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.
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“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.”