Cubs ready for October with Jake Arrieta possibly clinching Cy Young Award


Cubs ready for October with Jake Arrieta possibly clinching Cy Young Award

MILWAUKEE – Bring it on. There’s no other way to interpret Jake Arrieta’s game face and body language now, looking like he’s ready to put the Cubs on his broad shoulders and lead them through October.

Arrieta dominated the Milwaukee Brewers during Friday night’s 6-1 victory at Miller Park, cruising through six scoreless innings in his final tune-up before the National League’s wild-card game and possibly locking up a Cy Young Award.

“I’m definitely prepared, obviously confident,” Arrieta said. “Everything’s where it needs to be.”

[MORE: Maddon’s playoff message to Cubs and Schwarber's role in wild-card game] 

Arrieta finished an unbelievable regular season with 22 wins, a 1.77 ERA and 236 strikeouts in 229 innings. Fair or not, the Pittsburgh Pirates could win almost 100 games and have their entire year come down to nine innings against a Cy Young winner.        

“If that did not clinch his award, I don’t know what would,” manager Joe Maddon said after watching Arrieta limit the Brewers to two singles, finishing with seven strikeouts against zero walks. “Right there, that had to be the clincher.”

Maddon pulled Arrieta after 72 pitches, knowing there will be bigger moments ahead for his 95-win team. But what a finishing kick for Arrieta, who hasn’t allowed a run in his last 22 innings and closed with 20 straight quality starts, going 16-1 with a 0.86 ERA.

“That would be cool,” Arrieta said of his Cy Young chances. “When the season’s over, we’ll think about that a little more. But obviously Wednesday is the most important thing for everybody here. And that’s where I’m going to keep my focus for now.”

The Los Angeles Dodgers have their own devastating 1-2 punch, and we’ll see how Zack Greinke (18-3, 1.68 ERA, 0.85 WHIP) and Clayton Kershaw (16-7, 2.16 ERA, almost 300 strikeouts) respond this weekend against the San Diego Padres.

[RELATED: What if Cubs had traded for Jonathan Papelbon?]  

But Arrieta’s 0.75 ERA after the All-Star break will be the lowest in major-league history. He did this for a playoff contender in baseball’s toughest division and threw that no-hitter at Dodger Stadium in front of a national-television audience.

“I can’t tell you I expected all of this,” said Maddon, who guided the Tampa Bay Rays at a time when Arrieta struggled to establish himself as a major-league pitcher with the Baltimore Orioles.

“From a distance, I saw the potential in the past. The way the season started out, he wasn’t really nailing it down like he could. But then all of a sudden…”

The Cubs have scored a grand total of four runs in Arrieta’s six losses. The last team to beat “Snake” was the Philadelphia Phillies on July 25 – the day Cole Hamels threw a no-hitter at Wrigley Field.  

“His stuff is different,” Maddon said. “Just the way the fastball moves. (It’s) the velocity combined with movement and then the other pitches. The slider. I love his curveball, which he doesn’t even throw that often, and now the changeup has been introduced.

[NBC SHOP: Get your Cubs postseason gear right here]  

“My point in the beginning of the year was (he) had all these different weapons that he didn’t know how to use in particular moments.

“He’s figured out how to only break the other goodies out when it’s necessary.”

At some point this offseason, back home in Austin, Texas, Arrieta will try to wrap his mind around what just happened, but really he’s just getting started now.

“We don’t have time for that yet,” Arrieta said. “Enjoy the win tonight and start getting ready for Pittsburgh on Wednesday.”

Cubs still searching for answers for Tyler Chatwood's puzzling control issues

Cubs still searching for answers for Tyler Chatwood's puzzling control issues

Tyler Chatwood looked to be turning the corner with his control issues, but alas, he and the Cubs aren't so lucky.

After walking only two batters in a solid start in Atlanta last week, Chatwood had taken a big step in the right direction. It was, after all, only the third time he'd walked fewer than 5 batters in an outing this season.

Those control woes reared their ugly heads once again Tuesday night at Wrigley Field in a 10-1 loss to the Indians. Chatwood walked 6 batters and managed to net only 8 outs, getting hammered for 4 runs in the third inning.

"Ugh, it was tough," Maddon said. "The stuff was so good, we just couldn't get a strike."

"It's definitely frustrating," Chatwood said, "because one at-bat, I'll feel really good and the next one, I feel like I'm fighting myself.

"Last time [out], I was able to stay in the rhythm. Tonight, I was kinda battling, rushing rather than staying back, so it's just keeping that feeling and maintaining that."

His season ERA is only 3.74, which looks good until you consider his WHIP is 1.62 and he's walked 40 batters in 45.2 innings with only 41 strikeouts in the process. He now leads baseball in walks per 9 innings.

Chatwood said earlier this month in St. Louis that he's figured out what has led to the startling lack of control and while he didn't elaborate on the mechanical issue, he was working hard at correcting the problem in bullpens.

He's also used the term "fighting myself" at least a dozen times this month alone and it's become a common refrain for his explanation of what's going on. 

"He's got a busy delivery when he throws the baseball," Maddon said. "He's kinda busy what he does with his hands. It's not like he can just change it easily because that's how his arm works, how his body works.

"Sometimes, like you see him the other day, everything's on time and how good it can be and when it's out of sorts a bit, then all of the sudden it becomes shotgun. Ah man, you can see the movement [on his pitches] from the side, how good it is. 

"We gotta harness it somehow. I spoke to him briefly on the bench; I reassured him it's gonna be fine, it's gonna be really good by the end of the year. We gotta figure it out and he knows that. But man, that's good stuff. We just gotta get it in the zone."

Chatwood also admitted part of the problem is mental in that he's trying to force pitches rather than trusting his stuff. He's also gotten into the bad habit of drifting down the mound, though he's not sure when or where he picked up that hitch in his delivery.

Chatwood and Cubs pitching coach Jim Hickey are working on slowing his delivery down to get his arm in the same spot on a more consistent basis.

When the Cubs signed Chatwood over the winter, it was easy to see why.

He just turned 28 in December, his peripherals and a move from hitter-friendly Coors Field foretold a potential leap in performance and his stuff is nasty. Plus, he signed a three-year deal at a relative bargain of $38 million.

Once the Cubs signed Yu Darvish in spring training, you could make the case that Chatwood could be among the best No. 5 starters in baseball.

Nine starts later, the honeymoon period is well over with Chatwood, as he threw only 30 of his 74 pitches for strikes Tuesday night and sent catcher Willson Contreras sailing all around home plate for pitches way out of the zone.

Still, it's clear to see there is some intriguing talent there and the season there is roughly 70 percent of the season remaining before the Cubs make what they hope is another run at the World Series.

"I have a lot of faith," Maddon said. "I know we're gonna reap the rewards, the benefits as he figures this thing out."

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Marlon Byrd discusses his suspensions for PED use and Ozzie Guillen offers a solution to the PED problem

NBC Sports Chicago

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Marlon Byrd discusses his suspensions for PED use and Ozzie Guillen offers a solution to the PED problem

Ozzie Guillen explains why he thinks Manny Machado is a better fit for the Cubs than the White Sox. Plus, Guillen and Marlon Byrd react to 19-year-old Juan Soto hitting a homer in his first at-bat with the Nationals.

Later in the show the guys debate who had the better rants in front of the media: Guillen or Byrd?

Finally, Byrd opens up about his PED suspensions, relates to the guys caught using PEDs now and Guillen offers up a solution to rid baseball of PEDs entirely.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: