No drama: Cubs ace Jake Arrieta still owns the Pirates

No drama: Cubs ace Jake Arrieta still owns the Pirates

PITTSBURGH – For all the buildup to this start, the memories of last year’s National League wild-card showdown, the benches-clearing frenzy, the champagne-soaked celebration in the visiting clubhouse and the F-bombs Cubs manager Joe Maddon dropped on the Pittsburgh Pirates the night before, this still felt like another Tuesday in early May, Game 25 of 162.

That’s the calming effect of Jake Arrieta, the new-age athlete with killer stuff and off-the-charts confidence. The Cy Young Award winner is on such a dominant run that there are times where it feels like the only real drama revolves around whether or not he will throw a no-hitter.

That didn’t happen at PNC Park, and anyone hoping for more fireworks between these two teams would have to settle for Arrieta slicing through Pittsburgh’s lineup with surgical precision. After walking the first two Pirates he faced, Arrieta allowed only two singles across seven scoreless innings before the Cubs could pull the plug at 99 pitches with a six-run lead.

“There’s going to be emotion in this division with teams like the Pirates all year,” Arrieta said after a 7-1 victory. “We’re trying to accomplish the same goals. We know there are a couple teams standing in our way. That’s just kind of the heat of the battle (where) you’ve got a couple really good ballclubs trying to compete for a spot at the top of the division.”

The Cubs (19-6) now have a five-game lead in the Central and will be going for the sweep on Wednesday afternoon with Jon Lester on the mound. Arrieta won’t admit he has a psychological edge over the Pirates – and the Cubs can’t come out and say they’re in their heads – but it sort of looks that way.

Combine Tuesday night, the complete-game wild-card shutout and five regular-season starts last year and here’s what Arrieta’s line looks like against the Pirates: Three earned runs allowed in 52 innings with 49 strikeouts against seven walks.

If Arrieta looked out of sync to begin the game – walking John Jaso and Andrew McCutchen on 10 pitches combined – he didn’t allow it to snowball into the big inning that used to haunt him during his struggles with the Baltimore Orioles.

Arrieta recognized early that has sinker had a ton of movement on it, adjusted his mechanics accordingly and started pounding the Pirates with four-seam fastballs. He took some speed off his slider, trying to create enough of a differential against a good fastball-hitting team. He got 12 groundball outs, taking advantage of Javier Baez and the spectacular defense at third base.

Arrieta (6-0, 0.84 ERA) is the first Cub to win his first six starts to a season since 1908, when Mordecai Brown won each of his first 11 starts to begin that championship run. The Cubs have now won Arrieta’s last 19 regular-season starts. Arrieta also broke Rick Sutcliffe’s 16-game winning streak spanning the 1984-85 seasons. It only took a Cole Hamels no-hitter for the Philadelphia Phillies to beat Arrieta on July 25, 2015.

Arrieta went on Twitter and told Pittsburgh fans he wanted it loud last October, but even the booing from a crowd of 22,195 feels halfhearted when there’s no suspense.

“It’s expected,” said Arrieta, who responded in the second inning with a bases-loaded RBI single. “It’s a good fan base kind of recognizing the recent past and trying to amp the home club up and swing the momentum in their favor.

“It’s not frowned upon from my part. Baseball fans – especially the diehard fans that stick up for their team – that’s what you want to see. Coming here and playing these guys in this park is always a good time.”

Cubs still searching for answers for Tyler Chatwood's puzzling control issues

Cubs still searching for answers for Tyler Chatwood's puzzling control issues

Tyler Chatwood looked to be turning the corner with his control issues, but alas, he and the Cubs aren't so lucky.

After walking only two batters in a solid start in Atlanta last week, Chatwood had taken a big step in the right direction. It was, after all, only the third time he'd walked fewer than 5 batters in an outing this season.

Those control woes reared their ugly heads once again Tuesday night at Wrigley Field in a 10-1 loss to the Indians. Chatwood walked 6 batters and managed to net only 8 outs, getting hammered for 4 runs in the third inning.

"Ugh, it was tough," Maddon said. "The stuff was so good, we just couldn't get a strike."

"It's definitely frustrating," Chatwood said, "because one at-bat, I'll feel really good and the next one, I feel like I'm fighting myself.

"Last time [out], I was able to stay in the rhythm. Tonight, I was kinda battling, rushing rather than staying back, so it's just keeping that feeling and maintaining that."

His season ERA is only 3.74, which looks good until you consider his WHIP is 1.62 and he's walked 40 batters in 45.2 innings with only 41 strikeouts in the process. He now leads baseball in walks per 9 innings.

Chatwood said earlier this month in St. Louis that he's figured out what has led to the startling lack of control and while he didn't elaborate on the mechanical issue, he was working hard at correcting the problem in bullpens.

He's also used the term "fighting myself" at least a dozen times this month alone and it's become a common refrain for his explanation of what's going on. 

"He's got a busy delivery when he throws the baseball," Maddon said. "He's kinda busy what he does with his hands. It's not like he can just change it easily because that's how his arm works, how his body works.

"Sometimes, like you see him the other day, everything's on time and how good it can be and when it's out of sorts a bit, then all of the sudden it becomes shotgun. Ah man, you can see the movement [on his pitches] from the side, how good it is. 

"We gotta harness it somehow. I spoke to him briefly on the bench; I reassured him it's gonna be fine, it's gonna be really good by the end of the year. We gotta figure it out and he knows that. But man, that's good stuff. We just gotta get it in the zone."

Chatwood also admitted part of the problem is mental in that he's trying to force pitches rather than trusting his stuff. He's also gotten into the bad habit of drifting down the mound, though he's not sure when or where he picked up that hitch in his delivery.

Chatwood and Cubs pitching coach Jim Hickey are working on slowing his delivery down to get his arm in the same spot on a more consistent basis.

When the Cubs signed Chatwood over the winter, it was easy to see why.

He just turned 28 in December, his peripherals and a move from hitter-friendly Coors Field foretold a potential leap in performance and his stuff is nasty. Plus, he signed a three-year deal at a relative bargain of $38 million.

Once the Cubs signed Yu Darvish in spring training, you could make the case that Chatwood could be among the best No. 5 starters in baseball.

Nine starts later, the honeymoon period is well over with Chatwood, as he threw only 30 of his 74 pitches for strikes Tuesday night and sent catcher Willson Contreras sailing all around home plate for pitches way out of the zone.

Still, it's clear to see there is some intriguing talent there and the season there is roughly 70 percent of the season remaining before the Cubs make what they hope is another run at the World Series.

"I have a lot of faith," Maddon said. "I know we're gonna reap the rewards, the benefits as he figures this thing out."

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Marlon Byrd discusses his suspensions for PED use and Ozzie Guillen offers a solution to the PED problem

NBC Sports Chicago

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Marlon Byrd discusses his suspensions for PED use and Ozzie Guillen offers a solution to the PED problem

Ozzie Guillen explains why he thinks Manny Machado is a better fit for the Cubs than the White Sox. Plus, Guillen and Marlon Byrd react to 19-year-old Juan Soto hitting a homer in his first at-bat with the Nationals.

Later in the show the guys debate who had the better rants in front of the media: Guillen or Byrd?

Finally, Byrd opens up about his PED suspensions, relates to the guys caught using PEDs now and Guillen offers up a solution to rid baseball of PEDs entirely.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: