Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester kick-off Cubs All-Decade Team

Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester kick-off Cubs All-Decade Team

With the 2010s coming to a close, NBC Sports Chicago is unveiling its Cubs All-Decade Team, highlighting the players who made the biggest impacts on the organization from 2010-19.

The circumstances which brought Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester to the Cubs could not be more different.

Arrieta was nothing short of a reclamation project when the Cubs acquired him from the Baltimore Orioles in July 2013. With Baltimore, the right-hander went from top prospect to a wildly inconsistent pitcher, flashing signs of brilliance but struggling with his command.

At the time of the trade, Arrieta held a career 5.46 ERA, and 4.0 BB/9 rate in 69 games — 63 starts. He was 27 years old, and while the Cubs front office clearly saw something in him, Arrieta becoming a regular contributor was no guarantee.

On the other hand, Lester was the first major free agent to join the then-rebuilding Cubs, signing a six-year, $155 million deal in December 2014. Theo Epstein and Co. had a promising young core, though the Cubs lacked big-game experience. In Lester, they were gaining an anchor for their rotation, a formidable presence with two championships (2007, 2013) on his resume. He was exactly what the Cubs needed.

Despite their different paths to the North Side, both Arrieta and Lester were vital to the Cubs’ transformation from cellar dwellers to annual contenders since 2015.

Arrieta elevated from near-bust to one of the game’s best pitchers with the Cubs. He won the 2015 National League Cy Young Award, thanks to a dominant second half where he allowed just nine earned runs in 107 1/3 innings (0.75 ERA), striking out 113 batters compared to 23 walks.

Arrieta tossed two no hitters during his Cubs career. He was dominant in the postseason (3.08 ERA, nine starts), leading the Cubs to victory in the 2015 NL Wild Card Game behind a complete game, two-hit shutout. He won both his starts in the 2016 World Series.

And, in classic Arrieta fashion, he shut down the Dodgers in Game 4 of the 2017 NLCS — with the Cubs trailing the series 3-0. It was his last outing in a Cubs uniform, but a fitting send-off for the right-hander, nonetheless. He finished his Cubs career 68-31 with a 2.73 ERA in 128 starts, racking up 793 strikeouts in 803 innings.

Lester has been everything the Cubs could’ve asked for and more. He’s been extremely durable, making 32 starts in four of his five seasons in Chicago, the lone exception being 2019 (31). He holds a career 3.54 ERA and 1.242 WHIP in five seasons with the Cubs.

And, about that championship experience: Lester sports a 2.44 ERA in 12 postseason appearances (10 starts) with the Cubs. When the lights have been at their brightest, he’s delivered, winning the 2016 NLCS MVP (co-recipient with Javy Baez) along the way.

Equally as important is the championship mentality Lester brought with him to Chicago. Fans can see the success he's had on the field, but it cannot be understated how important he’s been in the Cubs clubhouse. He joined a young group and helped build a winning culture after five straight Cubs losing seasons. 

Without Arrieta and Lester, there is no 2016 championship. Perhaps the Cubs would’ve won a title at some point without them, but the duo represented a formidable 1-2 punch atop the Cubs rotation. For that, they’re equally worthy of a spot on our Cubs All-Decade Team.

Also considered: Ryan Dempster, Kyle Hendricks, John Lackey, Jose Quintana, Jeff Samardzija, Carlos Zambrano

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Armed with a new pitch and pregame superstition, Yu Darvish keeps rolling

Armed with a new pitch and pregame superstition, Yu Darvish keeps rolling

If you see Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy running around in the outfield on the days Yu Darvish starts, it's not because he's trying to put out fires or urgently rushing a scouting report to somebody.

It's because Darvish asked him to join the pregame running routine.

A few starts back, Darvish asked personal catcher Victor Caratini to join in on the pitcher's standard warm-up run ahead of his starts. That developed into asking Hottovy to join along before Darvish's last start at Wrigley Field.

Maybe the next step is asking catching/strategy coordinator Mike Borzello or manager Joe Maddon to join the pre-start run. By the end of the year, the entire Cubs team might be out there. 

