Cubs

Jake Arrieta gets locked in with Cubs and makes no-hitter history

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Jake Arrieta gets locked in with Cubs and makes no-hitter history

LOS ANGELES — Jake Arrieta cemented his status as one of the game’s best pitchers with this no-hitter, still hitting 96 mph in the ninth inning, using his brute force and analytical sense to make the Los Angeles Dodgers look helpless.

Arrieta screamed and flexed his muscles after burying another slider, striking out Chase Utley for the exclamation point to this 2-0 victory. Arrieta strode from the mound and into the arms of Cubs catcher Miguel Montero.

The mosh pit formed around Arrieta, who made baseball history on Sunday night at iconic Dodger Stadium, in front of a national-television audience and in the middle of a pennant race that has re-energized this franchise and a starving fan base.

Arrieta is a huge reason why baseball matters in Chicago this summer, why the Cubs could be playing deep into October, this year and beyond.

What a way to end a difficult West Coast trip and return home to Wrigleyville with a 5 1/2-game lead over the San Francisco Giants for the second wild card.

“It’s something everybody wants,” Arrieta said. “Every kid thinks about it. Little League, high school, college, minor leagues, you think about it. It’s almost impossible not to, because everybody that plays this game wants to accomplish great things.”

[MORE CUBS: GIF: Cubs' Jake Arrieta finishes no-hitter vs. Dodgers]

The Dodgers had no chance against Arrieta, who struck out 12 of the 29 hitters he faced and allowed only six flyballs, throwing 80 of his 116 pitches for strikes. He lowered his ERA to 2.11 and now leads the majors with 17 wins.

“He has that kind of stuff nightly,” manager Joe Maddon said. “It’s really crazy. The ball looks like a Wiffle ball. Even from the side, you can see the break on the slider, the cutter and the curveball. Right now, he’s just pitching on a different level regarding velocity and movement.

“And he deserves it. If you watch this guy work — I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody work any harder.”

Arrieta is a fitness freak with a Pilates routine and 4 percent body fat. He’s also a student of the game who believes in visualization, inhaling all the data and breaking down hitters on video.

During a postgame toast inside the visiting clubhouse, Arrieta turned to teammate Dan Haren and asked: How did I get the last three outs?

In front of a big crowd (46,679) that sensed the moment, Arrieta struck out Justin Turner, Jimmy Rollins and Utley to end the game in a blur.

[MORE CUBS: Cubs celebrate Jake Arrieta's no-hitter with pajama party]

“He was locked in,” Haren said.

“Everything happens so fast,” Arrieta said. “The sequences are happening so quickly that from time to time you have a hard time replaying (it).”

The 10th no-hitter in franchise history since 1900 will be replayed forever on some future Cubs network. Carlos Zambrano threw the franchise’s last no-hitter in 2008 against the Houston Astros at Milwaukee’s Miller Park in a game relocated because of Hurricane Ike.

The only quasi-controversial call came in the third inning when Kike Hernandez smashed a ball directly at Starlin Castro. It took a short hop and bounced off the second baseman for an error.

“That’s an error,” Castro said. “If it hits my backhand, maybe it’s going to be a hit. But it’s right on me. I didn’t even move anywhere.”

“Initially, I thought it was a hit,” Arrieta said. “It was a tough play (and Hernandez) hit it pretty well. I thought it could have gone either way. I wasn’t aware that it was an error until an inning or two later. It was kind of out of sight, out of mind.”

[WATCH CUBS: Montero on Arrieta: 'He was Jake, impressive every time he goes out']

That’s the laser focus Arrieta has developed since that trade with the Baltimore Orioles in the middle of the 2013 season, a year that saw him make 15 starts on the Triple-A level at the age of 27.

Arrieta has now made 14 straight quality starts, and the last Cub to do that was Greg Maddux in 1992, the first of his four straight Cy Young seasons (and last one in Chicago).

Theo Epstein’s front office took a chance on Arrieta’s raw talent and a strong coaching staff — Chris Bosio, Mike Borzello and Lester Strode in particular — has allowed that natural ability to flow.

“Of course,” Arrieta said, that Scott Feldman trade will be a defining moment in his career. “It was approaching that period of time when I was with Baltimore that I knew things might happen. And they did.

“I was embraced by everybody. Everybody made me feel extremely welcome, and the comfort level was there from the get-go. It was like a seamless transition.

