Cubs

Ahead of first day with Phillies, Jake Arrieta shares handwritten thank you letter to Cubs and Cubs fans

Ahead of first day with Phillies, Jake Arrieta shares handwritten thank you letter to Cubs and Cubs fans

Jake Arrieta pitches for the Philadelphia Phillies now.

But the guy who starred as the ace of the Cubs' staff during the past few seasons had one more goodbye to share with the Cubs and their fans.

Arrieta, who helped the Cubs reach three straight National League Championship Series and win that curse-smashing World Series championship in 2016, tweeted a handwritten thank you letter to the city, team and fans.

Here's the full text of Arrieta's letter:

“Chicago

“In the midst of what felt like never ending adversity and failure, I was traded to the Chicago Cubs on July 2, 2013. This day was the beginning of a four-and-a-half-year stretch that would forever change our lives. On the verge of walking away from the game I love dearly, Theo called, and the transformation began. I looked myself in the mirror, as well as my two-year-old son and pregnant wife knowing in my heart that everything was about to change.

“Chicago was our home, and will forever be a special place for my entire family. We raised our children in Wrigleyville, one of the most iconic places in all of sports. Going to work every day was an honor for many reasons, from the storied history of the organization, to the high-character individuals I was surrounded by year after year. Three consecutive NLCS appearances, two NL Central titles and a World Series championship … the first in 108 years. Childhood dreams turned reality thanks to to so many amazing people, all holding one another to a very high standard.

“I send gracious thanks to the Ricketts family and front office for their commitment to winning at any cost. Going the extra mile to take care of our families was never taken for granted. I was lucky to have dedicated teammates that willingly shed blood, sweat and tears to achieve our goals. I will miss going to battle with all of you, but look forward to competing on opposing sides moving forward. Lastly, thanks to all Cubs fans around the world for standing with us and investing in us even when times were tough. You will all be missed dearly.

“— 49”

Arrieta went from a struggling pitcher with the Baltimore Orioles to the 2015 NL Cy Young winner, the thrower of two no-hitters and a World Series champion in a Cubs uniform, so yeah it makes a lot of sense why he would be emotional over departing for Philadelphia.

The Cubs were relieved Arrieta landed outside of the NL Central, but the Phillies make a trip to Wrigley Field every season, which means there will be ample opportunity for fans to show their gratitude for what Arrieta did in his five seasons on the North Side.

Cubs Reliever Role Call – at Least Until Morrow Returns

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USA TODAY

Cubs Reliever Role Call – at Least Until Morrow Returns

Brandon Morrow won’t be back tomorrow. He won’t be back opening day. Probably more like the beginning of May. So what will Joe Maddon do? Well, it wasn’t like he didn’t deal with this last season. Morrow went down with an elbow injury and didn’t pitch after the All-Star break.

The next thing you know, it’s September and the Cubs have 5 saves over a 10-day span by 5 different pitchers (Chavez, Strop, Rosario, De La Rosa & Cishek). On top of that, in the game Rosario saved, Strop got hurt and missed the rest of the regular season. So Maddon simply told the team to start winning by at least 4 runs just to avoid save situations. OK, that didn’t exactly happen, though the Cubs’ next four wins (after that 10-day span with 5 different pitchers earning saves) were all by 4 or more runs.

Maddon made it work. Cubs relievers posted a 3.72 ERA (8th in MLB) and 1.320 WHIP (12th in MLB) after the All-Star break. Let’s put it this way, the bullpen wasn’t the reason they didn’t win the division. After Strop went down on September 13, they scored 1 or 0 runs in 7 of their final 17 games to finish the season.

There are a few changes for 2019. Gone are Jesse Chavez, Jorge De La Rosa & Justin Wilson, among others. Xavier Cedeño & Brad Brach are here. How will they fit in and who will do what for the first month of the season (and in many cases beyond)? Let’s do some “Reliever Role Call.”

Closer - Pedro Strop (RHP)

Did you ever realize just how good Pedro Strop is? He is already fourth on the Cubs career relief appearance list with 361. He has spent six seasons with the Cubs, and his ERAs in those seasons are: 2.83 (after coming over from Baltimore), 2.21, 2.91, 2.85, 2.83 and 2.26. Overall, that’s a 2.63 ERA, or a 155 ERA+ which means he has been 55% better than league average (adjusted for ballpark). His WHIP as a Cub has been 1.020 and is strikeout percentage has been 28.2%. Standout numbers. He thrives in a variety of situations. He’ll enter in the 6th or 7thinnings. He’ll go for two innings if he has to. His consistency makes him the best pitcher to fill in as closer while Morrow is out.

