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.”
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.
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.
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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.”