“I came over here and started doing some things I knew I was capable of doing to help me be more consistent. The momentum just continued to roll.”

Like on Sunday night, when Castro made a nice play while grabbing Carl Crawford’s line drive to end the seventh inning. And there was new franchise shortstop Addison Russell ending the eighth by charging a chopper up the middle and making an off-balance throw to first base to get Hernandez.

“We want every ball hit to us,” Castro said. “After the fifth inning, we said: ‘We got this.’ Because that guy is nasty. Every time. It’s unbelievable.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Manny Machado’s value and other Cubs offseason wish list items

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Manny Machado’s value and other Cubs offseason wish list items

Did Manny Machado’s value take a hit at all after he openly admitted hustling isn’t his “cup of tea”? Our Cubs team (David Kaplan, Kelly Crull, Tony Andracki, Jeff Nelson) debate that, plus the potential fit of Machado or Bryce Harper for the 2019 Cubs and beyond.

The crew also runs down the top items on the Cubs’ offseason wish list – ranging from bullpen help to infield depth to a set leadoff hitter – in what may be the most impactful winter in Theo Epstein’s tenure in Chicago.

Listen to the podcast here or via the embedded player below:

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

There are plenty of intriguing Cubs storylines to monitor this offseason from their potential pursuit of the big free agents to any other changes that may come to the coaching staff or roster after a disappointing finish to the 2018 campaign.

But there's one question simmering under the radar in Cubs circles when it comes to this winter: How will the team solve the shortstop conundrum?

Just a few years ago, the Cubs had "too many" shortstops. Now, there are several different factors at play here that makes it a convoluted mess.

First: What will the Cubs do with Addison Russell? The embattled shortstop is in the midst of a suspension for domestic violence that will keep him off an MLB diamond for at least the first month of 2019.

Has Russell already played his last game with the Cubs? Will they trade him or send him packing in any other fashion this winter?

Theo Epstein mentioned several times he felt the organization needs to show support to the victim in the matter (Russell's ex-wife, Melisa) but also support for Russell. Does that mean they would keep him a part of the team at least through the early part of 2019?

Either way, Russell's days in Chicago are numbered and his play on the field took another big step back in 2018 as he fought through a hand injury and experienced a major dip in power. With his performance on the field and the off-field issues, it will be hard to justify a contract worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million in his second year of arbitration (prorated, with a month's worth of pay taken out for the suspension).

Even if Russell is on the roster in 2019, Javy Baez is unquestionably the shortstop for at least the first month while Russell is on suspension. 

But what about beyond Baez if the Cubs want to give him a breather or disaster strikes and he's forced to miss time with an injury?

At the moment, there's nothing but question marks on the current Cubs shortstop depth chart throughout the entire organization and they're certainly going to need other options at the most important defensive position (outside of pitcher/catcher). 

There's David Bote, who subbed in for Baez at short once in September when Baez needed a break and Russell was on the disabled list. But while Bote's defense at third base and second base has opened eyes around the Cubs, he has only played 45 games at short across seven minor-league seasons, including 15 games in 2018. There's also the offensive question marks with the rookie, who hit just .176 with a .559 OPS and 40 strikeouts in 108 at-bats after that epic ultimate grand slam on Aug. 12.

The Cubs' other current shortstop options include Mike Freeman (a 31-year-old career minor-leaguer), Ben Zobrist (who will be 38 in 2019 and has played all of 13 innings at shortstop since 2014), Ryan Court (a 30-year-old career minor leaguer) and Chesny Young (a 26-year-old minor-leaguer who has posted a .616 OPS in 201 Triple-A games).

Maybe Joe Maddon would actually deploy Kris Bryant at shortstop in case of emergency like a Baez injury ("necessity is the mother of invention," as Maddon loves to say), but that seems a lot more like a fun talking point than a legit option at this current juncture.

So even if Russell sticks around, there's no way the Cubs can go into the first month of the season with just Baez and Bote as the only shortstop options on a team that with World Series or bust expectations.

The Cubs will need to acquire some shortstop depth this winter in some capacity, whether it's adding to the Triple-A Iowa roster or getting a veteran who can also back up other positions. Right now, the free agent pool of potential shortstops is pretty slim beyond Manny Machado.

Epstein always says he and his front office look to try to mitigate risk and analyze where things could go wrong to sink the Cubs' season and through that lense, shortstop is suddenly right up there behind adding more bullpen help this winter.