Fireman - Carl Edwards Jr. (RHP)

The words “Fireman” and “Closer” are not exactly interchangeable. I use the term fireman here because if there’s a fire, the Cubs have nobody better to put it out than Carl Edwards Jr. If there’s a runner on third with less than two out – or any situation where you absolutely need a strikeout, Edwards is the guy. In MLB history, among pitchers with at least 150 career innings (in seasons for which we have data), the lowest opposing batting averages look like this:

Lowest opponent BA

MLB history (min 150 innings) – in seasons with available data

.153  Carl Edwards Jr.

.154  Craig Kimbrel

.158  Aroldis Chapman

.171  Dellin Betances

.175  Kenley Jansen

Edwards is number one (yes, it’s a tiny sample, but play along here). Of course, the reason he hasn’t reached elite status yet is because of the walks. Here are the same five pitchers ranked in terms of career walk percentage:

6.7%    Kenley Jansen

9.8%    Craig Kimbrel

11.0%  Dellin Betances

11.6%  Aroldis Chapman

13.6%  Carl Edwards Jr.

He has 217 career strikeouts, compared to only 83 hits allowed, though there is work to be done. In terms of making batters miss, however, Carl Edwards Jr. is a special talent.

Bridge Guy - Steve Cishek (RHP)

Not exactly a submariner, though he used to be a Mariner, Cishek gives batters something to look at from a different angle. The rubber-armed righty appeared in nearly half (80) of the Cubs’ games in 2018 and pitched extremely well (2.18 ERA, 197 ERA+) if not a bit lucky (.241 BAbip). Cishek was often used in small doses (33 appearances of less than an inning), though he also went more than an inning 15 times. He may not be quite as good as he was in 2018, but he should still be solid.

ROOGY - Brad Brach (RHP)

The 6’6” righty Brach doesn’t necessarily have to be used against righties only, but there’s clearly a gap in performance vs both sides. That gap was particularly noticeable in 2018, though he improved greatly once traded to Atlanta.

Brad Brach platoon splits

                                Career                  2018                       2018 w/BAL        2018 w/ATL

Vs LHP                  .247/.333/.356   .330/.423/.415   .342/.422/.452   .303/.425/.333

Vs RHP                  .209/.287/.353   .243/.297/.395   .272/.337/.457   .200/.234/.300                                                  

LOOGY - Xavier Cedeño (LHP)

Like Brach, Cedeño doesn’t need to be limited strictly to same-side opponents, but for his career he shows a noticeable platoon split. In 2018 for the White Sox and Brewers, he was good against lefties & righties alike.

Xavier Cedeño platoon splits

                               Career                  2018      

Vs LHP                  .223/.285/.293   .207/.281/.293

Vs RHP                  .283/.362/.434   .212/.316/.288                  

Need a Ground Ball Guy - Brandon Kintzler (RHP)

The Cubs will need to bank on Brandon Kintzler getting back to what he’s best at – generating ground balls. His ground ball rate dropped from 61.9% in 2016 to 54.9% in 2017 to a career low 49.7% in 2018. With a career strikeout rate of 16.5% he’ll need to be able to generate weak contact to survive. Perhaps he ought to be Need a Ground Ball in Road Games Guy since his career home/road splits look like this:

Brandon Kintzler career home/road splits                                                                              

Home                              .300/.348/.442   4.58 ERA in 177.0 IP             

Away                               .237/.289/.335   2.46 ERA in 190.1 IP

 

Whatever You Need Guy – Mike Montgomery (LHP)

Montgomery started as a starter, so he can handle several innings. He tossed two complete game shutouts within his first 6 career Major League games! He had a pair of 10+ out saves in 2017! That being said, he’s probably known best for the game where he made two pitches (Game 7 of the 2016 World Series). Either way, Montgomery can go long or short, face lefties or righties, he can do fairly well in any situation. By the way, in 2018 Montgomery became only the second Cub since 1975 with 19+ starts & 19+ relief appearances in a season, joining Glendon Rusch in 2005.

