Cubs

Jake Arrieta takes a step in the right direction as Cubs reign over Brewers

Jake Arrieta takes a step in the right direction as Cubs reign over Brewers

Jake Arrieta still didn't look like his Cy Young self, but he definitely took a step in the right direction Sunday.

In fact, the Cubs as a whole looked more like themselves Sunday, drubbing the Milwaukee Brewers 13-6 in front of 41,671 fans at Wrigley Field.

The Cubs' new look lineup tallied 22 baserunners on the afternoon — including 10 extra-base hits — and scored in seven of eight offensive frames.

Arrieta allowed only an unearned run in six innings, striking out six and walking just one. He lowered his season ERA from 5.44 to 4.80 on the afternoon and spent most of the game sitting around 93-94 mph with his fastball, a slight uptick from the 91.7 mph velocity he was averaging on the season entering play Sunday.

Joe Maddon actually has seen a different Arrieta the last two starts, including last weekend in St. Louis when Arrieta gave up a pair of two-run homers across six innings.

"The last two games are more remincisent of what he's supposed to look like," Maddon said. "And two really good games to build off of."

Arrieta still doesn't feel quite right with his mechanics, but agrees with his manager about the outing as a stepping stone.

"It was a step in the right direction," Arrieta said. "I was able to do some things a little more consistently to help command the ball glove-side, arm-side. When I'm able to do that with the fastball, the other pitches just kinda fall in line based on the way my delivery feels.

"The timing was pretty good today. It's just something I look to build on because I know there's still room for improvement."

Arrieta did need 111 pitches to get through the six frames, but picked up his first win since May 3 and seemed to be inching closer to his dominant form with a few nasty pitches to the high-powered Brewers lineup:

The 31-year-old starter had settled into exactly 85 pitches each of his last three outings, but Maddon wanted him to stretch things out and Arrieta responded well.

"Felt good," he said. "It was a grind there for a while in a couple of the innings, but was able to bear down, make a few good pitches. I kept the ball on the ground quite a bit today, which was nice.

"That's obviously an indicator of a step in the right direction and just look to build off that and continue to move forward."

The Brewers set off fireworks pregame with some choice words about the way the Cubs handled Saturday's rainout, but it was Kris Bryant and Co. dishing out the blasts in the game.

Bryant hit two homers — the ninth multi-homer game of his career — and reached base five times as the Cubs' restructured lineup looked refreshed and invigorated, scoring in seven of eight offensive innings.

Bryant also made Cubs history:

Ben Zobrist — appointed as the new leadoff hitter — crushed a homer into the right field bleachers to open the bottom half of the first inning and sent two others to the warning track. Kyle Schwarber — bumped down to second — reached twice via a walk and RBI single.

Willson Contreras added two hits, two runs and a pair of RBI as the Cubs rapped out 10 extra-base hits and tallied 22 baserunners.

The Cubs are off to a hot start on the long homestand, going 4-1 in the first five games.

But Maddon is still waiting for the Cubs (22-20) to put together their complete game. 

"We're still not playing our best baseball," Maddon said. "That was a nice 13-run game, whatever. My perfectionism comes in the fundamentals of the game.

"...Hits, whatever. You're gonna hit, you're not gonna hit. But to play the game properly — I thought we ran the bases well, that was good to see. But more than anything, I just want to see us play that championship-caliber defense.

Forget about full Cubs schedule, fans at games and plan for a short, bittersweet season

Forget about full Cubs schedule, fans at games and plan for a short, bittersweet season

The bad news for the Cubs after Thursday’s scheduled Opening Day is that they’re 0-1. The worse news is that so is everybody in baseball.

And with Friday’s agreement between MLB and the players union addressing the coronavirus shutdown, the only known winner, at least in this city, might be Kris Bryant, who will not lose yet another year before he can become a free agent.

Remember when that was the biggest concern surrounding the Cubs’ season — whether the Cubs were going to trade their star third baseman and whether they could co-exist with him if they didn’t — after beating him in a grievance hearing over service-time manipulation?

That was just last month. And a lifetime ago.

The highlights of the MLB-MLBPA agreement include freezing transactions until a date for resuming play is determined, the assurance that major-leaguer players will accrue full service time for the 2020 season even if it is not played, the likelihood of additional roster spots once play resumes, and $170 million in salary advances to players across multiple contract tiers, most to those with guaranteed deals.

Multiple teams, including the Cubs, optioned players who were on 40-man rosters but not expected to make the club to the minors ahead of the deal Thursday night, which, among other things, prevented service-time accrual. 

Pitcher Dillon Maples was optioned to Triple-A Iowa, leaving 30 members of the Cubs’ 40-man roster still on the active major-league roster. They include three bullpen candidates who are out of options: Alec Mills, Duane Underwood and Casey Sadler.

