Jake Arrieta begins contract season by shutting down Cardinals and giving Cubs flashbacks to Cy Young year

Jake Arrieta begins contract season by shutting down Cardinals and giving Cubs flashbacks to Cy Young year


ST. LOUIS — Whatever happens from here, Jake Arrieta will always be remembered as a Cub, for the way he lifted the entire franchise during his Cy Young Award season, silenced the Pittsburgh Pirates in that 2015 wild-card showdown and beat the Cleveland Indians twice in last year's World Series.

But Arrieta certainly isn't turning this into a David Ross-style farewell tour or a Boras Corp. countdown to free agency, not when the Cubs have enough blue-chip talent, big-market resources and playoff experience to become the first team to defend a World Series title since the three-peat New York Yankees (1998, 1999, 2000).

As Arrieta struck out five of the first seven St. Louis Cardinals he faced on Tuesday night, he gave manager Joe Maddon flashbacks to when he dominated like Bob Gibson and became must-see TV for the no-hitter possibilities. What might be Arrieta's final season in a Cubs uniform began with a sharp 2-1 victory in front of another sellout crowd at Busch Stadium.

"Jake really looked good from the side," Maddon said. "The ball was moving a lot. It was very reminiscent of a couple years ago, his strike-throwing and the way the hitters reacted to the pitch."

Getting off to a good start is important for a Cubs team that will have to fend off the Cardinals and wants to be well-rested and peaking by October — as well as a pitcher super-agent Scott Boras has compared to $210 million Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer.

"It's not a distraction at all," Arrieta said. "The only thing I'm focused on is the other 24 guys in this clubhouse and the handful of other guys that will be a part of us at some point throughout the season. We got guys like Ian Happ who are waiting in the wings and will probably be a big part of our season this year.

"My contract is an ancillary part of just the game of baseball. It's part of the business side of it. But my focus is just to be here for the guys in the clubhouse and help us win another championship."

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Arrieta retired nine Cardinals in a row and 12 of the first 13 batters he faced before minimizing the damage in the fifth inning. That's when Stephen Piscotty got hit three different times — with an Arrieta pitch, while stealing second base and after hustling on a chopper to the right side of the infield. Arrieta didn't stop the ball. Javier Baez bobbled it and then fired toward home plate, drilling Piscotty's helmet and knocking him out of the game.

The Cubs clapped for Piscotty, who had been facedown in the dirt before walking off the field, the day after the Cardinals announced his six-year, $33.5 million contract extension. Arrieta only allowed that unearned run across six innings before handing the game over to a bullpen built for October. Koji Uehara, Pedro Strop and Wade Davis combined to get the final nine outs as the Cubs got even with the Cardinals after a one-run Opening Night loss that showed this rivalry still has some juice.

Arrieta's transformation into an ace helped swing the balance of power in the National League Central. It's only Game 2, but Arrieta could already feel flashes of 2015 against a strong St. Louis lineup.

"It started out that way, really crisp with everything," Arrieta said. "The sinker was moving a lot, the command of breaking balls was pretty on point. It got a little sloppy in the fifth and sixth. I got ahead of myself. The effort level was too much. I started rotating laterally a little too much versus trying to stay on top of the ball.

"But that's OK. Those are things that I'll continue to work through and try and get those things under control as I progress throughout the season.

"For the first one, it was really good."


David Ross indicates no Cubs players have tested positive for COVID-19

David Ross indicates no Cubs players have tested positive for COVID-19

The Cubs appear to be in better position than some teams as they start Summer Camp.

When asked Friday if he feels any anxiety being back at Wrigley Field, Cubs manager David Ross indicated the club has had no players test positive for COVID-19 during intake testing this week. 

Ross told reporters in Friday's Zoom session he didn't see any additional anxiety in the players initially either when it comes to the strangeness of the new protocols.

“And I think it's comforting to know that everybody's clear and, you know, has tested negative.”

