Cubs

Ten takeaways from another Jake Arrieta no-hitter and an unforgettable night for Cubs

Ten takeaways from another Jake Arrieta no-hitter and an unforgettable night for Cubs

“I am locked in like that,” Jake Arrieta said one day in spring training, cutting off a reporter who asked if the National League’s reigning Cy Young Award winner ever wondered about not getting back to the unconscious level that made him the hottest pitcher on the planet and in the history of baseball.

Next question.

Arrieta keeps answering with dominant, must-see performances. This is an elite athlete who seems to be in complete control, understanding how his 6-foot-4, 225-pound body works and achieving a Zen-like state of mind on the mound.

You’re not at all surprised by now, watching Arrieta throw his second no-hitter during Thursday’s 16-0 win over the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park. Here are 10 takeaways from another unforgettable night:

• Remember the onesie: Showing up in pajamas for his postgame news conference at Dodger Stadium on Aug. 30 last year summed up Arrieta’s self-assured, team-first attitude, showing a national audience how Joe Maddon’s crew would roll onto an overnight flight back to Chicago and into the playoffs.

“It felt sloppy,” Arrieta told Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies on the Comcast Sportsnet Chicago broadcast. “My pregame ‘pen was as sloppy as it was in L.A. before that no-hitter, so I don’t put a lot into it. I came out just trying to mix. I was a little off with my command. But I was able to keep them off-balance, and later in the game pound the strike zone with some good movement.”

From the official Twitter account of the Los Angeles Dodgers: “Hey @Reds, Arrieta no-hitter support group meets on Mondays.”

• Unbeatable? Arrieta has now put together 24 consecutive regular-season quality starts, going 20-1 with a 0.86 ERA during an unbelievable run that stretches back to June 21 last year. His only loss came when Cole Hamels threw a no-hitter at Wrigley Field, six days before getting traded from the Philadelphia Phillies to the Texas Rangers at the July 31 deadline.

[MORE: Twitter reacts to Jake Arrieta's no-hitter]

• The End: Hamels no-hit the Cubs for the first time since a Sandy Koufax perfect game in 1965, snapping the team’s streak of 7,920 games with at least one hit, which was the longest streak in modern major-league history. That bumped up the Reds, who had the longest active regular-season streak at 7,109 games, though Roy Halladay did throw a no-hitter against them during the 2010 playoffs in Philadelphia.

• Feldman! The Cubs honestly didn’t know what they were going to get when they flipped pitcher Scott Feldman and reserve catcher Steve Clevenger to the Baltimore Orioles on July 2, 2013.

The Cubs had good scouting reports on Arrieta’s raw stuff and strong work ethic, but reliever Pedro Strop looked like an easier mechanical fix and the deal also included some international-bonus slot money.

Until Arrieta came along, the last two no-hitters thrown by the Cubs were: Carlos Zambrano in 2008 vs. the Houston Astros in a game moved to Miller Park because of Hurricane Ike; and Milt Pappas – who died this week at the age of 76 – against the San Diego Padres at Wrigley Field in 1972.

• This isn’t a Big Red Machine: That’s not taking anything away from Arrieta, just pointing out that as the Reds and Milwaukee Brewers follow that same rebuilding/tanking blueprint, the Cubs still have 34 games left against those division opponents.

Meaning Arrieta could have a chance to make history again, especially with an improved defensive alignment – young shortstop Addison Russell, All-Star second baseman Ben Zobrist, Gold Glove outfielder Jason Heyward – playing behind him.

[WATCH: The Cubs' celebration following Jake Arrieta's final out]

• Don’t make plans for the All-Star break: Arrieta’s Cy Young encore so far – 4-0, 0.87 ERA, 26 strikeouts against six walks through 31 innings – makes him a leading candidate to start the showcase event on July 12 at Petco Park in San Diego.

• Silver Slugger: Arrieta’s athleticism and competitiveness means he’ll want that award, too, after San Francisco Giants ace Madison Bumgarner won it last year. After going 2-for-4 with a walk against the Reds, Arrieta now has an .879 OPS this season (to go along with the defensive skills that made him a Gold Glove finalist last year).

• Beat it, Javy: Arrieta has his quirks – that drives him through a fanatical workout routine and makes him such a great interview and it probably bothered some Orioles earlier in his career – but he doesn’t really come across as superstitious.

“I was cutting up with some of the guys about my at-bats, keeping it loose, having a good time,” Arrieta said. “I think that’s the smart way to approach it without getting too far away from what your goal is and what the objective is on the mound when you get back out there.

