Chicago Cubs

Chris Bosio breaks down what’s going on with Jake Arrieta in Cubs season with no rhythm

Chris Bosio breaks down what’s going on with Jake Arrieta in Cubs season with no rhythm

The Cubs can’t pinpoint the root cause that led to this system-wide breakdown. It’s not just one element of the defending champs that can be isolated and fixed. Everything’s connected.

But the World Series formula — pitching and defense working in concert while a deep, explosive lineup eased the pressure on everyone — won’t be replicated without Jake Arrieta operating near peak efficiency.

This cut on Arrieta’s right thumb is another X-factor for a pitcher who — just like Kyle Hendricks — relies so much on feel and the ability to manipulate a baseball in different ways. For Arrieta, it can be traced back to a blister issue in spring training, which might explain some of his inconsistencies, from his unique, harder-to-maintain mechanics to the downtick in velocity that super-agent Scott Boras disputed in a free-agent year.

As much as manager Joe Maddon tries to deflect the health questions — reclassifying the tendinitis Hendricks has been feeling in his right hand as a “real injury” after a recent setback — it doesn’t mean the Cubs are in good shape just because they aren’t announcing dates for Tommy John surgeries and the National League Central is such a bad division.

“All I know is that Jake Arrieta was there when we needed him the most, when it meant the most,” pitching coach Chris Bosio said. “There were a lot of questions about Jake going down the stretch, remember, through August and September (last year). Welcome to being a major-league player. It’s not going to be perfect.”

Arrieta beating the Cleveland Indians twice on the road in last year’s World Series is a source of optimism and will be part of the Boras Corp. binder this winter. But watching the 32-33 Cubs is becoming a daily reminder that there are no push-button starts to the season.

Players aren’t guaranteed to perform like robots, with Major League Baseball digging into Addison Russell’s personal life being the most jarring example of the unchartered waters the Cubs are in now. Even logical, well-meaning plans — like holding back pitchers in the Cactus League to preserve their arms after playing into November — have consequences. April almost became an extension of spring training for a rotation with a 4.66 ERA and 24 quality starts through 65 games.

Maybe PNC Park — the site of his 2015 wild-card masterpiece — will bring out the best in Arrieta during Saturday night’s start against the Pittsburgh Pirates. But the Cubs can’t rely only on muscle memory and been-there, done-that confidence.

“Looking back, here’s a guy who’s had thumb issues going all the way back to spring training this year,” Bosio said. “When you can’t feel the ball, when you can’t command the ball because of a blister or a cut, you’re not on a regular program. I’m not one to cast blame. I’m more one to try to find out why.

“Now he’s got a cut in the same spot on the same thumb. This is what I mean about little things. Little things keep popping up. And with Jake, it’s just trying to get him on a regular throwing program. This is the second turn in a row now where he hasn’t been on a regular throwing program because he’s trying to heal a cut on really the most important part of his body.

“This is where he gains his feel. When you can’t feel the ball, how are you going to command the ball? So you can talk about this or that. To me, it really boils down to that.”

Arrieta has a 4.68 ERA that’s worse than the league average, though the Cubs clearly aren’t playing defense on the same historic level. He’s gone longer than six innings just once in 13 starts, but circumstances sometimes dictate that in the NL.

Arrieta’s groundball percentage (42.5) is almost 14 points lower than what it had been during his 2015 Cy Young Award campaign. His strikeout-to-walk ratio (79:23 through 73 innings) and track record of durability are certainly encouraging signs.

Arrieta’s already given up 11 home runs — that didn’t happen until Aug. 18 last year — at a time when MLB might shatter the single-season record for homers. 

“You’re trying to find: ‘What am I supposed to do in between?’” Bosio said. “And then here comes a side (throwing session) where they don’t want you to pick the ball up, because the trainers want it to heal, and now you’re not getting your regular work in. You get on the mound and you (try to) find your release point.”

Bosio is a physical presence when he walks through the clubhouse or out to the mound. He has credibility and stature after throwing more than 1,700 innings in The Show and helping develop Arrieta and Hendricks into frontline starters. He uses common sense and one-liners to make his points. 

Bosio is a realist who completely understands how hard this game is, from the physical demands to the emotional toll. Friday’s not-surprising news: World Series MVP Ben Zobrist going on the 10-day disabled list with a sore left wrist. The Cubs still began the day only 2.5 games out of first place.

“It’s been one of those seasons,” Bosio said, “where with injury guys can’t get in rhythm, whether they’re hitting, they’re pitching or they’re fielding. If I was going to assess our team – and assess our rotation, because it all goes hand in hand – that’s what I would point to. Luckily for us, this division right now is still up in the air. Nobody has jumped out.

“Let the race begin and may the best team win.”

Fuming over ninth-inning call, Joe Maddon is done with playing nice in MLB sandbox: ‘That’s asinine’

Fuming over ninth-inning call, Joe Maddon is done with playing nice in MLB sandbox: ‘That’s asinine’

A walk-off win in the middle of a pennant race didn’t dull the edge in Joe Maddon’s voice, the Cubs manager blasting Major League Baseball and expecting to be fined for his rant in the Wrigley Field interview room.    