Most Cubs players took their tests on Wednesday, but the club is following MLB guidelines and has not confirmed or denied any results. Because it’s not considered a work-related injury, teams cannot announce if a player tests positive for the coronavirus without consent.

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Later in the press conference, Ross was asked if he expects any players not to be at camp Friday, outside of the injured José Quintana.

“We’re not supposed to comment I guess — I think you guys have heard all that — on testing positive or negative or any of that stuff, and so I don't wanna lead into that,” he said. “But I definitely expect everybody to be here. I haven't heard anybody's not going to be here.”

Ross was then asked to clarify if every player is cleared.

“Report times are spread out, so not everybody is actually here,” he said. “But I haven’t heard of anybody from [Cubs head athletic trainer PJ Mainville] that is not gonna be showing up today.”

MLB intends to release broad league-wide testing results as early as Friday — the number of tests conducted and how many came back positive. We've already seen several COVID-related announcements from other teams this week.

Wednesday, the Phillies quietly placed four players on the 10-day injured list. Friday, Indians general manager Chris Antonetti announced outfielder Delino DeShields has tested positive for the coronavirus and is experiencing minor symptoms.

Former Cubs and current Angels manager Joe Maddon said Friday 9-10 players would not be participating in workouts and did not disclose why, suggesting that at least several of them have tested positive.


What Jose Quintana's injury says about precarious nature of this MLB season

What Jose Quintana's injury says about precarious nature of this MLB season

One more injury or a positive COVID-19 test within the starting rotation, and the Cubs will be in trouble.

Jose Quintana’s thumb injury, which is expected to keep him from throwing for two weeks, called to attention just how precarious the future of every team is this season.

"We had some concerns about our starting pitching depth,” Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said Thursday. “A freak injury further challenges us in that area, and we have to respond."


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Starting pitching is a particularly vulnerable area in general. COVID-19 can affect anyone, even a team’s ace. More reports of positive COVID-19 tests are bound to trickle out now that teams are beginning workouts Friday. And with a three-week Summer Camp expediting the ramp-up process, risk of soft-tissue injury becomes a concern for pitchers in particular.

Add into the mix a microscopic surgery on a lacerated nerve in Quintana’s left thumb – the Cubs announced on Thursday that he suffered the injury while washing dishes – and the Cubs are beginning Summer Camp already shorthanded.

“No one’s going to feel sorry for us,” Epstein said. “This this is a bump in the road that we just have to overcome.”

The baseball season could be cancelled for any number of reasons, safety as judged by the league and government officials being the most important. But MLB also has the power to suspend or cancel the season if the competitive integrity of the season is undermined.

What that means isn’t for Epstein to decide, but he declined to give an opinion on the topic Thursday.

“My understanding of what the standards would be don’t necessarily matter,” Epstein said. “It’s a question for the league. I hope we never get in that situation.”

Injuries always have the power to alter a season. But that’s even more so the case during a 60-game season. At best, Quintana’s injury could delay him a several weeks. At worst, even just a three-month recovery time would wipe out his entire season.

For now, the plan is to replace Quintana with someone like Alec Mills. Assuming Mills does win the starting job, that takes him out of his role as a middle reliever, a bullpen spot Cubs manager David Ross emphasized earlier in the week.

“It’ll be really unrealistic to expect guys to get to maybe 100 or so pitches right out of the shoot,” Ross said on Monday. “That may be a bit of a challenge. … The real important areas for me right now is that swingman, your Alec Mills-types that can give you two or three innings ang get to the back end of the bullpen. Those middle innings if guys aren’t stretched out enough are going to be vitally important.”

The ripple effects from Quintana’s injury aren’t nearly enough to undermine the competitive integrity of the season. But what if several teams have their starting pitching depth dramatically affected by COVID-19? What if those teams include the Dodgers and the Yankees?

Now that MLB has started ramping up for the 2020 season, it’s incentivized to keep the season running. But as the Cubs learned this week, just one dish-washing accident can alter a team’s 2020 outlook.