"We just go out there and it's time for us to relax," Caratini said. "We talk about anything other than baseball. Just take it easy, have a few minutes to ourselves to talk and get to know each other a little bit better. 

"I think one of the things that for him, when he doesn't feel the pressure of the game, that's when you see him at his best. It's just a matter of him being relaxed and I think you can tell that by his last few outings."

Whatever it is, it's clearly working for Darvish. He spun another gem Tuesday night in New York, playing stopper with 8 innings of 1-run ball in a game his team badly needed to win. It was his longest outing in a Cubs uniform and quite possibly his best start during his historic streak.

The last few outings for Darvish hasn't just displayed comfort — it's shown fans something they've never seen before. Since at least 1893, no pitcher in Major League Baseball history has ever had five consecutive starts without walking a batter while striking out at least 8 guys each time out.

That streak ended Tuesday when Darvish walked Todd Frazier to begin the fifth inning, but he still had one of the best Augusts the game has ever seen:

Couple that with the fact Darvish struggled mightily with his control earlier in the season and it's a mind-boggling turnaround for the 33-year-old right-hander who has really come into his own in his second season with the Cubs.

All those strikeouts and lack of free passes has typically led to a bunch of success for Darvish in his overall box score, but last week, he was tagged for 7 runs (6 earned) in 5.1 innings because he gave up 4 homers to the Giants on a humid night at Wrigley.

He also confused Statcast to some extent because he suddenly whipped a brand new pitch out of his toolbelt.

Entering the start against a San Francisco lineup packed with lefties, Darvish and the Cubs decided to mess around with a knuckle curveball — a pitch he hadn't thrown yet in 2019. 

The idea was to give the Giants hitters a different look, as the knuckle curve has more of a straight drop (imagine 12-to-6 on a clock) compared to his regular curveball that is essentially a 1-7 drop that more closely resembles his slider. 

Darvish's knuckle curve has tighter movement and a tick up in velocity, so the Cubs thought it could be a more efficient breaking ball for him in some ways.

So he was playing catch with it prior to his last start as he warmed up in the Wrigley outfield grass and bullpen and decided to take it into the game.

"After we saw some of the swings we got on it early, it just became more a part of the gameplan," Hottovy said. "A testament to him, who hasn't thrown that pitch all year. He'll throw his curveball, he'll throw his slider, he can manipulate the baseball in many ways. Just adding that [knuckle curve] that got him the velocity he wanted and the right movement he wanted for that particularly lineup, so that's the cool thing.

"He knows it's available to him anytime he needs it now."

He said he got two strikeouts on that knuckle curve Tuesday night:

So that means Darvish's pitch repertoire now includes:

4-seam fastball
2-seam fastball
Knuckle curve

Cartini's going to run out of fingers...

Imagine being a hitter in the box and trying to guess which pitch is coming in which spot. 

Oh yeah, and he's throwing all of those pitches for strikes right now.

"He's got an amazing ability to command his breaking ball," Maddon said. "It's incredible. ... He's got an incredible command of a variety of different pitches. I don't know if I've ever witnessed — we've seen Jake Arrieta's [2015] season, beautiful — but I'm just talking about purely commanding a baseball and being inventive.

"He's able to manipulate his hand and his arm in a way that most guys cannot. He's just a different level of talent."

Former Cubs starter Jake Arrieta on Todd Frazier 'I’ll put a dent in his skull'


Former Cubs starter Jake Arrieta on Todd Frazier 'I’ll put a dent in his skull'

Tensions were high in Saturday's Philles-Mets game in New York.

Former Cub and current Phillies starting pitcher Jake Arrieta had a rough outing, allowing five earned runs on 11 hits in 4 1/3 innings. Arrieta also hit three batters, including former White Sox third baseman Todd Frazier. Frazier had a few words for Arrieta after getting hit, as did Arrieta for Frazier after the game, a 6-5 Mets win.

Yikes. Frazier left the ballpark before he was able to reply to Arrieta's comment, though he responded ahead of Sunday's game.

Arrieta is also reportedly dealing with a bone spur in his elbow, which might explain his rough outing.

Read all about the incident here.

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