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.”

[MORE CUBS: Javier Baez making a playoff statement with his defense]

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.”

[MORE CUBS: Cubs expecting Jorge Soler back for Cardinals series]

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.”

Cubs still searching for answers for Tyler Chatwood's puzzling control issues

Cubs still searching for answers for Tyler Chatwood's puzzling control issues

Tyler Chatwood looked to be turning the corner with his control issues, but alas, he and the Cubs aren't so lucky.

After walking only two batters in a solid start in Atlanta last week, Chatwood had taken a big step in the right direction. It was, after all, only the third time he'd walked fewer than 5 batters in an outing this season.

Those control woes reared their ugly heads once again Tuesday night at Wrigley Field in a 10-1 loss to the Indians. Chatwood walked 6 batters and managed to net only 8 outs, getting hammered for 4 runs in the third inning.

"Ugh, it was tough," Maddon said. "The stuff was so good, we just couldn't get a strike."

"It's definitely frustrating," Chatwood said, "because one at-bat, I'll feel really good and the next one, I feel like I'm fighting myself.

"Last time [out], I was able to stay in the rhythm. Tonight, I was kinda battling, rushing rather than staying back, so it's just keeping that feeling and maintaining that."

His season ERA is only 3.74, which looks good until you consider his WHIP is 1.62 and he's walked 40 batters in 45.2 innings with only 41 strikeouts in the process. He now leads baseball in walks per 9 innings.

Chatwood said earlier this month in St. Louis that he's figured out what has led to the startling lack of control and while he didn't elaborate on the mechanical issue, he was working hard at correcting the problem in bullpens.

He's also used the term "fighting myself" at least a dozen times this month alone and it's become a common refrain for his explanation of what's going on. 

"He's got a busy delivery when he throws the baseball," Maddon said. "He's kinda busy what he does with his hands. It's not like he can just change it easily because that's how his arm works, how his body works.

"Sometimes, like you see him the other day, everything's on time and how good it can be and when it's out of sorts a bit, then all of the sudden it becomes shotgun. Ah man, you can see the movement [on his pitches] from the side, how good it is. 

"We gotta harness it somehow. I spoke to him briefly on the bench; I reassured him it's gonna be fine, it's gonna be really good by the end of the year. We gotta figure it out and he knows that. But man, that's good stuff. We just gotta get it in the zone."

Chatwood also admitted part of the problem is mental in that he's trying to force pitches rather than trusting his stuff. He's also gotten into the bad habit of drifting down the mound, though he's not sure when or where he picked up that hitch in his delivery.

Chatwood and Cubs pitching coach Jim Hickey are working on slowing his delivery down to get his arm in the same spot on a more consistent basis.

When the Cubs signed Chatwood over the winter, it was easy to see why.

He just turned 28 in December, his peripherals and a move from hitter-friendly Coors Field foretold a potential leap in performance and his stuff is nasty. Plus, he signed a three-year deal at a relative bargain of $38 million.

Once the Cubs signed Yu Darvish in spring training, you could make the case that Chatwood could be among the best No. 5 starters in baseball.

Nine starts later, the honeymoon period is well over with Chatwood, as he threw only 30 of his 74 pitches for strikes Tuesday night and sent catcher Willson Contreras sailing all around home plate for pitches way out of the zone.

Still, it's clear to see there is some intriguing talent there and the season there is roughly 70 percent of the season remaining before the Cubs make what they hope is another run at the World Series.

"I have a lot of faith," Maddon said. "I know we're gonna reap the rewards, the benefits as he figures this thing out."

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Marlon Byrd discusses his suspensions for PED use and Ozzie Guillen offers a solution to the PED problem

NBC Sports Chicago

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Marlon Byrd discusses his suspensions for PED use and Ozzie Guillen offers a solution to the PED problem

Ozzie Guillen explains why he thinks Manny Machado is a better fit for the Cubs than the White Sox. Plus, Guillen and Marlon Byrd react to 19-year-old Juan Soto hitting a homer in his first at-bat with the Nationals.

Later in the show the guys debate who had the better rants in front of the media: Guillen or Byrd?

Finally, Byrd opens up about his PED suspensions, relates to the guys caught using PEDs now and Guillen offers up a solution to rid baseball of PEDs entirely.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: