‘Throwback’ Jake Arrieta, Cubs continue to assert dominance over Pirates

‘Throwback’ Jake Arrieta, Cubs continue to assert dominance over Pirates

For the nostalgic crowd, Jake Arrieta’s bizarre sixth inning was described by manager Joe Maddon as a throwback to the days of Sudden Sam McDowell, the longtime Cleveland Indians flamethrower who routinely led the league in strikeouts and walks. But for the bigger picture of the National League Central, it was another instance of the Cubs — who won, 6-0, in front of 41,547 at Wrigley Field Friday afternoon — asserting their dominance over a Pittsburgh Pirates team that’s made the playoffs in each of the last three seasons. 

Arrieta, who cruised through his first five innings, walked the bases loaded with one out in the sixth in a strange spate of wildness. He then fell behind David Freese 3-0, and it looked like the fuse was lit for an explosive Pirates inning. Instead, Arrieta fought back to strike out the Pittsburgh third baseman for the second out. 

Wrigley Field erupted in cheers, but Matt Joyce — the Pirates left fielder with a hulking 1.040 OPS — was still in the way. Arrieta pitched himself into a 3-1 count, but came back with a strike to produce a full count, then zipped a sinker over the inner third for strike three. 

“It was a throwback moment,” Maddon said. “… Jake made the pitches he had to. Pure and simple. That’s the game-changer.”

That five-batter stretch was the narrow story from the Cubs’ win Friday, but the wider view shows a Cubs team consistently beating a Pittsburgh side that’s lost 15 of its last 20 games and seven of its last eight. The Cubs are 6-1 against the Pirates in 2016. 

The sixth inning was the Pirates’ chance to break things open for a team that hasn’t scored more than four runs in over a week and last had what could be considered an offensive outburst June 4. But even with Arrieta pushing himself to the brink of destruction, the Pirates couldn’t flip the switch against a guy who’s dominated them ever since coming to Chicago in July of 2013. 

“Nothing like a little self-inflicted drama to get the fans going,” Arrieta said. “Really just lost feel there. But those are things that can happen. … Just a temporary lapse in staying aggressive and keeping things on the same track as they were most of the game.”

After the game, left fielder Matt Szczur — who ripped a two-run home run in the first inning that buoyed things early on — mentioned Arrieta’s success pitching with the bases loaded as a reason as to why he wasn’t too worried when the ace right-hander loaded the bases on walks. But even the mention of it doesn’t do the numbers justice: Since 2014, opposing batters have one hit in 27 plate appearances against Arrieta with the bases loaded. 

Another reason for comfort could’ve been Arrieta’s success against the Pirates during his ascendence from struggling pitching prospect to becoming the 2015 NL Cy Young winner. Arrieta has now started nine games against the Pirates — including the Wild Card game last year — since 2014 and the most earned runs he’s allowed in any of those starts has been two (in that game, coming May 14 of this year, he also struck out 11). 

When Arrieta loaded the bases, the Cubs only had a two-run lead, but a deluge of Pirates mistakes after that frame saw four more runs add to the total. Joyce nonchalantly threw to third base on Albert Almora’s sixth-inning RBI double, which ultimately led to Addison Russell drawing an impressive 13-pitch bases-loaded walk. Right fielder Gregory Polanco curled away from a fly ball center fielder Andrew McCutchen lost in the sun in the seventh, which precipitated another Cubs run. 

There’s still plenty of games left to be played over the course of the summer, but in dispatching the Pirates — who fell below .500 — Friday, the Cubs are now 13 games better than their Pennsylvania-based NL Central opponent. The caveat is that it’s early, but what Arrieta did in the sixth inning was another signal that the Cubs have the Pirates’ number this season.

“Obviously you take a look at it sometimes but there’s still a long way to go, so you can’t really start focusing on that right now,” catcher Miguel Montero said. “You gotta keep winning as many games (as you can) right now.”

Report: People around baseball believe Joe Girardi is waiting for managerial job with Cubs or White Sox


Report: People around baseball believe Joe Girardi is waiting for managerial job with Cubs or White Sox

Joe Girardi won't be the manager of the Cincinnati Reds in 2019, perhaps because he has hopes of landing a gig in Chicago.

According to Fancred's Jon Heyman, Girardi was in the running for the Reds' managerial job (which went to former Cubs third-base coach David Bell this weekend) but pulled himself out, this after interviewing for but not getting the same position with the Texas Rangers. Heyman cites "industry speculation" that Girardi might want to remain a free agent so he can land the job of skipper in Chicago.

Heyman is of course not specific, listing a city with two major league teams, leaving this open for interpretation as either the Cubs or the White Sox.

Obviously Girardi has a history on the North Side. He had two stints there as a player, from 1989 to 1992 and again from 2000 to 2002. Joe Maddon has one year remaining on his contract, and Cubs president Theo Epstein said during his end-of-season press conference that the team has not had discussions with Maddon about an extension. After managing the New York Yankees to their most recent World Series championship in 2009, Girardi might again want a crack at managing a big-market contender.

But if Girardi is simply itching to get back to his home state — he was born in Peoria and graduated from Northwestern — perhaps he has the White Sox on his wish list, too. Rick Renteria has one year remaining on his current contract, as well, and should the rebuilding White Sox see all their young talent turn into the contender they've planned, the manager of such a team would be an attractive position to hold.

