Jake Arrieta takes perfecto into seventh, hits HR as Cubs beat Pirates


Jake Arrieta takes perfecto into seventh, hits HR as Cubs beat Pirates

We're running out of superlatives to describe Jake Arrieta right now.

The Cubs ace took a perfect game into the seventh inning Sunday night as the Cubs beat the Pirates, 4-0, in front of 40,617 fans at Wrigley Field.

[SHOP: Get your official Cubs postseason gear]

Arrieta gave up a leadoff single to Gregory Polanco in the seventh and hit Andrew McCutchen with a pitch two batters later.

Those were the only two baserunners the Pirates had all night against Arrieta as he finished with 84 pitches in seven shutout innings, striking out nine and lowering his season ERA to 1.82 and WHIP to 0.88.

"I knew the situation I was in. Things were working well," Arrieta said. "All my pitches were pretty sharp. I knew going in it was going to be a pretty good night.

"I had a feel for everything from the get-go and it carried over. I knew there was a chance [at a no-hitter]."

It was Arrieta's league-leading 21st win of the season and 19th straight quality start. The Cubs are now 24-8 (a .750 winning percentage) in games he starts.

Arrieta has a 0.80 ERA since the All-Star Break, the best mark in MLB history.

"I talked about it earlier in the year - I thought there was another level to him," Joe Maddon said. "I think you're seeing that right now."

As if his pitching wasn't enough, Arrieta drilled a solo homer to right field in the second inning Sunday night and then sent another one to the wall in dead center in the sixth inning.

"I got two pitches in the one spot that you shouldn't throw me," he said. "Normally, anything outside of that tiny little area, I'm swinging and missing. I just put a couple good swings together."

Even with Sunday's win, the Cubs sit 4.5 games behind the Pirates in the wild-card race with only a week left, meaning the odds of hosting the one-game playoff in Chicago are very slim. These final seven games don't carry a lot of importance for the Cubs in terms of seeding.

Arrieta has blown past his career high in innings pitched in a season, but he's 29, in good shape and on an absolutely ridiculous run right now.

[MORE CUBS: Maddon plans to juggle rest and winning over final week]

So it'd be awfully tough for manager Joe Maddon and the Cubs to scale back Arrieta's workload significantly right now before he starts the wild-card game in 10 days.

There is no plan for the Cubs to skip Arrieta's final start Friday in Milwaukee.

"He's in a nice little groove," Maddon said before Sunday's contest. "I don't want to interrupt his groove."

Maddon let Arrieta throw 123 pitches in a complete-game shutout against the Brewers last Tuesday.

Arrieta understands there's no need to overdo it right now, saying Saturday he didn't expect his pitch count to go over 100 come Sunday.

[MORE CUBS: Jake Arrieta ready for do-or-die format of one-game playoff]

With the perfect game lost on his 77th pitch against the Pirates, there was no pressure to max out Arrieta, even though he had "no-hitter stuff."

"What's really setting him apart right now is what the ball's doing right in front of the plate into the catcher's mitt. It's very explosive," Maddon said.

"That's why he's been so successful. He's incredible."

Remember that guy? Former Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutiérrez


Remember that guy? Former Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutiérrez

Ricky Gutiérrez played in the Majors from 1993-2004. He played shortstop for the Cubs from 2000-01 and later signed with them again in June 2004. 

However, Gutiérrez never got back to the Majors with the Cubs, who sent him to the Red Sox the following month. His final Major League game was with the Red Sox on Oct. 3, 2004, the final game of the 2004 regular season; he didn’t play in the 2004 postseason. Gutiérrez was subsequently signed and released by a few other teams, including the White Sox in 2005.

Gutiérrez holds the distinction of being the first Cubs player to hit a regular season grand slam against the White Sox (July 12, 2001). In his two seasons with the Cubs, he tied for the Major League lead in sacrifice bunts both years (16 in 2000, 17 in 2001) which was odd since he had a grand total of 18 sacrifice bunts in his 847 career games NOT in a Cubs uniform. He also had uncharacteristic power with the Cubs:  21 home runs for Chicago in 272 games, 17 home runs with everyone else (847 games).

