Jake Arrieta gives Cubs the confidence to beat Pirates in October


Jake Arrieta gives Cubs the confidence to beat Pirates in October

PITTSBURGH — Jake Arrieta is obsessed with pushing himself and finding different ways to improve, but he hasn’t been fixated on 20 wins the way the media has zeroed in on that magic number.

Arrieta says he thinks about pitching in October every day. That will remain his focus — not 20 wins or a Cy Young Award or his next contract — until he goes home to Austin, Texas, this winter and looks back on an unbelievable season.

The Cubs have bigger things in mind, cutting their playoff magic number to 10 with a 3-2 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates that took 12 innings on Wednesday night at PNC Park.

“We’re going to be really tough (to beat),” Arrieta said. “We have a lineup that consists of a lot of young players who are playing maybe beyond their years, which is something that I don’t think surprises a lot of us here.

“These guys can really play. And learning how to grow up in this atmosphere is something that’s only going to accelerate their careers.”

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Arrieta has already taken the huge leap forward, notching 19 wins, passing the 200-innings mark for the first time and dazzling a national-television audience with that no-hitter at Dodger Stadium.

Arrieta threw 117 pitches and accounted for eight innings, allowing only two runs (one earned) and finishing with five strikeouts against one walk in a no-decision that again showed why the Cubs will be a dangerous playoff opponent.

“It’s unbelievable how that guy handles those kind of games,” Starlin Castro said. “If we score a run, with that guy on the mound, we got a lot of confidence and a lot of trust that we can win that night.”

Arrieta has been remarkably consistent throughout the season — 17 straight quality starts now — and particularly good against the Pirates (87-58). He has given up only three earned runs across 29 innings to the team he will likely face in the National League’s wild-card game on Oct. 7.

“I feel comfortable against anybody,” Arrieta said. “The team that I’m facing on any given day isn’t really something I put a lot of thought and effort into. I just try and scout and do my homework as well as I can. And then kind of go from there.

“Three games in the series thus far, three one-run games. (The Pirates) play very sound, fundamental baseball. They’ve got guys at the top of the order who can manufacture things (and guys who can) drive them in. They’re very balanced. They’ve got a lot of weapons. And we play them tough.”

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Arrieta (1.96) is trying to become the first qualifying Cubs pitcher to finish with a sub-2.00 ERA since Hall of Famer Grover Cleveland Alexander in 1920. That kind of sustained dominance should prevent the kind of epic collapse it would take for this team to miss the playoffs.

But knowing the stakes, Arrieta couldn’t believe his throwing error with two outs in the sixth inning (near the end of a season where we’ve devoted so much bandwidth, airtime and newspaper ink to Jon Lester’s yips).

Arrieta fielded the ball Starling Marte hit back to the pitcher’s mound, sort of hopped twice and lobbed a high throw to first base that bounced off the top of Anthony Rizzo’s glove. Marte didn’t seem to be running all that hard down the line, quickly accelerated and pushed Rizzo as he turned away from the base. Gregory Polanco kept running and scored an unearned run before Marte got thrown out at second.

“I made an inexcusable mental mistake (that) could have ended up potentially costing us the game,” Arrieta said. “That’s my one takeaway.

“Even though we won the game, that’s going to bother me for awhile. That’s just kind of personally the way I am. Luckily, we were able to pull it out and come out on top. I’ll just use that for future reference and not let it happen again.”

[MORE CUBS: This is nice for Cubs, but Jon Lester signed up to win World Series]

The Cubs got contributions from all over, Kris Bryant’s RBI double off the left-field wall followed by Castro driving in another run with a bunt in the sixth inning. There was Javier Baez throwing out a runner at the plate in the eighth inning and a defense that turned four double plays. Pedro Strop and Fernando Rodney became the bridge to Hector Rondon, who threw two scoreless innings to earn the win.

The Cubs manufactured the winning run in the 12th inning with back-to-back singles from Chris Denorfia and Austin Jackson. Pinch-runner Quintin Berry scored on Rizzo’s sacrifice fly to left field, moving the Cubs to within three games of the Pirates for home-field advantage in the wild-card game.

