Cubs

Arcia the surprising hero that took down Cubs: 'The No. 8 hitter is the most dangerous guy in the postseason'

Arcia the surprising hero that took down Cubs: 'The No. 8 hitter is the most dangerous guy in the postseason'

The Brewers' No. 8 hitter had more hits (4) than the entire Cubs lineup (3) in the one-game playoff to decide the National League Central Monday afternoon.

Let that sink in for a bit.

Joe Maddon didn't think this game came down to the bullpens, pointing to how the Brewers had 12 hits and his Cubs team managed only 3. 

It was Orlando Arcia that provided the spark for the Brewers, scoring the first run in the third inning and the winning run in the eighth inning. 

He came into the day hitting just .227 with a .559 OPS over the first 162 days of the 2018 regular season (including a September surge where he hit .288 with a .733 OPS that month).

Arcia led off the third inning with a single off Jose Quintana, was sacrificed to second base and scored a batter later on Christian Yelich's single.

In the eighth, Arcia singled to lead off the inning on an 0-2 pitch from Justin Wilson - a slider that caught way too much of the plate. He later scored on a Lorenzo Cain single to send the Brewers into the NLDS and the Cubs into a one-game, winner-take-all wild-card at Wrigley Field Tuesday night.

"We'd like to have one pitch back to Arcia - that kinda set the whole thing up," Maddon said.

Wilson started off by blowing a pair of fastballs by Arcia (clocked at 96 and 95 mph) and Maddon admitted he would've liked to see the Cubs southpaw go with another fastball there given that it's Wilson's bread-and-butter pitch.

Going into the game, Arcia may have been one of the last players anybody would've picked to be the difference-maker in the fight for the division, but the Cubs weren't surprised.

"We just made some pitches at the wrong time to him," Maddon said. "But to his credit, he took advantage of it. That's what happens at this time of year in playoffs - somebody that's maybe not been on the radar screen all the sudden pops and they do something really well."

Cole Hamels didn't pitch in Monday's game, but he was still able to lend his perspective to Arcia's big game. Hamels is in his 13th year in the big leagues and is in his eighth trip to the postseason.

"The No. 8 hitter is the most dangerous guy in the postseason," Hamels said. "You're so focused on those big guys - your 2-3-4-5 guys. Sometimes you can let your guard down on the No. 8 guy because you have the pitcher coming up.

"Those guys can surprise you and I've seen it numerous times. Those No. 8 hitters, they can definitely get the big home run or the big hit and it allows that pitcher to actually do his job [at the plate], which is to move him over and turn over that lineup. 

"He's been playing really well. You have to give him credit - four hits is very tough in this atmosphere against our guys. He's living a great moment today and hopefully we'll get the opportuinty to play against them again [in the NLDS]."

Alec Mills emerging as a quiet contributor in Cubs' late-season bullpen

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USA TODAY

Alec Mills emerging as a quiet contributor in Cubs' late-season bullpen

Alec Mills is about as under-the-radar as you can be as a Cubs player these days.

He's never been a top prospect, he doesn't throw hard (his fastball has been clocked at just 89.3 mph this season), and his demeanor on and off the mound is far from flashy.

Yet he continues to get outs in a quiet, efficient manner.

Sound like anybody else you know?

Joe Maddon has said several times over the past couple years that Mills reminds him of Kyle Hendricks and 14 games into Mills' Cubs career, it's hard to argue with that.

Over the last week, the 27-year-old right-hander has picked up his first MLB win (Monday) and save (Friday) while emerging as another solid piece out of the Cubs' September bullpen that has been without Craig Kimbrel and Brandon Kintzler of late.

The Cubs eventually won Monday night's game 8-2, but Mills was called on to protect a 3-2 game in the fifth and sixth innings and bridged the gap to Rowan Wick by permitting only a single in the two frames.

"What he did [Monday], he gave the game form again," Maddon said. "Really good pitches and a variety of pitches to both lefties and righties. Give the guy credit, man. Every time he shows up, he does something good for us. And does it in a very quiet, professional manner. He's outstanding."

Like Maddon said, Mills has quietly had a lot of success in the big leagues. In each of the last two seasons, he's made five relief appearances and two starts and has combined for 44.1 innings in a Cubs uniform with a 3.65 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 10.2 K/9. 

Not bad for a guy who rides the Chicago-to-Iowa shuttle as much as any other arm.

"It's confidence, being here every day," Mills said. "The more you come here, the more normal it is. I think when you're going down and coming up from the minors, it's still kind of a shock to be in here, experience these things and be in this environment. But the more you're here, the more normal it gets. Just trying to settle in and be you."

Who knows how much Mills will pitch over the final week-and-a-half of the regular season or what situations he will be tasked with. But he's clearly earning the trust of Maddon and his teammates by answering the bell whenever his name is called.

As for his similarities to Hendricks, Mills is happy to hear his name mentioned in the same light as the 2016 NL ERA champ.

"I definitely look at him and try to pick things up," Mills said. "Every time he throws a bullpen, I'm in there watching. We've talked before. We are similar in that nature, but we are also quite different the way we grip pitches, throw pitches, stuff like that. As far as mindset, we've talked and stuff. 

"It's the highest of compliments for me. That's a guy who's shown that just by being yourself and pitching the way you know how, you can be very successful."

 

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Yu Darvish makes history, but Cubs lose crucial game

Yu Darvish makes history, but Cubs lose crucial game

Things didn't get off to a great start for Yu Darvish Tuesday night at Wrigley Field, but he managed to right the ship quickly.

After allowing three of the first four batters of the game to score, Darvish struck out 10 of the next 12 Reds that strolled to the plate.

That included a stretch of eight Reds in a row, which set a new Cubs franchise record:

Darvish and Kyle Schwarber (3 hits, 2 RBI) were the only bright spots on the night for the Cubs as they dropped a crucial game 4-2.

The Cardinals also lost, so the Cubs didn't lose any ground in the division, but they did fall to 1.5 games behind the Nationals in the Wild-Card race. Milwaukee won, meaning the Brewers are now tied with the Cubs for the final playoff spot in the National League.

Darvish finished with 13 strikeouts in 7 innings Tuesday night, but gave up all 4 Reds runs.

It makes back-to-back incredible performances from the veteran in the whiff department, as he has 27 strikeouts over his last two starts — second-best in Cubs history:

"I'm in a pretty good place [right now], but still, we lost," he said. "We need wins at this point, so I'm still frustrated."

As the Cubs make their push toward October, Darvish has been right up there with Kyle Hendricks as the most reliable members of the rotation. 

Given the way last year went and his slow start to 2019, the Cubs could not have asked for more from Darvish in the second half of the season while also pitching through some forearm tightness. Since the All-Star Break, the 33-year-old right-hander has a 2.70 ERA, 0.80 WHIP and 106 strikeouts against only 7 walks in 73.1 innings.

His performance has been especially huge since veterans Cole Hamels and Jon Lester have struggled to find consistency over the last couple months.

"We're seeing the real version of [Darvish] as a person, not just as a baseball player," Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said before Tuesday's game. "I think the comfortability level of him with everybody — the media, the coaching staff, the city, every aspect of it has played into it. 

"When he's in a good place and he's mentally feeling good and physically feeling good and he's comfortable, the sky's the limit with him and what he can do. He's got the freedom here to be more of himself in that we don't put a lot of restrictions on him and what he wants to do. As long as we kinda have the same focus and same goals, we're all on the same team. 

"I feel like he's getting to the point now where he's himself. You see that every time out. He's an ultra competitor; he's an uber planner. His routines are outstanding. He's just ready to go out there and dominate every time he gets the ball."