Jake Arrieta emerges as October star and gets locked in for Cubs-Cardinals


Jake Arrieta emerges as October star and gets locked in for Cubs-Cardinals

Jake Arrieta has emerged as a star this October, drawing comparisons to Joe Namath and Madison Bumgarner, making the Cubs believe he could become their answer to the 1969 New York Jets or last year’s San Francisco Giants.

The Cubs understood they had to split the first two games at Busch Stadium to give themselves a chance in this best-of-five National League division series against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Mission accomplished. Arrieta didn’t need to make any guarantees during Sunday’s news conference inside a cleaned-out storage room in the bowels of Wrigley Field. The Cubs can already hear the first-pitch roar for Monday’s Game 3 at The Friendly Confines.

“We’re pretty pumped about it,” pitcher Kyle Hendricks said. “You can feel it in the clubhouse right now. There’s some energy. There’s some buzz. Having Jake on the hill? Man, I wouldn't want to have any other guy in the world right now.”

Michael Wacha made his first All-Star team this year – and was the 2013 NLCS MVP – yet he is still being viewed as The Other Pitcher.

[MORE: Cubs put the pressure back on Cardinals with Jake Arrieta up next]

Because the Cubs are undefeated in Arrieta’s last 14 starts, his 0.75 ERA after the All-Star break is the lowest in major-league history and he made it look so easy during last week’s complete-game shutout of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the wild-card game.

“I’m confident in my ability to go out there (and) give us an outing that’s good enough to win the game,” Arrieta said. “Obviously on their side, Wacha has got the ability to be pretty darned good on the mound himself. You know, I just intend to keep us in the game, regardless of the circumstances, whatever comes up.

“But I like my chances to go out there and win us a ballgame.”

A reporter pointed out that Arrieta lost six times this year, including May 7 at Busch Stadium, and asked if he had any particular memories from that game.

“I don’t remember anything about it,” Arrieta said, his eyes darting around the room for the next question.

The Cubs are still guaranteed nothing with Arrieta on the mound.

[RELATED: Cubs reaping the benefits of Manny Ramirez's influence on Jorge Soler]

Clayton Kershaw – a three-time Cy Young Award winner and last year’s NL MVP – is 1-6 with a 4.99 ERA in 12 career playoff games for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

David Price – a five-time All-Star who had gone 9-1 with a 2.30 ERA since getting traded to the Toronto Blue Jays – gave up five runs and lost Game 1 to the Texas Rangers in their American League division series.

“Your weaknesses and your mistakes are exposed at a level maybe slightly above where they would be in the regular season,” Arrieta said. “Everybody’s attention to detail, everybody’s focus is at such a high level that when those little mistakes are made, the opposing lineups are able to capitalize on it.

“A lot of the times (with) David and Clayton, their stuff is so tremendous that they’ll get away with mistakes. But it’s a little bit different in October. It seems like (everybody’s) mentality is in that sweet spot (where) they’re not really fazed by anything.

“Sometimes it happens with momentum changes in the game, the atmosphere, the crowd noise. But everybody is pretty locked in at this point in the season. And that’s why the good teams still remain.

“You really, really got to be on top of your game to have success.”

[NBC SHOP: Buy a Jake Arrieta jersey]

When the Cubs acquired a Triple-A pitcher from the Baltimore Orioles in the middle of the 2013 season, no one thought Scott Feldman would become the answer to a trivia question or Arrieta would be mentioned in the same breath as the best pitchers on the planet.

“I’ve been through a lot in my career,” Arrieta said. “The failure that I’ve gone through makes me really appreciate the moments of success much more. I’ve had some pretty dark times in this game in my career. But I was dedicated to getting over the hump, to putting in the time, the effort, making any adjustments necessary to get to this point.

“I don’t think anything bothers me anymore.”

