Cubs

No-hitter shows Jake Arrieta fits in perfectly with free-spirited Cubs

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No-hitter shows Jake Arrieta fits in perfectly with free-spirited Cubs

LOS ANGELES — The Elias Sports Bureau doesn’t keep track of this stuff, but Jake Arrieta has to be the first guy in baseball history to throw a no-hitter and get this question at the end of his postgame press conference: “Can we get a shot of the pajamas?”

Or this: “Whole body shot?”

Arrieta stepped off the stage inside Dodger Stadium’s interview room on Sunday night, gave the thumbs-up sign and posed in his gray striped onesie covered in moustaches. Obviously.

It always felt like the Cubs would have a bad loss whenever they tried to do these dress-up trips or rookie hazing (on their way to finishing in last place). But as everyone knows by now, this year, in so many ways, is different.

Arrieta is a new billboard for the Cubs: Supremely confident, uber-talented and not waiting around for the future.

[MORE CUBS: Jake Arrieta gets locked in with Cubs and makes no-hitter history]

You could only imagine how raucous it would be inside that airplane flying some 1,700 miles home from Los Angeles after this 2-0 victory over the Dodgers that elevated the Cubs to 19 games over .500.

At the end of a tough West Coast trip, manager Joe Maddon dressed up in his pajama flight suit and used “Top Gun” as an inspiration: “I Feel the Need — The Need for Sleep.”

But everyone inside the clubhouse looked completely wired after Arrieta’s masterpiece, which included 12 strikeouts against one walk and zero moments where it looked like he would be in trouble.

Miguel Montero — who also caught Edwin Jackson’s no-hitter with the Arizona Diamondbacks against Maddon’s Tampa Bay Rays in 2010 — stood at his locker with a bottle of champagne in hand and didn’t want to stop talking about Arrieta.

“To be honest, every time he goes out, he’s like Felix Hernandez,” Montero said. “There’s a good chance he’s going to throw a no-hitter.

“I told him I was proud of him. He worked his butt off. He works as hard as anybody in the game. That’s his reward right there. Hopefully, there’s more to come.”

[MORE CUBS: Cubs celebrate Jake Arrieta's no-hitter with pajama party]

Arrieta basically called his shot in spring training, saying he should keep putting himself in position to throw no-hitters after last year’s breakthrough season.

Arrieta had a perfect game going against the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field last June until Billy Hamilton singled up the middle. In his next start, Arrieta was four outs away from a no-hitter against the Boston Red Sox and got a standing ovation from the sellout crowd at Fenway Park.

Arrieta almost did it to the Reds again last September, taking a no-hitter into the eighth inning before Matt Szczur just missed making a spectacular catch on a ball Brandon Phillips drove into left-center at Wrigley Field.

“As the game wore on, I kind of tried to use those past experiences to my advantage,” Arrieta said. “Stay calm and maintain the focus on just going out there and trying to execute quality pitch after quality pitch. The defense was really good behind me.”

For all the goofy stunts to help keep the team loose — Simon the Magician, American Legion Week, etc. — the Cubs had already developed a competitive edge on the pitching side before Maddon’s arrival.

[MORE CUBS: Cubs admit Jon Lester has a problem ... now what?]

Arrieta had spent parts of the 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2013 seasons on the Triple-A level before blossoming in Chicago with that trade from the Baltimore Orioles.

“He’s going to enjoy this tonight,” pitching coach Chris Bosio said. “There’s going to be, I’m sure, a big-time party in Chicago and some celebrations going on. But knowing him, Day 2, he’s going to get organized and ready and start preparing for his next start.

“He’s done so well going pitch-to-pitch, preparing start-to-start, he’s become a student of the game.”

Arrieta starts became must-see TV, to the point where no one around the Cubs would be surprised by a night like this, seeing it as a matter of when, not if.

“It’s something that I’ve wanted for a long time,” Arrieta said. “I’ve been close on a couple of occasions. Just fortunate everything aligned tonight and was able to get it done.”

Feeding off their defense, Cubs starting to feel those 2016 vibes

Feeding off their defense, Cubs starting to feel those 2016 vibes

A year ago, the Cubs were struggling to float above .500, sitting 1.5 games behind the first-place Brewers.

Two years ago, the Cubs were10.5 games up on the second-place Cardinals in the division and already in cruise control to the postseason.

