Cubs

Guaranteed: Jake Arrieta silences Pirates, delivers wild-card win for Cubs

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Guaranteed: Jake Arrieta silences Pirates, delivers wild-card win for Cubs

PITTSBURGH — Jake Arrieta wanted it loud, and that’s exactly what he got on Wednesday night at PNC Park, all those Pittsburgh Pirates fans chanting “Ar-ri-e-ta! Ar-ri-e-ta!” on cue in the first inning.

Leading up to this do-or-die game, Arrieta had responded to Pittsburgh fans over Twitter and lit the match on social media, saying all the decibels wouldn’t matter, another sign of a confidence level that borders on complete arrogance.

Arrieta backed up his big words yet again in this National League wild-card showdown, dominating the Pirates in a 4-0 complete-game victory that really didn’t create all that much drama after so much buildup.

Sure, there was a wild benches-clearing, bullpens-emptying mosh pit after Pirates reliever Tony Watson drilled Arrieta’s left hip with a purpose pitch in the seventh inning. And you felt glued to your seat, because of this all-or-nothing format and a Cubs season that has been so unpredictable.

But Arrieta is at the top of his game now — just ask him — a pitcher in total control, putting up 21 consecutive quality starts and 31 scoreless innings in a row.

“I relish that situation,” Arrieta said. “You got 40,000-plus fans, most of them Pittsburgh fans. They’re out for blood. That’s what I expected. But I was still able to keep my composure and make big pitches, regardless of the noise factor. And that’s what I anticipated doing."

[MORE CUBS: On to the next one: Schwarber, Cubs dismantle Pirates in wild-card game]

The Cubs feel invincible with Arrieta on the mound and had already scored the first run before he threw a single playoff pitch.

If that didn’t feel like game over, it almost did when Kyle Schwarber flicked his bat to the ground and watched a Gerrit Cole pitch fly over the right-field seats and out of this beautiful waterfront stadium for a two-run homer in the third inning.

Arrieta suffocated a Pirates team that won 98 games and wound up stuck in a wild-card game for the third year in a row. The Pirates scored four runs — three earned — across 45 innings against Arrieta this year.

“Talk about bull riding,” Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. “Sometimes you draw a tough bull.”

On Wednesday morning, a group of guys taking a cigarette break on Penn Avenue noticed the Cubs fans outside a downtown Pittsburgh hotel.

“Arrieta’s due for a bad game,” one called out.

[WATCH CUBS: Maddon: 'Jake was spectacular, obviously']

At some point, the law of averages will have to begin to even out and Arrieta will wake up from this dream season and stop being the hottest pitcher on the planet.

But the Cubs will ride Arrieta’s right arm as far as they can, with the next stop being Busch Stadium for a best-of-five division series that begins Friday against the hated St. Louis Cardinals.

During the postgame news conference, when a reporter mentioned his stuff hadn’t been as “crisp” — those two hit batters nearly sparked a brawl — Arrieta immediately fired back: “I’m not sure what game you were watching.”

Afterward, manager Joe Maddon said the pitch count would have been “infinity,” but Arrieta needed 113 bullets, allowing just four singles and finishing with 11 strikeouts against zero walks.

“It’s a pretty big moment,” Maddon said. “It’s either you win or you go home, and you guys and ladies (in the media) have heard him speak about this moment in advance and how confident that he was. Some people considered it like almost on the braggart side or flagrant. But for me, it’s self-confidence. (And) Jake is a different cat, man.

“(Joe) Namath guaranteeing the Super Bowl victory — that’s all I could think of the last few days. Just sitting in the lounge chair by the pool with all those reporters surrounding him. I was a big Namath fan in ’69.”

[WATCH CUBS: Rizzo: 'We know how to enjoy the moment, and that's what we're doing right now']

Arrieta carried the Cubs on his broad shoulders, getting the franchise back to the postseason for the first time since 2008 with a Cy Young Award-level performance (22-6, 1.77 ERA).

The Cubs hadn’t won a playoff game since Game 4 of the 2003 NLCS against the Florida Marlins at Pro Player Stadium, but the atmosphere around this team feels so much lighter now.

So when Arrieta loaded the bases in the sixth — hitting Josh Harrison and watching Addison Russell commit an error at shortstop — he calmly got Starling Marte to ground into an inning-ending double play.

That silenced the largest crowd to ever watch a baseball game at PNC Park (40,889), completely tearing down the wall of sound that had been building for only a few moments.

