Cubs

Cubs: Jake Arrieta will keep being a perfectionist

jake-arrieta-ever-the-perfectionist-insider-slide.png

Cubs: Jake Arrieta will keep being a perfectionist

PITTSBURGH – Jake Arrieta might be the best pitcher on the planet at this moment. But when reporters surrounded his locker late Wednesday night inside PNC Park’s visiting clubhouse, he immediately focused on the mistake.

“Inexcusable,” Arrieta said.

The Cubs had just celebrated a 3-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates that lasted 12 innings, but Arrieta understood it didn’t need to get to that point, especially when he’s on a roll like this (13-1 with a 1.01 ERA in 17 straight quality starts).  

[RELATED - Jake Arrieta gives Cubs the confidence to beat Pirates in October]

Arrieta is wired this way, probably part of the reason why he spent parts of four seasons on the Triple-A level before finally blossoming with that trade from the Baltimore Orioles in 2013.

Who knows how it would have played out, but Arrieta might have cost himself his 20th win when he fielded a routine groundball back to the pitcher’s mound, sort of hopped and airmailed a throw that went over Anthony Rizzo’s head and off the top of the first baseman’s glove. That throwing error with two outs in the sixth inning created an unearned run for the Pirates.

“That’s a play that he should make 101-out-of-100 times,” manager Joe Maddon said. “It was uncharacteristic, and he knows that. Listen, look at his numbers. My guess is Bob Gibson-esque from what I’ve been hearing, and that’s pretty strong company. 

“So it’s hard to be overtly critical right now. But that’s something he knows he can do – (something) he can actually fix. It’s within his control.” 

Arrieta has a 0.95 ERA since the All-Star break, which would be the second-lowest ERA in the second half in major-league history. In four starts against the Pirates this year, he’s given up three earned runs in 29 innings.  

The Cubs understand they will have little margin for error in October. Jon Lester might have had a breakthrough moment with his throwing issues by picking off Starling Marte during Tuesday night’s complete-game victory at PNC Park. That’s something potential playoff opponents will have to notice. 

[MORE CUBS: Javier Baez making a playoff statement with his defense]

Arrieta hasn’t excelled at controlling the running game, either, ranking fourth in the majors with 25 stolen bases against him. Lester leads that category (43) by a wide margin. It’s one factor that has the Cubs leaning toward starting Arrieta in a one-game playoff.  

Ultimately, that’s like the dominant NFL defense that gives up chunks of yardage but won’t surrender many points. And Arrieta has no problems with facing the Pirates again on Oct. 7 in the National League’s wild-card game.

“That’s fine,” Arrieta said. “I’ll be ready.” 

Reds acquisition of Sonny Gray is the latest notable addition to the NL Central

gray-118.jpg
USA TODAY

Reds acquisition of Sonny Gray is the latest notable addition to the NL Central

The NL Central keeps getting better this offseason.

According to multiple reports, the Reds have traded for pitcher Sonny Gray from the Yankees.

The Reds have been active this offseason and adding a former all-star to their rotation would be another big step towards turning the Reds into contenders in what is shaping up to be a very tough NL Central in 2019. They already added Alex Wood, Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp in a blockbuster deal with the Dodgers.

Gray is 29 and has a career ERA of 3.66, but isn't coming off a good year. With the Yankees he had a 4.90 ERA, the second-highest of his career, and didn't pitch in the postseason. The last time Gray had a bad year, he bounced back. Gray had a 5.69 ERA in 2016, the year after his breakout all-star campaign in 2015, but was solid in 2017 with the A's and Yankees.

Coming off a 95-loss season, the Reds had a long way to go, but look to be improved on paper with those additions.

Elsewhere in the division, the Cardinals already added Paul Goldschmidt and Andrew Miller and the defending division champion Brewers added marquee free agent catcher Yasmani Grandal.

Meanwhile, it has been mostly crickets for the Cubs this offseason. Owner Tom Ricketts recently defended the team's financial situation, which has led to the team appearing to be less aggressive this winter.

It looks like the Cubs will face increased competition in the division this season. Will that force the team's hand to be more aggressive before spring training?

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Cubs easily on your device.