What Cubs fans probably remember most is what Gutiérrez did against them. On May 6, 1998 he had the lone hit (many dispute it should have been ruled an error) for the Astros off Kerry Wood in Wood’s 20-strikeout masterpiece at Wrigley Field (Gutiérrez was responsible for two of the strikeouts). 

Later that season, on June 26, the number 20 and Gutiérrez were again connected when he had a 20-pitch battle against Bartolo Colón, which ended in a strikeout. It remained the last plate appearance in the Majors of at least 20 pitches until Brandon Belt flew out on the 21st pitch of an at-bat against the Angels' Jaime Barria on April 22, 2018.

Gutiérrez’s nephew, James Jones, played 14 seasons in the NBA for the Pacers, Suns, Trail Blazers, Heat and Cavaliers.

2019 encore for Jesse Chavez?


2019 encore for Jesse Chavez?

On July 15, Brandon Morrow recorded his 22nd save of the season with a scoreless inning in San Diego. It wound up being the last time he pitched in a game for the Cubs in 2018. 

Four days later, during the All-Star break, the Cubs made a move to bolster their bullpen, acquiring Jesse Chavez from the Rangers in exchange for minor league hurler Tyler Thomas. It wasn’t even the biggest trade they’d make with the Rangers that month – a little over a week later they dealt for Cole Hamels. 

Despite pitching nearly half the innings, Chavez was almost as valuable as Hamels.

2018 with Cubs IP fWAR
Jesse Chavez 39.0 1.1
Cole Hamels 76.1 1.5

Chavez made his Cubs debut on July 21; from July 21 through the end of the season, 187 pitchers tossed at least 30 innings. 185 of them had a higher ERA than Chavez, while 184 of them allowed more baserunners per 9 innings.

Best ERA, July 21-end of season

(minimum 30 innings) IP ERA
Blake Treinen 32.1 0.56
Jesse Chavez 39.0 1.15
Blake Snell 61.2 1.17
Trevor Bauer 35.0 1.29
Trevor Williams 71.2 1.38
Robert Stock 36.0 1.50

Fewest baserunners per 9 innings, July 32-end of season

(minimum 30 innings) IP BR/9 IP
Blake Treinen 32.1 5.85
Blake Snell 61.2 7.15
Jesse Chavez 39.0 7.15
Jacob deGrom 93.2 7.49
Scott Oberg 30.2 7.63
Josh Hader 33.1 7.83

But how did Chavez transform into one of Joe Maddon’s best bullpen arms down the stretch?  According to Chavez, his own transformation started on Mother’s Day.

Chavez entered a game in Houston with a 5.48 ERA in a dozen appearances, but pitched three innings with no hits, no walks and four strikeouts. From that point through the end of the season, he posted a 1.70 ERA and 0.892 WHIP. 

Chavez points to a change in arm slot which resulted in better consistency and a slight jump in velocity. A glance at his release point charts show that consistency, and he added roughly one mile an hour to his fastball.

"It's kept me more consistent in the zone," Chavez said. "Things have been sharper, velocity has been a lot sharper. I was huffing and puffing trying to get a 92 (mph fastball) out there and it wasn't coming.

"Next thing you know, I dropped it and it's right there, and I'm like, 'something's wrong here.' But I just took it and ran with it."

Jesse Chavez 2018 four-seam fastball velocity

  Average Max
Prior to May 13 92.6 mph 94.6 mph
May 13 on 93.6 mph 95.7 mph

Can Chavez be valuable in 2019?  The 35-year old reliever posted the best ERA (2.55), WHIP (1.059) and walk rate (4.5% - nearly two percent better than his previous best) in 2018, and he continued to get better as the season went on. 

He’s a former starter who can pitch multiple innings if needed, and that’s a valuable thing - especially for a manager like Joe Maddon, who uses his pitchers in a variety of ways. It’s unlikely he’ll have a second consecutive career year.

But he’ll likely be well worth the price tag; he only made $1 million in 2018, and even with a slight raise he should be very affordable. There’s definitely room in Maddon’s bullpen for a pitcher like Chavez.