“Business as usual, other than ‘Javy’ (Javier Baez) was in my spot before the eighth inning, so I kind of gave him a little hell for that, told him to never do that again.”

• Grandpa Rossy can play: What a retirement gift for David Ross during his farewell tour, going 2-for-4 with a homer, a walk and three runs scored and catching his first no-hitter in a big-league career that began 14 years ago.

“That’s probably what makes it most special for me – giving him that in his last season,” Arrieta said. “That’s special. We’re hugging there at the end and he just kept telling me: ‘Thank you, thank you!’ It’s just a great way for him to go out, another box he can check now.”

• Scott Boras doesn’t do hometown discounts: Look at the other pitchers positioned to become free agents after the 2017 season – Tyson Ross, Alex Cobb and Michael Pineda could form the second tier of arms – and you can understand why the super-agent expects his client to hit the open market.

“Every Cy Young Award winner I know got a seven-year contract,” Boras said before Arrieta shut down the Los Angeles Angels on Opening Night.

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 9th homer in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 9th homer 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.

Get ready for an onslaught of Sammy Sosa homers and highlights coming nearly every day over the next month-plus.

After a slow start to his historic 1998 season, Sosa really started heating up in late May. He sent his 9th ball into the bleachers on May 22, beginning a run of 25 longballs in roughly five weeks of action leading up to June 30.

Sosa's 9th homer actually came off Greg Maddux, a solo shot with two outs to give the Cubs an early lead in Atlanta. Chicago reliever Bob Patterson wound up blowing the game wide open late as the Cubs stumbled to an 8-2 loss.

Maddux, meanwhile, tossed 8 stellar innings, allowing only 5 hits and 2 runs - including the 440-foot homer to Sosa.

Fun fact: The Braves leadoff hitter that day was none other than current NBC Sports Chicago baseball analyst Ozzie Guillen, who was in the midst of his first season in the big leagues not in a White Sox uniform.

Fun fact No. 2: Atlanta's No. 2 hitter in the game was Keith Lockhart, who is now a scout in the Cubs organization.

Cubs vs. Indians: Which team is better positioned to get back to the World Series in 2018?

Cubs vs. Indians: Which team is better positioned to get back to the World Series in 2018?

It's been nearly 19 months since the Cubs and Indians played what may go down as history as the most important baseball game ever.

Game 7s are always instant classics just because of the win-or-go-home aspect, but the added bonus on that early-November day in 2016 was the fact either one of Major League Baseball's longest championship droughts was going to end. It was just a matter of whether it would be the Cubs' 108-year history or the Indians' 70-year.

Obviously we all know how that played out and for the first time since holding a 3-1 lead in that 2016 World Series, the Indians are returning to Wrigley Field for a brief two-game set beginning Tuesday night.

We're only a little over a quarter of the way through the 2018 campaign so the playoffs are a long way away. But could these two teams be destined for another date in the Fall Classic?

Let's examine the current positions:

STARTING PITCHING

The rotation is the easiest place to look for championship teams. It's really hard to survive a month of high-intensity postseason baseball without a stable of workhorses (even in today's changing world of shorter and shorter outings). 

On paper in spring training, these looked like two of the top rotations in baseball. It hasn't played out that way for the Cubs, though there is clearly reason for optimism with the way Jose Quintana and Yu Darvish pitched over the weekend in Cincinnati.

But the Indians rotation has been absolutely incredible, even including Josh Tomlin who was just bumped to the bullpen with a 7.84 ERA. The Top 4 starters in Cleveland can go toe-to-toe with any in baseball, as Corey Kluber (2.36 ERA, 0.84 WHIP), Carlos Carrasco (3.65, 1.07), Trevor Bauer (2.59, 1.12) and Mike Cleveniger (2.87, 1.16) would create plenty of issues for the opposition in a playoff series.

The rotation is the true strength of the Indians and while the Cubs still boast a starting 5 that could potentially hold its own against anybody in baseball, this one has to go the way of Cleveland.

Edge: Indians

BULLPEN

When you feature Andrew Miller and Cody Allen, it'd be easy to look at that and chalk it up as a Cleveland victory in the bullpen category, but things haven't been so great for the Indians of late.

Miller can't stay healthy and even when he is on the mound, rough outings have dragged his overall numbers (3.09 ERA, 1.54 WHIP) down. We're not used to seeing Miller's ERA even start with a "2" let alone a "3" so this is definitely a cause for concern. Allen, meanwhile, has only blown 1 save in 7 chances, but he also has a 3.32 ERA and 1.26 WHIP, which would be his worst numbers of any season since his rookie year of 2012.