Cole Hamels is healthy and ready to be the ace of the 2019 Cubs

Cole Hamels is healthy and ready to be the ace of the 2019 Cubs

Ask any Cubs player about 2019 and it's hard not to notice the urgency in their voice. 

After just about the least-enjoyable summer that 95 wins and a playoff appearance can buy, the normal winter platitudes that they tend to reel off have taken on additional weight. Rosters with as much potential as the Cubs don't come around often, and most of those players aren't going to get any cheaper down the road. Things can change quickly in baseball. 

Perhaps no one on the Cubs knows this quite like Cole Hamels, a World Series champion who has been a part of multiple different playoff-caliber rosters. Hamels revived his career after a disappointing tenure in Texas ended with a late-July trade, posting a 2.36 ERA over 76 innings on the North Side. The lefty went 4-0 with a 0.78 ERA in his first five games here (all of which they won), a far cry from the dreadful performances he was putting up with the Rangers. Sometimes a change of scenery is needed, but getting healthy always helps too. 

"I had a really tough time with the oblique injury I had two years ago and trying to get my mechanics back on track," Hamels said. "I just don’t think I was able to identify and correct what was going on. I was fighting it the whole season, until I kind of looked at a little bit deeper film and then really just made some more drastic changes, and went with it."

His oblique injury in 2017 derailed Hamels for the better part of a calendar year. The strain originally landed him on the 15-day DL, but he actually ended up missing eight weeks of games. In the 19 starts after, Hamels posted a 4.42 FIP with a 1.22 WHIP, walking over three batters per nine innings. He admitted to pitching through lingering discomfort at times, instead choosing to try and grit through a game - even if that meant ignoring how it would derail his healing process. As a result, the start of 2018 didn't treat him much better. It wasn't until a longer-than-usual film study with the Cubs that Hamels found his fix. 

"Basically, I was coming out of my whole front side," he added. "My hips - you know I was really landing open. I don’t do that - I’m a closed-off guy that really kind of hides the ball. It also maintains my distance down the mound and allows me to have a little bit more velocity. So I think that was really the big change and what I’ve been focusing on this offseason." 

Looking at the numbers, the adjustment is clear as day:

Adding three miles an hour to your fastball, midseason, is pretty significant. The reinvention of his fastball was one of the driving forces behind his turnaround last season, and there's no reason to believe Hamels -- now with a full offseason of healthy workouts under his belt -- can't be that type of pitcher for an entire season. If he can, the Lester-Hamels-Darvish rotation the Cubs dreamed of might be one step closer to fruition. 

As it stands now, however, there are *plenty* of questions about the Cubs' rotation. Their youngest starter is 29. Lester had his worst season in almost a decade and the year-by-year trends don't look great. Health AND regression have dogged Yu Darvish. Jose Quintana's been fine, but is a 4.05 FIP and 1.25 WHIP in 258 innings worth losing Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease?

"I think we all know how to get ready for a game and what’s expected out of us," Hamels said. "We know how to get good results and if we have a bad game we have guys that will pick of the pieces the next day and that’s comforting. I don’t think there are going to be too many bad stretches because we have guys that are going to be able to take care of business and stop streaks and we’re going to see some pretty fun winning streaks because of what we’re going to be doing as a pitching staff." 

Being an ace certainly wouldn't hurt, but if Hamels wants to live up to the $20 million option the Cubs picked up, he'll need to fill a larger void as one of the team's leaders. ("I think in general, MLB is doing pretty well for themselves," he replied when asked if the decision financially hamstrings the Cubs. "So I don’t necessarily buy it as much, but I understand people have to work within the certain system that they set.") Though this is still a tightly-knit clubhouse, many players and coaches admitted that there needs to be a new approach to leadership in 2019. Hamels, a World Series MVP and four-time All Star, fits the bill. It can be uncomfortable for players of even his pedigree to come into a new team and immediately be a leader, and Hamels knows how far a full spring around the same group of guys will go towards fixing that. 

"I’m 35, I’ve been in this game a long time, so I think that’s where I need to be. That’s sort of the role that’s directed towards you if you’ve played the game long enough. That’s kind of where you fit. I understand that, I’ve had a couple years to really do what I need to do in order to be that leader, and I guess now that means be a little more vocal instead of just letting the play out on the field be the leader."