Cubs

Jake Arrieta comes up aces as Cubs ride World Series momentum back to Wrigley Field

Jake Arrieta comes up aces as Cubs ride World Series momentum back to Wrigley Field

CLEVELAND — The Cubs are a team that can make it hard to focus with so many big-money players running around, so much young talent bubbling up, all of Joe Maddon’s antics and ultimately so many different ways to beat their opponent.

That’s how Jake Arrieta going for a no-hitter in the World Series sort of became an afterthought on Wednesday night at Progressive Field. After getting shut out in Game 1, the Cubs lineup kept extending innings, making these Cleveland Indians pitchers work. Kyle Schwarber’s at-bats are becoming must-see TV, more than six months after shredding his left knee. Honestly, Arrieta hasn’t been giving off that same best-pitcher-on-the-planet aura.

It sometimes feels like these playoffs have revolved around Madison Bumgarner, Clayton Kershaw and Corey Kluber and how the next team up could be a matchup nightmare for the Cubs.

But this is exactly what a Cy Young Award winner is supposed to do, taking a no-hitter into the sixth inning, shutting down the Indians in a 5-1 win and tying up this Fall Classic before Wrigley Field stages its first World Series game in 71 years on Friday night.

Even if the Cubs had so much going on — mostly Schwarber-mania — that Maddon didn’t get a specific Arrieta question during the manager’s postgame news conference.

“When I looked up, I didn’t even realize there were no hits,” third baseman Kris Bryant said. “He was just attacking them. It’s tough to hit in the cold, especially with his stuff moving all over the place. He’s going to produce a lot of weak contact. He did what he needed to do. After that first inning, he settled down, and it was nice to see Jake really have a good game.”

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Arrieta had a 1-0 lead in Game 2 before he even stepped onto the mound on a frigid night where it was 43 degrees at first pitch — which Major League Baseball had moved up an hour because of the heavy rains headed toward Cleveland — leaving him worrying about losing the feel of his fingertips.

Even during an All-Star season, Arrieta’s command has drifted in and out, and it didn’t look good with two outs in the first inning when he walked Francisco Lindor and Mike Napoli in back-to-back at-bats. Cubs fans could breathe a sigh of relief when Jose Ramirez drove a flyball that stopped at the warning track in center field.

“I kind of had my foot on the gas a little too much at the start, trying to do more than I needed to,” Arrieta said. “Then I really got back to just executing good pitches towards the bottom of the strike zone. With the cutter going one way and the sinker going the other way, (I was) trying to be as aggressive as I could, and allow those guys to put the ball in play and let the defense work.”

Arrieta got locked back in from there, retiring eight batters in a row and 13 of the next 14. If the Indians are planning to start Cy Young Award winner Kluber two more times on short rest in this best-of-seven matchup — and unleash lefty reliever Andrew Miller at the most crucial moments — then the Cubs will need Arrieta to pitch like an ace.

Jason Kipnis — the Glenbrook North High School graduate who grew up a Cubs fan — ended Arrieta’s no-hit bid with one out in the sixth inning. Kipnis hit a ball into right-center field and hustled for a double, sliding headfirst into second base and eventually scoring on an Arrieta wild pitch.

With no chance to put a third no-hitter on his resume, Maddon gave Arrieta one more batter and pulled him after 98 pitches. Arrieta gave up one run on two hits and finished with six strikeouts before lefty swingman Mike Montgomery and star closer Aroldis Chapman got the final 10 outs.

If there were times last year where it felt like Arrieta had to be a one-man team, the Cubs now have an unrelenting lineup, the best defense in the game and a multidimensional bullpen, more than enough to win their first World Series since 1908. Wrigleyville will be absolutely rocking.

Jed Hoyer says Cubs plan to add depth before the trade deadline

Jed Hoyer says Cubs plan to add depth before the trade deadline

With the second half of the season about to kick off Thursday afternoon, the Cubs front office is in the final stretch of roster building as the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline looms.

Cubs General Manager Jed Hoyer spoke with NBC Sports Chicago's very own David Kaplan today on his ESPN 1000 radio show answering plenty of questions on what the Cubs' gameplan is before the trade deadline. 

There has already been a flurry of moves over the past few days, with two of the more enticing trade pieces being moved in new Dodger shortstop Manny Machado and former Padres reliever Brad Hand, who was traded to the Indians Thursday morning.

But when asked about going after big-name talent at the deadline, Hoyer explained while the team may "engage" in those conversations, the focus for him and the Cubs was on adding depth to the roster. 

