Cubs

Cubs: How Jake Arrieta plans to explode through the wall in 2016

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Cubs: How Jake Arrieta plans to explode through the wall in 2016

MESA, Ariz. - Jake Arrieta hasn't left anything open to debate.

He has admitted several times he ran into a wall in October last season, when he gave up eight earned runs in his final two postseason starts.

Arrieta saw a jump of almost 75 innings from 2014 (176.2) to 2015 (248.2, including playoffs).

It didn't matter what shape he was in or how old he was. Arrieta ran out of gas.

He acknowledged his mindset last year was to try to pitch into the eighth and ninth innings each time out, but understands it's time for a different approach in 2016.

"Going into this season, it's obviously very wise to monitor things early in the season to preserve things for October and so on and so forth," Arrieta said. "As nice as it is to complete games as a starter, it's even nicer to pitch meaningful games in October, as I now know from last year's experiences."

Cubs manager Joe Maddon feels Arrieta is better for the experience of wearing down.

"He gets it now," Maddon said. "Guys like him who have never been through it before, you pretty much feel like you're invincible, like you can do anything.

"So at least now, he's had the experience of what it feels like to be in that position and he knows it now firsthand. My job and (pitching coach Chris Bosio's) job should be somewhat easier in regards to harnessing him just a bit during the season.

"That's it. Not talking about treating him like a kid or backing up, just being a little bit more intelligent about the latter part of the game with the lead and when to get him out."

[MORE: Joe Maddon wants Cubs to embrace target on their back]

Even if Arrieta hadn't run into a wall, Maddon said the Cubs were planning on limiting the right-hander's innings in 2016 anyway, given the significant increase.

It's easy for Maddon and Arrieta to say now that they'll reduce his innings, but will it be tough to do that down the stretch?

"I don't think so," Arrieta said. "Maybe a couple years ago or even last year, a little bit. I think Joe is the leader on this aspect. You gotta check your ego at the door. It doesn't matter individually at this point.

"We were in the NLCS last year. We expect to go one step further this year. So if we want to do that, there's certain sacrifices that have to be made. I'm more than willing to make those sacrifices to be better for my team later in the season.

"... If that means six or seven innings for a certain amount of starts to let our big arms in the 'pen come in and do their thing...those things are much more important than for me as an individual to get eight or nine innings.

"It looks good on paper, but a ring looks a little bit better at the end of November."

Maddon didn't want to tab Arrieta as the Cubs' Opening Day starter until he got a chance to talk to all of his players. But the manager did allow that anybody "could draw your own conclusions about it," pointing to Arrieta's Cy Young and taking the ball in the winner-take-all wild card game in Pittsburgh.

Arrieta is a fitness freak whose workout regimen is becoming legendary, to the point where teammates and opposing players and coaches are asking him about it.

[SHOP: Gear up for the 2016 season, Cubs fans!]

And why not? Everybody saw how Arrieta kept getting stronger as the regular season ended, turning in a second half for the ages with a record-setting 0.75 ERA that included a no-hitter.

Arrieta said he wasn't able to wrap his head around the magnitude of his second half until the postseason had ended and he wonders whether his new record will ever be broken.

Arrieta also understands how luck played on his side, knowing a lot of those numbers were out of his control.

So what could he possibly do for an encore? How does anybody follow up that type of season?

"In regards to pressure or expectations to recreate what you've done in the past, those thoughts are really worthless," Maddon said. "They don't do anything for you right now. That was the crux of my message [to him] was we have to stay in the moment and the process has to be our anchor.

"If we do that, it'll lessen the threat that he's gonna attempt to replicate or recreate exactly what he had done last year.

"Every season, every moment provides new experience. I think he understands that."

Javy Baez should be the frontrunner for NL MVP heading into the All-Star Break

Javy Baez should be the frontrunner for NL MVP heading into the All-Star Break

If the season ended today, Javy Baez may be your National League MVP.

Of course, the season isn't ending today, only the first half of the 2018 campaign is.

He flashed his skills again over the weekend — scoring the game-winning run Friday, posting a 5-RBI game Saturday and then drove in the Cubs' first run in their 7-4 victory Sunday to close out a sweep of the Padres.

Entering the All-Star Break, Baez should be the frontrunner for Most Valuable Player.

For starters, he's the best player on the best team in the league.

Thanks to a recent hot surge by the Cubs and an ugly weekend for the Brewers (who have lost 6 straight), Baez and Co. will go into the break with the best record in the NL. 

Baez, meanwhile, leads the Cubs in WAR and nearly every offensive category — OPS, slugging percentage, homers, RBI, runs scored, doubles, triples, total bases, stolen bases and hits.

And that's not even saying anything about his glovework at any position on the infield or dynamic baserunning.

He's on pace to become the first Cubs player to drive in 125 runs since Sammy Sosa in 2001.

Baez also is on track for a 30-30 season — something only Sosa accomplished in a Cubs uniform in 1993 and 1995. 

El Mago will enjoy his week in the Home Run Derby and as the NL's starting second baseman in the All-Star Game, but those shouldn't be the end of his accolades this year if he can find a way to keep this pace up in the second half.

What other NL candidate would be a better choice for the MVP right now?

Baez is tied for the league lead in RBI. Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar is just behind Baez with 70 RBI, but he also has 70 fewer at-bats than the Cubs star due to a platoon to begin the year. 

Eugenio Suarez and Scooter Gennett are also having great years, but the Reds are nowhere close to a playoff spot. 

Nolan Arenado, Freddie Freeman and Paul Goldschmidt are also having very good seasons on teams that are currently in the playoff hunt, but how do you deny the best player on the league's best team?

After all, where would the Cubs be without Baez this season? 

Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo have battled through injuries and bouts of ineffectiveness, the pitching staff has had all kinds of consistency/health woes and Willson Contreras has yet to find his power stroke at the plate.

At the very least, "El Mago" has been the most important player on the North Side of Chicago during the first 3.5 months of 2018.

Nico Hoerner makes great catch in first game with South Bend

Nico Hoerner makes great catch in first game with South Bend

Cubs first-round pick Nico Hoerner made his debut with the Class-A South Bend Cubs, and he did not disappoint.

The 23-year old shortstop showed off impressive hops during an acrobatic grab in the topf of the second inning in his first game with the South Bend Cubs. Hoerner will surely be an exciting defensive prospect with ability like this.

As far as offense goes, through four at-bats at South Bend, Hoerner is batting .500, and this comes after he hit .318 with a home run and two RBI through seven games with the Eugene Emeralds, the Cubs Class A short-season affiliate.

Here is to hoping we continue to see big-time plays from Hoerner.