‘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.”

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 12th + 13th homers in 1998


Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 12th + 13th 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.

An off-day did nothing to slow down the 1998 National League MVP as Sosa collected his second straight 2-homer game May 27 of that season.

He went deep in the eighth and ninth innings of a Cubs' 10-5 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies at Wrigley Field, driving in 3 runs. 

The first homer - off Darrin Winston - was an absolute blast, traveling an estimated 460 feet. The second shot was tame in comparison with only 400 feet as a recorded distance.

In a matter of two games, Sosa raised his season OPS from .930 to .988 and his slugging percentage from .521 to .577 thanks to a pair of 2-homer contests.

Fun fact: Doug Glanville - former Cubs outfielder and current NBC Sports Chicago analyst - was the Phillies leadoff hitter that day in 1998, collecting three hits and scoring a pair of runs.

Yu Darvish back on the DL for Cubs with triceps tendinitis


Yu Darvish back on the DL for Cubs with triceps tendinitis

Yu Darvish now has more trips to the disabled list in a Cubs uniform than wins.

The Cubs place their 31-year-old right-handed pitcher on the DL Saturday evening with right triceps tendinitis. The move is retroactive to May 23, so he may only have to miss one turn through the rotation.

In a corresponding move, Randy Rosario was recalled from Triple-A Iowa to provide Joe Maddon with another arm in the bullpen. Tyler Chatwood will start Sunday in Darvish's place.

Thanks to two off-days on the schedule last week, the Cubs should be fine with their rotation for a little while. Jon Lester could go on regular rest Monday, but the Cubs would need to make a decision for Tuesday given Kyle Hendricks just threw Friday afternoon.

That decision could mean Mike Montgomery moving from the bullpen to the rotation for a spot start, or it could be the promotion of top prospect Adbert Alzolay from Triple-A Iowa.

Either way, this is more bad news for Darvish, who has had a rough go of it since he signed a six-year, $126 million deal with the Cubs in February.

Between issues with the weather, the concern of arm cramps in his debut in Miami, leg cramps in Atlanta, a trip to the disabled list for the flu, trouble making it out of the fifth inning and now triceps tendinitis, it's been a forgettable two months for Darvish.

He is 1-3 with a 4.95 ERA, 1.43 WHIP and 49 strikeouts in 40 innings with the Cubs.

Over the course of 139 career starts, Darvish is 57-45 with a 3.49 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and has averaged 11 strikeouts per nine innings.