Cubs

Cubs-Giants: Jeff Samardzija knows Jake Arrieta’s winning streak can roll into free agency

Cubs-Giants: Jeff Samardzija knows Jake Arrieta’s winning streak can roll into free agency

SAN FRANCISCO – Theo Epstein’s front office and Jeff Samardzija both won the game of chicken, the Cubs getting a franchise shortstop in Addison Russell and Shark scoring a five-year, $90 million contract with the San Francisco Giants.

Samardzija hasn’t entered Jake Arrieta’s stratosphere or won a Cy Young Award – and the win-now Cubs are in such a different place as an organization – but this is right around the time when the two sides had to pick lanes in 2014.

Less than 18 months away from becoming a free agent, Arrieta is betting on himself, the same way Samardzija did, at a table with even higher stakes. When you’re on a roll like this, why not?

The Cubs have now won Arrieta’s last 22 regular-season starts after Friday night’s 8-1 victory over the Giants at sold-out AT&T Park. Arrieta is 24-1 with a 0.99 ERA in his last 29 starts since June 21 of last year and figures to be looking for a seven-year megadeal north of $200 million.

“Alpha male,” Samardzija said. “You see (David) Price gets $2-(hundred million)-whatever (from the Boston Red Sox) and (Zack) Greinke gets ($200 million-plus from the Arizona Diamondbacks). 

“Maybe you feel you’re better than those guys and you want to show that. There are a lot of different things that play into it. And sometimes there’s just a number that you’re happy with, that you know if they get there, then you’ll say yes. 

“Maybe they just haven’t got there yet. It’s so individually based on what you want and how you feel. 

“But I could imagine if I was in Jake’s shoes – with what he’s done since August of last year – I would be thinking pretty highly of myself also. I wouldn’t be selling myself short. I would ride that train until the wheels fell off.

“It comes to a point where – when you get close to free agency – there’s no turning back.”

The Cubs reached that point with Samardzija during his All-Star season and engineered a Fourth of July blockbuster trade with the Oakland A’s, grabbing Russell as Starlin Castro’s eventual replacement.     

After getting traded again to the White Sox and having a down season on the South Side last year (11-13, 4.96 ERA), Samardzija still wound up with his first choice, playing in a great city and a beautiful ballpark for a franchise that won three World Series titles between 2010 and 2014.

With his long-term future secured – and throwing to Buster Posey in an ideal pitching environment/division – Samardzija is living up to his top-of-the-rotation stuff (6-2, 2.66 ERA) alongside Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto. 

Arrieta only had what he called his “B stuff” for a Giants team coming off the franchise’s first 7-0 road trip since 1913. Arrieta felt like his cutter was flat and his timing has been off, but he still ended San Francisco’s eight-game winning streak, limiting the Giants to one run across seven innings, allowing only four hits and two walks against eight strikeouts.      

Just as the Samardzija trade to Oakland had its own logic, the Cubs made another franchise-altering deal with the Baltimore Orioles in the middle of the 2013 season, helping Arrieta transform into an ace.

“(Jake’s) in a great spot,” Samardzija said. “There’s probably a little bit more want to keep him around, just because of where their current situation is. Obviously, you take Jake out of there, that’s a big hole to fill with what he’s been doing lately. 

“But I’ve watched Jake from the beginning. It’s been fun to watch. Everybody likes to write people off. It’s pretty much people’s favorite thing to do – say a guy’s done. And to see what Jake’s done has been amazing.”

Don’t let the long hair and chill off-the-field demeanor fool you. Shark is an insightful observer and a shrewd businessman. Samardzija pointed out that Arrieta has a better resume than Stephen Strasburg, another Scott Boras client/Tommy John survivor who recently signed an extension with the Washington Nationals that guaranteed him seven years, $175 million and opt-out flexibility.     

“Jake’s not dumb,” Samardzija said. “But honestly a lot of it probably (will be determined by) how he does this year or next year. If they’re where they are (now) and winning, it’s hard to leave a team that’s in that situation.”

That’s why the Cubs can play this out with Arrieta and not rush into a deal with a pitcher who will be 32 on Opening Day 2018.   

“Eventually, it doesn’t become about the money,” Samardzija said. “It just becomes about having the guys that you want there. And if that’s a guy you feel is an essential part of it, then you do what it takes to keep him.”

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

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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.