The Pirates seem to be more concerned with catching the St. Louis Cardinals and closing their four-game gap within the division. But after watching Lester’s complete-game performance here on Tuesday night, the Cubs know they can do some damage.

“On the mound, we’re extremely confident,” Arrieta said. “Obviously, Lester is a proven ace who can handle the pressure and handle the big situations in October. We’re in a good spot.

“Lester and I and the other guys know what we have to do to extend our season.”

Yu Darvish emotional after Cubs lose another tough one: 'I'm so frustrated'

Yu Darvish emotional after Cubs lose another tough one: 'I'm so frustrated'

With their postseason hopes fading by the day and the Cubs needing him most, Yu Darvish delivered on Sunday.

And yet, the game ended in a far-too familiar way for the Cubs: with a 3-2 loss, the Cubs’ fifth-straight one-run defeat — and third since Thursday when they were tied or leading in the ninth inning or later.

“If you just play back the tape, it’s almost unbelievable that it turned out this way,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “Also, the games against Cincinnati. For the last six, this is really wash and repeat. Of course it’s frustrating."

Darvish was extremely emotional postgame, as evidenced by a mud stain spread across his locker resulting from an anger-laced throw of his cleat. He pitched well — 8 1/3 innings, three earned runs, 12 strikeouts and no walks — only running into trouble in the ninth.

“I’m so frustrated, you can see it, right?” he said, looking back at his locker. “We have to win, especially today, but we lost.”

The 33-year-old right-hander was rolling heading into the ninth, which started off with pinch-hit triple by Jose Martinez that hit off Albert Almora Jr.’s glove, despite a valiant diving effort.

“It sucks that we couldn’t win that game,” Almora said. “I really wanted to make that play there. Can’t catch them all, but I tried.”

For what it’s worth, Craig Kimbrel didn’t pitch Sunday because he was unavailable, though Maddon said he would’ve stuck with Darvish even if his closer was available.

"I was happy at that point, but right now everything just….There’s no words right now," Darvish said.

That’s neither here nor there, though. What matters is that the Cubs lost another game that they seemed to have in their grasp, only to see it slip away late. They're now eliminated from NL Central contention, and their elimination number in the Wild Card race is three.

Even Maddon struggled to explain the series, one where the Cubs played quite well but only saw their playoff hopes take a big hit.

“It’s really difficult,” he said. “You look at it, how did that all happen? How did we lose all those four games? They were just one runner better than us every night and they were really evenly matched. That’s all I will concede.”

Although Darvish admitted he feels responsible for Sunday’s loss, Maddon spoke highly of the right-hander, even comparing how he's pitched to what Jake Arrieta did during his tenure with the Cubs. 

“I saw Jake pitch really well and win a Cy Young, but this is equivalent of all of that,” he said. “The stuff, command of his stuff. [Darvish] absolutely deserved a better fate.”

Whether you think that Maddon was being too hyperbolic there or not, there’s no doubting that Darvish looked excellent for majority of his outing on Sunday. Baseball is a game of inches, something the Cubs experienced firsthand this weekend.

“They got us. They got us,” Maddon said. “Give them credit for that, but we did not leave anything on the field, man.”

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Cubs Talk Podcast: Swept by the Cardinals (and playoff dreams dashed)

USA Today

Cubs Talk Podcast: Swept by the Cardinals (and playoff dreams dashed)

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, Tony Andracki and Kelly Crull discuss the Cardinals sweep, Yu Darvish taking the loss so hard, and what to look for over the final six games of the year.

01:00 - Reaction to being swept by the Cards

03:30 - Darvish taking the loss really hard

05:30 - This is the Yu Darvish Cubs fans thought they were getting when he signed with the Cubs

07:00 - Almora's miscue in the 9th inning of the loss

08:00 - It feels like the end of an era

12:00 - Is this the end of an era for the Cubs?

16:00 - Surprised Rizzo was available on the field for the entire Cardinals series?

20:00 - There is no one thing you can look to that didn't work this season

22:00 - What do you want to see over the final six games?

25:00 - Seeing a cornerstone being helped off the field for a second Sunday in a row

29:00 - How much will we see the injured guys on the field?

Listen here or in the embedded player below. 

Cubs Talk Podcast