Cubs: Jake Arrieta gearing up for 20 wins, Cy Young case and playoffs


Cubs: Jake Arrieta gearing up for 20 wins, Cy Young case and playoffs

PHILADELPHIA – Jake Arrieta took care of the worst team in baseball inside a quiet stadium that had entire sections of empty seats.

Joe Maddon’s Cubs have embraced the idea of trying to play the same game all the time, whether it’s March 7 in the Cactus League or Oct. 7 in the National League’s wild-card playoff.

That’s where this surprising season appears to be heading, as the Cubs moved another step closer with a 5-1 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies in Game 1 of Friday’s doubleheader at Citizens Bank Park.

“I think about pitching in October every day,” Arrieta said. “But it’s really not going to be any different. I know it’s a different stage, people are waving towels. (But) it’s the same (game).

“It’s a crazy atmosphere. But whether there’s 45-, 50,000 – or 10,000 – it doesn’t make what I have to do any different.”

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Arrieta notched his 19th win in a dead atmosphere, handcuffing the Phillies for eight innings and only allowing Aaron Altherr’s solo home run, cutting his ERA down to 1.99.

“It is good, but that’s what I expect,” Arrieta said. “That’s what the team needs, so that’s what I try and give us.”

After that no-hitter at Dodger Stadium, 20 wins would be yet another sign that Arrieta is one of the game’s elite pitchers.

“It doesn’t matter to me,” Arrieta said. “After the season’s over, you look at your line and you can kind of appreciate it then. But it’s just really not even where my mind’s at right now.”

Arrieta will go for No. 20 on Wednesday on Comcast SportsNet against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park, where the Cubs could return for the wild-card matchup next month against Gerrit Cole.

The Cubs have already settled one debate internally – Arrieta or Jon Lester? – so the next one for fans and media types will be whether or not there’s a home-field advantage in the wild-card game.

“It’s all about the starting pitcher – both sides – on that particular game,” Maddon said. “I think you want it for your fans, as much as anything. But to say it gives you an advantage or disadvantage actually playing the game – I don’t know that it does.”

It’s been 16 straight quality starts for Arrieta, the longest stretch for a Cubs pitcher since Lon Warneke (17) in 1933. The last time Arrieta didn’t finish six innings was against the Cleveland Indians on June 16, the same night the Golden State Warriors won the NBA Finals.

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In his next start, Arrieta threw a complete-game shutout against the Minnesota Twins, beginning the run that would launch him into the Cy Young Award conversation with Los Angeles aces Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke.

“I definitely believe our guy deserves it, no question,” Maddon said. “I really thought everything kind of jumped from that moment. I’ve always believed that when a young starter pitches a complete game like that, it can really propel them. It’s kind of like they taste blood in the water.

“My vote’s for Jake. The other guys are really good. It’s going to be an interesting conversation, no question. It’s good for baseball to have all that discussion and it’s going to be hard to argue against any of the trinity.”

Arrieta notched his 200th strikeout in the second inning, freezing Cody Asche with a curveball. It looks like Arrieta’s peaking at the right time, his focus, swagger and execution reaching another level on the way to October.

A cynical way to look at it would be a young team might actually benefit from going on the road, sharpening the focus for the wild-card game and minimizing certain distractions.

It would mean getting away from the Wrigley Field fishbowl, where there is so much history and the potential for wild mood swings if the Cubs get down early.

“It’s possible,” Maddon said. “I don’t really apply myself there that much. I just know that it would come down to the two starting pitchers on that particular day: Who pitches the better game?

“That’s what it’s going to be. It’s all about that all the time. So I’m not concerned either way.”

Especially if Arrieta gets the ball in a win-or-else situation and stares down the Pirates.

“Nothing fazes me,” Arrieta said.

Cubs executive Jason McLeod reportedly linked to Giants' GM opening


Cubs executive Jason McLeod reportedly linked to Giants' GM opening

Is this the offseason that Cubs executive Jason McLeod finally becomes an MLB general manager?

According to Bruce Levine, the Giants are reportedly interested in McLeod, the Cubs senior vice president of scouting and player development, for their vacant general manager position.

McLeod joined the Cubs' front office in 2011 alongside Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. Before the Cubs, he spent six years in the Red Sox front office and two in the Padres' (with Hoyer, who was San Diego's general manager from 2010-2011). 

Of course, the Giants' reported interest in McLeod doesn't necessarily mean that he will interview for the job. However, it's worth noting that McLeod interviewed for the Twins' general manager job in 2016; he also withdrew his name from consideration for the Padres' general manager job in 2014. 

In addition to the Giants, McLeod's name has been linked to the Mets' general manager vacancy. This is more speculation, but the point is that it seems to be only a matter of time before McLeod is hired as general manager elsewhere.

For what it's worth, though, McLeod is under contract through 2021 and has previously said that he is grateful to be with the Cubs. 

“I’m exceptionally grateful,” McLeod said. “All of us are. Look at where we are at this moment in time with this team," McLeod said in 2016. "I can’t imagine a better environment, a better culture to work at in baseball.

"We’ve been together a long time. We’re friends. We’re good. We embrace the fact that we are good. And we challenge ourselves to be even better.”

Cubs have new hitting coach in Anthony Iapoce

Cubs have new hitting coach in Anthony Iapoce

The Cubs are heading into a new season with a different hitting coach for the second straight winter, but the most recent choice is a familiar face.

Anthony Iapoce is set to join Joe Maddon's coaching staff this week after serving in the same capacity with the Texas Rangers for the last three seasons. The Cubs confirmed the move Monday afternoon shortly after the news broke out of the Rangers camp.

The Cubs fired Chili Davis last week after just one season as the team's hitting coach.

Entering the final week of the season, the Rangers fired manager Jeff Banister, leaving Iapoce and the rest of the Texas coaching staff in limbo.

As such, Iapoce is rejoining the Cubs, where he served as a special assistant to the General Manager from 2013-15 focusing on player development, particularly in the hitting department throughout the minor leagues.

Iapoce has familiarity with a bunch of the current star offensive players on the Cubs, from Willson Contreras to Kris Bryant. 

Both Bryant and Contreras endured tough 2018 seasons at the plate, which was a huge reason for the Cubs' underperforming lineup. Bryant's issue was more related to a left shoulder injured suffered in mid-May while Contreras' offensive woes remain a major question mark after the young catcher looked to be emerging as a legitimate superstar entering the campaign.

Getting Contreras back to the hitter that put up 21 homers and 74 RBI in only 117 games in 2017 will be one of the main goals for Iapoce, so the history between the two could be a key.

With the Rangers, Iapoce oversaw an offense that ranked 7th, 9th and 14th in MLB in runs scored over the last three seasons. The decline in offensive production is obviously not a great sign, but the Rangers as a team have fallen off greatly since notching the top seed in the AL playoffs in 2016 with 95 wins only to lose 95 games in 2018, resulting in the change at manager.

Iapoce has worked with an offense backed by Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, Shin-Soo Choo, Nomar Mazara and Joey Gallo the last few seasons.

Under Iapoce's tutelage, former top prospect Jurickson Profar shed any notion of a "bust" label and emerged as a budding star at age 25, collecting 61 extra-base hits with a .793 OPS in 2018.

When the Cubs let Davis go last week, they provided no update on assistant hitting coach Andy Haines, who just finished his first season in that role and is expected to remain with the team for 2019. The same offseason Iapoce left for the Rangers, Haines took over as the Cubs' minor league hitting instructor.