Jake Arrieta looks like his old self as Cubs win fifth straight

Jake Arrieta looks like his old self as Cubs win fifth straight

It’s hard to not view Jake Arrieta in the extreme when he has transformed himself from a Triple-A pitcher thinking about quitting baseball into a Cy Young Award winner and a World Series hero.

This is someone who trolls fans on Twitter, poses naked for ESPN the Magazine and says whatever he wants to reporters. He is the centerpiece to one of the greatest trades in franchise history and a major part of one of the biggest stories ever in professional sports.

From the frustrating lows with the Baltimore Orioles to the dizzying highs as a Cub, the arc of this story doesn’t lend itself to measured responses or detached analysis.

After being must-see TV for the no-hitter possibilities, Arrieta Watch has morphed into referendums on what he will get paid as a free agent this winter. Sometimes, it feels like it’s either Max Scherzer money or one wrong mechanical tweak or velocity downtick away from falling over the cliff.

When in reality this game is way too hard to be understood as a daily stock chart. Just like the Cubs as a whole, Arrieta is too confident, polished and accomplished to be fluctuating that wildly.

Don’t look now, but the Cubs are on a five-game winning streak after Tuesday night’s 10-2 victory over the Miami Marlins at Wrigley Field, where Arrieta settled into the kind of groove needed to keep this momentum rolling.

“We haven’t necessarily changed our mindset or our outlook (just) based on our performance, negative or positive,” Arrieta said. “That’s probably the most important thing we can do — just stay even-keel — whether we’re going well or not.

“Put the night prior behind you and show up for the next game as prepared as possible and try and win that ballgame. That’s what we do so well when we’re winning games consistently.”

That feeling starts with a lights-out rotation. After giving up back-to-back walks, handing the Marlins a 1-0 lead and throwing 34 pitches in the first inning, Arrieta retired 16 hitters in a row and walked off the mound to a standing ovation in the seventh inning from the crowd of 34,082.

Coming home from an 0-for-6 West Coast trip, the Cubs (30-27) have swept the St. Louis Cardinals and surged into a first-place tie with the Milwaukee Brewers.

“Any time we go through a period like (that), it kind of increases the sense of urgency a little bit,” Arrieta said. “Not necessarily pressing or trying to do more than we’re capable of, but just maybe trying to get locked in a little more, as far as our mental approach.

“It's just focusing exclusively on that and allowing our ability to show through without putting added pressure on ourselves. It’s really starting to pay off. This is a ballclub that’s capable of winning 10, 12 games at a time in a row.”

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Just like super-agent Scott Boras, manager Joe Maddon downplayed any issues with Arrieta’s velocity or the idea of a new reality for a pitcher who has been so good at freezing hitters, creating soft contact and minimizing damage.

“We’re not talking about a whole lot of difference,” Maddon said. “I still see a lot of 92-93s and 94s compared to like 93, 94, 95 maybe, so it’s still a significant velocity. It’s not like he’s just flipping it up there. I’ll take what they call the effective velocity by throwing it where he wants to throw it.

“If he’s able to command that thing where he wants to, those numbers absolutely play. Nobody even talks enough about it, but he’s got a great curveball and the cutter/slider was a big thing a couple years ago (and) I think the changeup’s developing yet, too.

“He’s got four above-average pitches. He just needs to command his fastball at any velocity and he will be very successful.”

It’s a good sign when Arrieta gets 10 groundball outs against the Marlins and continues to pile up the strikeouts (76) against the walks (20) this season. If this offense and defense plays up to its capabilities, it’s easy to picture Arrieta (6-4) winning around 15 games, as long as he maintains the durability that will be attractive on the open market.

Maddon pulled Arrieta after 100 pitches, when J.T. Realmuto tripled leading off the seventh inning. The Marlins managed just two hits and two runs against Arrieta, whose ERA has dropped almost a full run down to 4.46 since the middle of May.

There will be more peaks and more valleys in Arrieta’s walk year, which is off to a so-so start that will ultimately be defined by how the Cubs finish.

“I don’t think that has anything to do with Jake right now,” Maddon said. “I don’t think it’s mental. I don’t think it’s any of that stuff. I just think he’s slowly getting back to where he had been. I’m seeing an uptick.

