Cubs

Mistakes doom Jake Arrieta, Cubs as winning streak comes to a close

Mistakes doom Jake Arrieta, Cubs as winning streak comes to a close

The Cubs can't come out on the right side of every one-run ballgame.

After five straight wins, the Cubs looked imperfect in a 3-2 loss to the San Francisco Giants in front of 41,250 people at Wrigley Field Saturday.

The Jake Arrieta-Madison Bumgarner matchup proved to be a solid pitcher's duel, but Arrieta and the Cubs gifted the Giants all three runs.

Tommy La Stella - inserted into the lineup when Jorge Soler was a late scratch - committed a throwing error in the first inning to hand the Giants their first run.

In the third, two Arrieta wild pitches put Joe Panik on third base for Eduardo Nunez's seeing-eye single into shallow right field.

In the fourth, Brandon Crawford singled, stole second, jetted to third when the Cubs left the bag vacant on a shift and then scored on another Arrieta wild pitch.

"You knew coming in it's going to be a close game," Arrieta said. "Probably a one-run ballgame. We just got outplayed today. They made a few more plays than we did.

"[The mistakes] happen from time to time. Obviously you'd like to see it happen as infrequent as possible. It's not very common with our group of guys. You don't expect to see those things often."

The Cubs had a ninth inning rally killed when Anthony Rizzo - inserted into the game in the eighth inning - got caught too far off second base on Dexter Fowler's bunt and was thrown out trying to get back to the bag.

"Intense game. It was a great game," Joe Maddon said. "You can nitpick it all you want; I loved that game. That's very similar to a playoff situation.

"Things don't always go right or according to plan. I think the one thing you'd like to get back is Crawford going to third base unencumbered. But otherwise, things are going to happen. You're going to have a wild pitch or a passed ball. Rizzo is trying to be aggressive there - you'd rather he had not, but he did. 

"But I love the intensity and the passion of the game. Why not? If we play with that kind of heart every night, I will take it."

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Despite the miscues, Arrieta had an overall solid outing - three runs (two earned) on four hits and a pair of walks against seven strikeouts in six innings. But he picked up his sixth loss of the season in the process, his first defeat in September since Sept. 7, 2013.

Arrieta's season ERA sits at 2.84 and he's in the running for the National League Cy Young Award, but he's still coming under scrutiny for falling short of the ridiculous stretch he went on in the second half of last season.

"I hear it, but that doesn't affect my play," he said. "The mindset is the same, the objective is the same - to execute a gameplan, to keep our team in the game and ultimately win the game. 

"For me, the outing was average. It's still good enough to keep us in the game. Just came up a little short. That's all."

Maddon tried to explain Arrieta's so-called "struggles" before Saturday's outing.

"I'm not concerned. He's pitching pretty well," Maddon said. "It's hard to nail down on everything all the time perfectly. Last year, we saw near-perfection. We really did. It was just crazy how good he was.

"... For a variety of reasons, this game is very difficult. Things get off just a little bit and sometimes you don't even realize. I want to believe and I do believe that eventually he'll get back into it. I know they're working on different things right now.

"I just think that's the nature of the game. They're not robots. They're not computer-chipped where they can be programmed to do something specifically. But I'll take everything else he's done. It's still another spectacular year. It's easy to nitpick him based on what he had done last year."

The Cubs scratched together two runs off Bumgarner in six innings - the first coming on a heads-up play from Javy Baez to score on Arrieta's infield dribbler and the second on Baez's sacrifice fly.

But Bumgarner struck out 10 in his six innings and improved to 2-0 with a 1.32 ERA against the Cubs this season. In his career, he is 8-2 with a 2.25 ERA in 12 starts against the Cubs.

The only saving grace for the Cubs lineup Saturday was they forced Bumgarner out of the game in six innings after 103 pitches.

"He was very good," Maddon said. "I think he took advantage of our youth a little bit. You gotta start guessing for a while. But we got his pitch number up. We got him out of there in time.

"Maybe the approach needs to get a little bit better against him in the future. The passion and everything else was there and I'll take that every day of the week. 

"As young players are developing into better major-league players, as long as they're showing up and they're right there, I'll take it."

