Cubs

Jake Arrieta on point as Cubs cruise past Twins

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Jake Arrieta on point as Cubs cruise past Twins

MINNEAPOLIS - It looks like it's time to start feeling bad for teams that have to face both Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta in the same series.

Arrieta followed up Lester's stellar start Saturday with one of his own Sunday afternoon, tossing a complete game shutout as the Cubs cruised to an 8-0 victory over the Twins in front of 40,273 fans at Target Field.

Arrieta struck out seven and allowed just four hits. This came after Lester surrendered one run in 6.1 innings Saturday.

A lone run in 15.1 innings from the starters is a heck of a way to close out a series against a Twins team that's been playing good baseball lately.

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"After you lose the first game here, you go: 'Who's pitching tomorrow for us? Oh, good.' And then 'Who's pitching for us the next game? Oh, good,'" Maddon said of the Cubs trotting out Lester and Arrieta back-to-back. "So you think that way and you're feeling in a pretty good position to come back and win the series - which we did - and both guys set the tone."

The day after Maddon pulled Lester with one out and nobody on in the seventh inning, Arrieta was allowed to finish the game despite throwing 110 pitches through the first eight innings.

"He was on a short leash at the end right there," Maddon said. "I thought his stuff was holding and actually getting better. And I did not want to prevent him from doing that, for a couple reasons - 1) He's one of the most well-conditioned guys on the team and 2) When you do something like that, I think it can lead in a positive way into your next performance.

"Now, if he was in a lot of high-stress moments, it would have been a different story. But he was not. I thought all the indicators, factors and needls were pointing in the right direction to let him finish."

Dexter Fowler provided the big blast for the Cubs on offense with a grand slam to cap off a six-run eighth inning.

Kyle Schwarber - playing in his last game before heading back down to the minors - drove home two runs on a bases-loaded single at the beginning of the eighth.

"We're tough to beat when we play good defense and we pitch," Arrieta said. "Obviously our lineup is going to score runs. That was a fun game."

Starlin Castro - who had three hits on the afternoon - knocked in Anthony Rizzo for the Cubs' first run in the third inning and Rizzo added a solo blast in the fifth.

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The Cubs collected 12 hits and five walks as a team, abusing the Minnesota bullpen to the tune of six runs on six hits and a pair of free passes in four innings.

But the day belonged to Arrieta.

"He stole the show today," Rizzo said. "Fun to play behind him when he's got all his stuff going. Kinda grinded through the first [inning] a little bit, but then he just settled in and [then] it's just time to sit back and enjoy the show."

 

How Ian Happ got his groove back at the plate

How Ian Happ got his groove back at the plate

There's a legit case to be made that Ian Happ has been the Cubs' second-best hitter in 2018.

Yes, really.

Happ ranks second on the Cubs in OPS (.895), behind only Kris Bryant (.995) among regulars, though a recent hot streak has buoyed that overall bottom line for Happ.

Still, it's been a pretty incredible hot streak and it's propelled Happ back to where he began the season — at the top of the Cubs order. 

Happ has walked 10 times in the last 6 games and hammered out 3 homers in that span, including one on top of the Schwarboard in right field as a pinch-hitter Tuesday night.

Even more jaw-dropping: He's only struck out 5 times in the last 9 games after a dreadful start to the season in that regard.

"It was just a matter of time until things clicked a little bit," Happ said. "That's why we play 162 games and it's a game of adjustments. At the end of the day, it all evens out.

"Look at the back of Tony [Rizzo's] baseball card — it's the same thing every single year. That's how this thing goes. You're gonna have your ups and your downs and I'm just trying to be as consistent as I can. If I can level it out a little bit and be more consistent over a period of time, that'll be better for our team."

So yes, Happ is on the upswing right now and he'll inevitably have more slumps where he strikes out too much and looks lost at the plate.

Such is life for a 23-year-old who is still a week away from his 162nd career MLB game.

The league had adjusted to Happ and he had to adjust back, which he'd been working hard doing behind the scenes.

"I just try to get him to primarily slow things down," Joe Maddon said. "Try to get him back into left-center. And I did not want to heap a whole lot of at-bats on him. When you're not going good, if you heap too many at-bats on somebody, all of a sudden, that's really hard to dig out of that hole.

"So a lot of conversations — a lot of conversations — but nothing complicated. I like to go the simple side of things. I wanted him to try not to lift the ball intentionally, really organize his strike zone."

Maddon believes Happ had lost sight of his strike zone organization, chasing too many pitches out of the zone — particularly the high fastball.

Now, the Cubs manager sees Happ using his hands more and less of his arms in his swing, working a more precise, compact path to the ball.

The Happ experiment at leadoff was a disaster to begin the year — .186 AVG, .573 OPS and 22 strikeouts in 10 starts there — but all the same tools and rationale exist for why Maddon likes the switch-hitting utiliy player in that spot.

And that's why Happ was leading off Wednesday with both Ben Zobrist and Albert Almora Jr. getting the night off.

"We're gonna find out [if he can stick at leadoff]," Maddon said. "I just thought he's looked better. He's coming off a nice streak on the road trip. [Tuesday night], pinch-hitting. I know the home run's great and of course that's nice.

"But how he got to the pitch that he hit out, to me, was the important thing. Got the two strikes, took the two borderline pitches and then all of a sudden, [the pitcher] came in with a little bit more and he didn't miss it.

"That's the big thing about hitting well, too — when you see your pitch, you don't either take it or foul it off. You don't miss it. He didn't miss it."

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Who has more fun on the diamond, Javier Baez or Yolmer Sanchez?

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USA TODAY

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Who has more fun on the diamond, Javier Baez or Yolmer Sanchez?

Ozzie Guillen and David DeJesus join Leila Rahimi on Wednesday's podcast. After Tuesday's game-winning hit and second self-inflicted Gatorade bath the guys wonder if anyone has more fun on the field than Yolmer Sanchez. Jim DeShaies joins the conversation and brings Javy Baez to the table.

Plus, Manny Mania continues to swirl in Chicago. Finally, what should be the White Sox plan for calling up their top prospects?

Listen to the full Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast right here: