Cubs

Cubs ace Jake Arrieta feels ready for 250 innings this season

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Cubs ace Jake Arrieta feels ready for 250 innings this season

MESA, Ariz. – Jake Arrieta is a reigning Cy Young Award winner, the Opening Day starter for the most talked-about team in baseball. The Cubs aren’t used to being the hunted, but that’s exactly what they are now, ready to take everyone’s best shot once they leave the Arizona sunshine.

“Well, I think I got everyone’s best shot last year, too,” Arrieta said. “Obviously, teams are going to want to beat us. Just like we want to beat them. I don’t think that’s going to change much.”   

Dressed in a tank top and his eyes shielded by sunglasses, Arrieta had his Terminator look going when he met with reporters after throwing four crisp innings during Monday’s 10-2 loss to the San Diego Padres at Sloan Park.

At Arrieta’s side stood his son, Cooper, who helped pour champagne into his mouth during that raucous wild-card celebration at PNC Park, creating a memorable snapshot from a complete-game shutout of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Last year is over, but that won’t stop questions about 248-plus innings and what it means in 2016. Arrieta shut down his throwing program for a few weeks this offseason, allowing his body to recover and resetting his mind for an encore performance.

“Once I jumped into my training and started playing catch, it was back to normal,” Arrieta said. “The fatigue is just one of those things that you can’t necessarily account for. That innings jump was difficult. (But) I had to just deal with it by going through some fatigue at the end.

“Now, I’ve obviously bounced back and I’m in better shape than I ever have been. And I’m ready for another 250.”

[MORE: Could Kris Bryant be a free agent in 2020?]

Until last year’s breakthrough, Arrieta hadn’t completed a wire-to-wire season in the big leagues, maxing out at almost 157 innings in 2014. But he had no problem carrying himself like a top-of-the-rotation guy, which gave the clubhouse so much confidence on the days he pitched.

In front of 15,318 in Mesa, Arrieta struck out five of the 15 hitters he faced, allowing one run on two hits and two walks. Once a bubble player with the Baltimore Orioles, he can now focus on details like pitching from the stretch and sharpening his timing and tempo.

The Cubs will keep Arrieta in a controlled environment for his next start, lining him up for a minor-league game instead of having him face the Cleveland Indians on Saturday night in Goodyear.

From there, it’s only 16 days until Arrieta will be staring down Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and the Los Angeles Angels in Southern California.

“The arm strength is going to jump up a tic once the bright lights are on,” Arrieta said. “That’s kind of the light at the end of the tunnel. That’s what we’re all looking for right now – getting through it healthy and getting our pitchers built up.

“We’ll be ready.”

Cubs know it's time to flip the script regarding road woes

Cubs know it's time to flip the script regarding road woes

As the Cubs got set to kick off the Crosstown series with the White Sox on the afternoon of June 18, GM Jed Hoyer emerged outside the third-base dugout and talked about a variety of topics regarding his team.

One such topic was the Cubs' ugly home-road splits and at the time, Hoyer said this about his team coming off a 2-5 road trip:

"It's been a source of frustration. I think we've had three subpar road trips. There's no other way to say it. It's not something I read too much into. This is a group that's had a lot of success on the road. They've won in hostile environments in the playoffs before, so it's not like they're intimidated by crowds or intimidated by travel. 

"But it's an issue with this particular group in 2019. we've played great here [at Wrigley Field]. We've played poorly on the road. If we want to reach our goals, then we're gonna have to play better on the road. All that said, we've had some really tough road series — starting out like that on the road was difficult. At Houston and at St. Louis was difficult and at Colorado and at LA — those were series that you're happy when that part of the schedule is done. 

"But there's no excuses — we have to play better on the road. I don't have any answers for it. I'd be lying to say that I really do, but I think it will change."

The issue is, it hasn't changed yet for the Cubs. 

That day was the start of a long homestand for the Cubs and the ensuing road trip — three games in Cincinnati, four in Pittsburgh and two on Chicago's South Side — didn't yield any better results for the team. They went 3-6 total, dropping their overall road record to 18-27 this season.

By comparison, the Cubs are a whopping 36-18 at "The Friendly Confines," including 7-2 over the past week-a-half.

