Less is more for Arrieta, Cubs
The Cubs promised not to let up on the gas over the final 10 games of the season, and they've been good to their word.
They were solid in all facets of the game Friday in a thorough 5-0 shutout of the St. Louis Cardinals at Wrigley Field. The victory improved the Cubs' record to 98-55, surpassing by 1 their season victory total of a year ago.
But for starting pitcher Jake Arrieta, a little less octane proved to be a good thing on a cool day at Wrigley Field.
Arrieta worked 7 strong innings, walking one and striking out 10 as he improved to 18-7 with a 2.85 ERA.
"I think the big thing for me is controlling my effort," he said. "When I'm able to do that, my stuff speaks for itself. Sometimes the competitiveness, the stubbornness, gets in the way. Once I push that aside, stuff works pretty well.
"A lot of the times, more effort creates some inconsistencies in my delivery, trying to do more than I have to. I had several outs today where I took my foot off the gas, and I was about 60-70 percent and got nice, easy groundballs to second base or shortstop. Those kinds of moments kind of show me, and it's a reinforced thing for me, that I don't have to be at 100 percent. I can be at 80, 75-80 percent, execute pitches toward the bottom of the zone and make those guys put the ball in play and let our defense work. That was kind of the story of the day."
The other story of the day was that manager Joe Maddon put Miguel Montero behind the plate with Arrieta for the first time since Aug. 11 after going mostly with rookie catcher Willson Contreras. Maddon said he wanted to "see it."
What Maddon and everybody else saw was the old magic and chemistry that Arrieta and Montero have created much of the last two seasons.
It bears watching to see how it plays going forward, but don't be surprised if Montero catches Arrieta's final start of the regular season and his playoff starts. With a real chance to win a World Series, Maddon may opt for the game-calling and pitcher-handling abilities of Montero and veteran David Ross for the most part in the postseason.
"We like to think that I know him pretty well and got a good feeling for it when he gets off a little bit and how to bring it back," Montero said. "It doesn't always work out. Today it did. He was on it today. All his pitches were working pretty good. Sometimes as a catcher, you've got to find out when he gets off a little bit how to get him back to it. Maybe it's a pitch. Maybe it's location. Maybe it's something else.
"I'm not going to lie; my main goal was get Jake going out there and throw a good game."
Cubs hitters gave Arrieta all the help he needed with 4 runs in the first inning. Run-scoring doubles by Anthony Rizzo and Chris Coghlan highlighted the first.
With all of the dissecting of Arrieta's season and his "struggles," the victory Friday was his 40th since the beginning of last season, when he went 22-6 and won the Cy Young Award.
"I think it just speaks of my ability to, on a consistent basis, give my team a chance to win," he said. "Whether I'm giving up 3 or 4 or none, we only pitch as starters one out of every five days. It's very important as starters for us to do our best even when we're not at our best, to give our team a chance to win. And I think that's what that kind of speaks to, the ability to keep the team in the game and keep it close.
"When you're not at your best, when you don't have your best stuff, there's still a way to keep your team in the game."