty expectations that came with it. But he also said he felt a lot more comfortable in the second year of his deal, especially during a season in which the Cubs had World Series expectations.

Maybe Darvish follows that same path. He doesn't have the same pressure or burden he had a year ago and the Cubs don't need him to be their ace - they already have a rotation filled with proven veterans.

Remember, this is still the same pitcher who has whiffed 11 batters per 9 innings over his 872.1-inning big-league career. Prior to 2018, Darvish had never posted an ERA over 3.86 or WHIP over 1.28 in a season (last year he was at 4.95 and 1.43, respectively).

Nobody can guarantee health for a full season, but if Darvish is able to throw even 120-150 quality innings, that would be a huge boon for the Cubs in 2019.

- Tony Andracki 

It feels like Darvish's decline has become a bit overstated at this point. He was bad last year, but also clearly hurt and only has a 40-inning sample size. He had gotten to at least 100 innings in each of his prior five seasons and was averaging 166 IPs per season until 2018. 

If he's healthy, there's no reason not to expect the Darvish that's a 4-time All Star and Cy Young runner-up. What looks like a dip in production during the 2017 season -- when he was traded from Texas to the Dodgers -- is actually somewhat misleading - Darvish's K-rate, BB-rate, and velocity all returned to career norms when he joined the Dodgers. Pitching in Texas can be a disaster, and all of Darvish's park-adjusted numbers suggest that the Globe Life Park wasn't doing him any favors. No one's confusing Wrigley for say, Safeco (or T-Mobile I guess), but it beats the launching pad in Dallas. 

Much of Darvish's value stems from the fact that he gives the Cubs' rotation something they don't otherwise have: a high-volume strikeout guy. No other starter comes close to piling up strikeouts the way that Darvish can - his K/9 rate is almost three batters more than any other starter on staff. 

A bounce back season from Darvish and he's probably in the conversation to be a hypothetical playoff Game 1 starter. Leaving Spring Training games is always a little bit concerning, but given Darvish's injury history, it could have been much worse. Overall, there are a lot of signs pointing towards a really good 2019 for Darvish, and the Cubs could use all the good pitching news they can get. 

- By Cam Ellis

19. Who will be the Cubs' leadoff hitter?
18. Who's more likely to bounce back - Tyler Chatwood, Brian Duensing or Brandon Kintzler?
17. How different will Joe Maddon be in 2019?
16. Can Cubs keep off-field issues from being a distraction?
15. How can Cubs avoid a late-season fade again?
14. Is this the year young pitchers *finally* come up through the system to help in Chicago?
13. How much will Cubs be able to count on Brandon Morrow?
12. How does the Addison Russell situation shake out?
11. Will Willson Contreras fulfill his potential as the best catcher on the planet?
10. Will the offseason focus on leadership and accountability translate into the season?
9. Will payroll issues bleed into the season?
8. Will Javy Baez put up another MVP-caliber season?
7. Will Jon Lester and Cole Hamels win the battle against Father Time for another season?
6. What should we expect from Kris Bryant Revenge SZN?
5. Do the Cubs have enough in the bullpen?
4. What does Yu Darvish have in store for Year 2?
3. Are the Cubs the class of the NL Central?
2. Is the offense going to be significantly better in 2019?
1. How do the Cubs stay on-mission all year?

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Cubs designate Brian Duensing for assignment, sign reliever Tim Collins

Cubs designate Brian Duensing for assignment, sign reliever Tim Collins

The Cubs Opening Day roster is not finalized, but it appears the bullpen will be without lefty Brian Duensing.

Sunday, the Cubs announced that they signed left-handed reliever Tim Collins. To make room for him on the 40-man roster, the team designated Duensing, 36, for assignment.

The Cubs could retain Duensing, though he has to pass through waivers first. However, it's unlikely any team claims him; Duensing will make $3.5 million in 2019 and has struggled in spring training following a disappointing 2018 season.

In eight Cactus League appearances, Duensing has allowed eight runs on nine hits in seven innings, surrendering two home runs. It's worth noting that he allowed no runs and just two hits in his first four appearances (four innings), though he has allowed six runs in his last two appearances, managing to record a single out on each occasion.

Duensing had a successful debut season with the Cubs in 2017, posting a 2.74 ERA in 68 games (62 1/3 innings). The Cubs re-signed him to a two-year contract ahead of the 2018 season, though his ERA ballooned to 7.65 in 48 games (37 2/3 innings). NBC Sports Chicago's Cam Ellis analyzed Duensing's 2018 struggles here.

Collins signed a minor league deal with the Twins in February, though they released him on Friday. The 29-year-old has pitched in parts of five MLB seasons with the Royals (2011-14) and Nationals (2018). After four-straight seasons with a sub-4.00 ERA, Collins did not pitch in 2015 and 2016 after undergoing multiple Tommy John surgeries. He finished the 2018 season with a 4.37 ERA in 38 games.

Collins presents the Cubs with left-handed bullpen depth. That "position" is one of the team's bigger question marks right now, as Mike Montgomery is the only lefty certain to make the Cubs Opening Day roster. 

With Duensing designated for assignment, the Cubs could elect to put one of Allen Webster, Kyle Ryan or Randy Rosario on the Opening Day roster. Ryan and Rosario are lefties, for what it's worth.

Here is what the bullpen could look like when the team breaks camp:

Pedro Strop (if hamstring strain is healed)
Carl Edwards Jr.
Steve Cishek
Mike Montgomery
Brad Brach
Brandon Kintzler
Tyler Chatwood

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