Cubs

Cubs: Jake Arrieta redefining dominance as he makes his case for NL Cy Young

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Cubs: Jake Arrieta redefining dominance as he makes his case for NL Cy Young

Before the weekend, the Arizona Diamondbacks pointed to Jake Arrieta as a perfect role model for what the organization hopes their young pitchers can turn into.

The 29-year-old Cubs ace proved why he deserved that level of praise again Saturday afternoon as he dominated the D-Backs in a 2-0 Cubs win in front of 40,690 fans at Wrigley Field.

Arrieta followed up his first career no-hitter Sunday with another gem Saturday, allowing just four hits in eight shutout innings.

He has not given up an earned run in his last four starts, a span of 29 innings.

"It's as good as you're gonna get on the major-league level," manager Joe Maddon said.

[SHOP: Buy a Jake Arrieta jersey]

Arrieta picked up right where he left off in August, when he was 6-0 with an 0.43 ERA in the month.

It was the 15th consecutive quality start and he has a 0.99 ERA over his last 14 starts (a span of 109 innings).

Arrieta has now won seven consecutive starts and improved to 18-6 on the season, lowering his overall ERA to 2.03 and WHIP to 0.92 in the process.

Has he done enough to put himself firmly in the conversation for National League Cy Young alongside Dodgers stars Zack Greinke (15-3, 1.59 ERA, 0.846 WHIP) and Clayton Kershaw (12-6, 2.18 ERA, 0.897 WHIP)?

"It's hard for me to fathom that somebody's better than Jake Arrieta," catcher David Ross said. "I know numbers are numbers and there's some guys in L.A. that are doing a really good job, but I'll take [Arrieta] on the mound any day of the week."

Maddon is not one to talk about individual awards or look too far ahead to the end of the season, but even he admitted Arrieta has to be in the conversation for the league's top pitcher.

"Absolutely," Maddon said before comparing Arrieta's run to what he's seen in the past with David Price and James Shields in Tampa Bay. "I've seen guys really good. [This stretch] is right up there with the best that I've seen and I've had. He's been awesome, absolutely awesome.

"When the conversation [for NL CY] occurs, his name would be - I would guess - Top 3 with everybody. It's just a matter of how you want to apply your vote. And there's still some time left."

Arrieta said he got over the no-hitter pretty quickly, to the point where he was sick of talking about it two days later and was instead focused on watching video of the Diamondbacks. He wants to sit back and reflect on the accomplishment after the season ends.

Will he also be reflecting on a Cy Young Award in his trophy case?

Nobody knows yet, but he acknowledges that it's nice to even be in the conversation.

"It means you're doing something right, so yeah, it's a good thing," Arrieta said. But at the end of the day, all that's great, but if we do things in the playoffs, that's an even greater sense of accomplishment as a team.

"That's really what we're all focused on. The other things just kinda happen and take care of themselves with everything we have going on here. Winning ballgames is really our most important task at hand."

Cubs offense appears to be heating up at the right time

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USA TODAY

Cubs offense appears to be heating up at the right time

The Cubs are nearing the end of a brutal stretch where they have reported to the ball park 30 days in a row. Naturally, as that stretch is nearing its end, the offense seems to be catching fire. 

After scoring just 15 runs in their previous seven games, the Cubs have scored a combined 14 runs in two games on 21 hits. They scored nine runs on Tuesday alone, beating the Diamondbacks 9-1 in Arizona.

Scoring nine runs in one game is a great sign, but the fact that the entire starting lineup is contributing is an even better one. Every player in Tuesday's starting lineup got at least one hit, minus starting pitcher Mike Montgomery. 

Daniel Murphy entered Tuesday hitting .191 in September that included a 3-for-26 stretch dating back to Sept. 8. Tuesday, he went 2-for-3 with a leadoff single and a two-run home run.

Javier Báez was in an 8-for-30 "slump" entering Tuesday that dated back to Sept. 8. He hit a two-run home run in the first inning, his second home run in as many days. Kris Bryant hit safely for the third straight game, while Ian Happ hit an RBI double from the ninth spot in the batting order.

Baby steps, people.

Jason Heyward made his first start since Aug. 30 on Tuesday, hitting a double and scoring on an RBI double by Happ. While Heyward exited after two at-bats, it was likely to not push him too hard as he comes back from a hamstring injury.

Heyward's return is important due to his defense, but also because of his .276 batting average and respectable .743 OPS. Adding him to the lineup, no matter where he hits, is only a good thing for the Cubs' offense. 

Willson Contreras is just 1-for-9 this series, but he has been driving the ball with authority. After posting a 19.6 percent hard contact rate in August (his lowest over an entire month all season), he has posted a 32 percent hard contact rate this month (entering Tuesday's game), according to Fangraphs.

With 11 games to go, the Cubs now hold a 3.5 game lead over the Brewers for first place in the NL Central. Their magic number to win the division dropped to 8 following Tuesday's win and the Brewers 3-1 loss to the Reds.

Talks of fatigue have surrounded the Cubs recently due to their current 30-day stretch without a day off. The fact that the offense has scored as much as it has this series is quite ironic; perhaps the team sees the light at the end of the tunnel? 

Fatigue or not, the Cubs have to like they way the offense is trending as the regular season comes to a close. 

Brandon Morrow ruled out for the year as Cubs dealt another big blow to bullpen

Brandon Morrow ruled out for the year as Cubs dealt another big blow to bullpen

Brandon Morrow won't be riding in to save the day for the Cubs bullpen this October.

Theo Epstein ruled the closer out for the year Tuesday evening, saying Morrow just couldn't make it all the way back from a bone bruise.

"Every time he pitched, it got worse," Epstein said, according to MLB.com's Carrie Muskat.

Morrow hasn't pitched since before the All-Star break while battling the bone bruise in his forearm.

The Cubs gave him as much time as possible to recover and then he tried to ramp up his rehab over the last couple weeks in an effort to make it back for the postseason. 

He threw off a mound twice last week and then faced live hitters in a sim game Saturday that supposedly went well with the hope of being activated either sometime this week in Arizona or over the weekend on the South Side for the Cubs-White Sox series.

This leaves the Cubs in a serious hole in the bullpen for October, a time when relievers become some of the most important players on the roster.

With Pedro Strop's hamstring injury he suffered last Thursday in Washington D.C., the Cubs are down their top two relief pitchers for the final two weeks of the regular season and will be down at least Morrow in the playoffs. 

Strop said Monday he hoped to be able to return to the Cubs over the final weekend of the regular season (Sept. 28-30), but there is still a lot up in the air with his timeline. 

The Cubs are now left with a bullpen that includes Steve Cishek, Justin Wilson, Carl Edwards Jr. and Jesse Chavez plus a bunch of question marks.

[RELATED — Jesse Chavez has emerged as the most important pitcher in Cubs bullpen]

Will Dillon Maples be able to carve out a role in the October bullpen? What about Jorge De La Rosa or Jaime Garcia? 

The next 13 days will be telling.

Morrow has a long history of injuries over his career - making only 91 appearances (21 starts) and pitching 180.1 innings over the last five seasons entering 2018. He emerged as a dynamic piece of the Dodgers bullpen last October and appeared in each game of the World Series against the Astros.

This is the second pitcher the Cubs have ruled out for the season with a bone bruise, as Yu Darvish also had to be shut down due to a bone bruise in his elbow. Darvish had a debridement procedure on his elbow last week and is supposed to be ready to go for spring training 2019.