CLEVELAND — Of all the great things right-hander Jake Arrieta has done in such a relatively short time frame – think 0.75 second half ERA in 2015, the lowest in the history of the game – what will it matter should he fail to pitch the Cubs into Game 7 of the World Series Tuesday night?
It’s unfair to say what the 2015 National League Cy Young Award winner has accomplished – he followed that second half with a good, not great 3.10 ERA in 2016 – won’t mean much if he doesn’t come through against the Indians in Game 6 at Progressive Field, but such is the nature of sports. It’s ‘What have you done for me in the last three hours?’ Or ‘What did you do when your team needed you to pass the baton to Kyle Hendricks for Game 7?’
In the last week, Arrieta did enough to help the Cubs win Game 2 in Cleveland, a 5-1 Cubs victory in which he took a no-hitter into the sixth inning but did not finish the frame. But if he’s not sharp Tuesday, Arrieta will be remembered this entire offseason and into next year for what he didn’t accomplish in Game 6.
Arrieta knows this, and he says he has to guard against trying to shoulder more burden than he’s capable of. This is what some of the Cubs young hitters have done in the World Series and, by perhaps swinging for the long ball instead of trying to simplify and contribute a quality, productive at-bat, have doomed themselves to failure.
Arrieta, who pitched the Cubs into the first round of the playoffs by dominating the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 2015 Wild Card game, can’t let that happen on the mound.
“I don’t necessarily know if we have that mindset,’’ Arrieta said of the Cubs starters. “We go out there and focus on executing and trying to limit the opponent to as few runs as possible, regardless of how many we score. That’s the intent. I have to take care of my end of the bargain to the best of my ability, and I know that our offense is doing the exact same thing.’’
There is some pressure on Arrieta to go deep into this game, though. While closer Aroldis Chapman will have a full day of rest with the off day Monday, he did throw a hefty 42 pitches over 2 2/3 innings in the Cubs’ 3-2 victory in Game 5 and likely won’t be available for anything that long, so Cubs manager Joe Maddon said Monday he needs at least six innings from Arrieta.
The good thing? Arrieta, who needed 98 pitches to get through 5 2/3 inning in Game 2 (he struck out six and walked three), will be working on five days rest.
On the flip side, the Indians are using three starters, pitching them on three days rest, and taxing their bullpen. But it’s a formula that has worked to the tune of a 10-3 record this postseason.
For Arrieta, the extra day welcome this time of year.
“It should be helpful,’’ Maddon said. “Most pitchers are used to full or even extra rest this time of the year. There will have to be an adrenaline surge for the Cleveland pitchers but they’re not looking for seven innings.’’
From Arrieta, Maddon is looking for “at least six and seven possibly.’’
This is where Arrieta needs to step forward, again, and back his signature swagger with a strong, deep performance. Swagger? This is the guy who, when told he might go 30-2 this season after making two 2015-like starts out of the gate, said, “Why not 32-0?”
Maddon is saying, “How about seven good innings?”
“It’s up to us to take it to that seventh game,’’ Maddon said, “and then you’re really going to have a classic everyone will remember. We feel good about having Jake pitching tomorrow.’’