And then tempers flared again in the seventh inning. Arrieta held onto his bat and stared at Watson, but the eye-for-an-eye form of justice didn’t surprise him at all. He got a small measure of revenge by stealing second base.

“That s---’s awesome,” Arrieta said. “I might like that more than the CG. I’m going to try and stack up a few more in St. Louis.”

[WATCH CUBS: Montero: 'We got on the board early, I think that's a game changer']

Right now, it looks like it will take a superhuman effort to beat Arrieta in October. The Cubs haven’t lost a game he started since July 25, when Cole Hamels threw a no-hitter for the Philadelphia Phillies at Wrigley Field.

“I’m still trying to process everything,” Arrieta said. “I haven’t had time yet. After the no-hitter (at Dodger Stadium), we had a big series coming up. I had to prepare for the next one. And right now, we’re going to enjoy this for the night, probably into tomorrow, and then I’m going to get ready for St. Louis again.

“I think at the end of the season — hopefully a World Series — I’ll sit down with friends and family and teammates and really enjoy it.”

Drenched in champagne and smoking a victory cigar inside the visiting clubhouse, it sounded like Arrieta was joking when he said this, but who knows with a fitness freak like this?

“I’ll work out twice tomorrow,” Arrieta said.

Podcast: Bold predictions for the Cubs offseason

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USA TODAY

Podcast: Bold predictions for the Cubs offseason

With the MLB offseason about to kick off, we run down the boldest predictions for the Cubs winter from around the NBC Sports Chicago Cubs content team. Topics include where Bryce Harper and Manny Machado will sign, how much money they’ll get, what the Cardinals will do this winter, Cubs offseason trades and how Theo Epstein’s front office may add to the pitching staff.

 

One topic we could all agree on was David Ross' potential as Cubs bench coach if the incumbent Brandon Hyde ends up taking a job as manager for another team around the league.

 

Listen to the entire podcast here and check out all of our bold predictions below:

 

 

David Kaplan

 

—Anthony Rizzo and his new wife, Emily, will adopt Manny Machado, change his last name and see Manny Rizzo playing third base for the 2019 Cubs.

—Because of the Rizzo move, the Cubs will move Kris Bryant to a full-time outfielder.

—The Cubs will trade away Jose Quintana and sign Patrick Corbin.

—The Cubs will sign a pair of former Indians relievers for the back end of the bullpen in Andrew Miller and Cody Allen.

—The Cubs will trade Kyle Schwarber to the Royals for Whit Merrifield, who will start 155 games in the leadoff spot in the order.

—Joe Maddon will be a lot more consistent with the Cubs' lineup and batting order all season.

 

Kelly Crull

 

—Anthony and Emily Rizzo will receive more wedding gifts from Cubs fans than Kris and Jessica Bryan received.

—Anthony Rizzo will train this offseason so he will be able to sing — or play the piano — for the National Anthem at Wrigley in 2019.

—The Cubs will have no money left to remodel the media room at Wrigley Field.

 

Luke Stuckmeyer

 

—The Captain Morgan Club at Wrigley Field is going to be replaced by Kap's Kryo & Keto Korner.

—The Cubs will finally find a solution to the leadoff hitter issue.

 

Tony Andracki

 

—The Cubs sign Bryce Harper for less than $250 million. (He follows 23 people on Twitter)
—Manny Machado does not get a contract for more than $250 million, either.
—The Cardinals will sign Craig Kimbrel and either Machado or Josh Donaldson to play 3B. 

 

Rationale: St. Louis could really use the bat and closer and they have a sense of urgency in the division this winter we haven't seen from them in at least a decade. The Cubs and Brewers have clearly been better for two seasons now and look to have a better chance at contending than the Cardinals in 2019, as well. That can't be sitting well with the "Best Fans in Baseball." 

 

Jeff Nelson, producer

 

—The Cubs will trade 2 of the following players:  Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ, Addison Russell, Albert Almora Jr.

—The Cardinals will sign Manny Machado to play third base.

—Because of construction delays, the visitors’ clubhouse will not be ready for the home opener, forcing the Pirates to dress at their hotel and come to the ballpark in full uniform.

Mike Piff, social media manager

—Cubs sign Nick Markakis.
—Cubs sign Tyson Ross.

Eric Strobel, producer

—The Cubs 2019 saves leader is not currently on the roster.