Cubs Talk Podcast: Kimbrel, blisters and the business of baseball

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Kimbrel, blisters and the business of baseball

Luke Stuckmeyer, David Kaplan and Tony Andracki tackle all the pressing topics surrounding the Cubs, including the Brewers' reported connection to Craig Kimbrel (:45), Yu Darvish's blister woes (5:15), how the current run of extensions in MLB will affect the Cubs in the future (9:10), and Tony makes the case for Kris Bryant to be the regular lead-off hitter (16:00).

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below:

Cubs Talk Podcast

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2019 MLB preview and predictions: How Cubs stack up against Brewers

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AP

2019 MLB preview and predictions: How Cubs stack up against Brewers

The National League looks as strong as ever, with as many as 12 of the 15 teams planning to contend in 2019.

The Cubs had a quiet winter, transactionally speaking, but almost every other team in the NL bolster their roster this offseason. 

But expectations haven't changed at the corner of Clark and Addison. After a disappointing finish to 2018, Kris Bryant and Co. once again have their sights set on another World Series.

With that, let's take a look at all of the teams that could stand in the way of the Cubs getting back to the Fall Classic:

Milwaukee Brewers

2018 record: 96-67, 1st in NL Central

Offseason additions: Yasmani Grandal, Alex Claudio, Ben Gamel, Bobby Wahl, Cory Spangenberg, Brett Lawrie, Tuffy Gosewisch, Jake Petricka...and maybe Craig Kimbrel??

Offseason departures: Domingo Santana, Keon Broxton, Jonathan Schoop, Wade Miley, Xavier Cedeno, Curtis Granderson, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Lyles, Dan Jennings, Joakim Soria

X-factor: Jimmy Nelson

The 29-year-old right-hander emerged as the ace of the Milwaukee pitching staff with a breakout 2017 campaign (12-6, 3.49 ERA, 10.2 K/9) but hasn't thrown a pitch in a game since Sept. 8 of that season.

He's been dealing with a shoulder injury that kept him on the shelf all of last season and will ensure he won't break camp with the club this spring. But he is currently on the comeback trail and still expected to take a spot in the rotation at some point early this year.

When he returns, what kind of pitcher will he be? Is he the guy that struck out 199 batters and walked only 48 in 175.1 innings (as he did in 2017)? Or is he the pitcher that led the NL with 86 walks against only 140 whiffs in 179.1 innings in 2016? 

And how healthy will Nelson be? After missing an entire season, will his innings limit be somewhere around 100 frames?

Not much has changed for the Brewers from a year ago in that they still have a clear weakness in their rotation but a dynamite bullpen. But they obviously made it work last year.

If Nelson can return and give the Brewers some really valuable innings to begin games before he hands it over to Josh Hader and Co., that could be a huge asset to a squad that won 96 games and made it a one victory shy of the World Series without him.

Projected lineup

1. Lorenzo Cain - CF
2. Christian Yelich - RF
3. Jesus Aguilar - 1B
4. Travis Shaw - 3B
5. Ryan Braun - LF
6. Mike Moustakas - 2B
7. Yasmani Grandal - C
8. Orlando Arcia - SS

Projected rotation

1. Jhoulys Chacin
2. Chase Anderson
3. Zach Davies
4. Corbin Burnes
5. Freddy Peralta

Outlook

For all the talk of the Cubs' quiet winter, the Brewers were just as silent. Then again, they were the ascending team heading into the winter after they caught the Cubs from behind to win the NL Central and took the Dodgers to a Game 7 in the NLCS.

The Cubs finished 11-9 against the Brewers in 2018 with a +4 run differential, illustrating how neck-in-neck the two teams were a year ago. But the Brewers' arrow is pointing up in the rivalry while the Cubs now have a Year of Reckoning. 

The Cubs jumped out to a 7-1 record against their neighbors to the north by the end of April, but that took a turn for the worse as Milwaukee went 8-4 the rest of the way (including that Game 163).

The Brewers also didn't necessarily need to add much to their roster this winter since they had so many answers in house to fill needs. 

Still, they're potentially close to making a huge splash to further improve an area of great strength. Reports trickled out from Ken Rosenthal and Robert Murray of The Athletic Tuesday night that the Brewers were in talks with free agent closer Craig Kimbrel. Jon Heyman doubled down on that info and said the talks were "getting serious" Wednesday afternoon:

That would be an incredible addition to what was already the best bullpen in the NL a year ago. Pairing Kimbrel with Josh Hader and Corey Knebel puts three of the best relievers in the game at the back end of the Milwaukee relief corps. That unit would only get better once veteran Jeremy Jeffress returns after his bout with shoulder discomfort that's limited him this spring.

