Cubs

Cubs allowed Jake Arrieta to be himself after trade from Orioles

jake-arrieta-0831.png

Cubs allowed Jake Arrieta to be himself after trade from Orioles

Even if he won’t admit it now, Jake Arrieta seemed to be in a midlife career crisis when the Baltimore Orioles traded him to the Cubs in the middle of the 2013 season.

Whether it was friction between Dan Duquette’s front office and Buck Showalter’s dugout, Baltimore’s overall pitching belief system or the burnout factor with a player the Orioles drafted and tried to develop, Arrieta needed a change of scenery.

Scott Boras sat in his front-row seat for Arrieta’s no-hitter on Sunday night at Dodger Stadium. The super-agent loves tweaking the Ricketts family and how the Cubs run their business side.

But on some level, Boras believes in The Cubs Way, specifically pointing to president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and pitching coach Chris Bosio for helping his client harness all this natural ability.

“Give Theo credit, man,” Boras said. “He made the deal to get him. That says a lot, because Jake had raw stuff. But the philosophy that Baltimore brought on Jake was not his own.

“He came here, and they really let him be himself. It’s a credit to Bosio and, really, the organization. The minute he got here, he started doing what Jake can do.”

[MORE CUBS: Jake Arrieta gets locked in with Cubs and makes no-hitter history]

The Cubs cashed in Scott Feldman’s final 15 starts before free agency and threw in backup catcher Steve Clevenger to get Arrieta, hard-throwing reliever Pedro Strop and two international signing bonus slots.

This was Arrieta’s age-27 season — the fourth year he had spent time at the Triple-A level — and it certainly looked like his career had stalled as an Oriole (20-25, 5.46 ERA).

“Sometimes it’s somebody saying the right thing at the right time,” said reliever Tommy Hunter, who played with Arrieta in Baltimore.

Catching/strategy coach Mike Borzello does a lot of the heavy lifting as the Cubs put together game plans. A lasting clubhouse image is Borzello hunching over a computer watching video.

Bullpen coach Lester Strode — now in his 27th season in the organization — is a loyal soldier and widely respected in the room.

Bosio is a big physical presence and personality, with strong opinions and the credibility that comes from throwing a no-hitter for the Seattle Mariners against the Boston Red Sox in 1993.

[MORE CUBS: No-hitter shows Jake Arrieta fits in perfectly with free-spirited Cubs]

“We try to let these guys do their thing and be themselves,” Bosio said. “Pedro Strop, for example: Where do you feel comfortable on the mound? Same thing with Jake.

“Just try to communicate with them. These guys know we care about them. But it’s important talking to them about what they want to do, what they’re comfortable with. And then work on cans and can’ts.”

Bosio made a point to say Arrieta deserves all the credit for his hard work, processing the data, studying the sequencing and learning which pitches to throw in what counts and how to slow down the moment.

“He’s been a huge role player for what I’ve been able to do,” Arrieta said. “He played for a long time — (11) years. He had a reputation as a no-nonsense type of guy when he was on the mound, pretty much exactly the way I like to depict myself.

“He was intense. So all these little characteristics he possessed — and still possesses — are things that I can use to my advantage.

“Along with Borzello and Lester, we just communicate on a really good level. And if there’s something that needs to be addressed, something we think we can be better at, we talk about it.

“The open line of communication is something that we both value. It’s been an incredible process that we’ve developed, and we’re going to stick with it.”

[MORE CUBS: 2015 National League Cy Young: The case for Cubs' Jake Arrieta]

It’s hard to imagine where the Cubs would be without Arrieta, but Baseball Prospectus probably wouldn’t be estimating their playoffs odds at 93.5 percent.

Here are Arrieta’s numbers in a Cubs uniform since that franchise-changing trade with the Orioles on July 2, 2013: 31-13, 2.48 ERA, 0.984 WHIP, 394 strikeouts in 391-plus innings and one no-hitter with the potential for more to come.

“I even told my wife back in the day: When it clicks for Jake, he’s going to be goooood,” Hunter said, drawing out the syllable. “You tip your cap to a guy who’s worked the way he has and prevailed through all the tough times.

“I bet it feels like he’s on top of the world right now. And it should.”