But just because folks believe Girardi wants to manage in Chicago doesn't mean there'd be mutual interest. Despite Epstein's comments that there have been no extension talks with Maddon, the president of baseball operations also backed his manager in that same press conference, refusing to blame Maddon for the team's "broken" offense down the stretch last month. And Rick Hahn and the rest of White Sox brass heap frequent praise on the job Renteria has done in his two years, describing him as an important part of player development and of establishing a culture hoped to spread throughout the organization.

Plus, it's worth mentioning that Girardi's decade-long tenure in the Bronx came to an end amid suggestion that he was unable to connect with his young players. It's unknown how much of a realistic concern that would be for any team thinking about hiring him. But the recently fired Chili Davis believed that very issue was part of the reason his time as the Cubs' hitting coach came to an end. And there are few teams out there younger than the White Sox.

Again, it's just speculation for now. But if for some reason one or both Chicago teams don't hand out new contracts to their current managers, perhaps Girardi would be interested in an opening on either side of town.

Glanville: Fall to Spring - A player’s offseason changes meaning with each changing season

Glanville: Fall to Spring - A player’s offseason changes meaning with each changing season

A few weeks after we (the Cubs) were eliminated from the 2003 playoffs, I got a phone call from my college professor. Since it was officially the offseason, I was in the early stages of a break from following a pocket schedule to tell me where to be every day for nearly eight months.

But this was a man I could not refuse. I chose my college major to go into his field of transportation engineering and he was calling because he needed a teaching assistant to accompany him on his trip to South Africa.

One minute, I could barely move off of my couch in my Chicago apartment after losing Game 7 against the Marlins. The next minute, I would be standing within miles of the Southern most point in Africa at the Cape of Good Hope. Why not? I needed the distraction so I agreed to go.

The offseason is its own transition. Leaving the regimen of routine, of batting practice and bus times, to an open ended world that you have to re-learn again. When I finished my first full major league season in 1997, I lived in Streeterville at the Navy Pier Apartments.

That offseason, I decided to stay an extra month in Chicago only to wake up panicked for the first two weeks because I thought I was missing stretch time for a home day game. A major league schedule becomes etched in your DNA after a while.

It is also a time that you get to reflect. The regular season does not give you a moment to really get perspective on what was just accomplished, what it all means, what you would change. I always joked about the T-shirt I wanted to a sell that listed all of the things a major league player figures out during the off-season. From the perfect swing to the ex-girlfriend you need to un-break-up with next week.

It all becomes so clear when a 96 MPH fastball isn’t coming at you.

For years, I would arrange a training program to follow, but I quickly learned that I had to mix it up. There was only so much repetition I could stand in the off-season. So some years, I moved to the site of spring training and worked out early with the staff, other years I found a spot at home where I grew up or wherever I played during the season, to train.

I was single when I played, but now with a family, I have a better understanding of the challenges my teammates would express as they were re-engaging as a daily father again after this long absentee existence.

To keep it fresh and spicy, when I got older in the game, I enrolled in a dance studio and took a winter of dance lessons. Salsa, Foxtrot, Rumba, you name it. On Thursdays we had to dance for an hour straight, changing partners in the room every song change. Dancing with the Stars had nothing on me.

Of course, not every offseason is fun and games. There were years when I wasn’t sure I would have a job the next year, or I was in the throes of a trade rumor. In 1997, I was traded from the Cubs to the Phillies two days before Christmas. In 2002, my father passed away on the last game of the season, leading the offseason to be a time of mourning.

By my final season in 2005, I thought I was officially on my couch forever. I was going to fade away into oblivion like many players do. No fanfare, the phone just would stop ringing and I would just let the silence wash over me. The Yankees had called earlier in that off-season, acting like they were doing me a favor which I turned down, then they called back later with a more open tone, seeing me as a potential key piece in their outfield with Bernie Williams slowing down quite a bit at that point.

I did get off that couch for that call, only to get released the last week of camp, so I was back on the couch, with a fiancé and some extra salt in the wounds after that final meeting with Brian Cashman and Joe Torre, who boxed me into the coaches office to tell me I was released. Released? Come on. Never had that happen before.

The Cubs players will go through all of this if they have the good fortune of playing a long time. The wave of uncertainty, the meaning of age in this game spares no one. Each offseason is a time to reset, a period where you get away, seemingly adrift from the game, then as spring gets closer, the shoreline comes up in the horizon once again, magnetically drawing you to its shores for another season.

Amazingly, you don’t always know your age and what it has done to your body. 34 can’t be that old, right? I can still run, or throw 95. Then those 23-year-olds in camp are the wake up call, or maybe you are that 23-year-old and can’t believe your locker is next to Ryne Sandberg’s.

Then you blink, and you are advising Jimmy Rollins about etiquette and realize you have become that guy, the seasoned vet, preaching about locker room respect.

For the 2018 Cubs, they fell short of their goal to repeat their 2016 magic. Failed to meet their singular destination that meant success over all else. Yet, those who come back for 2019, will not be the same player, the same person, that left the locker room at the close this season. They will have grown, changed, aged, wizened up, rehabbed, hardened. All of which means that new perspective is the inevitable part of this time off, whether you like it or not.

Baseball is a game that has this unique dynamic. The highest intensity rhythm of any sport. Every day you are tested. You are pushed to the brink by sheer attrition. According to my teammate Ed Smith, who was playing third base at the time when Michael Jordan reached third, Jordan, after playing well over 100 games in a row, said to him “Man, I have never been this tired in my entire life.”

The grind.

Then it stops on a dime. Season over. Only on baseball’s terms.

But you may be granted another spring. Another crack at it. Until one day, the baseball winter never ends and its time for you to plant your own spring.