Cubs searching for answers after Jake Arrieta can’t stop the bleeding against Mets

Cubs searching for answers after Jake Arrieta can’t stop the bleeding against Mets

NEW YORK – Jake Arrieta stood in front of his locker late Saturday night to deliver his “Terminator” equivalent of the “I’ll be back” line to the media. But the New York Mets know Arrieta’s human – and don’t believe in that aura of invincibility – and now the Cubs must figure out how to repair their ace. 

Arrieta is the National League’s reigning Cy Young Award winner, on the cover of “ESPN The Magazine’s Body Issue” and possibly starting the All-Star Game this summer. He is not, uh, shy or lacking confidence, but he doesn’t have all the answers, either.  

The defending NL champs showed Arrieta is no longer in the zone that transformed this franchise and made the Cubs World Series favorites in 2016, optimistic projections that weren’t based on him being an ordinary or simply above-average pitcher.     

“I don’t think there’s a big cause for concern,” Arrieta said after a 4-3 loss that put the Mets in position to sweep this marquee four-game series on Sunday afternoon at Citi Field. “If you’re in first or last place, every team has those spells where offensively you might struggle a little bit, things on the mound aren’t going as well as you would expect or hope. From my perspective individually, it’s one of those spells for me. 

“But I’m resilient. I’ll bounce back. I’ll get to the point where I was earlier in the season – and last year – soon. It won’t continue. It’s frustrating it has for this long of a period. But we’ll make it right.”    

Arrieta is now 12-3 with a 2.33 ERA, but he’s not clinging to those overall numbers, knowing he had three five-inning starts in June and couldn’t finish the sixth this time, Mets fans booing and waving goodbye as he walked off the mound with runners on the corners and one out and his team trailing 4-2.

[MORE CUBS TALK: Ben Zobrist breaks down what’s wrong with Cubs offense (and how to fix it)]

Lefty reliever Travis Wood minimized the damage by getting Juan Lagares to ground out into a double play, but overall Arrieta felt “very odd physically,” still searching for that sense of timing, explosive stuff and finish on his pitches. 

“He wasn’t comfortable, there’s no question,” manager Joe Maddon said. “If he was injured, I would be more concerned. He’s not injured. That’s the reason why I feel that he’ll be fine.”

The Mets (43-37) jumped Arrieta in the first inning when leadoff guy Brandon Nimmo – who made his big-league debut last weekend – worked a walk and Neil Walker then hammered a 3-2 pitch off a second-deck right-field advertisement for a two-run homer. 

“It’s frustrating for me, just because I expect a lot more out of myself,” Arrieta said. “And to let it continue for three, four starts is not something that I like to see happen. But at the end of the day, when you put too much emphasis on certain things – and you try to make too many adjustments – that can work in reverse. 

“I just need to do a better job of being aggressive early in the count and forcing the issue.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Arrieta – who gave up eight hits and two walks against the 26 batters he faced – dismissed the idea of making a mechanical tweak or shifting his focus in-between starts while working with pitching coach Chris Bosio.

“That’s overblown,” Arrieta said. “It’s not a lot to work on, really. We’re spinning our wheels a little bit too much trying to figure out what the solution is, or is there a problem. I just need to pitch better. That’s it. Bottom line.”

Are you worried about any of this?

“No,” Arrieta said. 

On a night where a 43-year-old pitcher (Bartolo Colon) limited the Cubs (51-29) to two runs across six innings – and late-inning relievers Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia got five of the last seven outs via strikeouts – the Mets made contact and put the ball in play.

The turning point came with two outs in the fourth inning, when Travis d’Arnaud lifted a flyball into shallow center field. Javier Baez raced from second base and reached out his bare right hand, but it glanced off his fingertips, falling onto the grass for a two-run hit. Whether Arrieta simply isn’t getting the breaks – or dealing with some deeper issues that aren’t a click away – the Cubs are about to find out.  

“Poor performance,” Arrieta said. “The command wasn’t great. The stuff wasn’t very good. Overall, just didn’t give the effort my team needed tonight. I needed to be more of a stopper – put a stop to the bleeding.”

Theo Epstein brushes aside rumors: 'There's essentially zero trade talks involving the Cubs'

Theo Epstein brushes aside rumors: 'There's essentially zero trade talks involving the Cubs'

No, the Cubs are not currently talking to the Baltimore Orioles about bringing Manny Machado to the North Side of Chicago.

So says Theo Epstein, the Cubs president of baseball operations who met with the media at Wrigley Field ahead of Friday's series opener with the San Francisco Giants.

Epstein vehemently shot down the notion of trade talks and specified the major diffence between trade rumors and trade talks, while refusing to comment on Machado in particular.

"I'm not addressing any specific rumor or any player with another team," Epstein said. "I would never talk about that in a million years. The simple way to put it is there's been a lot of trade rumors involving the Cubs and there's essentially zero trade talks involving the Cubs.

"There's a real disparity between the noise and the reality and unfortunately, sometimes that puts a player or two that we have in a real tough circumstance. And that's my job to clarify there's nothing going on right now.

"We have more than enough ability to win the division, win the World Series and we really need to focus on our roster and getting the most out of our ability and finding some consistency. Constant focus outside the organization doesn't do us any good, especially when it's not based in reality right now."

The Cubs have presented a united front publicly in support of Addison Russell, whose name has been the one bandied about most as a potential leading piece in any move for Machado.

After all, the Cubs have won a World Series and never finished worse than an NLCS berth with Russell as their shortstop and he's only 24 with positive signs of progression offensively.

Trading away 3.5 years of control of Russell for 3-4 months of Machado is the type of bold, go-for-it move the Cubs did in 2016 when their championship drought was well over 100 years.

Now, the championship drought is only one season old and the window of contention is expected to remain open until through at least the 2021 season.

Epstein likes to point out that every season is sacred, but at what cost? The Cubs front office is still very much focused on the future beyond 2018.

"Everybody's talking about making trades in May — the first part of the season is trying to figure out who you are," Epstein said. "What are the strengths of the club? What are the weaknesses of the club? What's the character of the club? What position is the club gonna be in as we get deeper in the season? What's our short-term outlook? What's our long-term outlook? What's the chemistry in the clubhouse?

"All those things. It's a process to get there and figure it out. If you rush to those kinds of judgments, you can oftentimes make things worse. I think it's important to figure out exactly who you are and give guys a chance to play and find their level and see how all the pieces fit together before you make your adjustments."

So there's no chance we could see the Cubs once again jump the market and make an early deal like they did last year for Jose Quintana or five years ago for Jake Arrieta? Will they definitely wait another five weeks until July to make a move?

"It's just the natural order of things," Epstein said. "We wouldn't be opposed to doing something, but that's not the case right now. It's not happening."

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 10th, 11th homers in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 10th, 11th homers in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

Sosa is heating up, but even a red-hot Sosa doesn't automatically equal wins for the Cubs.

Slammin' Sammy notched his first multi-homer game in 1998 in a 9-5 loss to Kevin Millwood and the Atlanta Braves. Sosa drove in 4 of the Cubs' 5 runs on a solo shot in the 4th inning and a three-run shot in the 8th. 

Sosa tallied 830 feet of homers in the game, with his first blast going 410 feet and the second shot measured at 420 feet.

The big game bumped Sosa's overall season slash line to .337/.411/.551 (.962 OPS) with 11 homers and 35 RBI.

Fun fact: Mickey Morandini hit second for the Cubs in this game and went 4-for-4, but somehow only scored one run despite hitting just in front of Sosa all game. That's because Morandini was caught stealing to end the 3rd inning, leaving Sosa to lead off the 4th inning with a solo blast.