Cubs

Cubs: Jake Arrieta ready for do-or-die format of one-game playoff

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Cubs: Jake Arrieta ready for do-or-die format of one-game playoff

Don't be surprised if Jake Arrieta comes out throwing a knuckleball Sunday.

Arrieta's start against the Pirates comes 10 days before he figures to square off with this team again in the one-game wild-card playoff.

So the Cubs ace was joking he might try to mix things up with a knuckleball or a new changeup or wacky sequence of pitches or something.

"It's a chess match, really," Arrieta said. "They've seen what I throw. They know what I throw. But the sequences are things that I constantly change and switch up."

[RELATED - Cubs party at Wrigley and celebrate their return to the playoffs]

Arrieta probably won't actually throw a knuckleball, but with the Cubs locking up a playoff spot and sitting 5.5 games behind the Pirates for homefield advantage in the wild-card game, Sunday's matchup doesn't exactly jump off the page in terms of importance.

The Cubs are on pace for around 95 wins, but their season will still come down to a winner-take-all game (probably in Pittsburgh).

That's just fine by Arrieta and his 1.88 ERA.

"A lot of hard work's paid off as a team to be in this situation," he said. "Not many teams get to move on and play into October.

"And even though it's a one-game, do-or-die type of scenario, it's what we have to deal with. So we'll deal with that. We'll prepare for that situation and be ready for it when it comes."

The Cubs are 23-8 (a .742 winning percentage) when Arrieta starts as he's made a serious case for the NL Cy Young Award.

He reveled in the Cubs' postseason celebration on Wrigley Field Saturday afternoon, responding to fans' "Arrieta! Arrieta!" chants by spraying champagne into the crowd gathered behind the home dugout.

Arrieta and his major-league leading 20 victories are a major reason why the Cubs could celebrate a playoff berth with more than a week left in the regular season.

But he's also blown past his career high in innings in a season and he's still penciled in for two starts before the wild-card game.

Arrieta is in fantastic shape and his conditioning is off the charts, but he still understands the need to take it easy. He acknowledged his pitch count probably won't climb much over 100 Sunday night.

[SHOP: Get your official Cubs postseason gear]

"No reason to change anything now," Arrieta said. "At this point in the season, I'll take a day or two off throwing throughout the week and honing some things and continuing to work on flexibility. I'll have a good side session and kind of shut it down at that point.

"Just be ready for start day, knowing that this time of year is to save some bullets and be out there helping."

Arrieta has emerged as one of the top pitchers in the game, thanks in large part to an incredible work ethic and a desire to never get complacent and always be searching for ways to improve.

He's taking that same mindset into the Cubs clinching a playoff berth.

"Obviously we're not popping bottles or losing our minds," Arrieta said before Saturday's game. "We know we're in now. We still have some business to take care of.

"We'd like to finish the regular season with our guys healthy, everybody's legs under them, everybody feeling good about October baseball and we'll go from there."

Cubs Talk Podcast: Reviewing a positive road trip for Jose Quintana, Yu Darvish and Ian Happ

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Reviewing a positive road trip for Jose Quintana, Yu Darvish and Ian Happ

Luke Stuckmeyer, David Kaplan, and Doug Glanville break down a solid 4-2 road trip for the Cubs. Plus, who would you rather have long-term: Bryce Harper or Manny Machado?

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below. Apple Podcasts listeners can subscribe at the show page.

Cubs? White Sox? Manny Machado mum on Chicago possibilities as both sides of town dream of his World Series impact

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USA TODAY

Cubs? White Sox? Manny Machado mum on Chicago possibilities as both sides of town dream of his World Series impact

What’s Manny Machado’s favorite pizza place? What’s his favorite bar on Rush Street? Does he want to shoot the puck at the Blackhawks game? Maybe drive a Red Line train? Headline Lollapalooza?

Heck, is there anything that can get this guy to Chicago?

Sadly, Machado has no opinion on Chicago, at least no opinion he'd like to share. He talks as though he’s experienced nothing but the tarmac at O’Hare and the inside of the visitor’s clubhouse at Guaranteed Rate Field.

“To be honest, nothing,” Machado said when one of the multitude of media members asked him what he thought about the city ahead of his Baltimore Orioles’ game against the White Sox on Monday night. “I go from my (hotel) room to the ballpark to play baseball. I try to keep it simple, my life is simple. I don’t really do too much other than come here and play.”

Sorry, Cubs and White Sox fans. No inside info to better the offer.

Both sides of town are entranced by Machado Mania. The North Side wants him to arrive via trade and help deliver another World Series championship in 2018. The South Side wants him to ink a monster free-agent deal and deliver a whole bunch of World Series championships as the new face of the rebuild.

But no matter whether you want the MVP candidate in blue pinstripes or 1983 throwbacks, he made no indication he’s thinking about his next team when he spoke Monday.

“That’s out of my hands. I can’t control that,” he said. “I’ve got to go out and win some games, do as much as I can for my ball club.

“I’m here to play baseball. Obviously you’ve got to answer these questions, but at the end of the day none of that matters. I’m here to win some games with my ball club, win some here with the Orioles, and play well at the same time.

