Jake Arrieta is giving manager Joe Maddon a lot to think about.
No, those thoughts aren’t bad or negative. Arrieta’s had a season to remember and been one of baseball’s best pitchers and could be on his way to one of the top years in Cubs history. But that success has produced a couple dilemmas for a team about to enter the postseason.
With a week left in the regular season, Maddon’s task is figuring out how to keep Arrieta rolling into the playoffs but making sure he’s rested and ready for the Oct. 7 wild-card game likely against the Pittsburgh Pirates. There’s also the matter of the National League Cy Young Award, which Arrieta hasn’t locked up despite entering Sunday with a 20-6 record, 1.88 earned-run average and a host of other numbers that would make his case.
“I can’t deny that I really would like to see… I never want to stand in the way of the greatness of an athlete. Ever,” Maddon said. “So you’ve got to be cognizant of that. There’s a way to balance it I hope. I give it a lot of thought.”
Arrieta entered Sunday’s game having thrown 216 innings, which was by far his career high. For the Cubs to get as far as they’d like in the playoffs, they’ll need him to stay sharp and powerful through October despite getting into uncharted territory of usage.
Pulling Arrieta early, however, could lessen his chances to rack up more numbers. Despite a season that includes his no-hitter against the Dodgers and a second half among the greatest in the history of the sport, Arrieta isn’t a sure-thing Cy Young winner because of what Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw have accomplished in Los Angeles.
“Right now with 10 days about for the real show, so you can think about it a little bit. You can manipulate it a little bit now but I don’t want him to be concerned about that. I want him to go pitch. Just go pitch like you always do,” Maddon said. “I’d love to see him win the award. We would all love to see him win the award.
“So I don’t want to stand in the way of his greatness.”
Arrieta’s greatness has given the Cubs reason to use him as much as they can. On Tuesday, Arrieta threw 123 pitches on his way to shutting out the Brewers for his 20th victory while getting the chance to finish the night, something he relished.
Entering Sunday, Arrieta had thrown at least 100 pitches in every start since tossing only 97 on July 30 against Milwaukee. That workload is something that Arrieta hasn’t shied away from, but it’s also something the Cubs will watch as they wind down the season.
Because as well as Arrieta’s pitched, his most important throws are still coming up.
Maddon, who confirmed Arrieta wouldn’t throw 125 pitches Sunday, doesn’t want to mess with Arrieta’s head by giving him a concrete limit. That said, he’s watching to see whether his delivery stays true and how he works through stressful innings.
“I don’t want him to carry a lot of different unnecessary items in his mind right now,” Maddon said. “I think I’ve learned to not do that to players.”