Why what Mike Montgomery did against LA could go a long way toward keeping him in the Cubs' rotation

6-19mikemontgomery.jpg
USA Today

Why what Mike Montgomery did against LA could go a long way toward keeping him in the Cubs' rotation

Joe Maddon needed Mike Montgomery to get through at least six innings given the circumstances presenting the Cubs' manager before Game 2 of Tuesday’s day-night doubleheader against the Los Angeles Dodgers. 

Not only were the Cubs short a man in the bullpen (thanks to Brandon Morrow’s pants-related back injury), but Maddon had to use four relievers — including Pedro Strop for two innings — after Tyler Chatwood managed only five innings in Game 1 earlier in the afternoon. 

So when Montgomery — who had only thrown over 100 pitches once in the last two and a half seasons before Tuesday — saw his pitch count sit at 40 after two innings, and then 63 after three, he knew he needed to regroup to avoid creating a mess for the Cubs’ bullpen. 

What followed was a start that, statistically, wasn’t the most impressive of the five Montgomery’s made since re-joining the Cubs’ rotation earlier this year. But it was an important start in that the 28-year-old left-hander didn’t have his best stuff, yet didn’t give in to a good Dodgers lineup. And holding that bunch to one run over six innings was exactly what the Cubs needed in what turned out to be a 2-1 extra-inning win. 

“Especially when you don’t have have your best stuff, you always gotta — that’s when you really learn how to pitch,” Montgomery said. 

It’s also the kind of start that could be a major point in Montgomery’s favor when Maddon is presented with a decision to make on his starting rotation whenever Yu Darvish comes off the disabled list. Knowing that Montgomery can grind his way through six innings when his team needs it the most without his best stuff only can add to the confidence the Cubs have in him. 

Montgomery didn’t have his best stuff on Tuesday, issuing more walks (four) than he had in his previous four starts (three). He threw 48 pitches between the second and third innings, and only 25 of those pitches were strikes. Of the nine times the Dodgers reached base against Montgomery, six were the result of fastballs either leading to a walk or a hit. 

Even though the Dodgers were able to bother Montgomery a bit on his fastball, Maddon said that’s the pitch of his that’s impressed him the most over the last few weeks. 

“He never got rushed,” Maddon said. “In the past he would seem to get rushed when things weren’t going well, when he spot-started. Overall, fastball command is better — even though he was off a little bit tonight, the fastball command still exceeds what I’ve seen in the past couple of years on a more consistent basis. The changeup, really, good pitch. He got out of some jams but I think the fact that he knows where his fastball is going now is the difference-maker for him.”

Darvish will throw a simulated game on Wednesday after throwing two bullpen sessions last week. Maddon still doesn’t have a timetable for the $126 million right-hander’s return, and said he’s not entertaining what to do with his rotation until Darvish comes off the disabled list. But Maddon did mention Montgomery’s relative lack of an innings load — the most he’s thrown in a season in 130 2/3, which he did in 2017 — as a reason to perhaps not rush him into a permanent starting role the rest of the season. Going to a six-man rotation is a possibility, too, Maddon said. 

But the over-arching point is this: Montgomery will remain in the Cubs’ rotation as long as he keeps earning it. That can be the product of strong outings in which he has good stuff, or games like Tuesday in which he shows the Cubs the kind of resiliency most starters need to get through a full season. 

“I pitch well, good things happen,” Montgomery said. “I’ve always thought that. Opportunities, you just gotta make the most of them.”

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 28th + 29th homers in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 28th + 29th homers in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

For the second time in 1998, Sosa went back-to-back games with multiple home runs. After going yard twice on June 19 of that season, Slammin' Sammy again sent two balls into the bleachers on June 20.

He singlehandedly beat the Phillies that night, driving in 5 runs in a 9-4 Cubs victory.

But that wasn't the most impressive feat of the day from Sosa. His second homer was actually measured at a whopping 500 feet! It was the longest of the season, but not the longest of his career. On June 24, 2003, Sosa hit a homer at Wrigley measured at 511 feet.

The back-to-back big games raised Sosa's season OPS to 1.083 with a ridiculous .685 slugging percentage. He began June 1998 with a .608 slugging percentage.

Fun fact: Kerry Wood struck out 11 batters in 7.1 innings on June 20, 1998 to pick up his 7th big-league victory. As Wood marched to the National League Rookie of the Year that season, he finished with a 13-6 record and 233 strikeouts in only 166.2 innings for a career-high 12.6 K/9 rate.