Jake Arrieta struggled a bit in his last few outing since the no-hitter, but today he looked much more like the dominant pitcher fans have grown to love over the past 11 months. Except for the fourth inning, Arrieta was on top of his game; he had great movement and controlled the strike zone, yielding weak contact and running up the strikeout tally to 11—a season high and his first game reaching double-digit strikeouts of the year. He went eight strong innings, allowing only three hits, and two walks. His ERA now sits at a stellar 1.29 on the season. When Strasburg’s contract extension leaked earlier this week, a lot of focus shifted to Arrieta’s situation. Jake came out saying he wants ace money. Everyone loves him, but Arrieta is going to be 32 at the start of his next contract, and at the price he’s going to cost, that’s a tough pill to swallow for the Cubs. Still, the Cubs still have this year and next, at least, to enjoy him.
The offense didn’t have to do too much given Arrieta’s start, but they got the lead in the fourth and then played a little eff the closer in the sixth and eighth to run up the final score to 8-2. Fowler and Bryant knocked one in each, Russell had a two-run homer, and Rizzo drove in four. The big bats have really woken up in May propelling the team to their 9-3 record so far this month.
Top Play (WPA): After Heyward legged out an infield single and Kris Bryant walked on some close calls, Rizzo crushed a ball into the right field bleachers for a three-run homer which put the Cubs on top (+.271).
Bottom Play (WPA): With two runners on in the 4th, Francisco Cervelli hit a 2-RBI single to score the only runs for the Pirates (-.148). This ended up being all the offense the Pirates would muster in the game.
Key Moment: In the fourth inning, Arrieta looked human again. McCutchen worked a 10-pitch at bat that ended in a double, Polanco singled and then stole second base, and, after Starling Marte struck out, Francisco Cervelli singled to center, knocking in two runs. Jake then threw a wild pitch on a breaking ball in the dirt and hit Jung-Ho Kang. Harrison followed with a hard hit groundball at the mound which ricocheted off Arrieta’s foot directly to Zobrist who turned two to get Arrieta out of the inning. If that ball got past Arrieta, he might not have been in much longer. The Cubs immediately answered with three runs of their own in the bottom half putting the Cubs ahead for good.
Trends to Watch: Addison Russell’s ascendance has been amazing to watch. I’m not sure how many people expected him to be this good this quickly, but he hit another two-run shot today and is now batting .263/.375/.447 on the year. The shortstop position is loaded but Russell should be looking at his first All-Star nod with how well the Cubs are playing and with him being near or at the top of the league for shortstops in most categories.
On the other side of things, Jorge Soler has started six straight games, but he is 3-for-20 with one walk during that stretch and now has just as many strikeouts as hits on the season. It’ll be interesting to see how much Maddon keeps putting him in the lineup despite his struggles, especially with Javier Baez playing so well offensively and defensively. The fans and the Twittersphere have taken notice and have started booing and criticizing Soler after his at-bats. The Cubs have done nothing but support Soler publicly, but the best lineup right now is Baez at third and Bryant in left field. It’s a tough situation for Soler—he needs the at-bats to break out of this slump, but Baez is also a young guy who needs playing time to further his development as well. Privately, I would suspect Soler is the guy the Cubs would prefer to build a trade package around for a young, controllable starter. He has to get it going, though, for that to even be an option.
Coming Next: Jon Lester will square off with Gerrit Cole in the series finale tomorrow. Cole, the Pirates’ ace, will attempt to stymie the Cubs offense in a way that no Pirates pitcher has accomplished yet this year. Lester will be a tough matchup for the Bucs’ offense, though—he’s pitching to the tune of a 1.96 ERA/3.46 FIP/96 cFIP so far on the season. It’s only mid-May, but if the Cubs sweep the Pirates for the second consecutive series, they’d be 10 games up on the second-best team in the NL Central.
Lead photo courtesy Dennis Wierzbicki—USA Today Sports