The Brewers adding Kimbrel would also be a huge slap in the face to the Cubs, who have a clear need for elite bullpen arms yet maintain they don't have "any more money" to spend on the roster. 

Beyond that, the Brew Crew made some shrewd moves this winter in bringing back Moustakas and also adding Grandal on one-year deals.

Grandal is one of the best defensive catchers in the game and shores up a potential hole on the Milwaukee roster. Last season, the Brewers finished 13th in MLB in catcher WAR, but much of that was based on defensive value. The collection of catchers — Manny Pina, Erik Kratz and Jett Bandy — ranked 21st in OPS (.657) from the position. Grandal has a career .782 OPS and has hit at least 22 homers every year since 2015. 

Moustakas wasn't necessarily a game-changer for the Brewers last year when he came over in a midseason trade (.767 OPS), but he gives the lineup more length and has clubbed 66 homers with 180 RBI the last two seasons combined.

There are certainly question marks about this group of position players.

Aguilar was fantastic last year while clubbing 35 homers with 108 RBI, but he had just 16 homers in his MLB career prior to 2018 and he was a completely different hitter in the second half. Before the All-Star Break (and his appearance in the Home Run Derby), the big slugger hit 24 homers, knocked in 70 runs and posted a .995 OPS. After the break, he hit just 11 homers with 38 RBI while sporting a .760 OPS and watched as his slugging percentage fell nearly 200 points. Was that a sign the league figured him out? Was the first half simply a hot stretch and the real Aguilar is a late bloomer who is a servicable slugger, but not necessarily a 35 homer/100 RBI threat each year?

Shaw crushes righties but can't hit lefties. Braun is 35 now and coming off arguably the worst season of his career. Cain had a fantastic first season in Milwaukee, but he's 33 now it's certainly possible his best seasons are behind him. Yelich is a legit star, but will he put up a .598 slugging percentage and 1.000 OPS again this year? 

And what will Arcia's production look like? Already a defensive whiz at shortstop, the 24-year-old hit .310 with a .733 OPS the final six weeks of 2018, including going 4-for-4 against the Cubs in that Game 163.

All that being said, the Brewers should have no trouble putting up runs this year and have some remarkable depth with Eric Thames, Hernan Perez and Ben Gamel on the bench, plus guys like Spangenberg in the minors and top prospect Keston Hiura potentially right around the corner.

Milwaukee is also one of the best teams in baseball in terms of executing the shift and preventing runs, especially with elite defender Cain patrolling the outfield. That run prevention will help a rotation that again has concerns.

Chacin-Anderson-Davies isn't exactly a three-headed monster, but they've all had good seasons in the past (including Chacin last year when he certainly had the Cubs' number).

Then there's Nelson, who could play a huge role this year as well as young arms Corbin Burnes, Freddy Peralta and Brandon Woodruff — all guys who can pitch at the back end of the rotation or move to the bullpen and help bridge the gap ahead of Hader and Knebel (and maybe Kimbrel??).

The reason I have the Brewers in the middle of the pack in the division is the Chuck Tanner Rule, as David Kaplan has discussed several times on the CubsTalk Podcast. So many guys on the Brewers roster had career seasons and baseball typically normalizes over a larger sample with regression to the mean. Some of those breakouts are legit (Yelich, particularly), but to what extent?

Meanwhile, the Cardinals improved their roster this winter the Cubs are banking on positive regression for their group. Make no mistake: Even with a slight regression across the board, the Brewers are still plenty good enough to contend for the NL Central crown and potentially even the NL pennant.

Adding Kimbrel to the Brewers bullpen might push them over both the Cardinals and Cubs in my personal projections. But really, you could create any combination of how these three teams finish in the division and it'd be an easy sell.

For now, let's go with the Brewers in 3rd place, close behind the Cubs and Cardinals in the division and just out of the final Wild-Card spot.

Prediction: 3rd in NL Central, just outside the Wild-Card race

All 2019 previews & predictions

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