“I’m not getting distracted by any of this, and all this talk, it’s rumors. They’re all rumors and talks. At the end of the day, I’ve got to go out there and perform and win games for this ball club.”

For the Cubs, rumors of a Machado pursuit would come at a seemingly steep cost. With almost nothing to deal away from the farm system, an Orioles team looking to jumpstart a rebuilding effort of their own would likely require Addison Russell as a centerpiece of any trade offer. Would Theo Epstein’s front office be willing to part with Russell, who they always speak so highly of, who is still just 24 years old and who remains under team control through the 2021 season? Just for a few months of Machado, who is by no means a guarantee to stick around on a free-agent deal?

The Cubs’ title chase this season would figure to be better served by getting two of their recent pitching acquisitions to turn in more consistently good performances. If Jose Quintana and Yu Darvish can right their respective ships, the Cubs might not need to worry about blowing up their core to add an MVP candidate to an already menacing lineup featuring multiple All Stars. But there’s no doubt about it: Any team that adds Machado to the mix is going to improve its chances of hoisting a trophy this October.

Unlike a pursuit of a player during free agency, it’s the Orioles the Cubs need to convince to seal a deal, not Machado, and even with Russell as the main piece, the Cubs’ package might not be the best one out there. But Machado, despite his comments, has likely heard a little bit of what it’s like to play on the North Side from the guy he calls his cousin, Albert Almora Jr.

“As kids growing up we played together,” Machado said. “When we were playing in his backyard growing up, we always dreamed about playing together some day in the big leagues and putting on the same big league uniform and be on the same field, win a World Series together, that’s every kid’s dream.”

Meanwhile, the White Sox are, as they’re doing in every facet of their existence at the moment, playing a long game when it comes to Machado or any big-name free-agent-to-be. Reports dating back to last winter say they’re expected to be one of the many teams vying to sign Machado to what’s sure to be a gargantuan contract when he joins Bryce Harper, Josh Donaldson and a host of other superstars in free agency this winter.

Machado’s production has made him the object of White Sox fans’ affections for some time, and the dream of seeing him join all the young talent in this rebuilding effort and leading the South Siders in their next pursuit of a title is still alive and well in their minds. The White Sox will have the financial ability to pay the high price for Machado, if they choose — a price, it should be noted, that come winter will be only measured in money and not players, as a midseason trade during this campaign would be. Obviously the biggest selling point is their bright future, where he could anchor a lineup that also features Eloy Jimenez, Yoan Moncada and Luis Robert. Pair that with a boatload of cash, and maybe it’s enough to edge out the rest of what’s expected to be a very competitive market.

The White Sox, too, have an apparent void at third base (or shortstop, should they do some maneuvering on the left side of the infield) moving forward after Jake Burger, last year’s first-round pick, twice tore the same Achilles tendon this year. While there’s still time needed to tell where exactly the White Sox will have major league holes to fill, penciling names into a 2020 lineup leaves most pencilers with a question mark at third base. Machado would fit nicely there, and the apparent need could provide more drive for the White Sox to get something done this winter. There will be other options, of course, should they miss out on Machado. Donaldson this winter and Nolan Arenado the following are two other alluring names. Be it Machado, it would be the kind of statement signing that signals that the rebuilding effort is ready to transition into the contention phase, much like the Cubs did with Jon Lester.

And like the Cubs, the White Sox have their own Machado friend to make a convincing pitch. Nicky Delmonico played alongside Machado (and Harper, for that matter) on a Team USA squad back in 2009.

“It was really cool. I got to play with Harper for two years and Machado (for one),” Delmonico said last week. “Just to be around that type of talent, it was a lot of fun.

“It was pretty special. We had a lot of guys who are doing well at the big league level. It was like a big family.

“You’re with each other every day. It’s like what I compare to the minor leagues. You’re playing every day in that short amount of time. So you got to know that person pretty well. And to play with those guys, it was a lot of fun.”

And Welington Castillo, too, got to know Machado when they were teammates last year in Baltimore.

“He’s special, honestly,” Castillo said. “I had the opportunity to play with him last year in the (World Baseball Classic) and then for a year with the Orioles. It’s nice to play with him in the same lineup and spend time with him. He’s an awesome player and an awesome person. I think that’s why everybody is talking about him. Everybody sees because he’s been showing them every year, what he can do.

“Who wouldn’t want to have a guy like him?”

If Machado has received any PR training through this process, he put it to good use Monday. Nothing he said indicated any preference to join either of this city’s teams either this season or next. He didn’t say the word “Cubs” once, and judging by his response to the lone question asked specifically about the White Sox, it doesn’t sound like the South Side rebuild is the talk of the Orioles’ clubhouse.

That, though, will likely do nothing to dampen enthusiasm on either side of town that Machado could soon call this city home, nor does it mean Machado wouldn't be jazzed about joining a championship contender this season or a franchise with a bright future next season.

But until a deal is made this summer or this winter — or both — it’s all just speculation. Until then, Machado’s going to try to beat one of Chicago’s teams four times this week, either as a preview of what could be or a display of opportunity lost.