"Obviously, we'll be involved in those [trade] discussions, but I do feel like adding depth is something we are going to do," Hoyer said. "We're going to be in on every discussion, but at the same time, I do believe we have the pieces internally to be a heck of a team." 

The name that has garnered attention recently has been Mets starting pitcher Jacob deGrom, who is currently having the best season of his career at age 30, but Hoyer made no indication the Cubs would once again facilitate another blockbuster deal.

And even with Tyler Chatwood struggling to locate in the strike zone this season, Hoyer made it clear the front office hasn't lost faith in their second biggest investment of the off-season. 

"We're confident [Chatwood] will have a better second half, we're going to have a really big, long pennant race," Hoyer said. "It's going to be really challenging second half and we're going to need all the pitching we can possibly get and I think Tyler is going to be a big part of that." 

In terms of team needs, the Cubs are a club with few holes on their roster but could stand to add more pitching in both the bullpen and rotation with everyone but Jon Lester having frustrating moments in the first half of the season.

Making moves similar to the Mike Montgomery trade in 2016 are what Hoyer relishes, telling Kaplan those are the moves the Cubs "pride themselves on." 

But when it comes to Cubs improving on their already impressive first half of baseball, Jed Hoyer continued to back the players who are currently on the roster.

And while it may not be the move that creates the social media buzz fans crave this time of year, Hoyer knows he can get more from his current roster in the second half. 

"There's no doubt that the best way we can get better is by having guys we already have [play] better than they have to date." 

 

Yadier Molina sees something familiar in Cubs: 'They remind me of what we were back in the day'

Yadier Molina sees something familiar in Cubs: 'They remind me of what we were back in the day'

Yadier Molina has been playing the Cubs for a decade and a half.

For 15 years, Molina has been one of the faces of the St. Louis Cardinals, making nine All-Star Games, winning eight Gold Gloves, playing in nine postseasons and winning a pair of World Series championships. And for much of that time, his Cardinals had the upper hand in the rivalry between the two National League Central foes.

But that's changed in recent years. The Cubs have ascended to the Cardinals' old spot as a perennial contender, and it was their defeat of the Cardinals in the NLDS back in 2015 that really seemed to usher in the current era of World Series expectations on the North Side.

If you watch any rivalry long enough, you'll see the balance of power shift back and forth. Molina has been watching this rivalry for a long time.

"They've got good chemistry, they've got good talent there, they play together," Molina said Tuesday in Washington, D.C., before suiting up alongside Willson Contreras and Javy Baez on the NL All-Star team. "So yeah, they remind me of what we were back in the day with the Cardinals."

High praise considering all that Molina and those old Cardinals teams accomplished.

It wasn't too long ago that the Cardinals were a dominant force in this division and in this rivalry. Between 2009 and 2015, the Cubs lost double-digit games to the Cardinals in all but one season. The Cardinals won a World Series title during that seven-year span (2011), ending all but one of those campaigns with a postseason appearance. The Cubs, meanwhile, had five straight fifth-place finishes and missed the playoffs in all but the last.

But since the end of the 2015 regular season, the Cubs are 30-20 against their biggest rivals, a record that includes that 3-1 series win in the 2015 NLDS.

And now it's the Cubs who have seemingly built a winning machine. Like the Cardinals dominated the division with a core cast of characters that included Molina as well as Albert Pujols, Adam Wainwright and Matt Holliday, the Cubs now have that reliable core featuring Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Baez, Contreras and so many others. They're expected to be at the top of the Central standings and compete for championships, just like the Cardinals were for much of a decade.

The Cardinals, of course, have quite recently been thrown into a state of atypical tumult with manager Mike Matheny fired in the middle of the season and a couple off-the-field controversies grabbing national headlines. That's not to say they're exactly out of contention, though, as they begin the second half with an above-.500 record, 7.5 games back of the division-leading Cubs and only four games back for the second NL wild card spot.

But when you compare the drama-drenched Cardinals with the Cubs — who while no one would describe as firing on all cylinders have managed to stay not far behind their 2016 pace — there's a noticeable gap, a gap that's somewhat crazy to think about for those who can remember the Cardinals' past dominance in this rivalry.

Though the Cardinals have actually won more head-to-head matchups this season (five of the eight), the five-game set to begin the second half — the first of eight games between the two teams over the next two weekends — would figure to favor the Cubs, who won 12 of 15 to close out the first half.

"It's important for us to go out there and try to win the series. Right now, we need that as a club," Molina said. "It's going to be tough. The Cubs, they're playing good baseball right now, they've got chemistry there. It's going to be tough, but our concentration is on trying to win the series."