“More than anything, I just think the fact that he’s trying to locate his fastball so much, that might be where you’re seeing a little bit of a drop, just by him trying to throw the ball where he wants to as opposed to just letting it rip.

“But he will, because he’s physically fine. He’s well. You watch his workouts — they’re still incredibly insane. As soon as that fastball starts going where he wants to, it’s really going to take off again.”

Cubs aren’t trading Yu Darvish this winter, despite reported inquiries

Cubs aren’t trading Yu Darvish this winter, despite reported inquiries

Whether the Cubs trade a member of their position player core this winter — i.e. Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras — is to be determined. Both have been fixtures in rumors this offseason, and the Cubs may make a deal to replenish their barren farm system and retool their roster with the organization’s long-term stability in mind.

Yu Darvish, on the other hand, is a different story.

No, the Cubs won’t be trading Darvish this winter, despite the inquiries they received at the Winter Meetings this week, according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post.

A year ago, this would be an entirely different conversation. Darvish was coming off a disappointing debut season on the North Side in which he made eight starts and posted a 4.95 ERA in 40 innings. He didn’t throw a single big-league pitch after May 20 due to a lingering arm issue that led to surgery last November.

2019 was only Year 2 of the lucrative six-year contract Darvish signed in February 2018. But between the injury and his struggles before it that season, the narrative entering 2019 was shifting towards Darvish being a potential bust.

The narrative around Darvish is obviously much different now, thanks to the stellar second half performance he put together last season. In 13 starts, the 33-year-old delivered a 2.76 ERA, striking out 118 batters compared to a mere seven walks in 81 2/3 innings.

Not only was Darvish walking the walk, but he was talking the talk. He was determined to turn things around after posting a 5.01 ERA in the first half, asking then manager Joe Maddon to start the Cubs’ first game after the All-Star break. The result? Six innings of two-hit, no-run ball with eight strikeouts and one walk. Darvish's comeback was officially on.

Bust? Darvish is far from it now. He opted in to the remaining four years of his contract earlier this offseason, calling the Cubs "perfect" for him.

If the Cubs were entering a rebuild, fielding Darvish trade offers would make plenty of sense. He's owed $81 million through 2023, a bargain compared to the deals Gerrit Cole (nine years, $324 million — Yankees) and Stephen Strasburg (seven years, $245 million — Nationals) earned this offseason. Darvish's contract is desirable, and trading him would help alleviate the Cubs' notoriously tight payroll situation, freeing up money for them to put towards other needs.

But the Cubs aren’t rebuilding, and trading Darvish would create a tremendous hole in a rotation with plenty of uncertainty after next season. José Quintana is set to hit free agency after 2020 and Jon Lester could join him, if his 2021 option doesn’t vest (he must pitch 200 innings next season for that to occur). Heck, even Tyler Chatwood's deal is up after 2020.

In one season, Darvish has elevated himself to the No. 1 pitcher in the Cubs rotation. The Cubs won't be better next season if they trade Bryant or Contreras, but they'd still be competitive and acquire assets for the future.

One player doesn't make a team in baseball, but the Cubs need Darvish in their rotation, not someone else's. Unless they're absolutely blown away by a trade offer, Darvish isn't going anywhere.

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Sports Talk Live Podcast: MLB 2019 Winter Meetings come to an end

NBC Sports Chicago

Sports Talk Live Podcast: MLB 2019 Winter Meetings come to an end

SportsTalk Live is on location in San Diego for the final day of the MLB Winter Meetings.

0:00- Chuck Garfien, Tony Andracki and Vinnie Duber join Kap to recap the Winter Meetings. Tony was right-- the Cubs didn't make a move. Plus, should the White Sox have done more in San Diego?

12:00- Legendary baseball writer Peter Gammons joins Kap and Chuck. The talk about the price for pitching and what the Cubs might do with Kris Bryant. Plus, Gammons talks about a text he received saying the White Sox were talking with the Red Sox about Andrew Benintendi and David Price. Would that make sense for the Southsiders?

20:00- White Sox World Series winning closer Bobby Jenks joins Kap to discuss his emotional article in The Players Tribune. They discuss his injuries with the Red Sox, the back surgery that almost cost him his life and then his downward spiral into addiction.

Listen here or via the embedded player below:

Sports Talk Live Podcast