LOS ANGELES – It’s harder to find perspective when the lights are flashing all around Dodger Stadium and the techno music is thumping and Adrian Gonzalez just launched a two-run homer 429 feet to straightaway center.
But that’s why Jake Arrieta pays Scott Boras. The super-agent sat in a front-row seat behind home plate on Friday night, watching his client go through another up-and-down start for a Cubs team that needs Arrieta to pitch more like an ace.
It’s easy to lose sight of this during a 4-0 loss where the Dodgers looked more like the team on a mission after getting eliminated from last year’s National League Championship Series.
But Arrieta is someone who has already experienced the low points that made him think about quitting baseball as he shuttled back and forth between the Orioles and Triple-A – and the intoxicating high from ending the 108-year drought and creating so much joy for generations of Cubs fans.
So Boras isn’t buying the idea that Arrieta might be feeling the weight of his upcoming free agency.
“Coming from Baltimore to here and establishing himself in the big leagues was the major arc of his career,” Boras said, “the most difficult moment of illustrating that he is an everyday major-leaguer. The fact that he has the skills, and what he has up here (in his head), the dynamic of winning two World Series games and things like that, I’d say he’s (been) measured. When you win World Series games, that’s the most important thing.
“If you want me to measure pressure, I’d say that’s World Series cojones.”
To get back there, the Cubs will need more consistency from Arrieta, who gave up four runs across six innings to move to 5-4 with a 4.92 ERA.
Arrieta put up nine strikeouts against one walk, but the Dodgers beat his fastball. Gonzalez had gone more than 130 plate appearances this season before notching his first home run in the sixth inning. Chase Utley – the 38-year-old veteran who began the game hitting .204 – also homered off Arrieta in the third inning.
Arrieta has now allowed 10 homers this season. He gave up his 10th in the middle of August last season, when he went through command/mechanical issues and still wound up as an 18-game winner and one of the toughest pitchers to make hard contact against in baseball.
The Cubs are 25-22 and looking at replacing possibly two or three starting pitchers by Opening Day 2018.
“You don’t really think about (it),” Boras said. “When the Cubs come to town, I look at the standings: OK, where are they at? They’re trying to win again. This club’s a good club and you think about what moves they’re going to make to make it better. I think Jake’s total focus has always been about putting himself in a position that few players get to be in, and that is being on a club where you can win more.”
LOS ANGELES – Joe Maddon doesn’t want to put the platoon label on a young hitter who became a World Series legend before his 24th birthday. But the Cubs manager also isn’t planning to start Kyle Schwarber against left-handers anytime soon.
“If people want to say that, I can’t avoid it,” Maddon said Friday at Dodger Stadium, where Schwarber sat against lefty Alex Wood, who took a 20.1-inning scoreless streak into this National League Championship Series rematch. “I’m going to do that until I feel good about him, because I don’t want to lay too many at-bats on him in a negative situation.
“If he’s not swinging the bat well against righties, it’s a bad assumption that I’m going to think he’s going to swing it well against lefties. Then I’m just putting him in a deeper hole by throwing him out there, just based on really bad logic.
“I’m just trying to pick his spots right now to get him going. Once he goes, he can play against anybody.”
Schwarber – who’s hitting .181 with a .656 OPS and 55 strikeouts in less than 200 plate appearances this season – will start Saturday against Dodger right-hander Brandon McCarthy. But even with Clayton Kershaw looming on Sunday, Maddon didn’t want to give Schwarber the entire weekend off, the way Jason Heyward mentally reset last August at Coors Field.
“I don’t think it’s there yet,” Maddon said. “I’ve had good conversations with him. I think it’s a different set of circumstances.”
For the Cubs, this doesn’t really change their overall evaluation of Schwarber as a core player and potentially one of the most dangerous left-handed sluggers in the game. But Maddon has been backing away from the idea of Schwarber as a leadoff hitter, trying to reboot the player who had been such an intimidating postseason presence.
“My concern when the guy is struggling a little bit is you don’t want him to get him too many at-bats,” Maddon said. “It’s really hard to get yourself out of that mental, physical and numerical hole. By not getting him as many at-bats, it will be easy to get back to a number he’s more comfortable with.
“I don’t care about that – I really don’t. I’m looking at his past, process, what he’s doing for the team in regards to on-base, everything else. But for the guy himself, he looks up at the scoreboard and he sees numbers everywhere and they evaluate themselves based on numbers.
“I don’t want him to do that. I just want him to get back into the process of having good at-bats.”