Cubs

Jake Arrieta on Cubs: ‘Nobody wants to play us right now’

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Jake Arrieta on Cubs: ‘Nobody wants to play us right now’

The Cubs feel invincible right now, and it’s not just all the beer and champagne talking after eliminating the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals, two teams that won 198 games combined during the regular season and are now free to go golfing/hunting/fishing.

Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester are ready and waiting for the Los Angeles Dodgers or New York Mets, whichever big-market franchise wins Thursday’s do-or-die Game 5 on the West Coast and advances to what will be a glamorous National League championship series.

“We’re a scary team to play,” Arrieta said amid the celebration on Tuesday night at Wrigley Field. “Nobody wants to play us right now. We’re tough to beat.”

[MORE: At Wrigley, Cubs become baseball's biggest party and best story]

The Cardinals learned that the hard way in the first-ever playoff matchup between two rivals have been competing against each other since 1892, helplessly watching the Cubs blast 10 home runs in four games and turning Clark and Addison into a huge block party.

“They’re the team to beat,” Arrieta said. “Or they have been for the past however many years. To go through the Pirates in the wild-card game and now the Cardinals – we feel like we can beat anybody. We’re a tough team to play, no matter who it is.”

Lester didn’t want this series to go back to Busch Stadium and reached out to manager Joe Maddon, saying he could pitch in Game 4. Maddon used eight other pitchers in a 6-4 victory and had already ruled out the idea of using Arrieta in a must-win Game 5 that’s no longer necessary.

[RELATED: Cubs finish Cardinals with Javier Baez starring in Addison Russell's absence]   

So while Los Angeles and New York will do everything to survive and advance, the Cubs can line up this year’s potential Cy Young Award winner and a two-time World Series champion for Saturday and Sunday at either Dodger Stadium or Citi Field.

“That’s big,” Lester said. 

Arrieta created unrealistic expectations by putting up the lowest ERA (0.75) after the All-Star break in major-league history and shutting out the Pirates during a complete-game victory in the wild-card showdown. His run of 21 consecutive quality starts – which included that no-hitter at Dodger Stadium on Aug. 30 – ended with Monday’s Game 4 win.  

But the Cubs believe superior conditioning, mechanical awareness and mental toughness will allow Arrieta to keep building on his career-high innings (almost 244 and counting) and pitch all the way through October.

[NBC SHOP: Buy Cubs playoff gear]

The Cubs had nights like this in mind when they signed Lester (2.66 ERA in 91-plus postseason innings) to a six-year, $155 million megadeal last winter.

Los Angeles? New York? Who cares? The Cubs have an anyone/anytime/anywhere attitude now.

“This is just the first step,” Lester said. “We’ve got a long ways to go and hopefully more celebrations ahead of us.”

Nico Hoerner makes great catch in first game with South Bend

Nico Hoerner makes great catch in first game with South Bend

Cubs first-round pick Nico Hoerner made his debut with the Class-A South Bend Cubs, and he did not disappoint.

The 23-year old shortstop showed off impressive hops during an acrobatic grab in the topf of the second inning in his first game with the South Bend Cubs. Hoerner will surely be an exciting defensive prospect with ability like this.

As far as offense goes, through four at-bats at South Bend, Hoerner is batting .500, and this comes after he hit .318 with a home run and two RBI through seven games with the Eugene Emeralds, the Cubs Class A short-season affiliate.

Here is to hoping we continue to see big-time plays from Hoerner.

Jose Quintana can't wait to face Eloy Jimenez someday

Jose Quintana can't wait to face Eloy Jimenez someday

One year after arguably the biggest trade ever between the Cubs and White Sox, both sides are feeling pretty happy with their returns.

Jose Quintana has had a bit of a disappointing 2018 campaign overall, but he's been really solid lately, posting a 3.00 ERA and 1.27 WHIP since April 22 — a span of 14 starts.

He struggled in two starts against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series last fall, but shut the Nationals down in two games (one start, one relief appearance) in the NLDS, allowing only 3 hits and a pair of walks in 6.1 innings.

All told, Quintana is 15-9 with a 3.86 ERA, 1.25 WHIP and 185 strikeouts in 182 innings a Cubs uniform.

Meanwhile, the White Sox boast one of the strongest farm systems in the game thanks to Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease, the main pieces from the Cubs for Quintana last summer.

Jimenez has a .313 average, .912 OPS, 12 homers and 46 RBI in 65 games this season between Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte. The 21-year-old outfielder was ranked the No. 4 prospect in the game by Baseball America prior to the 2018 campaign.

Cease is a bit further away from Chicago, but the 22-year-old is also having a strong season. He's 10-2 with a 2.95 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 10.7 K/9 in 16 starts this year, with his last 3 outings coming for Double-A Birmingham.

Some Cubs fans may be expecting an ace out of Quintana, but there's enormous value in a guy that's under team control through the 2020 season and due just over $30 million for the 3.5 seasons' worth of contributions.

Still, Quintana understands it was a hefty cost the Cubs paid for his services and he embraces the challenge.

"These guys are gonna be All-Stars,"  Quintana said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. "I've heard good things. I want to continue to do the best I can, but I know it was a huge trade. I know [the Cubs] paid a lot for me. That's a good feeling, you know? 

"It helps that [Jimenez and Cease] are doing good. I know they're younger, but it's amazing to be in that trade. I'm more happy right now to be here. Best of luck to them. 

"One time I'm going to face Jimenez, too, so I'm going to enjoy that."

We may not have to wait long to find out: The Cubs head to the South Side Sept. 21-23 for a 3-game set, when Jimenez could be getting his first taste of MLB life as a September call-up for the White Sox.