Why Cubs see Jake Arrieta staying strong through October


Why Cubs see Jake Arrieta staying strong through October

NEW YORK – Whether or not Jake Arrieta still has that same aura of invincibility, the Cubs believe their Cy Young Award candidate can pitch into November.

Setting the standard at no-hitter/complete-game shutout meant it felt like a surprise when the “Arrieta dominates St. Louis Cardinals” story didn’t write itself in the divisional round.

The Cubs still beat baseball’s best team in the regular season, even on an off night for Arrieta, who saw his streak of 21 straight quality starts end after allowing four runs in 5.2 innings. He simply didn’t have the same sharpness (two walks) or finish to his pitches (one hit batter), reminding everyone that he’s still human.

Now Arrieta gets the New York Mets on Sunday night at Citi Field in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series, with the Cubs already down 1-0 in this best-of-seven matchup and facing a team that just beat Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, eliminating the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“He’s not going to be perfect every time,” manager Joe Maddon said. “But I like the idea that he’s got a little extra rest going into this start. I’m anticipating a lot of what we’ve seen the last couple months.”

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That would be arguably the greatest second half for any pitcher in major-league history, putting up an 0.75 ERA after the All-Star break. The Cubs still haven’t lost a game Arrieta started since July 25, when it took Cole Hamels throwing a no-hitter for the Philadelphia Phillies at Wrigley Field.

But Arrieta only has so many bullets left in his right arm, nearing 244 innings this year, or 87 more than he threw last season in the big leagues after a shoulder injury wiped out his April.

“We intend to play in October every year,” Arrieta said. “That’s something that I just take into consideration throughout the training process, trying to prepare your body as best as possible. (That’s) shoulder care, keeping everything as injury-resistant as possible.

“Obviously, there are certain things you can’t control, but physically my body’s great. I feel like there’s still some work for me to be done. And I don’t think I’ve gotten to the end of my leash yet.”

The Cubs are certainly aware of all this and no one has any definitive answers, because pitching healthcare is a next frontier for the industry. Arrieta is also a workout freak coming into his own with an acute understanding of his own pitching mechanics and mind/body dynamics.

“He’s as in-shape as anybody that’s ever played this game,” Maddon said. “Now, of course, guys get hurt even though they’re in good shape. I understand that. (But also) the fact that (he’s almost) 30 years of age is different than if he was 23, 24 making this kind of a jump in number of innings pitched and number of pitches thrown. I’d probably be more concerned if he was 23 or 24, to be honest.”

Arrieta is also a top-10 pitcher in terms of pitches thrown per inning, averaging 15 during this breakout season and showing an ability to think through at-bats on his feet.

“That’s pretty darned good,” Maddon said. “So maybe he’s thrown a lot of innings, but a lot of non-stressful innings, which I do think matters.

“I hate when the pitcher has to work early in the inning to get his outs. That really bums me out. Normally, he’s not going to be pitching deep into that game. But for the most part, he hasn’t really struggled to get outs early in the game, and that has led him to pitching more deep in the game, and you’re seeing all these extra innings piling up.

“This guy’s really in great shape. He takes care of himself, repeats his delivery. He’s pitch-efficient. Those are the kind of things that I want to believe are going to permit him to be this guy this year – and in the future – without any kind of negative impact.”

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For Arrieta, the biggest challenge might be making sure his heart rate doesn’t start soaring eight hours before first pitch in front of a raucous New York crowd and a Cubs team that will be playing with a sense of urgency.

“The physical toll really hasn’t bothered me at all,” Arrieta said. “But I think that the mental side of it and all the energy you burn leading up to the game does have a little bit of effect. But having a couple of these under my belt now, I’m pretty confident going in that I’ll be able to handle that pretty well.”

Joe Maddon wants Cubs fans to cheer for Gleyber Torres and Eloy Jimenez

Joe Maddon wants Cubs fans to cheer for Gleyber Torres and Eloy Jimenez

Why can't a trade be looked at as a win-win? 

There doesn't always have to be a clear winner and loser.

Prior to Jose Quintana taking the ball for Saturday's game against the San Francisco Giants at Wrigley Field, Joe Maddon was asked about the players (Eloy Jimenez, Dylan Cease) the Cubs gave up to acquire Quintana as well as the deal with the Yankees for Aroldis Chapman in July 2016.

Gleyber Torres is absolutely killing it in New York, hitting .323 with a 1.014 OPS, 9 homers and 24 RBI in only 29 games. Six of those homers have come in the last week alone. 

With the White Sox, both Jimenez and Cease have found success in Double-A and Advanced Class-A, respectively.

Jimenez is hitting .331 with a .992 OPS, 9 homers and 35 RBI in 35 games. Cease is 6-2 with a 2.83 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 57 strikeouts in 47.2 innings.

As the Cubs work to get their offense settled into a consistent groove, some Cubs fans have been looking at what might've been with guys like Torres and Jimenez.

"You can't have it both ways, man," Maddon said. "I'm happy for Gleyber. When he left, we talked about it. And we talked about the kids that went to the White Sox. It's good stuff. 

"I'm really disappointed if anybody's disappointed in the fact we won the World Series in 2016 and the fact that the guy we're talking about that we had to give up Gleyber for was so instrumental in that happening. That's bad process if you're gonna get stuck on something like that. Be happy for Gleyber. Be happy for him."

Maddon has been a fan of Torres' since he saw him in spring training in 2015, Maddon's first year in the Cubs organization.

"This kid's 21, with high, high baseball intellect," Maddon said. "He's very similar to Javy on the field. I've had some great conversations with him in the past. 

"The first time I saw him in spring training, I thought this guy's for real. It was like one at-bat, line drive to RF, I said who is this guy? And then you have a conversation with him. He's solid."

Maddon's point is a great one — would Cubs fans prefer to still have Torres and NOT have the 2016 World Series championship? Because that title doesn't happen without Chapman, regardless of how you feel about him as a person or what the Cubs had to give up to acquire him.

"Don't play that game," Maddon said. "Be happy for [Torres]. I'm gonna be happy when Eloy and Dylan make it up here. All these dudes, I want them to get here and be really good. And the guys that we get, I want them to be really good. 

"I don't understand why somebody's gotta lose all the time. This is an absolute classic example of what was good for both teams."

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.