Rationale: We saw what happened to the bullpen in Brandon Morrow's absence; it got the job done by and large, but was not longer truly feared. Deep 'pens are the norm in October now with lockdown relievers being counted on more and more. The front office knows they can't truly entrust that kind of workload to Morrow with his injury history - Theo admitted as much in his end-of-season press conference. While they probably will not make a big splash, a huge focus of the offseason will be to surround Morrow/Strop/Edwards/etc. with as many talented arms as possible. The Cubs could very well enter next season without a designated closer, but if they do, it will not be Brandon Morrow.

Scott Changnon, multi-platform producer

—The Cubs will sign Bryce Harper.

Rationale: "I dunno, maybe."

Nate Poppen, producer

—Cubs sign Andrew McCutchen, plug him into CF and make Almora a 4th OF (or expendable)
—Bryce Harper signs with Yankees.
—Manny Machado signs with Angels.

Matt Buckman, producer

Non-roster prediction: The Cubs will welcome Sammy Sosa back to Wrigley Field. Sammy turns 50 this winter, and fueled by our wonderful documentary on 1998, the Cubs will finally mend their broken bond with Sammy and bring him back to Wrigley.

Roster prediction: The Cubs will trade Kyle Schwarber for a leadoff hitter. Joe has had to get very creative with the top of his order since Dexter Fowler left. Though the front office has downplayed the importance of a lead-off hitter the last two off-seasons, they will look to add one for 2019 so that Joe doesn’t have to be so creative. They won’t have a place to play Schwarber after they sign Harper so they will swap his power for a new “you go, we go” guy. Look at KC or TB as AL teams that need to add power and also have guys who could potentially lead off for the Cubs. Mallex Smith (TB) or Whit Merrifield (KC) would be interesting options.

No-brainer: The Cubs should absolutely bring back Jesse Chavez in 2019 bullpen

No-brainer: The Cubs should absolutely bring back Jesse Chavez in 2019 bullpen

Should the Cubs bring Jesse Chavez back for the 2019 bullpen?

This question shouldn't have anywhere near the polarizing effect the Daniel Murphy query had earlier this week, and for good reason.

It's hard to find any real downside for the Cubs working Chavez back into the fold next season. 

Sure, he's 35 and he'll turn 36 in August, but Chavez just had far and away the best season of his 11-year career and all signs point to it being legit.

He won't have a 1.15 ERA forever, of course, but he clearly found something with his mechanics that helped lead to the remarkable consistency he showed in a Cubs uniform (4 saves, 4 holds, 1.15 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, 42 Ks in 39 IP). 

The Cubs will be looking to add some reinforcements to their bullpen this winter and Chavez fits the bill in many areas.

When asked about how to address the bullpen this winter, Theo Epstein said his front office will be "looking for guys who can throw strikes and execute a gameplan and take the ball and pitch in big spots."

The Cubs have publicly placed an emphasis on "strike-throwers" out of the bullpen over the last two winters now and that is right up Chavez's alley.

He threw 68.5 percent first-pitch strikes while with the Cubs, which would've ranked near the top of the league in 2018, right up there with aces like Miles Mikolas, Clayton Kershaw, Aaron Nola and Justin Verlander. Among all relievers, Chavez ranked 5th in baseball in first-pitch strike percentage in the second half.

Expanding further (since the first pitch isn't the only one that matters): Chavez threw the fourth-most strikes in baseball among all MLB relievers after the All-Star Break. Since the day Chavez put on a Cubs uniform, Philadelphia's Tommy Hunter (70.5 percent) was the only reliever in baseball (minimum 30 innings) to throw a higher percentage of pitches for strikes than Chavez (69.8 percent).

If you want strikes, there's no better reliever on the market right now than Chavez.

He also shouldn't be all that expensive at age 35, even despite the breakout and high level of importance placed upon relievers these days. A similar deal to the one Brian Duensing got last winter - $7 million over 2 years - seems appropriate and would be a steal if Chavez can continue to find even a modicum of the success he had since putting on a Cubs uniform.

Speaking of the Cubs uniform, Chavez reportedly doesn't want to wear another logo in 2019, saying this after the NL Wild-Card Game:

That was an emotional time, but Chavez repeatedly raved about the Cubs clubhouse and culture throughout his time in Chicago and really appreciated the way his teammates made him feel comfortable from Day 1.

When the Cubs first acquired Chavez in that under-the-radar trade, they touted his versatility which has become a valuable asset, especially in today's game where relievers are often asked to pitch multiple innings. If necessary, he could also represent depth for the starting rotation, having made 70 starts over his MLB career. 

Unless there's a surprising market that develops for Chavez, bringing him back to the North Side of Chicago on a 1- or 2-year deal is a no-brainer.