The rest of the Cleveland bullpen is a complete mess, with Zach McAllister (7.16 ERA), Dan Otero (7.47), Tyler Olson (6.08), Nick Goody (6.94) and Matt Belisle (5.06) all struggling.

The relief corps has been an area of major strength for the Cubs in the first quarter of the season. Only Luke Farrell has an ERA above 5.00 in that Cubs bullpen and four different pitchers boast ERAs under 2.00 — Brandon Morrow (1.13), Steve Cishek (1.71), Pedro Strop (1.35) and Brian Duensing (0.61). 

The Cubs' main trick will be managing the workload for all these guys to ensure they don't run full-speed into a wall as they did late last season. But for now, the Cubs bullpen is head and shoulders above the Indians.

Edge: Cubs

OFFENSE

This is the toughest area to evaluate between these two teams.

The Indians' offense is incredibly top-heavy with Francisco Lindor (.933 OPS), Jose Ramirez (.985) and Michael Brantley (.936) providing probably the best Top 3 in an order in baseball. Brantley wasn't around for that 2016 World Series and has missed so much time the last few years with health woes, but he's back and as good as ever right now.

Beyond that, Cleveland is still searching for help. With Lonnie Chisenhall, Tyler Naquin and Bradley Zimmer on the disabled list, the Indians outfield was so desperate for help they had to add Melky Cabrera to the mix as well as needing to rely on 37-year-old Rajai Davis.

Edwin Encarnacion will probably heat up at some point overall, but he's still on pace for close to 40 dingers. Jason Kipnis has been atrocious and Yonder Alonso has also underwhelmed. There's not much in the way of offensive help coming, either, until Zimmer and Chisenhall are healthy.

The Cubs feature a Jekyll and Hyde offense that sometimes looks like the best lineup in the game and at other times, causes their fanbase to pull out hair in frustration. But that's also the way the game has gone in general right now.

That being said, Kris Bryant is making a serious case as the best player in baseball, Willson Contreras is making a serious case as the best catcher in baseball, Albert Almora Jr. is making a serious case as deserving all the Cubs' at-bats in center field and Javy Baez is making a serious case as the starting All-Star second baseman this summer, currently leading the National League in RBI.

Even Ian Happ has utilized a recent hot streak in Cincinnati to bump up his season numbers (now boasting an .870 OPS) and soon-to-be-37-year-old Ben Zobrist has a .382 on-base percentage.

Once Anthony Rizzo gets back to being the hitter we all know him to be and Addison Russell starts depositing baseballs into the bleachers on a regular basis, you'd figure the Cubs offense would stablize.

There's too much potential and talent here to finish anywhere but Top 3 in the NL in runs scored, which cannot be said about the Indians in the AL.

Edge: Cubs

DEFENSE

Another area where the Cubs have been up-and-down, but once again, there is too much talent and potential here not to give Chicago the edge.

Zimmer's return will greatly improve the Indians' team defense and Lindor is still great, but Cleveland still can't match the Cubs' potential Gold Glove contenders at 5+ positions (Rizzo, Russell, Baez, Almora, Jason Heyward).

Edge: Cubs

INTANGIBLES

Both teams have some awesome veteran leadership and even the younger players are plenty battle-tested.

Terry Francona and Joe Maddon are two of the best managers in the game, but Francona may have a longer leash in Cleveland. Maddon's honeymoon period on Chicago's North Side ended the day the Cubs won the World Series, oddly.

The jury is still out on the new Cubs coaching staff, too. Chili Davis looks to be making an impact with the Cubs offense at times and his strategy of using the whole field and limiting strikeouts will take some time to really show strides on a consistent basis. The Cubs pitching staff is still walking FAR too many batters, but that's hardly Jim Hickey's fault.

Both teams should be plenty hungry all summer long as they were bounced from the 2017 postseason in ways that left poor tastes in their respective mouths.

But we'll give this edge to the Indians simply because they are still searching for that elusive championship, so maybe that drive will give them a leg up on the Cubs.

Edge: Indians

OVERALL

The Indians are 22-23, but actually sit in 1st place in the woeful American League Central.

The Cubs are 25-19, yet duking it out with a trio of other teams in their own division.

As such, the Indians' road TO the playoffs seems much, much easier as we sit here in the week leading up to Memorial Day. And the ability to cruise to a division title will allow them to rest and conserve their energy for October, while the Cubs will probably not get to coast to the NLDS like they did in 2016.

That rest and relaxtion may give the Indians an edge, but as of right now, this Cubs roster looks to be better equipped to win it all.