Cleat Geeks

Wrigley Weekly Wrap-up

Jake Arrieta is sick of anonymous claims that he’s been aided by the use of performance-enhancing drugs. In an interview with USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, Arrieta said he’s heard the criticism thrown his way ever since he started fanning batters like one of the league’s best. “I’ve heard players, and I’m talking about some of the best players in the league, question whether I’ve taken steroids or not,” Arrieta said. “Some of the things I hear are pretty funny, and some people are idiots, frankly. I’ll see on Twitter, JakeArrieta‘My close source revealed to me he’s on steroids.’ Well, the 10 tests I take a year say otherwise. I eat plants. I eat lean meat. I work out. And I do things the right way.” After going 20-25 with a 5.46 ERA over the course of three-and-a-half seasons with the Orioles, Arrieta has morphed into one of  MLB’s most dominant pitchers. Some improvement was evident during the second half of the 2013 season and the 2014 campaign, but his 2015 campaign showed just how much he has improved. Not only did Arrieta win a league-best 22 games while tossing four complete games and three shutouts, but he also notched his first career no-hitter before earning Cy Young Honors.

This season, Arrieta has maintained that dominant form with a 5-0 record, 1.00 ERA, and the season’s first no-hitter. However, Arrieta made it clear he hasn’t violated any rules or cut any corners to achieve greatness. “If there are guys still on it, I hope they get caught,” Arrieta told Nightengale. “I care about the integrity of the game. I wouldn’t want to disappoint my family, my friends, my fans. That’s a huge motivating factor in doing it the right way.” Arrieta also talked about his future with the Chicago Cubs and made it clear he plans to cash out with the Cubs or another franchise when he hits the open market in 2017. “If we don’t work out a deal here and I go to free agency, I will get six or seven years,” Arrieta said. “No doubt about that. I’d like to stay in Chicago, but if they don’t want me, somebody will.” Arrieta’s agent, Scott Boras, sought a seven-year contract extension during the off-season only to be rejected. However, the star pitcher would like to remain with the Cubs if they’re open to changing their negotiating tactics. “I know the Cubs don’t typically do six- or seven-year deals, but I think there are obviously times when there should be exceptions,” Arrieta said. “I think I’ve done pretty well here. I would enjoy staying in Chicago. But when the opportunities are out there like they are, I’m going to keep an open mind.” If Arrieta keeps up this pace, there’s no doubt in my mind that the Cubs will seek a long-term partnership with him.

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Miguel Montero has been bothered by lower back stiffness since last weekend, and on Thursday, he was placed on the disabled list, retroactive to Monday. The Cubs called up Tim Federowicz from Triple-A Iowa to take Montero’s spot. Montero did undergo an MRI exam on his back. He was surprised it had not loosened up after he rested for a few days. As a result, the disabled list move is intended to reduce the inflammation in his back. Kris Bryant injured his ankle rounding second base in Thursday’s 7-2 win against the Brewers and left after the fourth inning. He had a mildly-sprained right ankle. But after being out of the lineup on Friday and getting the day off on Saturday with the rainout, Bryant was back in the lineup on Sunday.

The Cubs finished the month of April at 17-5, the best in baseball. “I’d love to keep doing that every month,” Joe Maddon said. “We’ve played pretty well the entire month. It’s hard to knock our guys right Ben+Zobrist+Milwaukee+Brewers+v+Chicago+Cubs+pLh_Xfl8CGHlnow offensively, defensively or pitching. Base running has been really good. To be able to sustain all those components would be great. I think you’re going to see guys hit better. A lot of our offense has been based on some really good at-bats, some timely hitting. To go out there and knock the cover off the ball, we haven’t done that yet. I think there’s an offensive push we’re capable of.” The rain on Saturday ruined the Cubs’ attempt to set a franchise record for most wins in the first month of the season. But their 17-5 April is tied with the 2008 team for the most wins in an opening month.

The Cubs began Sunday tied for seventh in the National League with a team batting average of .255, while the pitching staff is second in the NL with a 2.39 ERA, trailing only the Nationals. That ERA is the lowest in the opening month of the season since the 1985 team had a 2.16 ERA in April. Cubs’ starters have 17 quality starts, tied for the Major League lead, and the bullpen has totaled 53 innings, fewest in the big leagues. “A lot of us are just getting going,” Kris Bryant said. “It will be fun to see when things are clicking, when the pitching is going good and the hitting is going good. The pitchers carried us the whole month.” Joe Maddon also added: “Everybody is talking about the offense, but primarily the pitching and defense has set this up.”

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There is talk about the offense because the Cubs have outscored opponents, 136-57, the best run differential in the Majors. Maddon sees the young players making progress. For example, Javier Baez drew a walk in the eighth inning on Friday against Atlanta. Baez has walked twice in 29 at-bats, but that’s far better than last season, when he walked four times in 76 at-bats. “That might be part of the conga line that really does it all the time, and these guys are watching,” Maddon said of the patient approach at the plate. “To me, last year, [Baez] is swinging, he’s trying to hit a ball over the wall right there, and [taking a walk] was not part of his thought process. When you’re willing to accept your walks, you have a much better chance of hitting for a higher number.” Anthony Rizzo finished April with 24 RBIs, the third most by any Cubs player in the opening month. Derrek Lee had 28 RBIs in April 2005 and Hall of Famer Billy Williams finished April with 25 RBIs in 1970.

Apr 14, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jason Hammel (39) delivers in he first inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

With Saturday’s postponed game, the Cubs tweaked their pitching a little bit. Jason Hammel, Jake Arrieta, and Jon Lester will face the Pirates in the three-game series that starts Monday night at PNC Park. Kyle Hendricks, who was scheduled to start Sunday, was skipped and will now start Thursday when the Cubs open a series against the Nationals at Wrigley Field. “Kyle’s fine, he doesn’t need any extra time,” Maddon said of the right-hander, who is 1-2 with a 3.52 ERA. “It’s just something we chose to do. He actually, on paper, matches up well against Washington. It’s one of those things. The weather permitted us to do these things, so we’re going to do it.” Tuesday will be Arrieta’s first start at PNC Park since he shut out the Pirates in the National League Wild Card Game October 7th, 2015. The trip to ChZ6_aeUgAA5Ksy.jpg-largePittsburgh will be the first theme trip of the year for the Cubs. It will be what Joe Maddon called “a minimalist zany suit trip.” “It’s not your typical Hugo Boss thing, not Italian cut by any means,” Maddon said Saturday. “Mine will feature tulips.” During Spring Training, Maddon was surfing the internet for ideas and found a website that featured unique suits and that’s how he got the idea. There is more to the theme trip than just wearing the outrageous outfit on the team plane. “If you’re seen at any time without part of your suit on, it’s a $100 fine — unless you’re working out,” Maddon said. “Like going to the ballpark, in the hotel, going out for Starbucks in the morning, if you’re seen without any part of the suit — [you could wear] the coat, tie, pair of pants, shoes, socks, some method or form of the outfit. If you’re seen without it, it’s a $100 fine.” The money will go to the Cubs clubhouse guys. What is the reason for the theme? “Part of it was that we never get dressed up,” Maddon said. “We’re going to get dressed up with this suit. I didn’t want it to be a conventional suit. And I found these. … It was my weird mind working.”

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