Cubs

Jake Arrieta is human against Cardinals — but Cubs are that good

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Jake Arrieta is human against Cardinals — but Cubs are that good

Jake Arrieta is human and not some cyborg sent to destroy the St. Louis Cardinals. But just remember the T-shirt cut into a tank top to show off his muscles: “We Are Good.”

The Cubs still pounded the Cardinals during Monday’s 8-6 victory at Wrigley Field — even with Arrieta off his game in Game 3 and not inviting comparisons to Bob Gibson or Madison Bumgarner.

That underlines why the Cubs are now in position to end this on Tuesday and clinch their first playoff series ever at Clark and Addison, where they’ve been playing for 100 years.

“It was a huge team win,” Arrieta said. “Special night.”

[MORE CUBS: Cubs out-slug Cardinals to take commanding control of NLDS]

This became a missed opportunity for a proud Cardinals team that found a way to beat Clayton Kershaw twice in last year’s National League Division Series, eliminating the Los Angeles Dodgers in only four games.

The Cubs and Cardinals understood this would be a pivot point in a best-of-five matchup between two iconic rivals, with Arrieta becoming a breakout star in October and giving this young team so much confidence.

“You know how tough baseball is,” second baseman Starlin Castro said. “That guy — he does a lot for us. All the time. We score like one run and he picks us up. Today, we scored a lot of runs for him. We got his back.”

Manager Joe Maddon — who likes to say Arrieta’s pitch count goes to infinity — took the ball from his No. 1 starter after 97 pitches. Jason Heyward reached out and drove a curveball out to left field for a two-run homer that inning and Arrieta just hit Brandon Moss with a pitch, leaving a runner on with two outs in the sixth, ending his unbelievable run of 21 consecutive quality starts.

“I got out of rhythm a little bit,” Arrieta said. “It’s a different environment in the playoffs. You have to control the emotions and try and conserve energy when you have the ability to do so. It’s a learning process.

“They made it tough. They made me battle. They made me work for it.”

[MORE CUBS: Addison Russell's status uncertain for Cubs-Cardinals Game 4]

Arrieta’s final line: Four runs on five hits and two walks plus nine strikeouts, still earning the victory against baseball’s best team during the regular season.

Arrieta had given up four runs total since the middle of August, a brilliant run of 10 starts that included a no-hitter at Dodger Stadium and a complete-game shutout of the Pittsburgh Pirates in that wild-card game.

It transformed Arrieta into a Cy Young Award frontrunner and a huge national story. Not bad for someone who put up a 5.46 ERA across parts of four seasons with the Baltimore Orioles before getting traded to the Cubs in July 2013.

“He’s human,” catcher Miguel Montero said. “This is gonna happen. I’m actually happy that it happened, because I realize that he’s human. I was a little concerned about it.”

Arrieta looked out of sync, leading off the fourth inning by walking Stephen Piscotty (and almost drilling his helmet) and Matt Holliday (on four pitches). A crowd of 42,411 fell silent when Jhonny Peralta doubled off the ivy in left field, scoring Piscotty to tie the game, but Cubs fans didn’t need to panic. A relentless lineup just kept coming and coming, setting a postseason record with six home runs and turning into a worst nightmare for Cardinals fans.

“These are two big boys duking it out,” Arrieta said. “It’s like a heavyweight fight. The Cardinals won 100 games in the regular season. We had 97 (wins). We can both really play. It’s pretty much going to come down to the team that makes the fewest mistakes.”

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.