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World Series? Megadeal? Jake Arrieta ready for encore with Cubs

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World Series? Megadeal? Jake Arrieta ready for encore with Cubs

Jake Arrieta made the Cubs feel invincible, bringing a sense of swagger to a young team that needed it and now gets a $272 million upgrade with Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist and John Lackey.

That’s a Gold Glove outfielder who’s still only 26 years old, the game’s premier super-utility guy and a big-game pitcher with two World Series rings all added to a 97-win nucleus.

Arrieta could come across as cocky when he was a Triple-A pitcher in a last-place organization still trying to prove he could make it in The Show. The National League’s reigning Cy Young Award winner certainly isn’t going to run away from expectations now.

“It’s hard to look at those three guys right there and feel like we’re not the favorite,” Arrieta said during Thursday’s Cubs Caravan stop at Jahn Elementary School on the North Side. “I know that’s only on paper. You have to go out there and perform and show you’re the team to beat. But right now, it looks like we are.”

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Forget 1908. The Cubs should feel a sense of urgency because they only have a two-year window before Arrieta can hit the jackpot in free agency.

By the 2018 season, $155 million lefty Jon Lester will be 34, Zobrist will be nearing his 37th birthday and Lackey will be around retirement age. Plus, no-longer-rookies Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Addison Russell will get expensive in a hurry through the arbitration system, the Cubs don’t plan to be picking near the top of the draft anytime soon and no one knows if Theo Epstein’s front office will be able to throw around new TV money at that point.

Don’t bet on a surprise Arrieta extension announcement during this weekend’s Cubs Convention at the Sheraton Grand Chicago. That would mean Epstein buying at an absolute high point and super-agent Scott Boras completely changing his open-market philosophy before Friday’s deadline to formally exchange salary numbers.

“I don’t think either side wants it to draw out,” said Arrieta, who should come close to tripling last year’s $3.63 million salary. “Just get it done."

When a reporter mentioned that Epstein has talked about locking him up with a long-term contract, Arrieta said: “Um, he hasn’t called me ...”

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As Arrieta put together an unbelievable second half (12-1, 0.75 ERA), the head-to-head comparison became eventual Cy Young runner-up Zack Greinke, who opted out of his contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers and signed a six-year, $206 million megadeal with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

“You know what type of money is out there,” Arrieta said. “You know what the market is. But that doesn’t mean that things won’t happen.

“I’m going to be a Cub for the next two seasons, which I’m very excited about. And if it goes longer than that, then that would be nice, too.”

Arrieta obviously doesn’t have the same resume as Greinke, but it’s another data point as the price of pitching skyrockets. Arrieta really only has one wire-to-wire season in the majors, and he will have to deal with the year-after effect from throwing almost 250 innings in 2015 (including the playoffs).

Stay tuned to see how much lightning this Texan has left in right arm, if the Cubs can get lucky/stay healthy again and whether or not this group can withstand the pressure of being the hunted.

The same question facing Arrieta goes for the 2016 Cubs: What do you do for an encore?

“The numbers are something that’s really hard to control,” Arrieta said. “Certain aspects of your season, you need a lot of good fortune, great things to happen for you on defense, and you got to be really good.

“I anticipate having a very good season. Whether I go under a 1.70 (ERA) or (have) 22 wins remains to be seen. I think it’s possible. And that’s kind of how I (plan to) attack the upcoming season.”

Yadier Molina is sad and Cubs fans have a new favorite GIF

Yadier Molina is sad and Cubs fans have a new favorite GIF

ST. LOUIS — The game was over and Yadier Molina knew it.

As Ian Happ turned on Sam Tuivailala's two-strike pitch in the 7th inning, Molina crumbled to the ground in defeat.

Happ's two-out double gave the Cubs a 4-3 lead they did not relinquish in a 6-3 victory Saturday night at Busch Stadium.

The Cubs had to claw back all night against the Cardinals, fighting to tie the game at two separate spots before Happ's breakthrough off Tuivailala.

Molina couldn't contain his disappointment:

Molina is a common target of ire from Cubs fans in the heated rivalry with the Cardinals, so you can bet his #SadFace led to some glee in the Chicago fanbase (just look at the comments on that Tweet):

The 35-year-old catcher just returned recently from a nearly month-long stint on the disabled list when he took a foul tip off a Kris Bryant swing to the groin on Jordan Hicks' 102 mph pitch the last time the Cubs were in town.

Molina has drawn 3 walks and has a single in this weekend's series with the Cubs, but he also committed a miscue in Friday's game, when he threw wild to first base on Jon Lester's squeeze bunt.

The Cubs are now 24-12 since they were swept in St. Louis on the first weekend of May.

Summer of Sammy: Relive Sosa's 25th homer in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Relive Sosa's 25th 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.

After victimizing poor Cal Eldred for three solo shots in the first game of the series, Sosa wouldn't let the Milwaukee Brewers leave town in June 1998 without one more dinger.

He connected in the 4th inning of the series finale on June 17, 1998, a solo shot off a pitcher named Bronswell Patrick (yes, that's his real name) that went 430 feet down the left field line.

The Cubs wound up losing the game 6-5, though Jose Hernandez did make it close with a 2-run shot in the bottom of the 9th inning.

Through this game, Sosa sported a .300/.348/.917 slash line (1.265 OPS) with 12 homers and 25 RBI in 15 June contests that season. (Yes, that's a .917 slugging percentage.)

But believe it not, those June numbers are about to get even better...

Fun fact: The Cubs lineup on June 17, 1998 featured 4 hitters with a batting average of .320 or higher — Sosa (.333), Mark Grace (.347), Mickey Morandini (.320) and Matt Mieske (.323), though Mieske was a part-time player. 

The 2018 Cubs currently feature only 1 player (part-time or full-time) hitting at least .320: Albert Almora Jr. who entered play Saturday at .321.