Kris Bryant's injury looms large as Cubs finish home stand in underwhelming fashion

Kris Bryant's injury looms large as Cubs finish home stand in underwhelming fashion

There are 162 baseball games in a season and some days, you’re just not going to have it. On Sunday afternoon, in a 10-2 loss to the Reds, the Cubs just didn’t have it. 

“It’s already in the trash can...” Maddon said. “... so let’s flush it out and move on.” 

Things were bleak from the very first at-bat of the game, when Kyle Schwarber took a 3-2 fastball looking for one of his three strikeouts on the day. Anthony Rizzo was the only starter not to strike out at least once, as the Cubs’ finished with 11. Reds starter Tanner Roark was responsible for 9 of them, his season-high. 

Things weren’t much better on the basepaths or in the field (2 errors). Anthony Rizzo was thrown out at the plate in the 2nd inning and David Bote got doubled-up at first after drawing a walk in the 6th. The Cubs were playing playing their 13th game in 13 days, and it showed.

“I feel really good about how we’ve been playing until today,” Maddon said. “This whole month we’ve been in almost every game except for this one, and maybe the [7-0 loss on May 10th] against Milwaukee. There’s not a whole lot to be upset about, and I’m not. I just want to make sure everyone’s well moving forward.” 

There was a scary moment in the 6th inning, as Kris Bryant and Jason Heyward collided in the right field gap while trying to make a play on a fly ball from Eugenio Suarez. Bryant was slow to get up and eventually had to leave the game. He’s still being evaluated for a head/neck injury, and the Cubs don’t yet know if he’ll go into concussion protocol. For what it's worth, Bryant was cleared to fly with the team. 

“He’s doing okay,” he said. “He’s still under evaluation. We don’t know exactly what we’re doing with this whole thing yet, but we’re trying to talk with the doctors and find out exactly where we’re at.”

“We collided, and I called for the ball,” Heyward added. “We were both going hard to make a play and ran into each other.”

The loss dropped starter Jose Quintana to 4-4 on the season. Quintana went 5.1 innings while allowing six runs on 12 hits with one walk and two strikeouts. Despite relatively weak contact, the Reds hit well all weekend. Their 42 hits over three games was the most for them in a three-game series at Wrigley since 1976, and they finished the weekend with a .404 BABIP. 

“Yeah, I just had to keep pitching, you know?” Quintana said. “Keeping my focus. It was really tough - too many base hits. In some contests that happens. I just try to stay close in the game.” 

The Cubs finished their 7-game homestand at 3-4, and now hit the road for a two-city trip. Up first comes the 35-19 Astros, who are 20-7 at home. This season Houston ranks first in on-base percentage, second in slugging percentage, and third in home runs. Their bullpn features Ryan Pressley, who currently has the lowest ERA of all qualified relievers and is fresh off a streak of 40 straight scoreless appearances.

“I’m excited,” Joe Maddon said before Sunday’s game. “Let’s get by today, but I’m excited for the whole week. Look at our schedule - it’s been pretty firm, and it continues to be pretty firm. And that’s the way it should be. I’m looking forward to it.” 

Kris Bryant leaves Sunday's game after outfield collision with Jason Heyward

Scott Chagnon/NBC Sports Chicago

Kris Bryant leaves Sunday's game after outfield collision with Jason Heyward

Add injury to insult for the Cubs. 

In the top of the 6th inning, with the Cubs already down 6 runs, right fielder Kris Bryant left the game after colliding with Jason Heyward in the outfield.

You can check out the video right here. 

It's possible that the move was simply precautionary. The Cubs are on their 13th game in 13 days, and being down six runs in the latter half of a getaway game isn't the time to roll the dice. That said, Bryant missing time would be a significant blow, as the Cubs' star is in the midst of a stellar season. Through 49 games, Bryant's slashing .288/.411/.576 with a .987 and a 160 wRC+. As of Sunday afternoon, only Javy Baez has a higher WAR (2.5) than Bryant (2.4). 

There's been no further announcement on the extent of Bryant's injury.