Like rest of Cubs, Jake Arrieta will judge his year in October

Like rest of Cubs, Jake Arrieta will judge his year in October

SAN FRANCISCO – Dissecting his regular season again would be a waste of time for Jake Arrieta: “It just doesn’t matter anymore.”

Arrieta might be the best interview in the Cubs clubhouse, someone who will listen to any question, make direct eye contact and speak in full paragraphs. But even he knows this isn’t the time to think big picture, understanding his whole year will ultimately be judged in October, the way it will be for this entire team.

The Cubs are handing Arrieta a 2-0 lead over the San Francisco Giants in this best-of-five National League Division Series, giving him the chance to beat Madison Bumgarner and end their season on Monday night at AT&T Park.

Arrieta hasn’t trolled Giants fans on Twitter, the way he prepared for last year’s wild-card game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park. And Arrieta couldn’t top his answer to this year’s question about a first-round opponent – “Who gives a s---?” – by simply saying of Bumgarner: “He’s really good, but he’s beatable.”

“It’s going to be a great game, but I’m not like licking my lips because Bumgarner’s on the other side,” Arrieta said. “You know you have to be near the top of your game to win that game. But I got to face one through eight (in that lineup). That’s really my big concern, not who’s on the mound.”

Arrieta didn’t bring his Cy Young Award up to the podium inside AT&T Park’s interview room before Sunday’s optional workout. But it still follows him, the images from last year’s breakthrough performance, the onesie no-hitter at Dodger Stadium, silencing the blackout crowd during the wild-card game, really, one of the greatest pitching runs of all-time.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

“Everybody’s been over-scrutinizing him based on what he had done last year,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s had a great season. It’s not maybe as great as last year was, but it’s hard to replicate that.

“I don’t think Jake is cowered by any situation. We have a lot of confidence in him. I think he projected last year exactly what he’s all about. He’s done it this year, too. Again, it’s just hard to maintain the level of excellence that he had last year.”

If becoming the Game 3 starter bruised Arrieta’s ego, he didn’t show it, and he’s raved about watching Jon Lester reestablish himself as an ace, as well as the emergence of Kyle Hendricks as a Cy Young Award contender.

Arrieta ranked among the NL leaders in wins (18/tied for third), ERA (3.10/10th) and opponents’ OPS (.583/second), all signs of dominance. He also had a midseason downturn (4.88 ERA in July) and an inconsistent finish (4.60 ERA in September).  

“From a numbers perspective, I would have liked to maybe be a little bit better,” Arrieta said. “But at the same time, (I) took the ball every five days and had a lot of great things throughout the season to be excited about.

“I’ve prepared the same way from start to finish. I really like the process and trust the stuff moving forward. I know that it’s more than good enough to have a lot of success for this team in the postseason.”

At this time last year, Arrieta gave the Cubs the invincible feeling the Giants have with Bumgarner, a three-time World Series champion. Which Jake shows up for Arrieta vs. Bumgarner could define this series and the rest of October.

“He’s a guy who really seems to shine brightest in the postseason when the games matter the most,” Arrieta said. “We have got a challenge ahead of us. But we put ourselves in a really good position, obviously, by taking care of business at home with the opportunity to close the series out in three games and get back to Chicago and prepare.

“We have a pretty potent offense that he has to try and neutralize. It's going to be a good one.”

Theo Epstein brushes aside rumors: 'There's essentially zero trade talks involving the Cubs'

Theo Epstein brushes aside rumors: 'There's essentially zero trade talks involving the Cubs'

No, the Cubs are not currently talking to the Baltimore Orioles about bringing Manny Machado to the North Side of Chicago.

So says Theo Epstein, the Cubs president of baseball operations who met with the media at Wrigley Field ahead of Friday's series opener with the San Francisco Giants.

Epstein vehemently shot down the notion of trade talks and specified the major diffence between trade rumors and trade talks, while refusing to comment on Machado in particular.

"I'm not addressing any specific rumor or any player with another team," Epstein said. "I would never talk about that in a million years. The simple way to put it is there's been a lot of trade rumors involving the Cubs and there's essentially zero trade talks involving the Cubs.

"There's a real disparity between the noise and the reality and unfortunately, sometimes that puts a player or two that we have in a real tough circumstance. And that's my job to clarify there's nothing going on right now.

"We have more than enough ability to win the division, win the World Series and we really need to focus on our roster and getting the most out of our ability and finding some consistency. Constant focus outside the organization doesn't do us any good, especially when it's not based in reality right now."

The Cubs have presented a united front publicly in support of Addison Russell, whose name has been the one bandied about most as a potential leading piece in any move for Machado.

After all, the Cubs have won a World Series and never finished worse than an NLCS berth with Russell as their shortstop and he's only 24 with positive signs of progression offensively.

Trading away 3.5 years of control of Russell for 3-4 months of Machado is the type of bold, go-for-it move the Cubs did in 2016 when their championship drought was well over 100 years.

Now, the championship drought is only one season old and the window of contention is expected to remain open until through at least the 2021 season.

Epstein likes to point out that every season is sacred, but at what cost? The Cubs front office is still very much focused on the future beyond 2018.

"Everybody's talking about making trades in May — the first part of the season is trying to figure out who you are," Epstein said. "What are the strengths of the club? What are the weaknesses of the club? What's the character of the club? What position is the club gonna be in as we get deeper in the season? What's our short-term outlook? What's our long-term outlook? What's the chemistry in the clubhouse?

"All those things. It's a process to get there and figure it out. If you rush to those kinds of judgments, you can oftentimes make things worse. I think it's important to figure out exactly who you are and give guys a chance to play and find their level and see how all the pieces fit together before you make your adjustments."

So there's no chance we could see the Cubs once again jump the market and make an early deal like they did last year for Jose Quintana or five years ago for Jake Arrieta? Will they definitely wait another five weeks until July to make a move?

"It's just the natural order of things," Epstein said. "We wouldn't be opposed to doing something, but that's not the case right now. It's not happening."

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 10th, 11th homers in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 10th, 11th homers in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

Sosa is heating up, but even a red-hot Sosa doesn't automatically equal wins for the Cubs.

Slammin' Sammy notched his first multi-homer game in 1998 in a 9-5 loss to Kevin Millwood and the Atlanta Braves. Sosa drove in 4 of the Cubs' 5 runs on a solo shot in the 4th inning and a three-run shot in the 8th. 

Sosa tallied 830 feet of homers in the game, with his first blast going 410 feet and the second shot measured at 420 feet.

The big game bumped Sosa's overall season slash line to .337/.411/.551 (.962 OPS) with 11 homers and 35 RBI.

Fun fact: Mickey Morandini hit second for the Cubs in this game and went 4-for-4, but somehow only scored one run despite hitting just in front of Sosa all game. That's because Morandini was caught stealing to end the 3rd inning, leaving Sosa to lead off the 4th inning with a solo blast.