Chicago Cubs

Cubs essentially ruling out Jake Arrieta for Cardinals showdown

arrieta_injury_status_slide.jpg
USA TODAY

Cubs essentially ruling out Jake Arrieta for Cardinals showdown

Jake Arrieta will have to wait a little longer to put the Cubs on his back once again.

Arrieta threw from flat ground for the second time Tuesday and while he felt good recovering from an injured hamstring, the Cubs have yet to schedule an official bullpen for their dynamic veteran right-hander.

That means Cubs fans shouldn't expect Arrieta to get the ball in the all-important showdown with the St. Louis Cardinals at Wrigley Field this weekend.

"There's still some time involved here," Joe Maddon said.

The Cubs woke up Tuesday morning clinging to a two-game lead over the Cardinals in the National League Central and up 2.5 games on the Milwaukee Brewers, who just came into Wrigleyville last weekend and swept the defending champs.

The Cubs are currently tossing their three southpaws (Jose Quintana, Jon Lester, Mike Montgomery) against the New York Mets this week and John Lackey is penciled in for Friday's opener against the Cardinals. After that, the Cubs rotation has not yet been announced, though Kyle Hendricks will certainly slot in either Saturday or Sunday.

That led to a reporter wondering aloud during Maddon's pregame session Tuesday if Arrieta could possibly return for the weekend.

But it's a tricky situation given this is Arrieta's back leg, where he pushes off the mound to start his motion toward homeplate. And the Cubs want him to throw a full bullpen first and since that wasn't even scheduled yet on Tuesday, the likelihood of Arrieta pitching this weekend is pretty slim.

"I don't know," Maddon said. "We're running out of time for this time [through the rotation]. So maybe the next time through. I really don't know.

"In my mind's eye, I'm playing it like he won't. I think you have to do that first of all. And then if he can, wonderful."

The 2015 NL Cy Young winner wasn't quite turning in another superhuman second half for the Cubs when he went down with a hamstring injury last week in Pittsburgh, but he was in the midst of a dominant stretch. From the All-Star Break until he limped off the mound against the Pirates Sept. 4, Arrieta had gone 6-2 with a 1.98 ERA in 10 starts.

Arrieta's injury put the Cubs in a hole in that one game in Pittsburgh as he lasted just 2.1 innings in a game they were eventually routed 12-0. Had he not gotten injured, Arrieta would've been slated to start against the Brewers last weekend and on track to get the ball against the Cardinals this coming weekend.

In his stead, Montgomery will continue to find an opportunity in the starting rotation. 

But even if Arrieta can return shortly after the Cardinals series, will his complex mechanics be near the run he was on pre-injury or will the time off have affected him?

Kris Bryant knocks out Brewers and knows what big-game experience means for Cubs

Kris Bryant knocks out Brewers and knows what big-game experience means for Cubs

MILWAUKEE – Teammates swarmed Kris Bryant in Miller Park’s visiting dugout late Thursday night, flinging sunflower seeds and forming a mosh pit around the National League’s reigning MVP.

Are you not entertained? The Cubs haven’t always played with this urgency or made it easy while nursing a World Series hangover. But they can feel it now, how close they are to October and how much they learned last year while making history.

It’s too early to pop champagne bottles, but the Cubs won a huge swing game in the NL Central race, beating the Milwaukee Brewers in the 10th inning when Bryant blasted Oliver Drake’s 92-mph fastball off a beam underneath the gigantic video board.

The Cubs watched it ricochet back onto the right-center field grass for a go-ahead two-run homer, bumping up the division lead to 4.5 games while cutting the magic number to clinch the division down to six.

After a head-spinning 5-3 victory that lasted 3 hours and 57 minutes and ended at 11:08 p.m., Bryant didn’t sound surprised or overexcited, the same way he didn’t overreact when the Cubs struggled to gain traction before the All-Star break and the Brewers swept the defending World Series champs two weekends ago at Wrigley Field.       

“We’ve done that so many times,” Bryant said. “We’ve had a nice run with that. I guess it is experience. The heartbeats aren’t going too fast when the game’s on the line there. It kind of plays to our advantage.”

