Unlike the past few Septembers, the atmosphere around Wrigley Field has been electric in recent weeks, and Tuesday night was no exception as the Chicago Cubs trounced the Milwaukee Brewers by a score of 7-1.
While plenty of the headlines will focus on the injury that Starlin Castro suffered in the first inning of the game, the contest was yet another showcase of the myriad of young players that the Cubs have working their way up through the system. Headlining that list was pitcher Jake Arrieta, who bounced back from a rough start against the Cincinnati Reds last week with a strong outing in this one. Outdueling Yovani Gallardo, Arrieta scattered five hits over six innings, allowing just one run and striking out four batters.
He varied up his speeds well, topping out at 95 MPH on his fastball and ratcheting down by 15-20 MPH on his offspeed stuff. His command was solid through most of the game, and even in tough situations like the one he faced in his final inning of work, he never strayed from his plan. With runners on second and third with two outs in the sixth inning, Arrieta struck out Gerardo Parra and got out of the jam with his team’s lead still intact.
Arrieta wasn’t the only youngster that shone in the game either. Arismendy Alcantara also had a nice night, slugging his eighth home run of the season to put a finishing touch on the rout. With Castro’s injury, we could end up seeing more of Alcantara at second base, but with the way he’s taken to playing center field in the big leagues, that might end up being a longer-term answer than some folks previously thought.
Javier Baez was also impressive in the game, despite only reaching base once. He looked much more patient at the plate, and he made some really good contact with the ball, including a shot to center field in the second inning that would have been a long home run on most nights at the ballpark. He also transitioned seamlessly from second base to shortstop when Castro left the game, and he fielded the ball perfectly in those eight innings of work.
Jorge Soler also continued his torrid start with the Cubs, picking up an RBI single in the first inning and nearly hitting a home run in the fifth inning. Unfortunately for him, the wind held the ball in the yard as Khris Davis made a warning track snag, but his bat speed and sharp eye at the plate were both on full display. He also made a couple of spectacular grabs of his own in the outfield, including a diving catch that ended a potential Brewers rally in the seventh inning.
With so many young and exciting players in the lineup, Cubs fans are a much more optimistic bunch these days, and even though the paid attendance was below 30,000 on Tuesday, the crowd was still engrossed in the game. The Cubs aren’t going to make the playoffs this season, but if they continue to show the kind of improvement they have over these past few months, next season could be a lot more exciting on the North Side.
The Chicago Cubs’ pitching rotation was supposed to become a weak point of the squad after they dealt away Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel in a blockbuster July trade, but despite the loss of two of their top pitchers, the team’s staff has remained a strength rather than a liability.
Now, with just a few weeks left in the season and numerous games remaining against teams in the playoff hunt, the Cubs will apparently be going with a six-man rotation for at least the next few weeks. According to Chicago Cubs Online, the team will have Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks, Tsuyoshi Wada, Felix Doubront, Travis Wood, and Jacob Turner as their starters for at least two starts apiece, and Dan Straily and Eric Jokisch, who were both called up by the team as the roster expanded to 40 players, could each get a start sometime before the end of the campaign as well.
The decision to start six pitchers instead of five has several benefits, not the least of which is to give guys like Turner and Doubront a chance to showcase their stuff. Arrieta and Hendricks are both going to be part of the rotation next season, and in all likelihood Wood will be as well. Unless the Cubs make an insane splash and add several guys to the rotation from outside the organization (something that Theo Epstein hasn’t explicitly ruled out doing, but still seems unlikely anyway), a guy like Doubront or Turner could feasibly become the fourth or fifth starter to begin next season.
Aside from those two, the guy that will be most intriguing to watch is Wada. In nine starts with the Cubs so far, Wada has a 4-2 record, a 2.79 ERA, and has a WHIP of 1.084. His SO9 is a respectable 7.7, and his strikeout to walk ratio of 3.14 is just as impressive. The 33-year old could be the type of guy the Cubs could feasibly trade for younger pitching help, and giving him a chance to showcase his stuff at least a few more times is a savvy move by Epstein and company.
Hendricks will be the next Cubs pitcher to take the bump when he tries to help the Cubs sweep the Milwaukee Brewers on Wednesday night at Wrigley Field.
The Chicago Cubs have long been taunted for their lack of quality pitchers in the system, but with the emergence of Jake Arrieta as a potential star for the future, things are finally starting to look up for the North Siders.
Then Sunday happened.
Before the game against the New York Mets, Rick Renteria had this to say to the media about Arrieta’s future for the rest of the season:
“We have to see how he’s feeling and he’s obviously been pretty good, so it’s still one of those things where we still monitor his pitch counts and innings, and it’s been something he’s been grinding it out pretty good. He’s given us quite a few good outings where he’s gone deep into ballgames. But we’ll continue to assess and evaluate and make that determination as we continue to move forward.”
While there isn’t much in the way of concrete statement in those sentences, some media members took it as a sign that the team may consider shutting Arrieta down before the end of the season. The bit about going deep into ballgames and monitoring pitch counts certainly could be considered red flags, but Renteria shut down speculation of a shutdown on Monday:
“We have no plans to shut him down. That’s something we’re not considering.”
The Cubs certainly would not be the first team to shut down a young pitcher to try to save his arm. The Washington Nationals did with Stephen Strasburg in 2012, and they were in the midst of a playoff race. They ended up losing in the first round of the playoffs to the St. Louis Cardinals, but the debate over whether or not they did the right thing still rages to this day.
In the case of the Cubs and Arrieta though, the question still should be asked: would the team be smart to save some wear and tear on his arm and shut him down before the end of the season? After all, he did deal with a shoulder injury earlier in the season, and with the Cubs well out of playoff contention (talk about an obvious statement), there’s really nothing to play for other than draft positioning at this point.
Even with those things being the case though, the fact is that the Cubs should simply let Arrieta continue to do what he’s doing. Yes, there is a possibility that putting extra wear and tear on his arm could be detrimental, or even result in an injury, but that possibility is there with every start that a pitcher makes in this league. Arms get stressed throughout the season, and knocking two or three starts off of his total at the end of the year won’t make a significant enough difference for the Cubs to really derive any benefit from doing so.