“That’s asinine,” Maddon said after Wednesday night’s 7-6 victory over the Cincinnati Reds, fuming over the ninth-inning at-bat where Ben Zobrist showed bunt and got drilled by Wandy Peralta’s 96-mph fastball. Home plate umpire Ryan Blakney signaled for Zobrist to jog to first base, only to have first base umpire Chris Conroy call strike two.

“Listen, I don’t even know what to say about that call,” said Maddon, who stormed onto the field and got ejected for the second time this season. “We’ve had different things happen, and I’ve been playing really good in the sandbox. Really good. And I’m not right now. That call cannot be made under those circumstances.

“I can understand if the guy’s actually swinging, and all of a sudden you get like a check swing. But he’s bunting – and then trying to get out of the way – and you’re going to call a bunt?

“There’s no way any hitter under those circumstances – with the ball coming at his thigh – is going to bunt through it and then get hit in the thigh.

“That really almost did cost us the game. Fortunately, we came back, they made their wild pitch. But I’ve been playing good in the sandbox. That was wrong.”

Zobrist – who called for an electronic strike zone after watching a controversial strike three end Saturday’s loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field – still managed to put the ball in play, move up Javier Baez and Jon Jay and keep the pressure on the last-place Reds.  

“I tried to pull the bat back, but there was nowhere for me to go,” Zobrist said. “It started right at me, and was going down towards my ankle, and I could not physically pull it back and still pull my ankle up at the same time. I tried to pull my ankle up and (Conroy) thought I was offering at it, apparently.”

Imagine the reaction if the Cubs hadn’t regrouped and maintained a 1.5-game lead on the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Central.

“I know that instant replay is not perfect,” Maddon said. “But all this little minutia needs to be looked at as we move this along, because that impacted the game. That’s bases loaded, nobody out. It’s a different at-bat for (Albert) Almora. It’s a different thought for their pitcher. Everything’s different. The world rotates differently at that point.

“To influence a game like that is wrong. And, listen, the guy’s a good guy. I think he’s a good umpire. But I’m not going to concede consistently to these guys. You can’t make that mistake.”

The evolution of Kris Bryant and why Joey Votto became his favorite player

The evolution of Kris Bryant and why Joey Votto became his favorite player

Kris Bryant already has a bromance with Anthony Rizzo, their Bryzzo Souvenir Co. brand and a joint appearance at a downtown Chicago hotel this weekend where Cubs fans can pay $699 for their autographs.

Bryant also has a friendly rivalry with Bryce Harper, the Washington Nationals superstar who loves trolling on social media and teasing where he might land as a free agent after the 2018 season. Even their wives had fun with it on Instagram earlier this month when the Nationals came to Wrigley Field for a potential playoff preview.

But the player Bryant patterns himself after now – the one who lives up to “The Science of Hitting” and the principles his father absorbed from Ted Williams and passed down in the family’s batting cage in Las Vegas – is Joey Votto.

“He’s the best player ever,” Bryant said before Wednesday night’s 7-6 walk-off win over the Cincinnati Reds. “He’s my favorite player. I love watching him. I love talking to him, just picking his brain.

“He gets a lot of (heat) about his walks and working at-bats and some people want him to swing at more pitches. But, gosh, I mean, he does an unbelievable job. You know that he’s going to give you a great at-bat every time he goes up there. It’s definitely a guy that I look up to and I can learn from.”

Favorite player? Really?

“Besides, you know, people on my team,” Bryant said with a laugh.

The Cubs contained Votto on a night where their bullpen nearly imploded, holding him to a 1-for-4 that stopped him from tying the major-league record Williams set in 1948 by getting on base at least twice in 21 straight games with the Boston Red Sox.

Through Votto, Bryant sees where he can grow after becoming a National League Rookie of the Year and MVP and World Series champion before his 25th birthday.    

“He’s not just doing it this year – he’s doing it his whole career,” Bryant said. “He’s a future Hall of Famer, that’s for sure.”

Bryant – who has reached base safely in his last 13 games and put up a 1.035 OPS in August – is heating up at a time when the Cubs are trying to fend off the Milwaukee Brewers (1.5 games back) and St. Louis Cardinals (2.5 games back) in a tight division race.

Where Votto famously dismissed old questions about whether or not he was being too selective, Bryant blocks out any talk about an All-Star snub, his batting average with runners in scoring position (.227) or RBI total (54). Bryant is getting on base more than 40 percent of the time and also leads the team in doubles (25), runs scored (78) and OPS (.936).  

“Sometimes it’s almost like you can kind of go up there and force the pitcher to throw the pitch that you want, just by taking pitches,” Bryant said. “My first year, I was kind of just up there swinging at everything. I still felt the approach was good and it could work in the big leagues. And it did. But I think there’s ways to have a better approach up there.

“(Votto’s) a different guy with that. I feel like he’s aggressive, but he’s not going to swing at a pitch until he wants it. And he mentioned that to me, too, when I got to first (on Monday night). He said: ‘Your approach looks a lot better this year.’”

Bryant sincerely thanked Votto, but the reigning MVP isn’t trying to put together a package deal with Harper and turn the Cubs into Major League Baseball’s version of the Golden State Warriors.  

“I already told him before: ‘We already have a pretty good first baseman. He’s not going anywhere,’” Bryant said. “Joey can switch positions if he wants to play for the Cubs.”