Jake Arrieta hits the wall as Mets put Cubs in 0-2 NLCS hole


Jake Arrieta hits the wall as Mets put Cubs in 0-2 NLCS hole

NEW YORK – That aura of invincibility around Jake Arrieta should be gone now, the Cubs no longer feeling quite so unbeatable. The New York Mets ended that fantasy, leaving this dream season only two losses away from being over.

The Cubs quietly left Citi Field after Sunday night’s 4-1 loss, down 0-2 in a best-of-seven National League Championship Series that began with great expectations and now shifts to Wrigley Field with the Mets looking like the team of destiny.

The Mets ambushed Arrieta in the first inning. Any momentum the Cubs hoped to create simply vanished when David Wright lifted an RBI double over the head of Dexter Fowler and onto the warning track in center field. That 1-0 deficit felt even bigger with the temperature dropping to 45 degrees and Noah Syndergaard throwing 99-mph heat.   

The crowd of 44,502 then erupted when red-hot Daniel Murphy reached down and launched Arrieta’s curveball out toward the right-field seats. The ball stayed just inside the orange foul pole, a two-run shot giving Murphy five postseason homers this October.     

"There's not (nearly the same) margin for error (in the playoffs)," Arrieta said. “But at the end of the day, it’s hard to second-guess if the ball’s down a little bit or in a little bit more. Those are the spots you’re trying to locate. Sometimes, they just get to you.”

[MORE: Gary Sheffield sees Javier Baez taking game to next level in playoffs]

Arrieta said he felt fine physically, but he could be hitting the wall here, piling up almost 248 innings, or 92 more than he threw in the majors last season. At a certain point, it might not matter how well you eat or how hard you train or how much you want to be the best.    

“I don’t want to say he’s tired, because he’s in really good shape,” catcher Miguel Montero said. “But he’s a human. He can get tired as well. I don’t think he ever threw this many innings in his life.

“I don’t want to make up any excuses, because I don’t know what he feels like. But that could be (the) case.”  

By the third inning, the Cubs had lefty Travis Wood warming up in the bullpen, which would have been unthinkable while Arrieta put together arguably the greatest second half by a pitcher in major-league history.   

Between August, September, early October and that complete-game shutout of the Pittsburgh Pirates in an emotionally draining wild-card victory, Arrieta had allowed four earned runs combined.

Arrieta noticed he had trouble ratcheting up his velocity this time and worked in more changeups, allowing four runs in five innings on a night where the Cubs needed something closer to a perfect game. 

“I know he’s been huge for us and we kind of set the bar really high,” Montero said. “But he’s a baseball player, man. It’s gonna happen.”

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The St. Louis Cardinals already made Arrieta work in the divisional round, manufacturing four runs in 5.2 innings while the Cubs bailed out the pitcher who might have been their MVP. 

Arrieta covered for his teammates, fronting the rotation, taking pressure off a young lineup and saving the bullpen for a 97-win contender no one saw coming this year. The Cubs hadn’t lost a game Arrieta started since Cole Hamels threw a no-hitter for the Philadelphia Phillies on July 25 at Wrigley Field. Arrieta’s workload could finally be catching up to the Cubs now. 

“I can’t deny that it might be,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I don’t know that. If you ask him, he’ll tell you no. (If) that (radar) gun was correct on the field, he might have been down a mile an hour or two. 

“When that happens…the commitment to the breaking ball is not as definite from the hitter’s perspective, because they’re able to see everything better.

“He was not laboring to throw the ball. (It just) wasn’t as crisp as it had been, that’s all.”

This doesn’t mean Arrieta can’t get his mojo back or shouldn’t be next year’s Opening Day starter or won’t someday land a nine-figure contract. But he might have thrown his final pitch in 2015, no guarantees the Cubs come back to New York for a Game 6. 

“We’ve got work to do,” Arrieta said. “The good thing is we go home, play three games in Wrigley Field and (we’ll) come out ready to go.”

Cubs expected to hire Mike Napoli — David Ross' former teammate — as quality assurance coach

Cubs expected to hire Mike Napoli — David Ross' former teammate — as quality assurance coach

David Ross will not only be managing former teammates with the Cubs in 2020, but he'll be coaching alongside one, too.

The Cubs are expected to add former MLB catcher Mike Napoli to Ross' coaching staff, per multiple reports. Napoli will assume the title of quality assurance coach, vacated by Chris Denorfia, who held the position for one season.

Napoli played in parts of 12 big-league seasons from 2006-17 with the Angels, Rangers, Red Sox and Indians. He won the 2013 World Series with Boston — alongside Ross and Cubs starter Jon Lester — and was also a key figure with the 2016 Indians, whom the Cubs defeated in the World Series. He finished his career with a .246/.346/.475 slash line with 267 home runs. 

According to MLB Network's Jon Heyman, the Cubs pursued Napoli last winter, though the 38-year-old wanted to take a short break from baseball before jumping into coaching. He'll join a Cubs coaching staff that is almost finalized, with the exception of one vacant base coach spot. Here's what the group looks like right now:

Manager — David Ross
Bench coach — Andy Green
Pitching coach — Tommy Hottovy
Associate pitching coach, catching and strategy coach — Mike Borzello
Hitting coach — Anthony Iapoce
Assistant hitting coach — Terrmel Sledge
Bullpen coach — Chris Young
Base coach — Will Venable
Base coach — open
Quality assurance coach — Mike Napoli

Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said Tuesday the organization hopes to have the coaching staff finalized by the end of the week. With Napoli on board, the Cubs are one step closer to making that goal a reality.

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Fans apologize to Yu Darvish following Astros cheating allegations

Fans apologize to Yu Darvish following Astros cheating allegations

When the Dodgers acquired Yu Darvish at the 2017 trade deadline, he was expected to be one of the final pieces to their championship puzzle.

After a solid nine-start regular season with Los Angeles, Darvish was stellar early in the postseason. In two starts (one in the NLDS, one in the NLCS), he allowed two runs across 11.1 innings, racking up 14 strikeouts compared to a single walk.

Things went downhill for Darvish in the World Series, where he surrendered nine runs in 3.1 innings across two starts. This includes Game 7, when he threw 47 pitches in 1.2 innings, allowing five runs in a 5-1 series-clinching win for the Astros.

Darvish became a scapegoat for the Dodgers' World Series loss and faced heavy backlash from fans. Consequentially, he had concerns about re-signing with the Dodgers when he became a free agent that offseason, according to Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times, due to fears of how the city's anger towards him would affect his family.

Two years later, fans are now apologizing for directing their anger at Darvish for his World Series performance. Why?

Tuesday, The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich reported the Astros stole opposing teams' signs electronically during the 2017 season. This conflicts with the notion of Darvish tipping his pitches in the World Series, which an anonymous Astros player told Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci was the case.

The notion of Darvish tipping his pitches is now in question altogether:

As has often been the case this offseason, Darvish had a brilliant reaction to the whole situation on Twitter:

Darvish joined the Cubs in 2018 on a six-year deal. After an injury-riddled debut season with the Cubs, he took off post-All-Star break in 2019 and is expected to be the team's Opening Day starter in 2020. Although what happened in 2017 can't be changed, it's nice to see he's moved forward.

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