So did the Brewers pushing their bullpen so hard this week trying to catch up that Cubs manager Joe Maddon would have to admit “their A-listers were not available,” meaning Corey Knebel, Anthony Swarzak and Josh Hader. Classic response from Bryant, who has 28 homers and likes to think of pitchers as nameless, faceless opponents: “I didn’t find out their top three guys were down until after the game was over.”

Maybe that changes the ninth-inning rally against Jeremy Jeffress where Ian Happ sprinted for a “Respect 90” single and scored the game-tying run when Javier Baez delivered a two-out, two-strike single up the middle. But the Cubs are in their element now, playing games that matter, not what-if.

“I just think we like loud,” Maddon said. “I think we’re a little bit like adrenaline junkies with the fact we’re used to 40,000 people a night.”

Just look at the stone face Wade Davis made in the ninth inning, escaping a bases-loaded jam by striking out Domingo Santana swinging at an elevated 95-mph fastball and forcing Orlando Arcia to chop a 3-2 pitch back to the mound. The All-Star closer who’s 32-for-32 in save chances went back out for the 10th inning and struck out the side to notch the win. That is a five-out playbook Maddon can use in October.

“You definitely feel it,” Davis said of the playoff atmosphere in a road stadium filled with Cubs fans. “It’s a lot easier to get up for the moment itself instead of having to create it yourself. You feel that.”

As Cubs move closer to division title, Jake Arrieta looks ready for October

As Cubs move closer to division title, Jake Arrieta looks ready for October

MILWAUKEE – This was the type of game Jake Arrieta visualizes, a loud atmosphere with 35,114 fans on their feet and an opponent that really doesn’t like the Cubs at all.

This one would ultimately be out of his hands, lasting 10 innings and almost 4 hours on Thursday night at Miller Park, but Arrieta looked like a Game 1 starter as the Cubs roared back for a 5-3 win over the Milwaukee Brewers.

Those playoff plans are coming into focus, the magic number to win the National League Central title down to six and Arrieta managing the Grade 1 right hamstring strain that has been one of the biggest question marks hanging over the defending World Series champs.

“It’s just good to be back out there,” Arrieta said. “These are big games, and I want to be a part of as many as I can, especially to try and clinch the division as quick as possible and then kind of line things up for us in October. But we got to get there first.”

Arrieta threw his first real pitch in 18 days at 7:16 p.m., firing a 92-mph fastball toward Brewers leadoff guy Eric Sogard and giving the Cubs a shot of adrenaline. That always wears off, but the Cubs are a different team when Arrieta sticks his chest out and triggers his perfect posture into a crossfire delivery.

Arrieta looked sharp in his first real action since Labor Day, even as his five-inning, 71-pitch limit exposed how fragile this pitching staff might be right now. If it’s not Jon Lester laboring at the top of the rotation, it’s the softer spots in the middle of the bullpen, or questions about how much wear and tear the Cubs can take after a deep playoff run in 2015 and last year’s World Series madness stretched into early November. 

But Arrieta basically picked up where he left off as the NL pitcher of the month for August, realigning his unique mechanics and generating enough power from his right leg, restarting the momentum in a second half where he’s shown the flashes of dominance you saw during his 2015 Cy Young Award season. 

Arrieta exited this game with a 2-1 lead – before it spun out of control – and passed one test by hustling to cover first base to complete an inning-ending 3-6-1 double play in the fifth. He walked just one of the 20 hitters he faced and could really only regret one pitch in the fourth inning, the 92-mph fastball Domingo Santana drilled off the batter’s eye in center field.

“I felt OK,” Arrieta said. “I can tell that something happened. I think it’s just the residual feeling of something like a hamstring strain. But no pain, really no discomfort. That’s a good sign.

“Tomorrow is the biggest indicator moving forward of how we’ll be able to approach this. I don’t see any reason that I won’t feel good tomorrow.”

Arrieta is scheduled to make two more regular-season starts, but this dramatic comeback means the Cubs might be able to treat those as controlled experiments instead of must-win situations.

“Just an incredible baseball game,” Arrieta said. “This is a really awesome time to be in an organization like this, in a division like the NL Central, where there’s a couple teams that have playoff aspirations in mind. If we take care of business here over the next few days, we get a couple steps closer.”