They've enjoyed the benefit of home cooking for the last couple weeks, between the All-Star Break and a nine-game homestand to open the second half. But now they head back out on the road, with maybe their toughest task yet. 

The Cubs begin a three-game series in San Francisco Monday night against a Giants team that has been among the hottest in baseball over the last few weeks. Then there are stops in Milwaukee and St. Louis, against the two teams immediately behind the Cubs in the NL Central standings.

This will be a huge test for a Cubs team that hasn't won a series on the road since May 17-19 in Washington D.C.

"I don't feel anything different from the group," manager Joe Maddon said Sunday morning before his team's final home game of the month. "We've been through it before — it's not like it's an intimidation factor or an uncomfortable moment. I'm not getting that. We're just not playing as well. 

"I don't even know how much it's that the other teams have gotten better. I don't even know where this all comes together. But we're playing decently now. ...I want to believe that just playing better here coming out of the break that we have a better chance of starting out better on the road. We need to. To get where we want to be, we have to do that. On this coming trip, three really good foes and we gotta be on our best behavior."

Like Maddon said, they've done it before, including winning three of the four road games in the 2016 World Series, a wild Game 5 in D.C. in the 2017 NLDS and the list goes on and on.

During the previous four years under Maddon, the Cubs have posted a winning record on the road in each campaign:

2018 - 44-37
2017 - 44-37
2016 - 46-34
2015 - 48-33

In order to keep that streak going, the Cubs would have to go 23-13 on the road the rest of the way.

That's a tall order when there are still two trips each to St. Louis and Milwaukee on the schedule plus stops in Philadelphia, San Diego and a couple dates with the always-pesky Pirates in Pittsburgh.

"Obviously at home, we've won. We gotta start playing that same game on the road. It's as simple as that," Maddon said. "To get where we want to go, we have to become that road team that we've been in the past and there's no reason that we can't."

So what's been the biggest difference between the road Cubs and the home Cubs?

That would be the pitching.

On the road, the Cubs have a 4.97 ERA and allowing opponents to hit .267 with a .798 OPS. At home, those numbers drop significantly to a 3.36 ERA and .233 average and .684 OPS against.

Meanwhile, offensively, the Cubs are actually slightly more prolific on the road than they are at home.

Away from Wrigley, this lineup is scoring 5.27 runs per game while posting a .257 batting average and .798 OPS. At home, they're scoring 4.91 runs per game with a .254 batting average and .785 OPS.

In search of the culprit of the road pitching woes, the blame lies with some of the Cubs' top arms.

Kyle Hendricks has a 1.89 ERA at home and 5.44 mark on the road. Jon Lester sits at 2.95 at Wrigley and 5.09 outside of Chicago. Brandon Kintzler carries an 0.75 ERA at home, but that number jumps to 4.32 on the road. 

Only a few guys — Yu Darvish, Steve Cishek, Pedro Strop — have better marks away from Wrigley than they do at home.

As the Cubs look to flip the script on the road, they'll send Alec Mills, Darvish and Lester to the mound in San Francisco against a Giants offense that ranks sixth in baseball in OPS (.833) in July.

"We came out of the break, we got a good rest and we're playing really good baseball right now on this homestand," Kyle Hendricks said. "So we're just trying to keep that momentum going on the road. Just not think about where we are and embrace it, keep playing the same baseball. It starts with us on the mound, making good pitches. Set the tone on the road, be aggressive the same way we've been doing here and hopefully turn that around."

Up until recently, Maddon didn't even realize his team had so many run prevention issues on the road.

"That's really strange for me," Maddon said. "I would not have guessed that. So apparently we need to be just a little tighter with the pitching side of things and keep what we're doing offensively. I didn't realize there was that much of disparity involved. I didn't break it down any deeper than that.

"...I know San Francisco has been on a nice run, but sounds like we need to pitch better on the road. That's what I got out of it."

Cubs Talk Podcast: Lee Smith Hall of Fame edition

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Cubs Talk Podcast: Lee Smith Hall of Fame edition

Listen to Lee Smith's entire Hall of Fame induction speech in the embedded player below.

Cubs Talk Podcast

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