Cubs: Jake Arrieta will keep being a perfectionist


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.” 

Double the fun: Cole Hamels, Cubs defense prolific against Pirates


Double the fun: Cole Hamels, Cubs defense prolific against Pirates

Cole Hamels' dominant start to his Cubs career continued on Friday in stellar fashion, and with some considerable help from his infield.

The 34-year-old veteran not only pitched seven innings of five-hit ball without allowing a run, but induced five ground ball double plays. The Cubs finished with a staggering seven double plays in a 1-0 win at the Pirates on Friday.

The last time the Cubs turned five double plays was in 1985. 

All five hits Hamels gave up were groundball singles. The 16 groundballs induced is the most for a Cubs pitcher this year.

After Hamels exited after seven innings, the Cubs got double plays in the eighth, on a line drive double play with Jorge De La Rosa on the mound, and ninth, on a groundball induced by Jesse Chavez to end the game.

Hamels was initially brought in to provide depth to a struggling rotation and ease the pain of Yu Darvish being unavailable. But Hamels has now started an honest debate over who should be the Cubs' starter in Game 1 of the postseason. He has been otherworldly since joining the Cubs, with an 0.72 ERA, three wins and one no-decision (the Cubs won and he had nine strikeouts). 

The 1-0 win over the Pirates gives the Cubs more breathing room in the NL Central. The St. Louis Cardinals beat the Milwaukee Brewers on Friday, pushing the Cubs lead to 4.5 games in the division.

And the Hamels hot-streak comes at an excellent time for the North Siders, who took in Jon Lester's gem of an outing on Thursday, where he went six innings with no earned runs and eight strikeouts in a win against the Pirates. The Cubs starting pitching seems to be turning the corner, and with three straight series against sub-.500 teams following their series in Pittsburgh, this could be the beginning of a great run of outings that carries the Cubs confidently into the postseason.

A stellar Jon Lester outing gives the Cubs more than just a win

A stellar Jon Lester outing gives the Cubs more than just a win

It's been a tale of two halves for the Cubs veteran Jon Lester, who after a sparkling first half of baseball that saw him win 12 games with a 2.58 ERA, has looked nothing like a 2018 All-Star. Prior to Thursday's start, Lester had posted a 10.32 ERA, allowed 4 or more runs in 4 of his 5 most recent starts, and had yet to win a game in the second of the season. 

The 34-year-old veteran flipped the script Thursday night, throwing 6-shutout innings while striking out 8 Pirate batters in the Cubs 1-0 win in Pittsburgh. Lester surrendered only 5 hits and baffled the Pirates all-night, finally busting out of his slump and giving the Cubs his 2nd quality start since the All-Star break. 

Lester attacked the bottom portion of the strike zone all night with his fastball, which topped out at 93 mph, generating 4 whiffs with his heater. Over the last month, Lester has said he's felt he can't quite execute his "out" pitches, explaining that when he has a hitter set up for a strikeout he hasn't been able to throw the ball effectively in those moments. 

And while Lester walked off the mound after the 6th inning amassing 8 punch outs, the veteran starter never looked like he was trying to strike out batters. He just continued to dot the corners, occasionally raise the eye-level of the batter with an elevated heater, and threw his secondary pitches just enough to keep the Pittsburgh batters uncomfortable at the plate. 

The Cubs offense once again struggled, facing Ivan Nova who has won four his last five starts against the Cubs, but Ian Happ's solo shot in the 4th inning was enough run support for Lester to push the Cubs to 20 games over .500. But the biggest takeaway from Thursday night's win isn't that the Cubs came out on top, it's that Jon Lester returning to form gives this Chicago rotation something they've lacked seemingly this entire season. 

Stability at the front of the rotation. 

With Cole Hamels impressive three starts in a Cub uniform and Kyle Hendricks finally figuring out his issues on the mound, if Jon Lester can replicate Thursday's performance throughout the rest of the season, the Cubs rotation may finally turn into the strength many thought it could be before the season started. At the very least, Lester showed that whatever he's been working through over the last month of baseball is fixable. 

It's only one start in a string of poor outings for Lester, and while The Athletic's Sahadev Sharma did find some positives in his starts prior to Thursday's big win, Lester will have to show he can maintain this level of pitching through the remainder of this season. But I think our own Tony Andracki put it best tonight on Twitter. 

With the Cubs pitchers finally starting to perform to their expected level, and the return of Yu Darvish looking closer each day, it could be the Cubs starting pitching that carries through the rest of the season.