But the most important element of the plan for fans involves the report that MLB and the players agree to wait until they get the all-clear from health and government officials that mass gatherings are safe again before starting the season. Unless that looks like it won’t happen in time for something feasible, in which case they might discuss playing without fans, possibly using spring training sites.

Some in the game are still suggesting methods for trying to play close to a full 162-game schedule, maybe 140. The hope of a June start and lots of doubleheaders seems popular — maybe with seven-inning games making up the doubleheaders.

But for all the numbers of games, innings and dollars being thrown around and negotiated, only one number continues to matter. On Friday it was close to 1,500.

That’s the number of U.S. deaths attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s a number that includes this week a 17-year-old boy in Los Angeles County who reportedly had no underlying risk factors, a 12-year-old girl before that and many others who, by CDC definitions, were not in high-risk groups.

And it’s a number that’s rising fast.

Certainly, baseball officials and players appreciate the gravity of the moment, and that’s why anything and everything seem to be in play as eventual options.

And it’s why for now, regular-season ballparks/weight rooms and spring training facilities finally were shutting down across baseball Friday to all but a select few players who might have specific (such as medical) needs for them.

Cubs Jason Heyward, Kyle Schwarber and Anthony Rizzo are among the individual players across baseball raising awareness and money for those affected, from stadium workers to first responders and small businesses. Cubs manager David Ross published a short video through the team’s Twitter account thanking healthcare workers and encouraging continued safe practices during the crisis.

Jon Lester, Jason Kipnis and others have tweeted about the bigger picture in this time of missing the game.

But the mere suggestion of trying to squeeze most of a full schedule into 2020, against the hope of playing those games in fan-filled stadiums, is perhaps understandably wistful thinking.

If there’s going to be a baseball season this summer/fall, it’s going to be a short one, and it probably should be.

The fewest games played in a season since the two-league format began in 1901 were the 103 games some teams played during the 1981 strike season.

The plan now should involve redrawing schedules for 80- and 100-game contingencies. Plan for no — or extremely limited numbers of — fans. Play the games in spring ballparks; eliminate interleague play; position one league in Florida and one in Arizona — or all in Arizona if it’s safer there than Florida.

An 84-game schedule would allow for a balanced league schedule with six games per opponent. Or unbalanced (albeit, less drastic) schedules could still be used. Restructure the playoffs? OK. Add teams? Sure. Maybe by then those games can even be played in neutral-site, warm-weather or domed stadiums with fans.

A lot of us around sports talk about sports being important to our culture and things like civic pride, or at least as escapes from real-life issues. President Franklin Roosevelt recognized that much in 1942 when he urged MLB to play its season for the good of the country during a war.

But this we haven’t seen before. It’s why so many uncertainties hang in the air even after scheduled openers, months after the virus first was identified, weeks after federal action was taken in this country.

“Worst opening day ever,” Lester tweeted, “but focused on what’s most important right now and that’s keeping the team safe at home so we can get back to baseball soon.”

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Anthony Rizzo discusses foundation's support of health care workers amid COVID-19

Anthony Rizzo discusses foundation's support of health care workers amid COVID-19

Anthony Rizzo and his family’s foundation are working diligently to support the health care workers combatting the COVID-19 pandemic.

Friday, Rizzo appeared on ABC News to discuss the foundation’s campaign to provide meals to hospital workers and staff. To date, they’ve served over a thousand hot meals to frontline workers in Chicago and Florida, in collaboration with the foundation’s restaurant partners.

“A lot of these staff workers don’t know if they’re allowed to go to the grocery store,” Rizzo said on ABC, “because they really are quarantining outside the hospital to stay safe, keep everyone safe.

“We really want to give back to the restaurants and also help the frontline workers, so it's really been a win-win because there's a lot of people in tough times right now and we're just trying to help out any way we can."

Rizzo’s foundation said in a press release Friday the meals have brought many hospital workers tears, overwhelmed in appreciation.

“These health care workers are going every day, many without the proper protection, to care for our loved ones,” the release reads. “They are putting themselves at risk, their families at risk and even foregoing seeing their loved ones for months to protect our families, friends and neighbors.”

(Photos courtesy of the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation)

The foundation asks for anyone interested in supporting the campaign to reach out. Donations can be made by texting HOPE44 to 52000 or by going to rizzo44.com/donate.

The coronavirus has altered everyone's lives and changed daily routines. When asked what his message is to fans, Rizzo said to stay strong together and find a routine that makes you happy.

"We're gonna get through this together; this is tough for everyone," he said. "We all want to be playing baseball, we all want sports on television. A lot of people want to be going to work on a daily basis to get back into that routine. 

"It's hard to be home 24/7 but everyone is doing this together, so you're not alone."