Jake Arrieta confident a shaky rotation (so far) will help launch Cubs again

Jake Arrieta confident a shaky rotation (so far) will help launch Cubs again

The Cubs still only have first-division problems. This isn’t the San Francisco Giants scrambling after Madison Bumgarner’s dirt-bike accident or the New York Mets letting Noah Syndergaard blow off an MRI or the Texas Rangers shutting down Cole Hamels for two months with a strained oblique muscle.

The Cubs haven’t dealt with that kind of rotation crisis through 200 wins across the last two seasons, six playoff rounds, a World Series title and an uneven April. As much as the Cubs built their franchise around Bryzzo Souvenir Co. and other young hitters, the foundation to that success has been an elite pitching-and-defense unit.

This certainly didn’t look or feel like the Cubs operating at peak efficiency, but Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta have now won back-to-back games at Wrigley Field after Wednesday night’s 5-4 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies. Ultimately, that’s how a 15-12 first-place team will create some separation in the National League Central.

“Collectively, I don’t think we’re throwing the ball as well as we would like,” Arrieta said. “Sometimes, that’s just the game of baseball kind of rearing its head and letting you know that anything is possible in this game. Once you think you have it figured out, you kind of get bit in the ass.

“It’s a good sign we’re at where we are without throwing the ball as crisp as we’re capable of as a staff. But we’re all confident that things will change for the positive. Everybody’s grinding. Everybody’s working hard and trying to get their A-stuff to show up every night.”

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Whether or not all those extra innings and high-stress situations catch up to the Cubs at some point, manager Joe Maddon doesn’t see the point in worrying about it now, believing in a rotation that began the day with a 4.66 ERA that ranked 26th in the majors and now has only 10 quality starts through 27 games.

“To actually keep our head above water while it’s not happening, I kind of like it, because I know it’s going to happen,” Maddon said. “Our guys are good. They’re well. They’re going to continue to pitch better.

“For us to be in the position that we’re in right now while they’re not at the top of their game, I kind of like it, actually, because they’re going to be there. They’re going to pitch very similar to what you’ve seen the last couple years. I really 100 percent believe that.”

Arrieta (4-1, 4.63 ERA) recovered after the Phillies jumped out to a 2-0 lead, continuing a trend where the Cubs have now allowed 35 runs in the first inning this season. Maybe the three runs Arrieta allowed across six innings could be written off in part by Ben Zobrist — one of the steadiest, most versatile defenders of his generation — not finishing the great plays Gold Glove winner Jason Heyward might have made in right field. Arrieta focused on the four innings where he needed 12 pitches or less to handle the Phillies (12-14).

The rotation is where the Cubs are most vulnerable as an organization, from the gaps in the farm system to Arrieta and John Lackey (38 years old) positioned to become free agents after this season to Brett Anderson’s thick medical file to all the wear and tear from back-to-back playoff runs.

“But it’s not just them,” Maddon said. “The defense has been not as sharp as it can be. (And) for the most part, our whole game, I believe, is going to continue to trend north. So I’m not really concerned right now.”


Cubs aren’t trading Yu Darvish this winter, despite reported inquiries

Cubs aren’t trading Yu Darvish this winter, despite reported inquiries

Whether the Cubs trade a member of their position player core this winter — i.e. Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras — is to be determined. Both have been fixtures of rumors this offseason, and the Cubs may make a deal to replenish their barren farm system and retool their roster with the organization’s long-term stability in mind.

Yu Darvish, on the other hand, is a different story.

No, the Cubs won’t be trading Darvish this winter, despite the inquiries they received at the Winter Meetings this week, according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post.

A year ago, this would be an entirely different conversation. Darvish was coming off a disappointing debut season on the North Side in which he made eight starts and posted a 4.95 ERA in 40 innings. He didn’t throw a single big-league pitch after May 20 due to a lingering arm issue that led to surgery last November.

2019 was only Year 2 of the lucrative six-year contract Darvish signed in February 2018. But between the injury and his struggles before it that season, the narrative entering 2019 was shifting towards Darvish being a potential bust.

The narrative around Darvish is obviously much different now, thanks to the stellar second half performance he put together last season. In 13 starts, the 33-year-old delivered a 2.76 ERA, striking out 118 batters compared to a measly seven walks in 81 2/3 innings.

Not only was Darvish walking the walk, but he was talking the talk. He was determined to turn things around after posting a 5.01 ERA in the first half, asking then manager Joe Maddon to start the Cubs’ first game after the All-Star break. The result? Six innings of two-hit, no-run ball with eight strikeouts and one walk. Darvish's comeback was officially on.

Bust? Darvish is far from it now. He opted in to the remaining four years of his contract earlier this offseason, calling the Cubs "perfect" for him.

If the Cubs were entering a rebuild, fielding Darvish trade offers would make plenty of sense. He's owed $81 million through 2023, a bargain compared to the deals Gerrit Cole (nine years, $324 million — Yankees) and Stephen Strasburg (seven years, $245 million — Nationals) earned this offseason. Darvish's contract is desirable, and trading him would help alleviate the Cubs' notoriously tight payroll situation, freeing up money for them to put towards other needs.

But the Cubs aren’t rebuilding, and trading Darvish would create a tremendous hole in a rotation with plenty of uncertainty after next season. José Quintana is set to hit free agency after 2020 and Jon Lester could join him, if his 2021 option doesn’t vest (he must pitch 200 innings next season for that to occur). Heck, even Tyler Chatwood's deal is up after 2020.

In one season, Darvish has elevated himself to the No. 1 pitcher in the Cubs rotation. The Cubs won't be better next season if they trade Bryant or Contreras, but they'd still be competitive and acquire assets for the future.

One player doesn't make a team in baseball, but the Cubs need Darvish in their rotation, not someone else's. Unless they're absolutely blown away by a trade offer, Darvish isn't going anywhere.

Sports Talk Live Podcast: MLB 2019 Winter Meetings come to an end

NBC Sports Chicago

Sports Talk Live Podcast: MLB 2019 Winter Meetings come to an end

SportsTalk Live is on location in San Diego for the final day of the MLB Winter Meetings.

0:00- Chuck Garfien, Tony Andracki and Vinnie Duber join Kap to recap the Winter Meetings. Tony was right-- the Cubs didn't make a move. Plus, should the White Sox have done more in San Diego?

12:00- Legendary baseball writer Peter Gammons joins Kap and Chuck. The talk about the price for pitching and what the Cubs might do with Kris Bryant. Plus, Gammons talks about a text he received saying the White Sox were talking with the Red Sox about Andrew Benintendi and David Price. Would that make sense for the Southsiders?

20:00- White Sox World Series winning closer Bobby Jenks joins Kap to discuss his emotional article in The Players Tribune. They discuss his injuries with the Red Sox, the back surgery that almost cost him his life and then his downward spiral into addiction.

Listen here or via the embedded player below:

Sports Talk Live Podcast