Wild Card – Tyler Chatwood (RHP)

Chatwood had a respectable 3.95 ERA through his first 14 starts of 2018. But his tightrope act went awry after that, posting a 7.90 mark in his remaining 10 appearances (6 starts). There were stretches where he looked fairly tough to hit; after all, he allowed only a .245 BA on the season. That was better than Quintana (.246), Hendricks (.247) or Lester (.256). But the walks. Oh, those walks. Jon Lester led the Cubs in 2017 with 60 free passes allowed. Chatwood surpassed that total on June 19. He allowed a bizarre .245/.403/.371 slashline on the season. If Chatwood could cut those walks (big if), he could be an effective member of the Cubs pitching staff.

When Morrow returns, several of these pitchers will continue on in these same roles. A number of pitchers not listed here will see time with the Cubs as well. Holdovers from 2018 such as LHP Brian Duensing, LHP Randy Rosario, RHP Dillon Maples & RHP James Norwood will most likely find their way to Wrigley at some point, as well as newcomers like RHP Tony Barnette & RHP Rowan Wick. A fully healthy Cubs bullpen could be one of the strongest in baseball, but in the meantime, they have the personnel to get the job done.

With Machado in San Diego, the Cubs are adjusting to the new normal in NL

With Machado in San Diego, the Cubs are adjusting to the new normal in NL

MESA, Ariz. — The Cubs didn't spend the winter hanging out at the top of the market for free agents or trades, but they're about the only National League team that can claim that.

The NL was already pretty good a year ago and it looks to be even better in 2019, with maybe only 3 teams (the Marlins, Giants and Diamondbacks) who aren't trying to be competitive. (Then again, the Giants have been rumored to be a player for Bryce Harper, so it's entirely possible that list dwindles to just 2 teams by Opening Day.)

Manny Machado's record contract Tuesday morning helped solidfy the San Diego Padres as a serious player — if not in 2019, then in the very near future. 

That throws another team into the mix, joining the Cubs, Brewers, Cardinals, Nationals, Phillies, Braves, Dodgers and Rockies as serious contenders in addition to a few teams on the upswing even if they may not be playoff squads this year (Pirates, Reds, Mets).

With tanking and "rebuilding" popular trends in the game today, it's been a while since one league was as competitive as this.

"There are a lot of things about the game that we're doing right or people are disgruntled about," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said, "but as a fan, when you can look at a lot of different markets and feel like your team has a chance to compete for a division, I don't recall any other time where it's been like this. This is a good thing for where this game is at right now."

While the Cubs have been surprisingly quiet this winter, the rest of the NL had loaded up, with the talent changing leads very unequal. 

Here's the list of notable players moving from the American League to the NL this year:

Josh Donaldson
Robinson Cano
Edwin Diaz
Jeurys Familia
Andrew McCutchen
Jean Segura
David Robertson
Andrew Miller
Yan Gomes
Brian McCann
Sonny Gray
Russell Martin
Joe Kelly
Jed Lowrie
Ian Kinsler

Meanwhile, the list of talent going from the NL to the AL is basically D.J. LeMahieu, Adam Ottavino, Matt Harvey and a bunch of role players.

On top of that, many free agents chose to stay in the NL, led by Machado. There's still a bunch of talent on the open market (Harper, Craig Kimbrel, Dallas Keuchel, Marwin Gonzalez, etc.) that could wind up in the NL, too.

All that points to a tough road for the Cubs, a team that spent much of last year with the best record in the NL. The talent gap on paper has certainly shrunk.

But the Cubs still have plenty to focus on what's happening under their own roof, with a refocused mission and renewed sense of urgency.

"Things are cyclical — the American League was like that 3, 4, 5 years ago and they've had a number of teams that hit a different part of their cycle at this point in the AL," Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said. "But now that's what we have in the National League — where there's a cycle that it's hard to find a team that's not competitive, that doesn't have a chance.

"It means some lower win totals will probably win the division and be in the Wild-Card race. It means you just have to grind through every series. You're not gonna just look at your schedule and know you got some easy runs. It's changed.

"In '15 and '16, for example, in the National League, you could look at the schedule and you'd have some stretches where you felt like we gotta go 11-3 in those two weeks to feel good about it. That's not gonna be the case anymore and there's nothing wrong with that. You just gotta kinda readjust your sights a little bit."

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