As they entered a weekend series in Cincinnati at 42-29 and in a tie for first place, the Cubs are feeling quite a bit more like 2016 than 2017.

The major reason? Energy, as Joe Maddon pointed out over the weekend.

That energy shows up most often on defense.

The 2016 Cubs put up maybe the best defensive season in baseball history while last year they truly looked hungover.

After a big of a slow start to 2018, the Cubs are feelin' more of that '16 swag.

If you watched either of the wins against the Los Angeles Dodgers this week at Wrigley Field, it's clear to see why: the defense.

"I like the defense," Maddon said of his team last week. "I'm into the defense. There's a tightness about the group. There's a closeness about the group. Not saying last year wasn't like that, but this group is definitely trending more in the '16 direction regarding interacting.

"If anything — and the one thing that makes me extremely pleased — would be the continuation of the defense. We've fed so much off our defense in '16. We've been doing that more recently again. We do so much good out there, then we come in and it gets kinda electric in the dugout. I'd like to see that trend continue on defense."

The Cubs scored only 2 runs in 10 innings in the second game against the Dodgers Tuesday night and managed just 4 runs in the finale Wednesday. Yet their gloves helped hold the Dodgers to only 1 run combined between the two games.

Wednesday's game was a defensive clinic, with Jason Heyward throwing out Chris Taylor at home plate with an incredible tag by Willson Contreras while Javy Baez, Albert Almora Jr., Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber all hit the ground to make sprawling/diving plays.

"[Almora] comes in and dives for one and I'm just like, 'OK, I'm done clapping for you guys,'" Jon Lester, Wednesday's winning pitcher, joked. "It's expected now that these guys make these plays. It's fun on our end. It's the, 'Here, hit it. Our guys are really good out there and they're gonna run it down.'"

The Heyward throw, in particular, jacked the team up. 

Maddon compared it to a grand slam with how much energy it provided the Cubs. Almora said he momentarily lost his voice because he was screaming so much at the play.

There was also Baez making plays in the hole at shortstop, then switching over to second base and turning a ridiculous unassisted double play on a liner in the 8th inning.

"That's what we're capable of doing," Maddon said. "In the past, when we've won on a high level, we've played outstanding defense. It never gets old to watch that kind of baseball."

The Cubs are back to forcing opposing hitters to jog off the field, shaking their head in frustration and disbelief.

"It could be so dispiriting to the other side when you make plays like that," Maddon said. "And also it's buoyant to your pitchers. So there's all kinds of good stuff goin' on there."

A lot of that is the play of the outfield, with Almora back to himself after a down 2017 season and Schwarber turning into a plus-rated defensive outfield.

After finishing 19th in baseball in outfield assists last season, the Cubs are currently tied for 6th with 14 outfield assists this year.

Schwarber has 7 alone, which is already as many as he tallied in the entire 2017 season.

"I feel like they'll learn quickly on Schwarber, if they haven't yet," Heyward said. "You gotta earn that respect. You gotta earn that sense of caution from the third base coach.

"But please keep running on me in those situations. I want it to happen."

Brandon Morrow has a healthy sense of humor about his pants-related injury

Brandon Morrow has a healthy sense of humor about his pants-related injury

Brandon Morrow's body may not be healthy, but his sense of humor sure isn't on the disabled list.

The Cubs closer had to go on the DL Wednesday after he injured his back changing out of his pants early Monday morning when the Cubs returned home to Chicago after a Sunday night game in St. Louis.

The story made national rounds, not only in the baseball world, but resonating with non-sports fans, as well. After all, it's not every day a guy who gets paid millions for his athletic endeavors injures himself on a mundane every day activity.

But it's all good, because even Morrow can find the humor in the situation, Tweeting this out Thursday afternoon:

Morrow's back tightened up on him and didn't loosen up enough the next two days, making him unavailable for the Cubs doubleheader Tuesday at Wrigley Field.

The team decided to put him on the shelf Wednesday morning so an already-gassed bullpen wouldn't have more pressure during this stretch of 14 games in 13 days.

The Cubs are in Cincinnati this weekend for a four-game series with the Reds. Morrow is eligible to return from the DL next Wednesday in Los Angeles as the Cubs once again take on the Dodgers — Morrow's old team.

The 33-year-old pitcher is 16-for-17 in save chances this year while posting a 1.59 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 25 strikeouts in 22.2 innings. He's only given up a run in 2 of his 26 outings as a Cub.